Turkish baths in Ireland

Dublin: 11 Leinster Street

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

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Turkish and Warm Baths

The James Joyce's Ulysses connection

The Turkish and Warm Baths at 11 Leinster Street, Dublin, are probably the most famous Turkish baths in modern English literature, arising from three well-known references to them in James Joyce's novel Ulysses.

The action of the novel follows a Dubliner, Leopold Bloom, throughout a single day of his life (16 June 1904), now celebrated worldwide by Joyceans as Bloomsday. Unfortunately, Bloom did not have time to take a Turkish bath on that day so we are left wondering how he might have described them.

Some commentators have suggested that Bloom did take a Turkish bath, or that he did so at the Moorish-looking Turkish baths in Lincoln Place, which he saw on his way to the Leinster Street Baths. However both these suggestions are incorrect, as indicated elsewhere on this site.

Although Joyce had left Dublin by the time he wrote Ulysses, he took great pains to ensure the accuracy of his references to places in the city, writing to friends and relatives to check details for him. So we may be fairly certain that in 1904 a warm bath in this establishment actually did cost 1s.6d.

The baths under the Sloanes

The Leinster Street Baths were opened at the beginning of March 1882 by William and James Sloane. It is not yet known where this father and son team gained its expertise in the construction of Turkish baths, but in 1878 they 'erected the whole of the heating apparatus' for Messrs Millar & Jury who had just built a Turkish bath next to their hotel in Stephen's Green West. The Sloanes seem to have owned a bath and sponge warehouse at that time, also located in Stephen's Green.

From a description we have of the heating system at the Stephen's Green Turkish Bath, they seem to have adopted the method favoured in England of using a furnace—typically a Constantine's Convoluted Stove—to heat fresh air directed around the stove, before being channelled through the hot rooms. Fresh hot air was, therefore, continually being passed through the rooms. This ensured better ventilation than earlier systems using a hypocaust, or flues under or around the hot rooms, which only heated the air which was already inside them.

The Stephen's Green Turkish Baths were situated close to the Royal College of Surgeons and it was hoped that they would be popular not only with hotel patrons but also with members of the medical profession. Prices for the men's Turkish baths (which varied according to the time of day) were 2/-, 1/6, and 1/-.

Having built the crucially important heating and ventilation system so successfully for clients, the Sloanes must have seen an opportunity for themselves to open a similar establishment at a lower price affordable by a greater number of people.

The Irish Times reported the opening of the new Leinster Street baths 'by our enterprising fellow-citizens the Messrs Sloane of Stephen's Green, whose skill and success as Turkish bath engineers has made Dublin celebrated for its Turkish baths.'

Beyond the entrance hall was the cooling-room, at the far end of which was a plunge bath. The walls of the hot rooms and shampooing rooms were lined with specially manufactured china-faced bricks giving 'an appearance of purity and beauty not to be surpassed'. Continental sprays had been installed in the shampooing rooms 'at the request of gentlemen who visit the Vichy baths.' While on the housekeeping side, there was also a laundry and drying room.

The baths were designed, the writer concluded, 'to supply a high-class Turkish bath at a moderate price, by so doing bringing this great aid to health within the means of all.'

The Sloanes concentrated on two selling points: the moderate charge and the excellent ventilation system. 'try the shilling turkish bath' headed the first of a regular series of advertisements in the Irish Times. A shilling was the lowest price for a first class Turkish bath at the Stephen's Green establishment; but between 6.00 and 9.00 in the evening, the Sloanes charged only 9d.

These baths only ever catered for male bathers, though in 1889 the Sloanes opened a second Dublin establishment, the New Central Turkish Baths for Ladies and Gentlemen, at No.3 Stephen's Green.

The Leinster Turkish Baths maintained its charges at 1/- during the day and 9d in the evening from the day it opened until 1890. In the late 1880s, while still actually emphasising its low price, it purported to show that this was not the main reason for its popularity. In March 1888, for example, it advertised:

The superiority of this Bath is proved by an increasing business, caused by the perfection of heating (at 290 degrees) and ventilation, more than by the moderate price charged.

In 1889, it was 'famous for heat, ventilation, and shampooing.' But the following year, it went into upper case letters, rather dubiously, with largest plunge bath.

The baths after the Sloanes

Some time around 1890, before the last-quoted advertisement, the name Sloane ceased to appear in connection with the Leinster Turkish Baths, and also from that of the second establishment in Stephen's Green.

At the beginning of 1911, the Leinster Turkish Baths re-opened under a new management and after being 'thoroughly renovated'. It is not known whether this closure was just a normal redecoration closure, or whether it had been closed for some time and then reopened later by a new proprietor.

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