FUNDING of £400,000 is being made available to help pay for the renovation of Carlisle’s historic Turkish Baths in James Street.

Carlisle City Council Leader John Mallinson confirmed the funding ­— part of the Borderlands project ­— as he rejected suggestions that the much loved and impressive listed building could one day suffer the same fate as the demolished Central Plaza Hotel.

Mr Mallinson said there had never been any suggestion from the council of demolishing the Turkish baths. “It’s a listed building,” he said.

“Apart from anything else, we don’t want it to be demolished; it’s a building of enormous historic interest. It’s entirely different to what happened to the Central Plaza Hotel.

"That didn’t have an owner. The Turkish baths does ­— a responsible owner, the City Council.

“The Central Plaza was a danger to the public. We only raised its demolition when the the hotel was assessed and deemed to be structurally unsafe.”

Mr Mallinson said the £400,000 which is available for the refurbishment of the Turkish baths, internally and externally, together with the redevelopment of the area generally, would make the facility far more attractive.

Commenting on the longer-term future of the Baths, Mr Mallinson said the facility, when last open, attracted just 70 users per week.

“What will ultimately save the Turkish baths is people using them,” he said. “If we can ensure they are presented in good order and that they are attractive that would be the best way to ensure their future. I don’t know what more we could do.”

Former Carlisle City Council Deputy Leader Elise Martlew highlighted the issue of the Turkish baths ­— (currently closed because of Covid restrictions) ­— as hundreds joined a Facebook page designed to ensure its future.

Mrs Martlew has described the building is a ‘gem'.

Those supporting efforts to protect the building include Labour city councillor Jo Ellis-Williams. She said she that did not want to see the Turkish baths “repurposed” by GLL, the organisation that currently manages leisure facilities for the City Council.

“It’s one of only 11 working Turkish baths in the UK,” said Mrs Ellis-Williams.

“We need to keep it as a Victorian health spa. We need reassurance that everything possible is being done to protect it.”

Among those who have clear - and emphatically happy - memories of the Turkish Baths in its hey day is Carlisle grandmother Freda Minns, 87, from Denton Holme.

As a young woman, working long days at the city’s Carrs biscuit factory, she treated herself to a once-a-week pampering at the Turkish baths.

First she would enjoy a series of progressively hotter steam rooms, followed by a ‘cold plunge’ bath, then a professional massage from an expert female masseur before concluding the visit with a half-hour rest, complemented by a hot cup of tea.

“When I left, I felt on top of the world,” recalled Freda, who worked in the Carrs sample room.

“It was so relaxing. It was the perfect way to end a stressful day - and it only cost half a crown!

"The building itself was wonderful, and was divided into a women's and a men's section. There were a lot of people who went in in those days. It would be a huge shame if it ever closed.”

For more history about why the Turkish Baths in Carlisle, and an explanaiton of why the building was deemed worthy of listed status, click this link. The Friends of Carlisle Turkish Baths page on Facebook can be found here