Turkish baths in provincial England

Blackburn: Richmond Terrace

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

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Blackburn Turkish Baths

The baths were opened on 25 May 1891, just over a year after their owners, the newly incorporated Blackburn Turkish Baths Company Ltd, had purchased their plot of land in Richmond Terrace.

The building was designed by James Herbert Stones of a local firm of architects, Stones & Gradwell, and the architect himself lived in the same road.

The front of the building was of deep red brick, with buff terra-cotta dressings from Clark & Rea of Wrexham. The elevation was considered to be 'of good height' and showed 'considerable resource in the treatment of material.'

There were at least two other Turkish baths in Blackburn in 1891 when the Richmond Terrace baths opened. The one at Audley Range closed almost immediately. The other was Officer's Turkish Baths at Fielden Street, where William Greenwood, the manager since it opened in 1874, had just purchased it from Benjamin Officer, who seems to have inherited it a short while earlier.

So it is interesting to note that the Blackburn directors deliberately chose to set entrance charges which were described by a journalist who visited two days before the opening as being 'rather high'. Opening advertisements set the same tone, referring to:

High-Class Baths of every description
No expense has been spared to make the Baths as comfortable
as possible. Perfect ventilation ensured.
Massage and electrical treatment specially given by a
thoroughly trained Masseur and Electrician.

The baths were open Monday to Saturday from 8.00 am till 9.00 pm, and the standard entrance charge for men was 2/6d. But on three evenings the charge was reduced to 1/6d and, on a further two evenings to 1/-. The bath was also open on Sunday morning at reduced rates.

Women had access to the baths on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9.00 am till 2.00 pm at 2/6d, and on Friday from 6.00-9.00 pm at 1/-.

Although the unnamed visiting journalist commented on the high tariff, he did refer to the baths as being 'a sumptuous affair', where,

you can be Washed, Douched, Sprayed, Needled, and Showered to your heart's content and the body's lissomness. And even then the attractions do not cease, for in an adjoining alcove light refreshments and a good cigar may be enjoyed while one's favourite corn is cut.

Three hot rooms were maintained at temperatures of 130, 170, and 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Couches were available in each, and together they could accommodate between twenty to thirty bathers. The ventilation was designed so that stale air was withdrawn through gratings in the floor.

The shampooing room, equipped with warm marble slabs, was maintained at 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The bather was then taken to the needle and shower baths where an attendant regulated the temperature.

The last stage of the bathing process was the cold plunge bath, after which the bather was wrapped in warm sheets and conducted through into the cooling-room.

This long high room, with couches for relaxation, was maintained at a temperature of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The bather was able to read, order tea or coffee and have a smoke before finally getting dressed and returning to the outside world.

When the directors of the company purchased the land, it was their stated intention 'to erect buildings thereon, and to establish, maintain, and conduct there a Turkish Bath.' We don't yet know whether they did in fact ever run the enterprise on their own account, but by 1894 the baths had been leased to Alfred Arbury, who managed them himself until 1901 when he opened his own establishment in the Miller Arcade in Preston.

Looking at the price list which appeared in the booklet Arbury produced in 1897 it is clear that very few changes have been made since the opening of the baths six years earlier.

The baths opened half an hour later and closed an hour earlier. The women's Friday morning session had been moved to Tuesday evening, and shortened. Bathers were able to have a Second Class bath which, which omitted the shampoo, and cost 1/6 instead of 2/6. And bathers could make a considerable saving by buying a book of ten first class, or twelve second class, tickets in advance. There was still a chiropodist in attendance and the women's sessions were supervised by Mrs Arbury.

All the signs are that the baths were providing a good living for Arbury, and that the company was satisfied with the way things were going. But in May 1894 there was an incident which, though not directly related to the baths, could have had a serious effect on its profitability when patrons read in the local paper of a ' Serious charge against a manager'.

Something like a sensation was caused by the appearance in the dock of Alfred Arbury (29), manager of the Turkish Baths at Richmond Terrace. He was charged with unlawfully assaulting Eleanor Scott, a girl under the age of 16 years--to wit, 15½ years.

A Mr Withers, for the defence,

strongly maintained that there was not a prima facie case for him to answer, for the statement of the girl was false, and only concocted four days after the alleged assault because the prisoner had discharged her from his service.

Arbury was committed for trial at Manchester Assizes, though allowed out on bail for the sum of £100 and two sureties of £50 each.

At his trial on 18 July, it was related how Arbury,

had been spending the Whit week holiday with his wife at Bristol and on his return, he was unable to get into his house, and heard his children crying within. He finally forced an entrance at the back, and when later on the prosecutrix returned he reprimanded her for leaving the house, and gave her the option of going at once or serving a month's notice.

The girl chose to work off her notice, but soon afterwards she and her friends made the accusation against Arbury. However, the girl admitted,

that although she had relatives residing in the town she made no complaint to them until after she had received notice to leave the defendant's employ,

and the Jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

There is a gap in the history of the baths between 1901, when Arbury left, and 1913, when George H Hinchcliffe became the Lessee. The Baths Company went into voluntary liquidation in 1920 and was wound up in the following year. The baths themselves seem to have disappeared from the records at that date and may well have closed then.

It may be that the Blackburn baths, in common with many others, suffered a decline in patronage after the end of the 1914-18 war. The directors had finally paid off their mortgage on the property by 1920 and may have decided to call it a day. Two of the original subscribers—the cotton manufacturer William Kay and the engineer William (by now Sir William) Thom—were still directors thirty years later when the company closed its books.


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Ian Sutton , Blackburn Libraries, Local History Collection

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Outside the Blackburn Turkish Baths

The hot rooms

The shampooing room

The cold plunge pool

The cooling-room

The 1897 tariff

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Other Turkish baths in the provinces

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