Turkish Steam Baths, Ironmonger Row, London Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Turkish Steam Baths, Ironmonger Row, London

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Using the Baths

Make sure you pick up the very handy leaflet entitled 'Turkish Baths' (white with purple typeface and a picture of a guy plunging into the 'icy plunge pool' on the front). You can pick this up at reception - the people at the desk are genuinely friendly and helpful and this made the initial impressions of the place very positive. The leaflet gives a little background information on Turkish Baths in London which helps set the scene and provides an historical context for what's to come.

For instance, did you know that the origins of Turkish Baths go back 2000 years or more, to the times of the Roman occupation? Or that they were in abundance in 14th Century London but were then abolished 'due to public uproar against immorality and a fear of the plague'?

In the section entitled 'How to take a Turkish Bath' the leaflet reminds you to drink lots of fluids 'to replace those lost during perspiration', and lists nine sequential steps to help the beginner get the most from their Turkish Baths experience.

  1. Get undressed, place clothes in the lockers provided and head off for a warm shower or swim in the 30.5-metre main pool.

    The getting undressed bit is fine - the wooden panelled, clubby atmosphere of the men's changing rooms in the Turkish Bath area (called the Frigidarium) makes for a generally clean and comfortable 'taking your clothes off' experience. Finding your way back upstairs to the pool, however, is a bit tricky, especially for the uninitiated. Like the scene in Spinal Tap where the band get totally lost backstage trying to navigate the journey from the dressing room to the stage itself, so too did both this Researcher and his mate, nearly ending up back on the street outside, two little towels separating the world from their modesty.
    Once there, though, the swimming pool is ace. It's large, and on this particular day the water was clean and not too chlorinated. However, another Researcher who uses the baths had this to say: 'As to the water quality, some weeks it's hard to see from one side of the pool to the other when you're underwater; other weeks you can see everything'. Also, great shafts of light fall in through the large windows, evenly-spaced along the walls. It's an old-style pool, a fine brick building with vaulted ceilings, and a pleasure to swim in.
  2. Open your pores by sitting in the steam room. Stay as long as you feel comfortable, usually about ten minutes.

    The steam room (Sudatorium) is small but it's very steamy. You open the door (after having read the health warnings on the wall) to be met by a wall of hot, thick white vapour. Making your way to the wooden benches, your face glazed in sweat already, it's an effort to avoid tripping over the other sets of hairy legs that dangle over the benches. These men tend to look like seasoned sauna experts so it behoves the green initiate to keep his cool despite being dizzy and nearly dying of heat exhaustion. It's bloody hot in the Sudatorium and ten minutes is ample.
  3. The next step is the icy plunge pool, or if you can't face that, have a cold shower.

    Oh my God. This Researcher walked in with a penis and jumped out sporting something much, much smaller.
  4. After this cold treatment, you will wish to move swiftly to the hot rooms where you move through a series of differing room temperatures. Stay as long as you feel comfortable.

    Not very long as it happens, but an interesting experience nonetheless. The hot rooms are split into three: the Tepidarium; the Calidarium; and the aptly-named Laconium. Each room gets a little hotter than the last, the soporific Laconium being the hottest. Again the rooms are quite small, but there's room enough to lie down (assuming it's not too busy) and it's interesting to listen in on the almost-whispered conversations between men-friends, be it discourses on marriage, car insurance or the alcoholic tendencies of mutual chums.
  5. Now it's back to the icy plunge pool!

    And there goes my penis again!
  6. Sit in the hottest room of all and stay as long as you feel comfortable.

    Revitalised to the point of bursting after the icy plunge dip, it's back to the Laconium to warm up. Folk don't tend to chat in this room - probably because it's so hot and talking just saps the energy - but it's nice to sit and sweat and to breath in steam through the nostrils. It feels, somehow, healthy. It also feels strangely historical, like you're communing with the ghosts of men from centuries past. Maybe it's the Roman names of the rooms, or the fact that naked men draped in white towels are hard to date (as in to guess what period of history they belong to. Not, you know, actually date). Seen through wisps of steam they could almost be Romans...
  7. Take a cool shower to bring your body temperature down.

    The regulating sanity of the shower rounds off steps one to seven - a process which can be repeated two or three times.
  8. Independent, licensed therapists operate in the baths and at this stage you may opt for a good old body scrub and shampoo if a therapist is available.

    If you want a massage, you have to book by phone beforehand. The masseur that attended to this Researcher was an amiable and capable chap called Simon. He charges (at the time of writing) £5.50 per quarter hour, £11.00 per half hour and £22.00 per hour. This is a convenient time/money breakdown - you're not necessarily tied to one fixed sum of money - and he's very good. Once again the room is small, but the music and lighting are soothing, and when your eyes are shut and while Simon's big strong thumbs eke out your aches and pains, you could be anywhere. Good value for money and recommended.
  9. A final shower and then you can retire to the room of your choice. You can choose to sleep, read, have a massage or just rest with a refreshment in the main lounge or watch television in the TV lounge.

    Strangely enough, despite being soaked, steamed, frozen and pummelled, you end up feeling good - tingly and alert. A nice cup of tea afterwards rounds off a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Opening Times

 Mondays  2 - 9.30pm  Mixed 
 Tuesdays  9 - 9.30pm  Men 
 Wednesdays  9 - 9.30pm  Women 
 Thursdays  9 - 9.30pm  Men 
 Fridays  9 - 9.30pm  Women 
 Saturdays  9 - 6.30pm  Men 
 Sundays  10 - 6.30pm  Women 

Last tickets are sold two hours before closing time.

How To Get There

A trip to the Turkish Baths at Ironmonger Row, in East London, is a great way to spend an afternoon. The Ironmonger Row Baths complex is situated in-between Bath Street and Ironmonger Row in Old Street, Old Street being the nearest British Rail station (exit 7). The closest London Underground stations are Barbican on the Metropolitan Line and Old Street on the Northern Line (again, exit 7). For more information on how to get there, click on the link to the map.

At the time of writing, to use the Turkish Baths costs £6.20 for adults on weekday mornings, and £10.00 from 12 noon and weekends. For this you get full use of the Baths for up to three hours plus use of the swimming pool. Body scrubs and massages are available but at additional cost (see point eight above).

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