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Arlington Baths Glasgow

The Arlington Baths Club was originally designed by architect John Burnett in 1870. Sir John James Burnett, was a Scottish architect who was noted for a number of prominent buildings in Glasgow.

Burnett built the initial single-storey building, which accommodated the pool, two bath areas, changing rooms and a small reading room. In 1875 the first extension added a new Turkish suite and reading room. Almost 20 years later, the Club added a second storey to part of the building to create space for billiard rooms and a card room. In 1902, the first floor was extended over the original building, giving it the form of the ‘A’ listed building of today.

The Turkish Suite – which lies at the back of the plan and to the south west of the original building, is justly well known. A Glaswegian homage to the Alhambra, consisting of a large square room, heated to high temperatures by plenum with tiled walls and floor and a ogival shaped roof studded with small star shaped windows glazed with coloured glass, sufficient only to light the space dimly. There is also a fountain in the centre. In an atmosphere of sepulchral calm the bathers recline on benches along the walls sweltering in superheated seclusion. No talking is allowed within the space. The remainder of the Turkish Suite consists of a hot room, cool room, shampooing room and washing room.

The tiles inside the Turkish Suite are Geometric Minton Tiles. Minton was Europe’s leading ceramic factory during the Victorian era. As with many floors of this age, the problems come from the substrate, supporting the tiles. In this case, the substrate is a floating floor of no-fines cement structured around metal beams and supports below. This form of lightweight concrete is generally a crushed rock or gravel, coated in cement slurry with no fine aggregate (sand) added. It has good drainage properties due to its open texture and has been used all around the Turkish Suite, due to the high temperatures inside the space. Because no-fines concrete does not contain any fine aggregate the mix cannot segregate and consequently it can be dropped from a height. Formwork pressures are lower than for normal concrete so shutters can be lighter and pour height are greater, as was the case with the Turkish Suite.

Over the last 100 years the substrate has moved and sunk after the shuttering has been removed. This settlement and movement leads to tiles becoming damaged, chipped or cracked. The Arlington Baths only closes for 12 days ever year for renovations and work to be carried out. So we only had a certain length of time to carry out any conservation work. It was agreed to tackle worse area in the floor. Five square meters of the entrance corner. Seven rows of the original floor, Two full rows salvaged from the original floor and five rows mixed from the original tiles and reproduction tiles from Winklemens and Craven Dunill Jackenfield, all supplied from London Mosaic. As with any restoration, we start by removing the tiles from the damaged area so we can analyse the substrate. As with many subfloors from this era, they were poured in a few stages, much in the same was they were in Greek and Roman Times, with a Statumen, Rudus, Nucleus and setting bed. These are Roman Terms that have been found in architectural books of the classical era. The Statumen is a bedding of fist sized stones or slabs, followed by a rudus, which is a mix of rubble and lime or sand cement beaten solid to a thickness of around 9 inches. Then the upper layers, a finer mortar mixed with three parts of crushed tiles, slate, ceramic and brick, again mixed with lime or sand cement. Then lastly, the setting bed, this is often various depths and this is usually where the two layers become detached from the each other.

As you can see from the photos, the layers are removed to the point that the substrate is solid and stable. From this point, the original mortar bed needs to be moisturised, with a mix of water and SBR, so a new setting bed can be poured and bind to the original Mortar. Once the new setting bed is installed the area can be re-tiled, this area and surrounding area can be cleaned then sealed and polished so that the members of the Arlington Baths can once again lie down and bask in the heat and warm glow of light the Turkish Suite provides, without stubbing their toe or tripping over into a bench.