What is Russian Vapour?

While at work I come across a variety of interesting items and documents. Early this year I while perusing the Superintendents book of payment I came across the term ‘Russian Vapour’ which was unfamiliar to me. Immediately I became intrigued and wanted to know what this meant in the context of a 1930s public bath house.

The more I researched the more I discovered how little records were available about the Evelyn street Public Bath. Although it was challenging to find evidence of images or information of the Evelyn street Bath in Deptford, I am still unsure as to the Evelyn street Bath in Deptford and the Deptford public baths were the same place or different bath houses entirely that just happened to be in the same area.

Undated picture of the Evelyn Street Baths
Undated picture of the Evelyn Street Baths, Depford

The Evelyn street Bath in Deptford was not the only bath house in the area though, the Laurie Grove baths also served the Deptford area, although neither are listed in Anges Campbell’s ‘Report on Public Baths and Wash-Houses in the United Kingdom 1918’. The Superintendents book I was perusing is for the years July 1934 to August 1936, so while I am unsure when the bath opened, I can be certain it was serving people between these years, Monday to Saturday.

Laurie Grove Bath https://cucrblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/an-urban-sociology-of-water-by-les-back/
Laurie Grove Baths

In my research I came across a truly fascinating and insightful blog post entitled ‘An Urban Sociology of Water by Les Back’ explores public washing and rightly states that ‘ The social life of water and washing provides a way to understand the history of cities.’ The post mentions the Laurie Grove Bath in Deptford and states that the ‘…baths opened on April 20th, 1898’ and was still serving the public in 1962.

Sign used to advertise the Russian Vapour Baths in Brick Lane https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/50-objects/2002-27/
Sign used to advertise the Russian Vapour Baths in Brick Lane

It is easy to fall down the research rabbit hole when you find an interesting subject, and these bath houses definitely demand more research, but After exploring more about the local area and its history I did eventually find out what a Russian Vapour was. Through the insightful correspondence with the Baths and Wash Houses Historical Archive. who explained about the different vapour treatments and hot boxes so thoroughly it was such a pleasure to read, so from what I understand a Russian Vapour was most likely a treatment that involved a steam bath or a steam box referred to as Vapour Baths and the Vapour-Box by Robert Owen Allsop in ‘Public Baths and Wash-Houses’, 1894? Alfred W. S. Cross ‘Public Baths and Wash-Houses 1906’ refers also to Russian Baths and Russian (Vapour) Baths. I also learnt that a Turkish bath or Turkish Vapour utilised dry heat whereas the Russian equivalent use wet steam.

It is said that the Russian baths were an important part of the culture of the East End Jewish community and that they ‘…were mostly used by men following work on a Friday evening, before going to the synagogue for prayers’. The baths in Brick Lane were often referred to in relation to their owner Benjamin Schewzik, they were often called ‘Schewzik’s’.

There is still so much to discover but I feel like all that I have managed to gather so far, with some help, has set me on a good path to better understanding the Public bath houses. I am looking forward to further discovery around the subject.

Bibliography

  1. e4760ca3d264cfde0a5deb25239befda.jpg (800×582) (pinimg.com) [07/02/2022]
  2. History of the county of Kent / Deptford : Hundred of Blackheath by Alfred John Dunkin
  3. Anges Campbell’s Report Public Baths and Wash-Houses in the United Kingdom 1918 [ebook scan] Report on public baths and wash-houses in the United Kingdom (archive.org) [07/02/2022]
  4. Undated picture of the Evelyn Street Baths https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/395964992229073479/ [07/02/2022]
  5. Reminiscences of old Deptford reproduced from old prints, drawings, etc. by Thankfull Sturdee
  6. An Urban Sociology of Water by Les Back — Streetsigns (wordpress.com) [07/02/2022]
  7. Russian Vapour Baths — The Jewish Museum London [07/02/2022]
  8. Public Baths and Wash-Houses 1894 by Robert Owen Allsop

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Shanique Thompson

Shanique Thompson

Eclectically skilled indie games dev & researcher interested in crafting in games, budding curator, & lingerie researcher {Neurodiverse — Dyslexic Team}