“ Cousin Lane, Cannon Street, London, EC4R 3XJ, Tel:0845 2413836 „
I have just cancelled my membership to Nuffield Health and Fitness at the old Canon's in the City of London in Cousin's Lane, largely due to their mis-selling practices and utterly unprofessional nature. I had signed a direct debit for my what I thought at the time was a three month contract. They managed to lose my direct debit as one of their IT people "deleted" all their direct debit mandates. So, I was then chased, and I mean harried, for the missing month. I was out of the country at this point on holiday and business, not unlike many of their clients I suspect, given where they are located, and I was, within the month, being threatened with DEBT RECOVERY AGENCY! Yes, they were going to send round the heavy mob to one of their members to acquire compensation of 96 pounds! Unreal! On cancelling my membership, I then discovered that my three month was in fact a rolling monthly contract with a MINIMUM of three months! What a shower. Goodbye e Nuffield.
This was my gym for 3 months... I got out as soon as I could! The equipment was almost always broken, there isn't nearly enough of it for the people, the air conditioning is poor and therefore smells. oh, and you DO have to pay for towels!The staff are not welcoming and in general there is a poor lack of communication. The only saving grace was the Sunday morning pilates class! I have now moved onto Vigin Active who are welcoming, on the ball, have more machines and best of all, I actually feel like this gym is clean!!!!
Having been a member of Cannons, the main reason for joining would be the swimming pool. The prices are quite honestly exhorbitant, for what you can get at a Fitness First gym. Typical of a gym, there are fitness instructors doing rounds, trying to attract clients by using bizarre techniques in order to stir up some sort of conversation. If swimming is your thing, there are lifeguards present pretty much all the time, which you would expect, but to pay an extra £20/30 a month for this, is abit deranged, unless you're made of money. The fitness classes come as part of the package, the instructors devote some time giving you a run down of what it entails, which is positive. The equipment was ok when it was Cannons, but now i am assuming it would be state of the art, considering its new status and affilitation with the NHS.
Cannons City gymnasium is the jewel in the crown of this national chain.
The snappy marketers have recently re-branded it as a "Nuffield Health City Fitness and Wellbeing Centre" (did they actually run any focus groups?). Fortunately, beyond the odd green lick of paint, little has changed. The club remains a pre-eminent facility in the heart of London. Everything you would expect from a Cannons facility is here; but supersized and supercharged in a genuinely premium venue by the banks of the Thames.
The City gymnasium is in my view a superlative fitness and pampering experience. They say the best things in life are free, and you can indeed visit free of charge courtesy of Sainsbury's and their wonderful scheme of Nectar vouchers. Weekends are probably best for the casual visitor - on Saturdays and Sundays the sometimes frenetic weekday crush has subsided and the facility feels like an exclusive private club. Fancy a swimming lane to yourself? No problem.
The experience can be addictive. A couple of years back, when Cannons was running a promotion on cereal packets, a colleague of mine assiduously purchased over fifty boxes of cereal and stockpiled them in his garage. He enjoyed a year's weekly regime at the club, though I fear he will be eating bran flakes for the rest of his mortal life.
So just what is so good about this gym?
Cannons feels cosy and authentic because it nestles under the brick Victorian arches of Cannon Street station. In contrast to the glaring, metal-warehouse look of your typical modern gym, the curving historic arches provide a real sense of place and a thematic continuity to the building. The arches are often subtly lit almost like some old cathedral, and lounging in the spa you can meditate on the ceiling as if you are sitting in some hot spring in a cavern. (Well almost....)The two mock cannons outside the gym add to the sense of place.
The gym is on the North Thames Path which is a very pleasant riverside walk by itself, and adjacent to an old City pub ("The Banker") and Cannon St Station (Circle/District Line) itself. Alas both hostelry and public transit are closed at weekends but it is a pleasant ten minute stroll down from Bank, St. Paul's or even Fenchurch Street/Tower Hill. There are plenty of cycle racks outside the front of the gym, although car parking is inadvisable.
The gym's postal address is Cousin Lane, London EC4R 3XJ. Incidentally there was a fire at the site in 2008, but it looks like all damage has been repaired.
There is a fully equipped sportswear shop on your right as you enter, a welcome change from the anaemic rack of sports shoes and swimming togs on display in Cannons elsewhere. The staff here were very assiduous and attentive when I tried on multiple pairs of sports shoes in a recent sale. The shop is small, but the staff appear knowledgeable on the ins and outs of over and under-pronation.
Usually some modern art is displayed for sale near the sofas in the foyer, although with the credit crunch is it doubtful that guests will indulge a whim to drop a couple of grand on some cityscape by a (typically) little known artist. Still, this is London. The clientele is typically City/professional with a large number of non-British accents. I have always found the guests to be polite and considerate e.g. asking before they throw more water on the sauna coals.
The male changing area is substantial with some useful features (e.g. a machine that dries your swimming trunks) and showers that have free shampoo, conditioner and body soap. A one pound coin is required for the lockers. However the changing area is one of the weaker features of the gymnasium - it is not always scrupulously clean and there are visible cracks in the bathroom floor. I have seen classier-looking changing areas. Whilst you can collect a free white towel at reception, you are obliged to return it directly to reception; many don't so a large pile of used towels sometimes collects.
The fitness area
The upper floor fitness area contains a room with exercise bikes, cross trainers and recumbent bikes, and the usual bank of large plasma TV screens. (Rather like Graceland, where Elvis famously watched three channels simultaneously, you can watch all three channels using the sound controls on your machine. Bring your own headphones). There is background radio music (typically KISS FM or similar) but this is not intrusive. Clearly these facilities are standard in most gyms; where Cannons has a unique selling point is that many of the downstairs machines have integrated personal colour TV screens. These are less frequently seen in other gyms.
The two weights areas contain a good range of dumbbells, bar bells, other free weights and resistance equipment, rowing machines, exercise mats, balls, a climbing wall and boxing equipment. The casual gym user, such as myself, will find everything they want and more. For the dedicated, there is a large downstairs area with a comprehensive bank of perhaps thirty resistance machines. There are also large studios where a wide range of classes operate and a dedicated spinning room.
On the upper floor there are two squash courts. I have never played here myself, as the glass doors mean that everybody walking past in the corridor can watch you. There is also a women-only exercise area which for gender-related reasons I am not in a position to report on!
As a more serious swimmer, I have never used the smaller pool and consider it superfluous; however I am sure that aqua classes etc find it very useful. The main pool itself has three narrow lanes (the obligatory slow, medium and fast) and a beautiful backdrop of the railway arch and tasteful backlighting that glows likes stars. The picture is attached to this review. The pool is not the largest I have seen at a Cannons but is practically empty at weekends. Swimming here is an unusually peaceful experience. When the swimming regime is complete, what better than to rest in the Jacuzzi and press the button for the five-minute program? There are only eight Jacuzzis but this is a refreshing experience and at weekends it is rarely crowded.
Legend has it that entry to the Retreat area once charged a separate fee, and one of the strange features of the gym is that, to reach the spa area from the swimming area you have to walk via the changing area and the Retreat reception. Hence a parade of dripping wet people gingerly walking past the beautician's reception area to take the (potentially slippery) staircase down to the spa zone.
Once arrived, the trek is worth it. The spa lagoon is vast and cavernous, framed by (fake?) palm trees, in the atmospheric brick curve of the old railway arch. The steam room is fairly standard and the sauna is excellent, though in my view too small. There are usually old, heat-baked copies of the Financial Times or similar lying around for general perusal. One fabulous feature is the Riverside Terrace, which consists of a wet zone area of sun loungers on which you can relax in silence and watch the river. It is strangely hypnotic to watch the tourist river cruisers go past on summer days. Occasionally you might see a police boat. You are opposite Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hind and some riverside pubs, so it is somewhere good to chill out and think. I just wish people didn't talk in this designated silent zone.
Incidentally, the Cannons Retreat offers a range of massages, facial, hand feet and eye treatments, hair removal and men's grooming, as well as "exotic wraps and masks". I have never availed myself of these facilities, preferring to go straight for the spa.
There is a fantastic bagel restaurant (The Bagel Factory) on the ground floor which sells a wide variety of bagels and other healthy snacks at reasonable prices (i.e. under £5). I can recommend it.
The website cannons.co.uk offers a comprehensive overview of the club. Outside the Christmas season, opening times are 6.30am to 10pm (Monday to Thursday), 6.30am to 9pm (Friday), and 10am-6pm Saturday to Sundays and Bank Holiday. Be warned that you may be ejected from the spa and pools half an hour before closing and at weekends run the risk of bumping into cleaning staff. The relevant web pages are:
In summary, the Cannons City brand has offered a consistently premium health club experience. I would recommend taking advantage of any free trial offers on the Cannons website, or indeed the Sainsbury's Nectar voucher offer, for a visit before considering membership. Otherwise a one-day pass typically costs £15.
It remains to be seen how the Nuffield Health take-over/rebranding will affect it. (Personally, I am not looking forward to that bold and professional dark blue branding disappearing under a sea of unattractive lime-green).
However if you live in London, and your New Year's Resolution is to get ahead with some health and fitness goals, I can think of no finer venue that this superlative gymnasium.
(c) EasternStar/WestOcean 2008