Steam­ing over baths pro­posal

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY JENNI FRAZER

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

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