Turkish baths in provincial England

Hastings: White Rock Road

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

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White Rock Turkish Baths

1. The original Turkish Baths

Not much is currently known about the original Turkish baths, built as part of the costly White Rock complex which opened between the years 1878 and 1882. On a site situated 'on the parade at White Rock, and on a portion of the site of the Submarine Forest', the foundation stone was laid on 28 June 1876 by Thomas (later 1st Earl) Brassey, MP.

The baths were designed by Alfred Cross (Senior) whose son, Alfred William Stephens Cross, and grandson, Kenneth Mervyn Baskerville Cross, also built Turkish baths. (His son later wrote the standard British work Public baths and wash-houses.)

The baths were built in several phases so that the company could generate some income while the work was still going on. The architect seems to have been remunerated by being allotted 20 £10 shares in the company, payment which could not have given him much long-term satisfaction.

The first phase, opened in 1878, comprised the men's swimming pools and slipper baths. Similar facilities for women were opened the following year. It was originally expected that the Turkish baths would follow, but there seems at this stage to have been a cutting back on the original, admittedly rather grandiose, scheme.

The plan to include an aquarium, implicit in the name chosen by the proprietors for their company—The Hastings and St Leonards Public Baths & Aquarium Company Limited—was abandoned even before the initial foundation stone was laid.

A major consideration was the need to construct a 350 ft underground tunnel to convey the smoke and fumes, emanating from the boiler which would heat the Turkish baths, away from the baths and the seafront. The plan was drawn up, and the necessary legalities were concluded, in 1879, but it is not known when the tunnel and the distant chimney were actually built.

Probably because of financial problems and a lower than expected take up of the existing facilities, the company now seemed to be having second thoughts about the viability of adding Turkish baths. Instead they started to build what they called 'Private Baths'.

The Private Baths were situated between the men's and women's swimming baths. Here also was the site of the imposing entrance to the baths—still being built when the private baths were opened. Bathers descended to a large sunken courtyard reached from a grand flight of stone steps fifteen feet wide, and entered the building through an open portico formed of three elaborately decorated stone arches. Behind the roadside arches (and partly under the road) were the women's baths, and behind the portico closer to the sea were the men's baths.

One incidental result of building the baths underground was that the local council was provided, at minimal expense, with a 'magnificent promenade' with ample space for a bandstand and several hundred seats enabling the public to relax in comfort while enjoying the popular music of the day.

There were five first class and eight second class baths for men, and a similar number for women. A local newspaper reported that, 'The water, hot and cold, is supplied to the baths by means of pipes, and the temperature can be regulated according to the bather's desire.' (In order to economise, in many older slipper baths the water temperature could only be controlled by the attendant using a special key.) Each first class bathroom also included a toilet.

Meanwhile, it seems that public support had been canvassed to prevent the Turkish baths proposal from following the planned aquarium into oblivion. In response, or possibly just to offer general support, the East Sussex Medico-Chirurgical Society discussed the matter at their meeting held on May 1880. Afterwards, the Chairman of the Society, Frederick Bagshawe, sent a memorial to the company in which he stressed the need for Turkish baths in Hastings, asserting that,

the absence of any such baths had in many individual instances obliged invalids to leave the town in quest of such Baths, or has prevented their coming to Hastings.

This appears to have had some positive effect because when the private baths were opened on 16 August it was made clear that the company still planned to build Turkish baths next to them, and it was even suggested that a 'complete hydropathic establishment' might be set up.

But the Turkish baths were not built until four years after the first swimming pool was opened. They were used by the public for the first time on Saturday 30 April 1882.

Lacking detailed knowledge of how these should be designed and operated, the company called upon the services of Mr J H Faulkner who, among many other business activities, operated a successful Turkish bath at Newgate Street in London.

The company entered into an agreement with Faulkner to run a Turkish bath, lavatories, and hairdressing salons, and he started work immediately supervising the construction of the necessary facilities within the building.

The baths were well fitted out, and appropriately furnished and decorated. There were three hot rooms, maintained at temperatures ranging from 120°F to 230°F. All had tiled floors and walls, with seats of marble. Several types of shower were provided, together with a cold plunge pool. There were also two large cooling-rooms and hair-dressing rooms for ladies and gentlemen.

Given the financial circumstances of the company at that time it is hardly surprising that there were no separate Turkish baths for men and women. Instead, the baths were allocated to women on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Different classes of bather could choose the time of day which most suited their pocket. According to Faulkner's rate card, a Turkish bath cost 2/6d between 8.00 and 5.00 during the day, and 1/9d between 5.00 and 8.00 in the evening, with reductions for booklets of tickets. But these prices—more expensive than those charged by Faulkner in his London baths—precluded the use of the baths by many of the less well off in Hastings and a local directory, issued soon after the baths opened, shows that by then it was possible to 'have a Turkish' on Wednesday evenings between 8.00 and 10.00 for only 1/-.

The Turkish baths cost £843.10.0. to build and 'were a great addition' though they 'yielded only a very small profit' during their first year. Faulkner was required to pay all the working expenses, and then share the remaining profit with the company. While his London baths were open between 1879 and at least 1907, Faulkner remained in Hastings for only eight years.

The new lessee, a Mr W R Smart, remained for only half that time, after which the company appointed a Superintendent and ran its own baths till they closed in June 1911.

This page last revised 26 February 2018

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Hastings Local History Library and East Sussex Record Office

for permission to reproduce items from their collections

The staff of the Hastings Local History Library for help during several visits.

The original page includes one or more enlargeable thumbnail images.
Any enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.


Coastal view of chimney

Entrance courtyard to the baths

Exterior of the White Rock Baths

Faulkner's rate card

Memorial from the East Sussex Medico-Chirurgical Society

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