Turkish baths on ocean liners


RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic



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 ocean liners



RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic


Before their merger, there was considerable rivalry between the Cunard and White Star Lines. So when Cunard introduced the Lusitania and Mauretania on their transatlantic route, White Star followed almost immediately with their Olympic and Titanic counterparts.

Both were designed to provide the ultimate in luxury travel and both had virtually identical swimming pools with adjacent Turkish baths suites.  The midsummer issue of The Shipbuilder was a special number devoted to these sister ships which were, at the time,  considered to be the peak of British shipbuilding achievement. The description of the Turkish baths in the article applied in all but the smallest detail to both ships, though most of the photographs of the baths which survive were actually of the Olympic.

On the other hand, a booklet published in May detailing charges, accommodation,  etc, on the Olympic, includes a plan of Deck F (Middle Deck), which seems to have been reprinted from an earlier booklet relating to the Titanic

The Swimming Bath was located on the starboardside of  F Deck, just forward of the Turkish Bath which conveniently adjoined the main companion-way. In addition to the hot, temperate, and cooling-rooms, there were two shampooing rooms, a steam room and, more unusually, an electric bath.

By all accounts, the cooling-room was one of the most extraordinary rooms in the ship and was decorated in the Arabian style of the seventeenth century. For once, perhaps, the publicity material did justice to its subject:

The portholes are concealed by an elaborately carved Cairo curtain, through which the light fitfully reveals something of the grandeur of the mysterious East. The walls from the dado to the cornice are completely tiled in large panels of blue and green, surrounded by a broad band of tiles in a bolder and deeper hue. The ceiling cornice and beams are gilt, with the intervening panels picked out in dull red. From the panels are suspended bronze Arab lamps. A warm coloured teak has been adopted for the dado, doors, and panelling, and forms a perfect setting to the gorgeous effect of the [mosaic floor] tiles and ceiling. The stanchions, also cased in teak, are carved all over with an intricate Moorish pattern, surmounted by a carved cap. Over the doors are small gilt domes, semi-circular in plan, with their soffits carved in low relief geometrical pattern. Low couches are placed around the walls with an inlaid Damascus table between each, upon which coffee and cigarettes or books may be placed. On one side is a handsome marble drinking fountain, set in a frame of tiles. A teak dressing table and mirror, with all its accessories, and a locker for valuables are also provided, while placed around the room are a number of canvas chairs.

The floors of many areas of the Olympic were tiled, each main area having its own set of colours. 

The facilities provided for First Class passengers were perceived as exemplifying the ultimate in luxury, and suppliers of goods to the liner were not slow to advertise their products in its context, rather as suppliers of goods to the royal family still boast their 'By Appointment' logos. An advertisement for Vinolia Otto Toilet Soap appeared in the Illustrated London news on 10 April, just days before the fatal disaster.

Since the Turkish baths were adjacent to the swimming pool, which was restricted to First Class passengers, it must be assumed that the Turkish baths were similarly restricted. On the Olympic they were reserved for the use of Ladies from 10 am to 1 pm, and for Gentlemen from 2 to 7 pm at a charge of 4/- (or $1) per visit.

Because of the tragic history of the Titanic, almost anything to do with the ship is avidly sought by collectors. Although quite a few of these tickets entitling a passenger to a Turkish (or electric) bath seem to have survived, No.657 (similar to the one above) fetched £900 at Onslow's Auction sale on 11 April 1990.

Having paid their dollar, passengers on the Titanic were well looked after by a team of five staff, three men (J B Crosbie, W Ennis, and L Taylorónone of whom was to survive the voyage) and two women (Annie Caton and Mrs Maud Slocombeóboth of whom were amongst those who were saved).

In spite of such care and attention, however, not all passengers enjoyed their Turkish bath on board. Another survivor, Mrs Frederic Oakley Spedden, wrote in her diary for 11 April:

I took a Turkish bath this morning. It was my first and will be my last, I hope, for I never disliked anything in my life so before, though I enjoyed the final plunge in the pool.

Nevertheless, it is fair to say that most passengers who took Turkish baths in these liners enjoyed them. In the facilities provided, and in the high standard of decoration apparent throughout the suites, these baths were a great improvement on those to be found on the Berengaria. Their success later led to the inclusion of similar suites on both the Queen  Mary and the Queen  Elizabeth.

  Leighton H Coleman III for permission to use the quotation from Daisy Spedden's diary, © 2004 Coleman/Spedden Family Archives
Parks Stephenson for permission to use his fine illustration of the tiles in the Olympic which he rendered from original pictures from the liner. Other tiles from the liner, and much else of interest, can be found on his website called SS401: Curious facts for Titanic historians

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

Advertisement for Vinolia Otto soap

cooling-room of the Olympic

Floor tiles in the Turkish bath suite

Plan of part of Deck F

Ticket for Turkish bath on the Titanic

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