Turkish baths in Scotland

Edinburgh: 76 South Clerk Street

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

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Edinburgh Turkish Baths

Very little is known about these baths and why they came to be located in South Clerk Street. Their proprietor, Mr A H Allshorn, a well-known homœopathic chemist, had first opened the Edinburgh Turkish Baths on 1 July 1861 at 90 Princes Street, the city's main shopping thoroughfare. It was advertised as being under medical superintendence, and this was provided by the owner's brother, Dr George Edward Allshorn.

The baths must have been a success, because on 14 April 1862, just nine months after their opening, Mr Allshorn opened a second Turkish bath at Yeaman Shore in Dundee, and this in turn was followed nine months later by a third establishment in Mill Street, Perth.

All three baths must presumably have been run on a day-to-day basis by managers, though it is not definitely known exactly what role, if any, Allshorn's physician brother played in any of these baths.

Three years on, some time between 22 April and 12 August 1865,  Allshorn decided to move his existing Edinburgh Turkish Baths from Princes Street to this new location at 76 South Clerk Street. It is not known why he made such a move, from a prime central location to one further out of town in Newington, especially since the site of the new baths was very close to Edinburgh's first Turkish bath, that run by Dr James Lawrie at Sciennes Hill.

Perhaps Allshorn thought the Princes Street rental too high. But other Turkish baths opened there soon afterwards with a different proprietor and, despite a fire and further changes of ownership, survived there until 1920. Possibly Allshorn thought that he would do even better in a residential area closer to the University.

 It seems, however, that his brother, Dr Allshorn, was based at the Edinburgh establishment as manager, or more likely as supervisor with a general oversight, and that he it was who needed to be closer to the Infirmary and the Surgeon's Hall.

On balance, and this is only a hypothesis, the latter scenario seems most likely. The baths had only been in South Clerk Street for a few months when Dr Allshorn was severely injured in a train accident. His injuries were so severe that he had to cease his medical practice for many months, and the baths were immediately closed.

Although they were owned by Mr Allshorn, and could have remained open with a new manager, Allshorn was by this time fully occupied with the two other baths. So he may have decided not to reopen in Edinburgh—where there was already another well-established Turkish bath close by—but to concentrate instead on the establishments in Dundee and Perth, where there was no competition.

During the few months of their existence, the South Clerk Street Turkish baths were open daily from 7.00 till 10.00am, and 5.00 till 10.00pm at 2/6d, and from 10.00am till 5.00 pm at 3/6d, with Tuesdays and Fridays being reserved for women. Both these charges were as expensive as those of the Jermyn Street baths in London. Perhaps a clue lies in the fact that the baths were initially entered in the local directory as being Subscription Turkish Baths.

The entire contents of the baths, from the couches, curtains, carpets, chairs and tables, to the water tank, pipes, furnace and fittings, and several thousand fire bricks and mosaic floor tiles, were offered for sale by auction in the middle of the following May.

This page first posted 15 January 2022

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This account should be treated as work in progress. Further research is needed to find out what facilities they had and how they were used.

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