Inspired by a visit to Liverpool Baths in 1883, Carlisle Corporation sought to improve the health and hygiene of the people of Carlisle, as few working-class people had access to bathrooms or washing facilities in their homes.
Carlisle Baths and Washhouse opened in 1884, providing first and second class plunge pools, a ladies plunge pool, slipper baths and laundry facilities. The Turkish Baths were added in 1909 and a ladies waiting room and slipper baths opened in 1920. Records show that by 1957 over 100,000 people were using the baths.
These astoundingly beautiful, lavishly tiled Turkish Baths still have original internal decorative tiling and glazed faience work by the renowned company Minton and Hollins of Stoke. Until the closure, it was one of only 12 Turkish Baths in the UK still operating – only nine of which are open to the public – and the only one in the North West of England.
Top Ten Endangered Buildings 2023
The Victorian Society’s Top Ten Endangered Buildings 2023 list is below and includes an Earl’s mansion that became a hostel for the homeless, a church where the congregation can’t hold services, two engineering marvels that saved lives through improving sanitation, and a club where newly enfranchised voters could meet.
- St Andrew’s Church, Temple Grafton, Warwickshire, West Midlands (Grade II, 1875, Frederick Preedy)
- Office for the Board of Guardians of Walsall Poor Law Union, Walsall, West Midlands (Grade II, 1898-1900, Henry E Lavender)
- Blackborough House, Kentisbeare, Devon (Grade II, 1838, James Thomas Knowles senior)
- Rockwell Green Water Tower, Rockwell Green, Somerset (Grade II, 1885, Edward Pritchard, 1885)
- Trowse Sewage Pumping Stations, Norwich, Norfolk (Grade II, 1869 and 1909, Alfred Morant)
- The Coach and Horses Hotel, Wallsend, Tyne and Wear (Grade II, 1907, Watson for WB Reed & Co)
- Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths, Carlisle, Cumbria (Grade II, 1884 and 1909, WC Marks)
- The Constitutional Club, Lincoln, Lincolnshire (Grade II, 1895, William Watkins)
- Soldiers’ Point House, Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales (Grade (Grade II, 1849, Charles Rigby)
- Liverpool Street Station and the former Great Eastern Hotel, City of London (Station: Grade II, 1873-1875, Edward Wilson, 1985 and 1992 Nick Derbyshire, British Rail Architects’ Department. Hotel: Grade II* 1883-1884 Charles Barry Junior and Charles Edward Barry, extended 1901 Colonel RW Edis and Maples, 2000 alterations by Manser Associates and Conran Design)
The Victorian Society
Since the decision to close the baths, the Friends of Carlisle’s Victorian & Turkish Baths have continued campaigning to protect and, hopefully, reopen them.
As part of this campaign, they contacted the Victorian Society, who were sufficiently impressed with the building to include the Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths amongst its top ten list of endangered Victorian buildings for 2023, noting that they need to be in local ownership and supported to bring them back into community use for another century.
The Victorian Society is the national charity campaigning for the Victorian and Edwardian historic environment. Griff Rhys Jones, who is currently President of the Victorian Society, highlighted the importance of our industrial and cultural 20th century past and its importance in our national landscape.
“Come on Carlisle, we will surely never see the likes of these fantastical interiors again. I salute the Friends of these wonderful public baths. They have great plans to keep these amazing facilities open. They have been working hard with the newly formed Cumberland Council and we all really want them to succeed in keeping these highly decorative, relaxing, historic, and much-loved baths in use. What incredible survivors. Public attractions of the future.
“The active Friends group continues to fight to save the Baths. Surely there is a market for a beautiful, restored, historic Turkish Baths for both visitors and the community hub? The Society urges Cumberland Council, who now own the baths after Carlisle City Council was dissolved, to work with the Friends to keep these baths in use for another 138 years.”
– Griff Rhys Jones (president of the Victorian Society).
In a brief statement the Cumberland Council has said it remains committed to Carlisle’s Turkish Baths after a period of uncertainty for the historic building. “Cumberland Council recognises the historic significance of the Turkish Baths building in Carlisle and its listed status. We remain committed to finding a viable solution that will not only protect the building, but also provide it with a sustainable future.”
The Chair of the Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths, Julie Minns, said that discussions had begun about the process of a community asset transfer of the baths from the council to the Friends charity, noting: “The city council didn’t progress the discussion on a community asset transfer last year as we would’ve hoped.”
Continuing to fundraise and campaign
The Friends are in discussions with the new unitary authority about the steps needed to secure a Community Asset Transfer which would help unlock grant funding for second stage of development plans and an in-depth sustainability report which would later lead to capital funding for any specialist repairs and sympathetic development of the historic baths. In the meantime, the Friends are going out into the community, talking to local people about the baths, the continuing campaign to reopen the baths, and fundraising along the way.
The BBC Villages by the Sea programme have asked if the Friends would talk about Victorian bathing habits during filming at Port Carlisle in early July.
People can sign up for the Friends newsletter to keep abreast of the walking tours and events that the group will be attending during the summer. There will be a very special screening of the 1980’s film Steaming, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, and Diana Dors (her last film-a story of three local women who learn that their local Turkish baths are to close, they decide to join together and fight its closure, a call to camaraderie and sisterhood). This is a fundraising event in September.
The film will be shown at the Stanwix Theatre at the Institute of the Arts, University of Cumbria, Brampton Rd, Carlisle on Friday 29 September 2023 at 7pm, and tickets can be purchased online here
If you’d like to get in touch with the Friends group you can contact them on this email: [email protected]