architecture, bath house, Folly, London

The Turkish Bathhouse, City of London

Tucked in between towering glass office blocks in the city of London, this diminutive kiosk is an unexpected Turkish delight only moments from Liverpool Street Station. That it has survived in one of the most densely developed parts of London is astonishing, and its history is as colourful as its exterior.

In 1861 a London newspaper announced that ‘Turkish baths are coming rapidly into popularity in the metropolis and in the provinces’. There were a number across London, including one on New Broad Street in the City owned by brothers Henry and James Forder Neville. In 1893, looking for an edge over their competitors, the brothers decided to demolish the existing baths and start over.

Architect George Harold Elphick (1851-1924), whose office was practically next door to the site, designed a flamboyant structure in a Moorish style, cleverly using only a very small footprint at pavement level, with the baths below ground. Elphick also designed the tiles for the interior; based on a pattern used in the Alhambra Palace, they were manufactured by Craven Dunnill in Shropshire. The new facilities, Nevills Turkish Baths, were opened 125 years ago in February 1895 and were widely admired.

“Turkish Baths, Bishopsgate’, 2019. Courtesy of The Shoreditch Sketcher. The original sketch was done live on location in a Moleskine sketch pad using an Edding 55 fineliner pen. The colour was added post live sketch in the artist’s studio using Windsor and Newton promarkers. The finished illustration was then scanned high resolution for digital publishing purposes.

The fashion for Turkish baths waned in the 20th century and many were lost; the New Broad Street baths closed in the 1950s. For a decade the building was used for storage, and would surely have been lost to developers had a new use not been found. The building’s saviour was Josef Mourat, a Turkish entrepreneur, who started with a coffee shop in his native country before moving to London and setting up progressively more upmarket dining establishments.

‘Turkish Baths, Bishopsgate’, watercolour by Eleanor Crow, 2020 © Eleanor Crow.

In January 1967 he opened Gallipoli, a ‘definitive Turkish restaurant’, where the very finest cuisine was on offer. After being greeted by a ‘massive doorman dressed in gorgeous attire’ guests could dine before the ‘sensual entertainment’ began at 10pm and 1am prompt. Reviewing the restaurant for the Kensington Post in March 1967 ‘Trencherman’ was impressed by the food and, clearly also an expert on all things terpsichorean, described the cabaret as ‘the best belly dancing this side of Cairo’.

Gallipoli was succeeded by further restaurants and clubs and the Turkish kiosk continues to offer hospitality. It is currently known as the Victorian Bath House and is available for private hire, or you can book a table for exotic cocktails on a Friday evening. But do please invite The Folly Flâneuse to join you. More here https://www.victorianbathhouse.co.uk.

Thanks to friends old and new for the two wonderful illustrations. The Shoreditch Sketcher, aka Phil Dean, and The Folly Flâneuse go back a long way and it is great to feature his work. Find out more here https://www.theshoreditchsketcher.com

The Folly Flâneuse was introduced to the work of Eleanor Crow through her beautiful book Shopfronts of London: in Praise of Small Neighbourhood Shops (Batsford, 2019), and the associated exhibition of her watercolours at the Town House in Spitalfields. See more of her work here http://www.eleanorcrow.com

There’s a brilliant website with a full description of this and other Turkish baths of the period here http://www.victorianturkishbath.org

 

 

 

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