Turkish baths in members' clubs

London: Prince's Club

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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The Turkish baths at Prince's Racquet and Tennis Club

Although the Prince of Wales was a member of this exclusive sporting club, it was actually named after its founders, George and James Prince, who opened it some time in the 1850s. Its original premises off Hans Place in Knightsbridge included Racquet and tennis courts, and a cricket pitch which was, for a time, the home of the Middlesex County Cricket Club.

The Prince brothers were interested in racehorse training and it seems likely that it was through Admiral Rous, who advocated the use of Turkish baths in the training of racehorses, that they decided to build a ‘handsome and commodious’ bath at their club. Nothing more is known about this bath except that Thomas Gibson Bowles, who was to become a director of the London Hammam, was a club member and probably bathed there.

On the expiry of its lease, the club closed in 1885,  but was reconstituted the following year and moved into Humphrey’s Hall opposite the Hyde Park Barracks. The Hall was extensively converted into a clubhouse and sports centre, and much more is known about the club's second Turkish bath.  The conversion was carried out by Peto Brothers, builders, to the design of architect Edward Herbert Bourchier (fl. 1881-1926). The new building was ceremoniously opened by the Prince of Wales on 18 May 1889.

The ‘elegantly constructed’ Turkish bath was decorated by the Sicilian artist Emilio Marolda assisted by a number of Italian artists. There was also a Russian vapour bath, a sitz bath, a needle shower, and hot and cold water baths. The plunge pool was lined with blue mosaic finished with a brass capping and, for use by the Prince of Wales, there was a private bath constructed ‘entirely of marble’. The fittings were supplied by John Smeaton, Son, & Co who specialised in furnishing the better class Turkish baths of the day.

Prince’s Club survived until just before the second world war when the building was requisitioned for the war effort. It was later demolished.

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Neil Robinson, Library & Research Manager, Marylebone Cricket Club

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