Turkish baths in provincial England

Cambridge: Jesus Lane

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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The Roman Baths

2. The company

On 29 January 1861, a little over three weeks after the initial notice had appeared in The Lancet, a small group of men met in Septimus Beardmore’s place at 20 Cockspur Street to sign the Memorandum of Association of the newly formed Roman Bath Company Limited.

Six Directors were appointed: the Right Hon Wm Basil Percy Fielding, Earl of Denbigh, Viscount Fielding of Newnham Paddox was the first-named; then followed the two physicians Henry Ancell and Septimus Beardmore, the surgeon Henry Walter Kiallmark, Admiral James Buney, and Ponsonby Arthur Moore.

According to the memorandum, the objects of the company—ambitious for one set up barely five years after the reintroduction of the Turkish bath in England—were to construct and operate a number of hot air baths similar to those constructed by the Romans over eighteen hundred years earlier. Like the grander Roman baths of old, those maintained by the company were also to have ‘such chambers, rooms and apartments for reading refreshment and other purposes as may be required or convenient for persons using or frequenting [them].’

As architects, the directors appointed Thomas Henry Wyatt (later to be president of the Royal Institute of British Architects) and his younger brother Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (Secretary to the Executive Committee of the Great Exhibition, and first Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Cambridge).

Septimus Beardmore was appointed the first Managing Director of the company and, while he was to have a seat on the board, he was to be subject to the supervision and control of the Directors.

Indicative of the scale of the business which the directors had in mind was their approach to the remuneration of their Managing Director. This was to be £350 per year ‘until two separate Bath Establishments have been opened by the Company and £100 per annum for each additional Establishment so opened.’

We don’t know why Cambridge was chosen for the company’s first venture and have not so far come across any sign that there was any form of what, today, we should call market research. It may just have been a feeling that an old-established university town had the type of population which would enthusiastically make use of the superbly designed facilities the board planned to provide.

And on 15 March, only six weeks after the board’s first meeting, possibly encouraged by conversations with people in Cambridge, the company placed an advertisement in the personal column of The Times asking anyone interested in ‘the construction of a Roman or Turkish bath’ in Oxford to contact them.

We don’t know what response, if any, there was to this advertisement, but nothing further seems to have been heard about an early venture in Oxford.

According to its Memorandum of Association, the company was to be financed by a public offer of 30,000 shares at a cost of £1.0.0. each. The response of the investing community was not over-enthusiastic and in June 1861 the board decided to arrange a public meeting at the Cambridge Guildhall to drum up support.

At the same time, they extended the duration of the share offer until the end of the university term, while still retaining an earlier incentive to local people. This offered admission tickets to the baths at the rate of fifty-two free tickets for every hundred shares bought, available for use as soon as the baths opened—and just at the time when the company would most need a steady income.

The public meeting was chaired by the Mayor of Cambridge and ‘there was a large attendance’ which included several college dignitaries, several directors, and the architect, Matthew Digby Wyatt.

Beardmore spoke about profits being made by Dr Barter’s Turkish baths in Ireland, and by Roger Evans’s London establishments in both Bell Street and Palace Street—though the proprietor’s name was not mentioned. At no stage did he give any projections of expected profits for the baths which the new company was now proposing to build; nor, surprisingly did anyone ask for any from the floor. But he did indicate that any money raised by the company locally would be expended on the Cambridge baths, and that the board would welcome the addition of some local directors.

Admiral Buney quoted views of doctors and others about the medical benefits of the bath, and while there were a few questions from the floor, none required any answer from the architect. As is usual at such meetings, a resolution of general support was unanimously carried, being proposed on this occasion by Alderman Henry Staple Foster, a former Mayor of Cambridge.

Initially, each of the five directors held 50 shares, but on 18 February 1862 the share register showed that Septimus Beardmore had increased his holding to 250 shares. Other large shareholders were the Reverend Ino E Cooper (100 shares) and two members of a wealthy Cambridge banking family, Charles Finch Foster (300 shares) and Henry Staple Foster (200 shares). In addition, there were about forty small shareholders whose addresses were in Cambridge.

Even at this stage, assuming that all the payments were made, the company had a relatively small sum to play with—certainly much less than £2,000—of which, in theory at least, the Managing Director’s first annual salary would eat up £350. It must already have been clear that finances were going to be tight.

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The façade

Advertisement in the personal column of The Times

Two advertisements for public meeting and share offer

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Other Turkish baths in the provinces


Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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