Thursday 15 November 2012

Turkish Baths, Russell Square

Set into the pavement in Russell Square is a rather tempting sign. Warm, relaxing Turkish baths; a marbled sign promising luxurious surroudings; and a rather fetching arrow pointing the way. Who could resist?

Don't attempt to follow it, though, as the baths no longer exist. They were part of the Imperial Hotel, designed by Charles Fitzroy Doll, who was also responsible for the nearby (and surviving) Hotel Russell. Part of an extension to the building, the baths opened in 1913. An early photograph shows an opulent interior, the walls and ceilings heavily decorated, the floor of mosaic. It more than lives up to the promise of its sign. 

A later advertising brochure for the hotel claimed its bath as 'Finest in the World', open to non-residents for a rather pricy three shillings and sixpence. Not only were they open 'day and night', but there was a wide range of other treatments including Russian vapour baths, Vichy douches, electric light and ultraviolet ray baths and electric treatments.

Sadly, the hotel and its baths were demolished in 1966. Statues from the baths now line the car park entrance; otherwise, all that remains is this sign, tempting and taunting the passer-by.


Hels said...

What a shame that people couldn't get access to clean, hot and efficient Turkish baths at a time when they didn't have baths in their own homes. The population must have been pretty smelly back then :(

And what a shame that people ca't get access to the luxurious Turkish baths now. Even though they were for the well heeled only, the experience was one to be savoured.

HughB said...

Is there any significance in the coloured letters? They aren't his initials, and it looks a bit odd rather than decorative. The baths do look splendidly luxurious and inviting.

CarolineLD said...

Hugh, as far as I can see the lettering was all red originally, but lots of the coloured inlay has disappeared leaving black lettering. (I'm relying on the photo, as the sign is now just in front of a cashpoint so odd behaviour like getting on my knees to examine it would have made people nervous!)

Hels, it is a shame there aren't more of them. A few still survive, and the one in Harrogate, Yorkshire was recently restored so it's absolutely lovely - but rather a long trip from London for a bath! I've visited the more prosaic Ironmonger Row baths a few times, though.

CarolineLD said...

By the way, several of the links in the post are to The Victorian Turkish Bath site. I'd highly recommend browsing further for an unbelievable amount of information about Turkish baths, including a useful list of those still open.