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London spa's luxury makeover

  • Story Highlights
  • Spa London is the UK's first public sector spa
  • East London building was originally a Victorian-era Turkish baths
  • £4 million ($8 million) renovation followed a campaign by local residents
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By Julie Clothier for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- As far as cities go, London is home to some of the world's most expensive and most exclusive day spas, but you don't have to be an A-list celebrity or have an enormous bank balance to get pampered in the British capital.

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London's only public spa has been built inside a renovated Victorian-era Turkish baths.

Tucked away in the city's East End, in an area that's better known for its Cockney accents, edgy artists and vibrant flea markets, is a day spa that's calling itself London's best-kept secret.

Spa London is the UK's first public sector spa and sets out to offer luxury spa facilities at an affordable price, with use of the facilities costing a fraction of the hundreds of pounds it would cost to visit most spas in the city.

Spa London manager Alex Smith told CNN the philosophy behind the concept is to introduce both the therapeutic and recreational benefits of the facilities to people who haven't traditionally used spas.

Local residents are given a concessionary rate to use the facilities, and there are days dedicated to women-only, men-only and both men and women.

The Bethnal Green site on which the spa now stands has had a colorful history. Originally Turkish baths dating back to the Victorian era stood there.

It was also home to a starch factory before the neo-Georgian red brick building was converted into public baths in 1929.

Back then, there were two swimming pools, and local residents would use the Turkish, vapor and electric baths and washhouses to bathe and sooth ailments, including gout and rheumatism.

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Between 1950 and 1965, the baths were converted into a hall. The swimming pools disappeared and the washhouses downstairs became a bar and kitchen.

These days, the York Hall Leisure Center is best known for hosting boxing bouts.

The spa renovation is a joint venture between the local council, Tower Hamlets, and Greenwich Leisure Limited, an employee-owned society based on charitable objectives.

The cost of returning the baths to their former glory was £4 million ($8 million) and came about largely because of a campaign by local residents.

Inside the thermal spa, various chambers perform different functions, and some of the original tiling from the 1929 baths remains.

There's a hammam or heated seating area; three hot rooms where the temperature varies from moderate to intense heats; two aroma steam rooms and a sauna.

There's also a monsoon shower, ice fountain and plunge pool to cool you down, and it's feasible to spend hours on end jumping from hot to cold and back to hot.

Visitors can pay extra for massages, facials and body wraps in several treatment rooms.

Smith says that it is still early days for the spa, it was opened in May, but so far it has been a resounding success and the council has had queries from others around the UK wanting to use the model to create more public sector spas. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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