Turkish baths in workhouses

Ireland: Lismore (Co. Waterford)

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

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Lismore Union Workhouse Turkish Baths
 

The Turkish bath at Lismore Union Workhouse was in use early in 1863, and may have already been open for some time. It seems to have been the first to be installed in a workhouse, so far as is currently known.

It is worthy of note that it was built only six or seven years after the first Turkish bath was introduced to the British Isles in 1856. Even more remarkable is that it was paid for out of public funds. Yet only five years earlier, the Poor Law Commissioners had refused to sanction a Turkish bath in the Cork Workhouse, even though the local Guardians had already accepted an offer by Dr Richard Barter to pay for the installation himself as a gift to the city.

At the end of February 1863, the Turkish bath was visited by the Master and the Medical Officer of Fermoy Union Workhouse who were considering whether to instal one at Fermoy.

In his report of 2 March,  the Fermoy Medical Officer described the Lismore bath as having two rooms instead of the more usual three. The hot room was heated to around 120ºF and this, he reported, 'appears to work satisfactorily'. The second room was just a few degrees above the temperature of the outside air, gaining its heat only from being positioned next to the hot room. By comparison with a commercial establishment of the time, this provision would be the equivalent of a tepidarium and cooling-room and would normally be supplemented by two much hotter rooms.

But he clearly considered the bath to be a success as, 'all the inmates, with the exception of the extremely old and infirm, take it weekly with benefit, and in no instance has its use been attended with injurious consequences.' The overall cost, he concluded, was less than fifty pounds.

It is not currently known how long the baths remained open, but we do know that their continued use was being provided for well into the 1890s, almost thirty years after they had been built. A note in the local paper indicates that in March 1892, the workhouse porter, Mr Stokes, reported that he had finished putting the Turkish baths in order, and a further note, published four months later, reported that he was to be paid 18/- per quarter for keeping them in order.

Page first published 13 September 2006; last updated 17 December 2017

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

   www.workhouses.org.uk

The original page includes an image and footnotes.


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