Turkish baths in London

 

5 South Street, Finsbury Square

 

                                         

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

        

Original page with chronology and notes
 

List of other Turkish baths in London
 

 

  

The City Turkish Bath

 

What little is known about these baths comes from an anonymous article published in the USA. A puff-piece typical of its time, its two-and-a-half pages start with the description of a bath taken by a first-timer persuaded by a friend to try one. It continues with the usual suggestions as to how helpful the Turkish bath is to those suffering from a variety of physical disorders, with apposite quotations from Erasmus Wilson and David Urquhart.

But it does give some basic information about the establishment. So we know that immediately on entering the building the bather was asked to remove his outdoor shoes and replace them with a pair of red slippers which he was handed. The bather undressed in a curtained cubicle and proceeded to the hot rooms clad only in a sheet.

There were two hot rooms, furnished with wooden benches for seating. The first was kept at just under 120ºF and the second at up to 150ºF. Unusually, after spending some time at the higher temperature, the bather then returned to the first hot room where the shampooing process was undertaken by one of four shampooers.

The showering process which followed seems to have had much in common with the practice prevalent in water-cure establishments. An attendant controlled the operation and the bather first received a shower of warm water. Next he was wiped down, and then the cold water was turned on and, as the author of the article put it,

for a moment you feel staggered, and involuntarily gasp for breath. Now comes the crowning luxury. You are wiped dry, wrapped in a sheet, a kind of turban is wrapped round your head, and you are taken up-stairs to lie down on a downy couch, to smoke it may be—and if you wish to enjoy yourself thoroughly you certainly will—a first-rate cigar, and a capital cup of coffee, and then you and your fellow-bathers recline, like the gods on hills together, careless of mankind.

A final touch, not so far encountered elsewhere, was that in the evening those in the cooling-room were 'further regaled by a musical performance of no ordinary character.'  For once, one wishes the writer had told us more.

Towards the end of the article, there is a table showing an analysis of the reasons given by 221 bathers for taking a Turkish bath at this establishment. Since the article was originally published soon after the baths opened, there is reason to suggest that the analysis was of the first 221 bathers to use the baths, though one cannot be certain about this.

The bathers were first divided into groups according to whether they were frequent, occasional, or first-time bathers. Then each group was divided according to reasons for the visit.

BATHERS PLEASURE COLDS

RHEUMATISM

AND GOUT

OTHER

AILMENTS

 FREQUENT   54   3   8   4
 OCCASIONAL   53   4 14   9
 FIRST BATH   47   4   9 12
 



  154 11 31 25

This is a very small number of bathers for a survey so one must be wary of drawing any other than tentative conclusions from the results. But what is especially interesting about these figures is that no-one has given bathing to cleanse oneself as a reason for the bath. This may be because the city businessmen who frequented this establishment would have considered themselves clean as they would probably have had bathing facilities, however rudimentary, at home. Or it may be because the proprietor felt that it would not be politic to ask whether this was the reason for the visit.

What is clear, however, is that already, within five years of the introducion of the Turkish bath into the British Isles (and only one year after the first one opened in London), it was already perfectly acceptable to admit that one went to the Turkish bath for enjoyment—and this despite all the advertising which concentrated on the bath as the ultimate cleanser, or the cure for an astonishing range of illnesses.

 



HELP WANTED

This account should be treated as work in progress.

Please contact us if you know of any references before or after the above dates,

or any other information about this establishment.  Many thanks.

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

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