Turkish baths in asylums

Denbigh, Wales

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

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North Wales Counties Lunatic Asylum, Denbigh

At the end of the 1860 s and beginning of the 1870s, the Denbigh asylum cared for just under 400 patients, more or less evenly divided by gender. In his report to the Committee of Visitors for 1869, Dr George Turner Jones, the Medical Superintendent, recommended that a Turkish bath be built.

He admitted that it had not yet been extensively used in the treatment of mental disease, but that many patients had benefited from its use for a number of physical complaints. He was asked to investigate further and report back to the Committee.

The following year he reported that, with a colleague, he had visited two asylums where Turkish baths had been installed and had been most impressed. The first was in Cork, where they had been shown around by Dr Power, and the second in Limerick. Dr Power thought that it was most beneficial,

in almost all cases of Insanity, especially when combined with melancholia, scrofula, and rheumatism, and especially in the early stages of consumption, not only in arresting, but also in curing the disease.

They also visited St Ann's Hydropathic Establishment at Blarney where they discussed the use of the bath with several of the patients there.

Turner Jones told the committee that 'when the prejudice against it subsides, the Turkish bath will come to be found in all large institutions. Furthermore, he reported that 'as a means of cleansing it is found to be the cheapest mode adopted'.

This last point carried the day for Dr Jones; the Visitors approved the construction of a Turkish bath at a cost of £400. The Lancet was scornful of the manner in which the decision was taken.

In the desultory discussion which preceded the adoption of this resolution, some extraordinary statements were made respecting the wonderful percentage of cures alleged to have been effected by the bath; but we miss in the arguments used, as well as in the medical superintendent's report which was the occasion of the discussion, any exact statement of the real scientific value of the Turkish bath in the treatment of insanity. Some of the Visitors appear to have desired such a statement before sanctioning the required outlay, but to have obtained only, in place of it, an assurance that the bath is found to be the cheapest mode that can be adopted as a means of cleansing...

The Visitors were invited to provide the journal's readers with a 'precise report' on the results of using the bath after it had received a reasonable trial.

In asking the Visitors to approve the construction of a Turkish bath at the asylum, Jones had estimated the cost of the work involved at £400. The actual amount was £397 6s. 6d. and the items comprising this total, which were noted in the annual report for 1871, give us a clear indication of the relative costs of such work at that time.

Turkish Bath Account £ s. d.
Bricks, Tiles, Fire, Clay, [ie, fireclay], &c 124 8 5
Castings 19 12 2
Cement 6 1 6
Furnace Fittings and Ventilators 4 19 11
Glass 7 6 3
Hot Water Tank 9 0 0
Iron Tubing, Valves, Locks, &c 11 16 10
Joiners 28 15 8
Lead 16 12 9
Masons and Bricklayers 79 0 5
Plasterer and Slater 11 7 8
Plumber 1 19 3
Slate, Slabs 3 8 5
Stone, Lime, Laths, and Hair 16 4 2
Timber 55 1 3
Upholsterer 1 11 10
  397 6 6

When this report was presented, the Turkish bath had only been open for three months so Jones can be excused for not having satisfied The Lancet 's request for precision. Nevertheless, he felt confident that the bath would produce good results, and that it had been valuable in several cases of 'acute mania'. He was also 'fully persuaded' of its superiority over warm water for cleansing. He continued:

This bath is much more liked by the patients. Many had a great aversion to the ordinary one, so much so that persuasion and in some instances gentle force was required to induce them to enter the bath. This has now almost entirely disappeared, and the pleasures of the baths are eagerly sought for. There is also great economy in labour and water.

What is not totally clear is whether Turner Jones realised that removing the threat so often felt by patients being persuaded by 'gentle force' to cleanse themselves, had in itself a curative value.

The asylum/hospital closed in 1995, but it is not yet certain whether the Turkish baths remained in use until the end.


Thank you icon

Thomas Fitzgerald for personal communication, and help with dates

Colin Jones for permission to use image and text from his website sources

Clywd Wynne for personal communication, and help with information

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Part of the exterior of the asylum

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