Bishopsgate bathhouse frolics
This extravagant domed orientalist edifice topped by the crescent moon is what you see above ground in the churchyard of St Botolph’s Bishopsgate, but it is the mere portal to a secret subterranean world beneath your feet. These Turkish baths were built in 1895 by Henry and James Forde Neville, and clad with dazzling ceramic tiles worthy of the Alhambra – manufactured in Egypt in the Turkish style and shipped over. As you descend the spiral staircase inside, note the ceramic motif of the hand of Fatima raised in blessing.
In 1963 when Geoffrey Fletcher author of “The London Nobody Knows” passed by, the brass plate with the words NEVILLE’S TURKISH BATHS was still here, but by then it was only in use as a storage space. “Still eloquent of the vanished days when a corpulent company director would while a way an afternoon and a little avoirdupois in these exotic surroundings before taking himself to his green and pleasant villa in Denmark Hill”, he wrote.
Bathhouses have always been locations for illicit sensuous encounters and I was tempted to speculate upon the erotic history of Neville’s Turkish Baths which now, like steam itself, has utterly evaporated. In fact, I had just realised that I needed to get out more, when I received an invitation to the Boom Boom Club held every Thursday night at the Bathhouse – which is now open for coffee by day and as a bar at night.
I am very grateful to my hosts for this opportunity to see the wonderfully atmospheric bathhouse interior full of life, and though the club was a little more KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE than MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS, there was an undeniable to poetry to the authentically crummy comedians, still carrying the torch for Archie Rice. The club promises a gin-soaked evening and I’ve no doubt that getting tanked is the best way to enter into the spirit of things. So that next day you wake, as I did this morning, with just a partial memory of the night before – recalling only images of glittery burlesque showgirls worthy of Walter Sickert.