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Ironmonger Row Baths

Bathe in history at the newly refurbished spa near Old Street

Rob Greig
As the historic Ironmonger Row Baths reopens following a two-and-a-half year refurbishment, Zena Alkayat dips a toe in the water. Photography by Rob Greig.

It’s mid-January: you’ve forgotten your skin under woolly layers for months and lost all hope of driving the chill from your bones. The perfect time, then, to lie soaped-up on a heated marble slab, have your dead skin scrubbed off by a therapist and be left to sweat in a steam room. In other words, it’s a good week to visit Ironmonger Row Baths.

Originally opened as a wash house in 1931, the Finsbury centre recently underwent a £16.5 million restoration project, which included giving the Turkish hammam (now operated by Spa London) a lavish facelift. Its trio of hot rooms, two saunas, two steam rooms and an ice-cold plunge pool now feel incongruously luxurious given the cost of a three-hour session (from £8.75), and the spa’s beauty treatments are absurdly affordable.

The chasm between palatial looks and leisure-centre prices continues throughout. A state-of-the-art gym has been installed (we love the spinning bikes with an on-demand DVD tutorial), and the pool has been spruced up: apparently 200 man-hours were spent sanding down and varnishing its 1930s wooden gallery – and it shows.

What’s been preserved in spite of the primping, however, is a sense of the venue’s place in local history. When Ironmonger Row Baths opened, little more than 4 percent of Islington locals had access to their own tub. Some 80 bathing cubicles gave them a chance to have a regular scrub, and a community laundry room provided space for washing and gossip. There’s only one bath left, but the laundry was buzzing on our visit, full of nattering tea-drinkers waiting for the spanking new machines to do their business.

1 Norman St, EC1V 3AA. 020 3642 5520, www.better.org.uk

Comments

3 comments
Adey J
Adey J

Is Ironmonger Row Baths still a gay sex cruising place?  Before the "refurbishment" it was blatantly more about getting a reach around than anything else.

Riazat Butt
Riazat Butt

Expensive + not user friendly. I've been to IRB twice since it re-opened. I used to go almost weekly before it closed for refurbishment. The price quoted in the TO article is disingenuous - it's for concessions (so students/Izz card members). Non-members have to pay £25 for a three hour session (with no treatments) while members pay £17.50. For that price you get one robe, one towel and a pair of slippers. The changing rooms are small. There are no products in the showers - no soap, shampoo, nothing. If you're paying £25 you'd think you'd get a dispenser of soap at least. The showers and loos are separate from the changing room (where the lockers are) and the hairdryers are somewhere else. I suppose the idea is that you get changed, get showered and spa. And then on your way out, you shower, change and then move to the hairdrying area. That's fine. But the changing room is still small and you have women crashing into each other. The water pressure in the showers is weak. The therapists are adequate. Much preferred the older IRB. Avoid at the weekend - noisy and not relaxing.

Georgie
Georgie

Article about refurbishment of the baths, but this is a photo pre-refurbishment, no?