Steaming over baths proposal
A HISTORIC spa has been targeted for redevelopment — and that may mean the end to the nearly century-old practice of schmeissing, introduced by Jewish immigrants to London.
Literally, the word “schmeiss” means “whip” — but today it involves naked men beating each other with a raffia brush, in what one aficionado called “a thick soup of steam”.
And the steam, according to the hardcore of regulars who attend Bayswater’s Porchester Baths in west London, is what makes schmeissing possible.
Porchester’s steam is generated by a 1929 boiler and current proposals from the developer, as given to Westminster Council, envisage replacing the boiler with “individual steam generators” which the council says are an improvement on the present system.
For decades, the men who take part in the schmeissing sessions have come from all social classes — High Court judges, cabbies, journalists, lawyers and the odd villain.
There is even a mohel who enjoys schmeissing, and almost all the regulars have been visiting Porchester for years.
But actor Clive Saunders is bitterly opposed to the redevelopment. He said: “A new company has come in and set its stall out.
“The game-plan, it seems to us, is to get rid of all the unpleasant old blokes smacking each other with brushes. If they rip the boiler out it will be impossible to continue with schmeissing”.
Westminster said the redevelopment proposals, which are due to cost £750,000 and will be split between the council and the commercial developer, Everyone Active, do not include plans to stop body scrubbing and schmeissing.
The council said it was “proud of the unique heritage of Porchester Spa and we recognise that practices like schmeissing are an important part of this heritage”.
Journalist Matthew Norman, a regular at the spa for more than 22 years, says the proposed redevelopment is “social vandalism” and that a consultation process which the council says it has held is no more than “window-dressing”.
“They are intending to change the spa into something unrecognisable, a chi-chi place for women who can pay £200 a day. The reason most people go
The historic steam baths