Turkish baths in workhouses

Ireland: Fermoy (Co. Cork): Strawhall: Tallow Street

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

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Fermoy Union Workhouse Turkish Baths

When, at the beginning of 1863 , the Board of Guardians of the Fermoy Union Workhouse were considering whether to instal a Turkish bath for their charges, the Master and the Medical Officer paid a visit to the workhouse at Lismore in the next county. There they saw a simple Turkish bath that had been built for under fifty pounds and, in a report dated 2 March, noted how it had been considered successful by their opposite numbers at Lismore.

The Fermoy Guardians decided to follow suit and by mid-June their own Turkish bath had been installed and was in use. Nothing is yet known about the layout of the bath, but it seems most likely to have been more or less a copy of the one that had been built at Lismore: a cool room slightly above the temperature of the outside air, and a hot room heated to somewhere around 120°F.

The Medical Officer's report, minuted at the Board's meeting on 1 July 1863, records that,

The Turkish bath has been in almost daily use for the last fortnight, and I am happy to state that its use has been attended with marked benefit in several cases of chronic rheumatism and skin diseases; a great many of the able-bodied of both sexes have also availed themselves of it.

Three weeks later, the minutes of the meeting held on 22 July show that progress was being maintained. Like the bath at Lismore, the Fermoy facility was used both as a cleansing facility and as a therapeutic agent for a wide variety of complaints, the Medical Officer reporting that, 'the beneficial results attending its use have in several instances exceeded my most sanguine expectations.' The note in his report that it was most obviously successful with cases of rheumatism and problems relating to the skin tallies with the type of results experienced in most places where the Turkish bath was used to alleviate health problems at this time.

The Medical Officer continued:

A more extensive trial will, I am confident, confirm my opinion of its utility in many more diseases in which I have not as yet had the opportunity to judge of its effects. I may safely assert, from my present experience, that its introduction will be found economical as well as useful, from the circumstance that its employment has in numerous instances greatly shortened the duration of disease requiring hospital treatment. I can speak highly of it as conducing to the general health of the inmates, all of whom, with the exception of the very old and infirm, take it.

At present it is not known how long the bath remained in use at Fermoy. It was certainly later than 1870 because the minutes of the Fermoy Union recorded the receipt of a letter dated 2 April from the Poor Law Commissioners. This was a request 'to be furnished in pursuance of an Order of the House of Commons, with copies of any reports made by the Medical Officer with reference to the benefit or otherwise from the use of the Turkish baths in the workhouse.' Unfortunately, no copy of the Union's reply has so far been found.

Page first published 13 September 2006; last updated 27 December 2016

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Peter Higginbotham, for permission to quote from the report on his website:


The original page includes footnotes and a photograph

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Other Turkish baths in Ireland

Other Turkish baths in workhouses


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

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