Shampooers' wages and conditions
in three 19th century London Turkish baths

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

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3. The Shampooers

Who were the shampooers? Generalisations are often unwisely made and can sometimes tell us more about the person making the judgement, than about those being judged. Kenny's view was forthright and dismissive:

Men of all sorts become Shampooers, but as a rule they are of a low class, and unintelligent.

Yet more than one shampooer has written a book about his experiences, others have become managers and then proprietors of their own baths, and yet others have become famous for work quite different from that in which they started. The type of person who is appointed to a job frequently matches the stereotype which has been sought by the employer.

David Urquhart, first Manager of the Hammam, employed an Armenian, Youssouf Hieronymus, as Chief Shampooer, and then had him train the others, and their successors. Following in that tradition of avoiding bad practice,

Mr Waugh will not take on a man who has been at any other bath,

and both Waugh and Nevill prefer to train their shampooers themselves. Nevill

advertises & tries to get a man who has been in the retail counter trade. Grocery men are usually the best. Quick, active with a notion of how to talk to more educated persons.

But employers can disagree quite strongly on the characteristics that make for a good shampooer. According to Kenny,

The chief requirement for a good Shampooer is muscular strength.

Whereas Nevill feels that,

You must be of sound constitution & wiry but great strength is unnecessary…

strong men are no use to them as they cant stand the heat…

Small men are always the best. 5ft 6 to 5ft 8 is the proper height.

Both Waugh and Nevill appear to have taken on staff while they were still boys. At the Hammam,

many of the men begin as boys in the cooling-room,

but amongst the gentry and upper classes at the end of the 19th century, the term 'boy' would not have meant someone who was not yet an adult. The first meaning for the term 'boy' in the Oxford English dictionary is 'A male servant, slave, assistant, junior employee, etc.' exemplified by quotations ranging from the fourteenth century to 2002. However, the third (2008) edition also notes: 'In general use. Now rare except in some former British colonies.'

That this 19th century meaning of 'boys' applied to those working at the Hammam receives additional support since the only employed boy mentioned in the company Minute Book is an office boy.

Further confirmation is provided by a Punch cartoon showing the boys, actually adults from north Africa, in the cooling-room of the Turkish baths in Latherington Street, an imaginary establishment but one clearly based on the Hammam.

Nevill stated that they actually employ boys from the age of 15, but not as shampooers, although they later

trained a few from boys, 3 in bath & 2 in Office brought up in this way. But it is not very feasible training boys as there is an ugly interregnum between boyhood & manhood. Don’t like to have young men of 18 & 20 in bathroom. Men must be over 25 to understand the ‘solidity of their business.’

Training at the Hammam would have been very thorough, though we don't know how long it took. Kenny said that,

It is very easily learnt and any man ought to be able to do it after six lessons. At Bartholomew’s a new man is taught either by Mr Kenny or by one of the old hands.

But Nevill made a clear distinction between knowing the routines and being at the top.

In a fortnight a man can learn to take the ordinary run of cases. But 2 or 3 yrs for proper experience…

Of the three interviewees, Nevill had most experience in running Turkish baths for women. The Hammam had given up providing for them many years earlier; the Leicester Square baths had two floors for their women bathers; but the Nevill brothers owned two separate Turkish baths for women's use only. James Forder Nevill's remarks comparing female shampooers with male shampooers will have had, therefore, a certain validity, at least for that particular period at the end of the nineteenth century.

Men can do from 15 to 20 bathers per day…Women don’t stand heat as well as men. By the time she has done 8 bathers she wd have done a days work. By 12 bathers she wd be completely knocked up.

All agreed with the earliest Turkish bath proprietors that work as a shampooer was healthy work and that the shampooers benefited from this.

The work is generally considered healthy and men keep at it for years. Mr Kenny knows one man who had been at it for 50 years. Men nearly always lose weight on their holiday, and put it on again when they get back to the Bath.

Mr Waugh showed me a list of the men with the length of their service the Foreman has been there 31 years, four or five of the men over 20 years, and most of them for a considerable time.

Very seldom is there a case of illness among the men. The life is very healthy. During influenza epidemic (3 yrs) they had only one case that cd have been called influenza. They sweat out every microbe as soon as it enters.

This page revised and reformatted 02 January 2020

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The cooling-room at 'Latherington Street' Turkish baths

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