City of London must refuse permission for tower over the top of listed Victorian Turkish Baths to avoid being branded failing on heritage protection

The Victorian Society is urging the City of London to reject plans to cantilever a tower over a listed Victorian Turkish bath house – the exterior of which is covered in show stopping tiles. Worryingly most of the proposed site is outside the tall building cluster and no listed building consent application has been submitted.

City of London must refuse permission for tower over the top of listed Victorian Turkish Baths to avoid being branded failing on heritage protection

Photo: The Grade II listed Victorian bath house. Photo Copyright: Guy Newton for The Victorian Society. 

The square mile’s heritage sets it apart from other global financial centres. The tower, if approved, would be another nail in the coffin for the City’s rich history and will pave the way for approving the hugely controversial plans to cantilever a huge tower through and over the grade II* former Great Eastern Hotel which Network Rail claims is needed to pay for escalators and other accessibility works at Liverpool Street Station. The Society has had no response to its request to arrange a meeting with Shravan Joshi, Chairman of the City’s Planning & Transportation committee to discuss concerns over heritage issues.

The Campaign to Save Liverpool Street Station already warned that plans for Liverpool Street Station would set a precedent for cantilevering over listed buildings meaning that no listed building would be safe. The trend seems to have already started. The City must show decisively that it is willing to protect its heritage and throw out the application. The City’s responsibility to protect heritage was already recently called into question over its decision to approve plans for a 32-storey tower in Leadenhall Market Conservation Area which will loom over the Grade II* Market placing it into a canyon of shadow between other towers – read more here. This was followed this week by the news that the City has recommended approval for another 22 storey tower which Historic England was objecting to the plans, citing the impact of the tower on the City’s historic character and the London skyline. The chief executive of Historic England recently stressed that a “pan-London” approach is needed to prevent further harm to the capital’s skyline.

The former Turkish Bath house is an Islamic-style building, modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was designed by S. Harold Elphick and built between 1894-1895. It is covered with tiles both inside and outside, terracotta brick, and surmounted by an onion domed lantern. Its interiors are remarkable for their quality and unusual Islamic-styled tiles designed by Elphick. They include tiled archways, pillars, framed mirrors, and panels of hand-painted tiles. The baths remained in use until the 1950s, after which they were adapted into a restaurant. They are now an events space.

The proposed 23-storey tower would partially cantilever over the former baths. While the amount of cantilevering directly over the baths would be small it would still essentially engulf the building in an artificially lit, cave-like space. This would make it hard to appreciate the outline of the lantern, a crucial architectural feature of the bath house meant to be seen in silhouette against the sky. This would cause significant harm to its setting. The proposed building’s shape and size would harm views in and out of the New Broad Street and Bishopsgate Conservation areas, both noted for their architectural quality and nationally important buildings. The tower would also actively compete with the careful outline of the Flemish Renaissance-style Grade II* listed former Great Eastern hotel, as viewed from the Bishopsgate Conservation area.

Guy Newton, The Victorian Society Conservation Adviser said, ‘The city must reject these plans to show that it is serious about protecting heritage and won’t just wave any tower through – regardless of how many policies are broken. The plans reduce the bath house to an ornament in the lobby of a 23-storey building. Currently the space around the bath house allows visitors to the City to fully appreciate the building’s design. This proposal would undermine this. The application demonstrates a staggering lack of deference to the Grade II listed bath house’s significance. No application for Listed Building Consent was submitted with the application which lacks the detail the Society would expect. A proposal of this scale, outside of the City Cluster of tall buildings, is inappropriate and will harm the City’s character and heritage.’

To see pictures of the bath house visit this Google gallery


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