How the Turkish Baths played a part in a massive Sunderland bank raid

An inside view of the Newcastle City Pool, where the baths were.
An inside view of the Newcastle City Pool, where the baths were.
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Bank robberies often make massive headlines - especially when there are large amounts of money involved.

But none are perhaps as daring as the one in Sunderland which had an incredible story behind it.

The Northumberland and Newcastle Society which housed the turkish baths.

The Northumberland and Newcastle Society which housed the turkish baths.

The Sunderland Bank Robbery in 1897 saw over £6,000 – more than £6million today – stolen by two fraudsters who managed to get the bank keys.

It emerged that the fraudsters schmoozed the bank manager’s son and a junior clerk by treating them to a steam in the Newcastle Turkish Baths.

While the two officials were relaxing, the bank keys were nabbed from their unattended clothes, wax casts were taken and forged copies were made.

The forged keys were used for an overnight break-in on Shrove Tuesday at the North Eastern Banking Company on Fawcett Street.

As a charity which specialises in redeveloping leisure facilities this must be our most extraordinary project yet – which is testament to the great character of the North East

Peter Kay

The incredible story emerged from officials at Fusion Lifestyle, the charity behind a £5million redevelopment of the popular Newcastle City Pool and Turkish Baths.

They explored the local archives in partnership with organisations including the North of England Civic Trust.

And those local archives revealed that the Newcastle Turkish Baths – which date back to 1839 – played an unexpected role in the robbery.

The lifestyle charity hopes that the fascinating stories will inspire North East people to come forward with their own memories of using the pools and baths.

Fortunately for modern bathers the refurbished baths, which are due to open in 2018, will be fully equipped with secure modern lockers.

One of the fraudsters was captured immediately by policy in London, but the other evaded justice for years until the serial number of one of his £100 notes was cashed in Paris.

The Newcastle baths were closed in April 2013, but a community campaign by Re-open Newcastle Turkish Baths Group drew attention to the building.

Fusion Lifestyle saw the opportunity to add the building to its impressive UK portfolio.

Fusion Lifestyle ploughs all profits from its operations back into the business to provide affordable health and fitness facilities for all.

The redevelopment will bring the pool and Turkish Baths back into operation, as well as seeing the introduction of a new spa, treatment rooms, fitness suite, exercise studios and café.

Jules Brown, conservation and planning manager at North of England Civic Trust, said: “It was fascinating researching the history of this grade-II listed building.

“You never quite know what you’re going to find, but we had a feeling that lots of weird and wonderful things would come to light once we started looking.”

Cait Read, from Re-open Newcastle Turkish Baths & City Pool Group, said: “We look forward to discovering more of people’s memories and the history of the building over the next year.”

Established in 2000, Fusion Lifestyle is a registered charity on a mission to make sport and leisure facilities affordable and accessible to all.

In recent years, more than £150million has been provided for the creation and redevelopment of state-of-the-art leisure facilities,

There were 28 million visits to Fusion sites in 2014, including 6 million by under-19s and 1.8 million by over-60s. The charity also delivered 3.8 million swimming lessons.

Peter Kay, chief executive of Fusion Lifestyle, said: “As a charity which specialises in redeveloping leisure facilities this must be our most extraordinary project yet – which is testament to the great character of the North East.

“We know that there are more stories out there in the local community, so I’d encourage everyone to share their fond memories on the ‘Newcastle City Pool and Turkish Baths’ Facebook page.

“We’re committed to a redevelopment which celebrates the history of this incredible building, making it available to the whole community – apart from bank robbers, of course!”