Turkish baths in Ireland

 

Limerick: 15 Sarsfield Street

(late Brunswick Street)

 

                                         

This is a single frame, printer-friendly page taken from Malcolm Shifrin's website

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

        

Original illustrated page with chronology and notes

List of other Turkish baths in Ireland
 

 

  

Turkish baths

When Mr D Taylor decided to build his new Turkish bath on the site of the old biscuit factory stores in Brunswick Street he knew that he wanted it to be well built and for it to be an attractive building. According to an article in the Old Limerick Journal series 'Ends and means', twenty men were engaged for seven months on building it. But although the brickwork was said later 'to be the finest to be seen anywhere', Taylor's relationship with the builders had not been a happy one. At one stage, Taylor had even (unsuccessfully) sued one of the masons, Peter McNamara, for refusing to finish the work in breach of contract.

The baths were well described in a local newspaper, which thought it important to mention that the building was surrounded by iron railings. Perhaps of more interest architecturally, there were four large stained glass windows at the front of the building and terra cotta decorations around the top.

Opposite the ticket office, with what was said to be 'unusual frosted glass windows', was the door to the 15ft high cooling-room measuring 40ft by 28ft and lit by Wyndham gas lamps.

At the sides of the cooling-room, with its wood panelled ceiling and walls, were twenty-six upholstered dressing boxes with crimson screens and a couch for relaxing on after the bath. At the far end was a  5ft deep tiled plunge bath, 15ft long by 9ft wide, with a curved surround of white Killaloe marble. There was also access to the pool through a crimson baize spring door from one of the hot rooms.

This first hot room, but a foot lower than the cooling-room, was very large (23ft by 50ft) and had a cone shaped ceiling. Ename lled tiles covered the lower half of the walls, while the floor was covered in a pattern of tessellated tiles. Bathers were able to satisfy their thirst from a constantly running fountain of filtered drinking water.

A dimmed glass screen in a wrought iron frame separated this room from a similar second hot room with a tiled arch ceiling. Hot air passed into the room 'through apertures of pidgeon shape'.

Also leading off the first hot room was the shampooing room with two marble slabs, together with hot and cold needle and spray showers.

All the main rooms were on the ground floor, with the laundry, drying rooms, and caretaker's accommodation in the basement. The furnace was said to be able to produce a hot room temperature of 200ºF.

While the building work was supervised by a Mr White, of Dublin, the newspaper was happy—no doubt with an eye to possible advertising revenue—that most of the materials used were obtained locally, and that the plumbing was by a local firm, D Thompson of Cecil Street.

Of one advertisement, at least, the newspaper could be sure—Mr Taylor's, announcing the opening of his new baths in (the by now renamed) Sarsfield Street,6 'in the erection of which the Proprietor has spared no expense' and which,

are specially notable for the spaciousness of their apartments, perfect ventilation, (on which the whole value of the Bath depends), and the care and exactness with which its operations will be conducted…The Shampooers have been selected with great care, and no effort will be wanting to render the attendance prompt and obliging, under the personal supervision of manager and proprietor.

About his opening hours and charges Taylor was still feeling his way. Setting the hours between 9.00 and 5.00 as his prime time with an admission charge of 2/-, he reduced this to 1/- in the early morning from 6.30, and in the evening from 5.00 till closing time at 8.30.  Hot water baths were also available (during the same periods) at 6d and 1/-,  while 'Shower, Needle, Wave, or Plunge' were each available at any time for 6d.

But no mention of a charge for shampooing seems to indicate that this was included in the price of the Turkish bath. While the phrase 'Cold, Tepid, Reclining, and Shower Baths for Ladies' clearly indicates that the Turkish baths were not available to women bathers.

However, probably soon afterwards, both the prices and the policy towards women bathers had changed. The second paragraph of a later advertisement states 'Open daily for Ladies and Gentlemen'—though it does not indicate at what time, or on which days, and there do not seem to be any new separate baths for women. The admission charges appear to have been reduced to 1/6 and 1/-, but as a shampoo now cost 6d extra, this was only a reduction for those wanting just a Turkish bath. And while baths for women cost less than those for men at 1/- and 9d, there is no way of knowing whether they had the same facilities or time in the bath.

By this time, though, Taylor felt confident enough to announce that his baths 'had now been proved by the Public, and are admittedly the best and largest in the Kingdom', the latter claim being made, with equal lack of justification, by many other establishments before and after Taylor.

After Taylor's death, some time in the 1890s, his wife Mary ran the Turkish baths until around 1914 when they were bought by Michael O'Brien. 'Now open under new management from 8.00 am to 8.30 pm' announced the new proprietor, cutting out the early morning sessions.

But the use of Turkish baths was already decreasing by the end of the 1914-18 war and, by the summer of 1924, O'Brien was opening the baths 'on a part time basis'. In fact, prior to that, the baths may even have closed for a while, either due to decreased usage or perhaps due to the political situation—otherwise it is difficult to explain the wall plaque advertising 'Luimneach Turkish Baths Now Open' which can be seen on a nearby wall in 1922.

On 19 July 1927, O'Brien, who was also the proprietor of the Patrick Street Bonded Warehouse, wrote to the Town Clerk applying for a rebate on his rates for the previous three years when the Turkish baths had only been open on a part time basis.

Whether or not he was successful in this, the baths closed permanently a short while afterwards and the building was purchased by Spillane's Tobacco Factory, which already occupied the premises next door at Nos. 16-17.

 


 

Mike McGuire, Local History Library, Limerick, for much help & many useful references

Tracy Moroney, for help with the wall plaque image
Larry Walsh, Limerick Museum, for a great image and helping me avoid a major error



The original page includes footnotes,
and thumbnail pictures which can be enlarged.
All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.

Exterior view of the baths, 1919

Advertisement announcing opening of the baths

Advertisement with revised prices

Fire insurance plan, 1897

Crowd near Turkish baths sign, Limerick, 1922

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

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