The rather magnificent building in the illustration above is what you would have seen in 1862 if you had visited the site of Victoria Station. It was not Victoria Station, but housed Oriental or Turkish baths. It was constructed barely three years before the decision to build the station was made, so it had to come down again.
This was, in fact, a pleasant surprise for the bath’s developers, who feared they had built it in the wrong part of town because it wasn’t doing very well financially. Ironically, the arrival of the station might have made the location of the baths very convenient. But they didn’t fit into the plans of the Metropolitan Railway Company, which purchased the land.
The facility was rather grand. It even had baths for horses, which may have been related to the fact that the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association had been established up the road at 111 Victoria Street three years earlier.
The baths were built by an Irish company led by Dr Richard Barter, who had constructed a “hydropathic establishment” in County Cork, Ireland, claiming it to be the first of its kind since the Roman occupation. They didn’t catch on in England, but proved more popular on the continent, where Turkish baths are to this day known as Irish-Roman baths.
They didn’t generate a new genre of literature either, though they do get a mention in James Joyce’s Ulysses when Leopold Bloom savours their delights in Dublin: “Nice smell these soaps have. Time to get a bath around the corner. Hammam. Turkish. Massage. Dirt gets rolled up in your navel. Nicer if a nice girl did it. … Feel fresh then all day.“
Maybe it is just as well the baths were closed. Commuters might have starting arriving for work even later.
All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be found here.
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