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.
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
account should be treated as work in progress.
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