The ventilation and hygiene of the first London
establishments left much to be desired. Urquhart worried that this would
give Turkish baths a bad name. A series of letters, seemingly
orchestrated in typical Urquhart fashion by his friends, appeared in a
number of papers. One in The Field from Francis Francis, its
angling editor, describing the benefits of the bath was soon followed by
an editorial criticising London’s existing baths and demanding ‘a
bath constructed and conducted in a proper manner’.
Urquhart talked with friends such as George Witt and
Erasmus Wilson, and later with such stalwart committee supporters as
Stewart Rolland and the ironmaster, George Crawshay, about the
possibility of opening an establishment which would serve as a model.
The baths would need to be big, clean and ‘authentic’—authenticity
oddly implying the dry bath of the Romans, located in a traditional 17th
or 18th century Islamic style building, following
contemporary Turkish practice in the provision of shampooing, pipes and narghilles,
sherbet, coffee and refreshments.
Urquhart, whose annual income in 1854 was less than
£600 per year, realised that the bath would have to be built and
operated by a joint stock company, but he was in principle opposed to
such companies with their inescapable need to pay dividends to their
This, and a number of other factors, complicated the
setting up of the London & Provincial Turkish Bath Co Ltd on 19
November 1860. Just days before a ‘disastrous’ first meeting of
subscribers, Urquhart had a permanent falling-out with George Witt, a
Fellow of the Royal Society and personal friend of 20 years standing.
who had been a major supporter of the proposal.
Though not a subscriber, Urquhart ‘attended’ the
meeting as expert, and in his speech indicated clearly where he stood:
…It should be on the threshold understood that
the object of the association is not to be so much profit (though a
fair return for the capital will certainly be returned), as to supply
a model bath, and to guard the institution from the innovations of the
ignorant, the presumptuous, and the greedy...
Despite this, ten days later he was made an ‘Honorary
Director’ to allow his participation at Board Meetings.
A hopelessly over-optimistic prospectus for £100,000
worth of £5 shares was issued, but one year later, by 9 December
1861, only 1,633 shares had been issued to a total of 31 shareholders.
And while these included such personalities as Sir John Fife, Francis
Francis, Dr J L W Thudichum, and Erasmus Wilson, two thirds of the
shares were subscribed by only three people: Crawshay, Rolland and Harriett
Ann Curtis, already major supporters of Urquhart’s foreign affairs
The company was, therefore, under-capitalised from
the start, and this was to affect its pricing policy and turn it into an
establishment beloved by Royalty but unaffordable by many middle class
bathers, let alone the working classes.
5: Urquhart’s rôle and remuneration