The Turkish Baths at St Peter's Square, Leeds, in the 1890s

John Shaw's Turkish Baths at St Peter's Square
< Photo: © Leeds Library & Information Service Can be purchased from

This particular establishment is of considerable importance in the history of the Victorian Turkish bath in the British Isles.

The first such bath in England was built by David Urquhart with his Manchester Foreign Affairs Committee in 1857. One of Urquhart's political protégés was Charles Bartholomew (who at his death owned a countrywide chain of eight Turkish baths). He visited the Leeds Foreign Affairs Committee on Urquhart's behalf and, according to a letter in The Free Press (23 Sep 1857), reported that afterwards 'We adjourned to the house of the Chairman...I had the opportunity of saying a good deal to the Committee about the Turkish bath.'

The following year, two members of the committee, John Shaw as proprietor and Frederick Rawnsley as manager, opened the Turkish bath in St Peter's Square. Thus, this particular establishment is one of the first ten Victorian Turkish baths in England, six of which were opened by Urquhart's Foreign Affairs Committees.

At some stage, possibly quite early on, the Turkish bath was extended backwards so as to gain a frontage at No.4 High Street. The owners of what was, by 1870, called St Peter's Baths were J Atkinson & Co but by 1872 they had a new proprietor, H Teale, and it was he who added the Sulphur baths. By 1876, the proprietor was Tom Mountain who renamed it St Peter's Spa, and ensured that directories entered the establishment at 4 High Street instead of 5-6 St Peter's Square.

Asa Briggs1 writes that there had been a potentially ruinous split in the Leeds FAC noting that 'The Leeds dispute was a very complicated one and had to be referred to Urquhart. He deputed a man called John Duce to mediate.' Briggs implies that the dispute was over political principles. In fact, round about 12 September 1859, Shaw and Rawnsley had quarrelled over the running of the bath and Rawnsley left and immediately started a rival Turkish bath at Belgrave House, 45 Wade Lane, which he ran till 1863, the bath itself remaining open until 1916.

This page enlarges an image or adds to the information found below:

Roman? Turkish? Middle class? Part 4: A working class movement

Early Turkish baths for animals. Part 1: Introduction

Heritaging the Victorian Turkish bath. Part 2: Urquhart and Barter

Origin of the Victorian Turkish bath

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Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

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 1. 'David Urquhart and the West Riding Foreign Affairs Committees' Bradford Antiquary (1962) pp.197-207) [return]