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
A light, airy and stylish hair salon in central London, run by experienced hairdresser Andrew Jose. Sat on the corner of Charlotte St and Rathbone Place, you can't miss the big windows offering a glimpse of the chic cuts being given. Here they cater for both women and men, and have experts in cutting, colouring, blow dries, extensions, Afro Caribbean hair and wedding styling. You can also take part in one of their regular two-day courses in hairdressing, which are led by Jose himself and take place at least once a month.
Venue says: “You'll find Andrew and his team of skilled stylists at 1 Charlotte Street, in London’s vibrant West End. Open over the bank holiday weekend.”