Avery Hill: Eltham, Kent
(now London Borough of Greenwich)

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Front elevation of Avery Hill before the blitz

Private Turkish Bath

1888

 

Avery Hill

 

Col. John Thomas North (Propr)

1890

  Avery Hill

 

Col. John Thomas North (Propr)

 

  Major enlargement of house— Turkish baths suite added

1896

  Avery Hill

 

House empty after North died

1902

  Avery Hill

 

London County Council

1992

  Avery Hill Mansion

 

University of Greenwich
 

John Thomas North, universally known as Colonel North, the Nitrate King, was the self-made son of a coal merchant. He made the first of his fortunes in Chile during and after the Great Pacific War between Chile and her two northern neighbours, Bolivia and Peru.1 He returned to England in 1882 and the following year took out a ten year lease on an empty house at Avery Hill at Eltham, Kent (now part of London). 

'Col' North

North bought the house in 1888 and, though it was by no means small, he decided to enlarge it in order, amongst other things, to build an painting and sculpture galleries to house his art collection.

Before leaving for a visit to Chile in 1889, North commissioned the architect Thomas W Cutler to make £40,000 worth of alterations and additions to the house. On his return, he found that Cutler had commissioned £100,000 work of work and the architect was dismissed, being replaced by his assistant J O Cooke.2

By the time the house was completed, North had also added a fernery, conservatory and a huge dome-covered Winter Garden. The separate stable block, like the mansion itself, was centrally heated and lit by electricity generated in an engine room to the west of the main building.

'A white Sienna marble staircase with a white and gilt orname ntal wrought iron balustrade led from the inner hall to a first floor corridor, eighty-foot long and hung with crimson velvet and lit by windows with stained glass panels. Opening off it were the sixteen principal bedrooms and dressing rooms.

‘Exceeding them all in sheer extravagance was the three-roomed Turkish bath which caught the attention of architectural correspondents in the 1890s.'3  It was also thought worthy of mention in a manual on house building published in at the end of the century.5

Inside Colonel North's Turkish bath at Avery Hill

 

The quoted description, below, does not completely match the rooms marked on the plan. The room called the frigidarium is labelled 'Bath Room' on the plan, and is shown leading directly, as one would expect, into the tepidarium. The room described as the caldarium is unlabelled on the plan and is shown, again as one would expect, leading off the tepidarium.

'A small lobby with double doors led into the frigidarium, which was lined with red and white marble and furnished with a large wardrobe, a WC, washbasins and spray bath. Beyond it the caldarium was furnished with marble benches and like the third room, the tepidarium, was lined with grey and white marble. Surmounting the complex was an octagonal roof supported by arches lined with Burmantofts faience in white and two shades of red.'3

Part of the cooling room in theTurkish bath at Avery Hill

North lived in his completed house for just a little over five years. He died suddenly in his City office on 5 May 1896. His family almost immediately put the house on the market, but it was two years before they found a buyer, at a price much less than it had cost North. The new owner never took up residence at Avery Hill and the house remained empty for another eight years. It was bought with twenty-eight acres of parkland for £25,000 by the LCC in 1902 and four years later it was opened by its education committee (later named the Inner London Education Authority) as its first residential training college for (women) teachers.4

With its tiled walls, marble floors, and door fittings of silver plate, North's private Turkish bath was surely unique and, before it was destroyed during a Second World War bombing raid,  outshone either of the other two extant private baths, Wightwick and Cragside.


Thank you! Alison Goss, Archive Assistant, University of Greenwich
Andrew Hobbs for leading me to the image of the plan

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