Turkish bath reopens after revamp – and they’re throwing in the towel

Amanda Whalen inside the baths
Amanda Whalen inside the baths
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The Yorkshire town that was once the nation’s pre-eminent centre for Victorians to indulge in their predilection for taking the waters, was open again for business yesterday.

The “Turkish”, the last part of Harrogate’s opulent Royal Baths complex to be still used for its original purpose, has seen a £300,000 restoration that has upgraded its facilities and reclaimed original decorations from beneath decades of stucco and plasterboard cladding.

“The final result looks amazing,” said its manager, Chris Mason.

“The spa industry worldwide is booming, but the interior of our Turkish baths, with its original Victorian opulence and grandeur, is a huge and unique selling point.”

The reappear­ance of spaces long-hidden behind false walls has also strengthened its character, he added.

But it is the renewed offer of Hammam-style rubdowns, a traditional cleansing ritual from the eastern Mediterranean including a hot steam bath and massage, that will most enhance the traditional Turkish bath experience.

“About a quarter of our customers ask for them,” Mr Mason said.

No expense was spared when the baths were first built. Moorish design was combined with Islamic arches, elaborate painted ceilings and terrazzo floors laid by Italian craftsmen.

The venue remains the most complete surviving Victorian Turkish baths in Britain. Its restoration by Harrogate Council comes 15 years after a £15m revamp backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since then, visitor numbers have grown to around 40,000 a year.

Stanley Lumley, the council’s cabinet member for tourism, said the project was part of a long-term strategy.

“We are competing with modern spa facilities so we need to continually improve,” he said.

Seven years ago, the council had to ban men-only sessions at the baths after reports of “inappropriate behaviour”.