Turkish baths in Provincial England

Sheffield: Glossop Road, Victoria Street

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

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Glossop Road Turkish Baths

Fresh competition in Sheffield

The Sheffield Bath Co Ltd was set up on 24 February 1876, to purchase the Glossop Road baths saloon and an adjoining triangular site bounded by Victoria Street and Convent Walk.

The plot cost of £2,500, totalled about 1,620 sq yds and was on a 760-year lease at a ground rent of £26.3.0. per year.

The company's aim was to retain the existing swimming pool as a second class pool, build a new first class pool, a ladies' pool, and a Turkish bath suite.

The new building was designed by local architect Edward Mitchell Gibbs, of Alliance Chambers, while the heating system was designed by Thomas Edward Vickers and supplied by his own firm, Vickers Sons & Co. The baths opened in November 1877 and were estimated to have cost around £33,000.

The company's initial share offer of 600 shares at £25 was, unlike many similar offerings, very successful. This is particularly noteworthy as there were already well-established Turkish baths in Norfolk Street owned by the Sheffield Turkish and Public Baths Co Ltd, and two smaller establishments owned by Thomas Garbuttt in Arundel Street and in Armstead Road, Attercliffe.

Just over 530 shares were taken up by around 130 shareholders. Even so that would have left the company with £20,000 or so to raise from other sources, a crucial factor which often led to a speedy demise of new Turkish baths companies.

Among the initial subscribers were a brewer and two solicitors with two shares each, two brokers with four shares each, and the architect with fifteen shares. However, it seems most likely that Gibbs was allocated these by the company in part payment for his services. Vickers, the heating engineer, was one of the directors of the company.

The building

While the outside of the new building was unexceptional—a typical Victorian building similar to many others in Sheffield and elsewhere—the interior was, in the words of the architect, 'built in Turkish style of architecture'. While this was something of an exaggeration, it was considered by Building News to be 'luxuriously fitted out with tesselated pavements, white and coloured glazed brick walls, arched and decorated ceilings, with easy chairs, marble and felt covered seats.'

Judging from the fact that each of the toilets included a urinal, it seems that—most unusually—no provision was made for women in the Turkish baths, although the company provided a swimming pool and both first and second class slipper baths for their use.

The shapes of the main public areas were basically determined by the triangular shape of the site: the galleried dressing room and the large hot room were octagonal, the hotter room was a pentagon with two additional triangular areas. The toilet, two shampooing rooms, and the pantry (which was part of the Bath Keeper's two storey house) were all triangular. Even the entrance lobby, where bathers left their outdoor clothes, was a rectangle with a triangular corner removed.

The main entrance lobby to the Turkish baths and the ladies' slipper baths was originally in Convent Walk. The present entrance, from Victoria Street, has 1898 cut into the door lintel and seems to have been added when the baths were bought by Sheffield Council.

The Turkish baths

Having divested themselves of their outdoor garments, bathers passed into the main dressing/cooling-room. This was subdivided into individual changing and relaxation areas, with a fountain playing in the centre. Stairs let up to a similarly divided gallery where there were also separate dressing rooms for non-smokers.

A plunge pool, 16ft long by 4ft 6in wide, connected the hot room with the dressing room. Bathers could go from one room to the other either through plate glass doors on either side of the pool, or swim underneath a plate glass screen built over the pool. Bathers were also able to swim in the first class swimming bath which they reached via an enclosed connecting bridge.

In addition to these public facilities, there was also a private Turkish baths suite, though this was much smaller. This comprised two dressing rooms, two hot rooms, shampooing room and a toilet.

Very soon after the baths opened, if not from the outset, William Richards was appointed Managing Director and in 1887, when the company disposed of the baths, it was Richards who became the new proprietor. The exact circumstances of the change in ownership are not yet known but a letter from Richards to the Registrar of Companies, dated 28 February 1891, suggests that the property was either taken by him as mortgagee, or bought by him from the mortgagee. He continued as proprietor until at least 1889 and possibly until the baths were purchased for £4,000 by Sheffield Corporation in 1895.

The Corporation rebuilt much of the Victoria Street section of the baths, forming a new 'ladies entrance' and building a new swimming bath for women. The entrance, dated 1898, includes an early use of the new city coat of arms, Sheffield having become a city five years earlier in 1893. The façade echoes the art nouveau style and the whole of the alteration scheme cost £10,000.

Very little is known about the Turkish baths until 1913 when information was supplied to Agnes Campbell for her report to the Carnegie Trust. By now, and probably since the new women's pool was opened in 1898, women were allowed into the Turkish baths at specific times of the week and over one quarter of the 10,604 bathers using them during the year 1913-14 were women.

At this time the cost of a Turkish bath was 1/6d or 1/- for male bathers, and 1/- for females, and it is interesting to note that although the number of bathers using the Turkish baths was less than 10% of those using the swimming pools, the council's income from the Turkish baths was as high as 40% of that brought in by the swimmers.

By 1933 it still cost only 1/6 to take a Turkish bath and this included 'a choice of four attendants to scour your body with scrubbing brushes before packing you off for a thumping massage.' At some stage the Private Turkish baths seem to have been converted to a Russian steam room, furnished with deck chairs and with little alcoves leading off. The dry hot rooms were maintained at 145°F and between 185-195°F.

By the mid-1980s, the women had the use of the baths on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while the rest of the week was allocated to the men. They were open from noon until nine in the evening during weekdays and from nine till four in the afternoon at weekends. Admission now cost £2.70 although there was a small reduction for 'Passport to Leisure' holders, and pensioners were charged half price.

The end: a missed opportunity

When the baths were first threatened with closure there were protests in the council chamber by bubble blowing bathers dressed in turbans and towels, but by the beginning of 1990 the die was cast. John Taylor, senior assistant recreation director told the local paper that there had been a number of suggestions for the future use of the baths building 'but they all want to keep the Turkish bath.'

When the building was put on the open market, in April 1992, the council stated that it had three broad objectives which needed to be encompassed in any redevelopment scheme: to ensure that the primary usage of the building remained leisure based; that the Turkish bath suite remain and be open to the public at times to be agreed, with access to all sectors of the community, and on terms which honour the council's leisure card conditions; and to secure the retention of the existing building. But, ominously, the council refused all requests to seek Listed Building status.

All proposals appeared to honour these conditions, the most appealing being an unsuccessful bid from a group of local women bathers who formed the Sheffield Turkish Bath Company, later to become the Sheffield Turkish Bath Trust in order to run the building as a non-profit making facility for the community. But there were a number of false starts and much unfavourable comment in the local press and in an internal council report about delays and the manner in which negotiations were taking place.

Eventually matters were resolved and various parts of the Glossop Road Baths were redeveloped to include a pub and 23 luxury apartments. The last stage was the Turkish bath suite which was totally refurbished and re-opened on 15 March 2004 by Conrad Blandford and Clare Hundall as SPA 1877, 'one of the country's top health and beauty facilities.'

Those who have seen the new spa, and especially some of those who used to frequent the Turkish bath, have been surprised at the beautiful manner in which the restoration has been carried out. While the emphasis seems to be on beauty treatments and, later, hair styling, the old Turkish baths have been replaced by more modern facilities. These include steam rooms, a luxurious continental sauna, an ice room, plunge pool and relaxation area. Some mosaic floors have been restored and the old brickwork looks as it probably did on the day the baths first opened.

The developers of the Glossop Road Baths are to be praised for ensuring that the structure of the Turkish bath suite remains more or less intact and that they have put so much of their own money into restoring it. The people of Sheffield are certainly fortunate to have access to such a beautiful facility. Yet one cannot but regret that it was not considered economically viable to retain even a small series of dry hot rooms in what is one of the few remaining Victorian Turkish bath buildings to survive.

This page reformatted 2 January 2023

Thank you icon


Richard Freestone, for the use of his beautiful photographs of SPA1877

Steve Wilkinson, for a copy of his plan of the original Turkish baths

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

Glossop Road façade of the baths c.1990

Plan of the main Turkish baths area, 1876

Hot rooms five years after closure

Corner of a hot room five years after closure

Hot room floor destroyed by twelve years of neglect

1898 entrance to the Turkish baths

Mid-1950s hot room corner

Two regulars in the hot room, September 1986

Galleried cooling-room, mid-1950s

Changing and dressing areas on the gallery five years after closure

Interior landscape, SPA1877

Aroma steam landscape, SPA1877

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Other Turkish baths in the provinces


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

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