Turkish baths in Provincial England

Bath: George Street: 2 Edgar Buildings

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

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Bartholomew's Turkish Baths

The baths during Bartholomew's lifetime

After opening his first Turkish bath in Bristol in 1859, Charles Bartholomew waited twenty-two years before opening one in the nearby city of Bath—although during this period he opened others in Manchester (1875), Worcester (1877), and Birmingham (1878). It may be that he was satisfied with the number of bathers already travelling from Bath to his Bristol establishment; or it may be that he was loathe to open in a city where there had already been Turkish baths (in York Street) since at least the early 1860s.

So it was late in 1880, or very early in 1881, that Bartholomew took a 75‑year lease, at £100 per year, on the property at 2 Edgar Buildings, George Street, situated right at the top of fashionable Milsom Street. This had earlier been the home of the Countess of Huntingdon and comprised a three-storey Georgian house with attic and cellars, together with a long narrow garden, at the end of which a small stables opened onto Edgar Mews, a narrow lane running parallel with George Street.

Bartholomew converted the stables into a boiler house with a laundry area above. The front room on the ground floor he used as a private lounge, and the back room was converted into a wide reception area with a counter where tickets were purchased.

Between the two buildings, replacing the garden, he built a single-storey Turkish bath with its cooling-room at the front and the hottest room at the rear. The new building had a flat roof supported by poles, with skylights providing daylight where required.

A bather would first obtain a ticket at the reception counter. Any valuables would be deposited with the receptionist for safe-keeping, locked in a drawer, and its key given to the bather.

The door leading into the baths had, in the upper part, a central frosted glass panel, surrounded by smaller stained-glass panels decorated with stars, crescents, and Charles Bartholomew's CB monogram.

A short wide stairway led into the cooling-room. This was a spacious room, forty-five foot long, twenty foot wide and twelve foot high, furnished with twelve reclining loungers on the right, opposite a similar number of private dressing-boxes (changing cubicles) on the left.

The cooling-room and the hot rooms all had floors covered in decorative encaustic tiles. There were three hot rooms, each twenty foot square, maintained at temperatures of 160°F, 180°F, and 260°F. It appears that the lower part of the hot room walls was or originally of white glazed bricks, while that of the cooling-room walls was of brown wooden panelling. The upper part of all the walls, and all the ceilings, were panelled in painted glass. This decorative scheme was by now virtually a 'brand image' for his establishments.

On the right, between the cooling room and the hot rooms, were two large cubicles with marble slabs where the shampooers washed the bathers, hosed them down, and finally gave them a massage before returning them to the cooling-room.

The baths (which were closed on Sundays) were open for women on Mondays from 9.00 am. to 3.00 pm, and on Wednesdays from 7.00 am to 9.30 pm. Apart from these two periods, the baths were open for men, again from 7.00 am to 9.30 pm. A single Turkish bath cost 2/-, which was reduced to 1/- after 6 pm. In most of Bartholomew's baths, the manager (and possibly other employees) would live on the premises, while any remaining rooms would be let, and this practice seems to have been followed in Bath also.

All Bartholomew's establishments were run on a day-to-day basis by a manager, while Bartholomew made himself available for consultations— here in Bath on Tuesday afternoons from 3.30 to 7.00 pm. For this, he charged a 5/- consultation fee. Although sometimes referred to as 'Dr Bartholomew' in North American advertisements for the baths of other proprietors, he was not a physician and it is not known how many bathers availed themselves of this somewhat expensive service.

Bartholomew's first years in business in the City of Bath were helped by two unpredictable events. The first of these was the Great Flood of the night of 24/25 October 1882 which left Sheppy's Turkish baths in York Street under four foot of water and closed it for well over a month.

The second event was equally unpredictable, though on this occasion Bartholomew took what some might consider to be an unfair advantage of it. Archaeological ruins had been discovered—not unusual in Bath—next to Sheppy's establishment and the excavations of the Bath Antiquities Committee were obstructing his entrances and causing him to lose business. Sheppy took the association to court, but meanwhile Bartholomew had persuaded Sheppy's manager to become manager at Edgar Buildings.

Bartholomew's eldest son, Charles Omar Bartholomew, managed the baths in 1884 and 1885 (though it is not known when he moved over from the Bristol establishment), while his daughter-in-law, Lucy, who was 20 years older than her husband, looked after the women's days.

William Park, who had previously worked for eighteen months at Ben Rhydding Hydropathic Establishment in Ilkley, ran the baths during 1888 and 1889. Although he was appointed as Bath Attendant, and listed as such in local directories, Park certainly saw himself as manager and it may be that Bartholomew described him as Attendant to legitimise his not paying him a more appropriate manager's wage.

Park was originally offered a 'situation' at Bristol, but this was changed by mutual agreement to Bath. The Bristol baths opened on Sundays and Park, a devout Methodist and lay preacher, did not wish to work on his sabbath. The 'situation' was worth '25/- per week and perquisites'. The perks would probably have included his accommodation and gratuities.

The baths under Bassalissa Harriet Herriot's aegis

By the time Charles Bartholomew died at the age of 59 on 1 May 1889, he owned a Turkish bath in each of seven different English cities. Although his wife and three adult children all survived him, he left all his baths to his executors, Richard Bunbury Dawbarn and Bassalissa Harriet Herriot, Lucy Bartholomew's elder sister, to run—or dispose of—in the best interests of providing annuities for his widow, his children and their families, and for Bassalissa herself. This seems an altogether surprising disposition, and it will be discussed further when the pages on Bartholomew are written.

Bassalissa Harriet Herriott was granted probate on 6 June 1889. She was two years older than her sister Lucy, and their father was a wealthy farm owner, William Mosdell Herriott, who had started Herriott's Turkish Baths in Manchester some time around 1885. So when Bassalissa was entrusted with running Bartholomew's establishments she was certainly no stranger to the world of Turkish baths. And when Herriott's became a limited liability company in 1892, she was the second largest shareholder after her father, owning 530 shares—more than one tenth of the total equity.

For a short time after Bartholomew's death, the Edgar Buildings Turkish Baths were run by his nineteen year old niece, Kate Bartholomew, who had for a while been head housekeeper at a private baths establishment in Claines, Worcester. At the beginning, William Park stayed on as Bath Attendant (almost certainly as de facto Manager). Although Kate was actually listed in the Bath Directory as proprietor of the baths for the year 1890/91, this should not be taken literally as such directories were usually compiled in advance of their cover date.

On 3 March 1890, Kate married a Mr Arthur Edwin Tapp and already by 16 April, Tapp's name had replaced hers in the local rate book for 1890 as occupier of the premises. Tapp was also named as proprietor in the Bath Directory, between 1892 and 1895, which latter date was also inaccurate (see below).

William Park, perhaps not wishing to work for Tapp, or perhaps merely wishing to be independent, soon left Edgar Buildings after approaching Bartholomew's executors and purchasing his Sansome Walk establishment in Worcester. This he continued to run until he retired in 1946, latterly with the help of his son Leonard. Park was replaced as manager in Bath by Henry Edward Hunt, son of a local millwright.

In 1893, an advertorial published in The Ports of the Bristol Channel (probably based on the advertiser's own copy) indicated that Mrs Tapp (ie, Kate Bartholomew) looked after the women bathers, but also stated that Mr Tapp had purchased the baths and premises in 1890.

There are several contentious issues here. The least problematic is Tapp's suggestion that he purchased the premises, rather than becoming their leaseholder. Bartholomew initially leased the premises from Mr F Moger, owner of Moger's, a large firm of solicitors which still (2018) exists today. So, at the very least, there is some exaggeration in Tapp's story.

But while we can be sure that Mr Moger owned the Edgar Buildings premises, we don't know who actually owned the baths business which occupied the premises. It seems highly unlikely that Kate could afford to purchase it, nor does it seem likely that Bartholomew's executors should require her to do so, given the family relationship between Kate and her uncle.

If the executors had given her the business, why was Tapp named proprietor between 1892 until 1895? Did he purchase it from her, or was it given to him as a dowry?

Perhaps his was a fictional proprietorship suggested because—even after the passing of the 1882 Married Women's Property Act—it was still popularly thought more appropriate for a business mainly run by a man to be considered his own property rather than that of his wife.

However, it seems quite unlikely that Bassalissa Harriet Herriott, acting as Bartholomew's executor, would have made over the business absolutely to such a young and inexperienced person as Kate; far more prudent would be to assign the establishment to her on the basis that, if she no longer wished to run the baths, they would revert to ownership by the executors.

On balance, this seems to be the most likely probability because, when (some time between 29 October 1894 and 20 April 1895) neither of the Tapps appears to have had any further connection with the baths, the new proprietor was listed as Robert M Herriott, Bassalissa's eight years younger brother.

Fairly minor changes to the running of the baths seem to have been made around this period. The opening hours, for example, were slightly shorter than they originally were, the baths opening an hour later at 8.00 am and closing an hour and a half earlier at 8.00 in the evening. The establishment was still closed on Sundays, but women's hours had been increased so that they were able to use the baths on Monday and Friday mornings from 9.00 till 1.00, and on Wednesdays from 2.00 till 9.00.

The standard charge for a single Turkish bath was still 2/- but the evening charge had been raised from 1/- to 1/6. Tickets were the same as those for the London baths at Leicester Square, but with the word London crossed out. Medicated and vapour baths were also available, probably in the basement, and, according to a contemporary advertisement, 'a suite of furnished apartments, with good Cooking and attendance, can be had.'

Robert retained ownership of the baths for a decade, after which he sold them to their manager, Henry Edward Hunt.

The baths during the Hunt family's ownership

So ended, after twenty-six years, the establishment's connection with Charles Bartholomew and those related to him directly or by marriage. But members of the Hunt family were to continue running the baths—still for many years called Bartholomew's Turkish Baths—for a further 54 years.

Henry Hunt's operating style was different from that of Charles Bartholomew and his immediate successors. Though Bartholomew was prepared to employ his wife Emma, his son Charles Omar, and his daughter-in-law Lucy when appropriate, his baths were essentially operated by staff from outside the family. Given the number of establishments he owned this would have been inevitable.

But Hunt, with only the establishment in Bath to run, operated it as a family business, keeping costs to a minimum by only employing outsiders when absolutely necessary. So his wife Alice would look after the women's days, and three of his four children would take on an increasing share of the workload as they grew up.

Edward Arthur Hunt, who was always known as Ted, was given his first Turkish bath at the age of eighteen months, shortly after his father started work at the baths. He joined his father as Bath Attendant in 1910 at the age of nineteen, as did his sisters Ellen (Nell) and Winifred (Win). Ted's daughter Muriel is on Alice's knee.

The working day was a long one, starting early in the morning, with the cleaning of the bath-house, and checking the boilers and the coke supply.

The large doors on the right of the boiler room opened onto Edgar Mews at the rear of the building, and stone steps led up to the laundry above.

The sisters would be dealing with the laundry after the baths closed, often till as late as 2.00 in the morning. Norman Ashfield, Ted Hunt's grandson, writes of the them,

Sometimes, while my hard-working aunts were washing at gone midnight, a constable's voice would call up from the delivery doors 'Is everything alright up there?' And they would call down in the inky blackness (working by gaslight, of course) 'Yes thank you—water baths staff here'.

All the towels and lounger sheets had to be washed in a laundry which was very basic and, although clean, very dark, lit only by a single gasolier (gas mantle). The table was worn and pitted with scrubbing down over the years.

I remember there were two huge china sinks; one had taps, and there was a piece of wooden channelling to carry water across to the second tub. The towels were scrubbed hard and after they were wrung out by hand, there was a mighty mangle through which the towels were rolled and they came out squeezed flat, not needing much ironing. Anything that required it, there was a black flat metal iron in the downstairs kitchen which was heated on the range and with a woollen protective cloth for the hands round the rather conductive handle, was ironed down there.

The items which did not need ironing were hung out to dry on a line on the roof. At some stage after the baths were built, probably during Henry Hunt's time, a greenhouse had been erected on the roof which—suitably covered with duck-boards—played an important part in the life of the Hunts.

As well as serving as a drying area, it provided a regular setting for family photographs taken on birthdays and after weddings. Even though Len never worked at the baths, his daughter Janet, and Ted's children and grandson Norman, were all familiar with the roof and with the greenhouse behind them.

Orders for refreshments to be served in the cooling-room were requested by the receptionist who used a speaking-tube leading to the kitchen in the basement. When ready, the food was sent up to reception by means of a dumb-waiter, or food lift. Then one of the shampooers, with a towel round his waist, came out to collect it, since propriety would not allow the female tea-makers to enter the cooling-room on a men's day. On women's days, Win and Nell Hunt did the shampooing, and extra help had to be employed to look after the reception area.

It was probably in Henry Hunt's time that slipper baths were first made available in the basement at a cost of 1/- (to include soap and the use of two towels). But, as with many public baths of the period, the running of the bath water was done by the bath attendant and was strictly controlled, the taps being well outside the bath cubicle.

The price of a Turkish bath had again risen by this time: a single bath cost 3/- and was only reduced by 6d after 6.00 pm. On the other hand, a Turkish bath could be also be had after 6.00 for 1/9d. if shampooing was omitted.

The men's baths now opened at 10.00 am, remaining open till 8.00 pm. The women's hours were again increased, from fifteen hours per week to sixteen but, probably more efficient from a staffing point of view, spread over two days instead of three.

Henry Hunt died in 1941 at the age of 74 and the Turkish baths passed to his son Ted. The establishment seems to have continued to be run in much the same way during Ted's ownership, though mention is now made of massage on warmed marble slabs, rather than shampooing. And a number of douches appear to have been installed allowing bathers to take showers of varying temperatures. Ted also employed an additional masseur to help out.

As with many long established Victorian Turkish baths, there is more than an element of sadness in the demise of the baths at Edgar Buildings. By the beginning of the 1960s, Turkish baths were becoming less popular—to consider just one factor, most homes now had running water—and Ted had no immediate family members able to take over a business which was now becoming harder to run profitably.

In 1961, at the age of 71, Ted understandably decided that working twelve or fourteen hours at the baths daily was getting too much for him. He offered the baths to Bath Corporation from whom he and his father had rented the premises for many years. But the corporation was not at all interested. Interviewed at the time, Ted said, 'I understand the Spa Committee were not prepared to act on a suggestion that the premises should continue to be used as Turkish Baths…It appears the premises will be more valuable to the Corporation empty.'

Amazingly, during the whole life of the baths, there was no electricity in the building. All the illumination was by gaslight. But this was seen to suit the ambience of the baths. For, according to Norman Ashfield,

The cooling-room was particularly romantic on a cold winter Saturday afternoon with the yellow, warm lights hissing gently, the red couches at the ends without bedlinen on them looking smart, and the others set up with white linen and bathers reclining on them, reading a paper or supping their tea from ornate metal stands next to them. Small white cups, a miniature pot of milk and pot of tea to accompany that, plus digestive biscuits. It was a warm, venerable, lived-in smell, not new and fluorescent as our accommodation is nowadays.

The baths closed on 11 June 1961, just under eighty years after Charles Bartholomew opened them.

This page slightly revised 23 November 2018

Thank you icon

I am especially grateful to Norman Ashfield, Janet Priest and Naomi Priest for allowing me to use their material, and for invaluable information which was so delightfully given when we all met at the site of the baths in 1991. They not only told me about the baths, but also about the Hunt family, of which they are all descendants.

I am also greatly indebted to Leonard Park who told me much about this establishment where his father William had been manager.

The story has benefited considerably from the special family history research into the Bartholomew family undertaken, and most generously made available to me, by Davide Ritarose, great great grandson of Charles Bartholomew.

Thanks are also due to Anne Buchanan, Local Studies Librarian, Bath Central Library and Philip Harper, Archives Assistant, Bath Record Office.

I am solely responsible for any unintentional misinterpretations of the information they all so freely gave.

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2 Edgar Buildings in the 1950s

Advertisement for the baths

Charles Bartholomew, in his thirties

William Park offered a job at the baths

Bartholomew's monogram

Great Flood of 1882 which closed Sheppy's baths for a while

Hand-painted glass

Hot rooms

Hunt family

Rate card

Len Hunt and Janet, late 1940s, on the roof

Ticket for Bartholomew's London Baths

View through the cooling-room

Winifred Hunt with Norman Ashfield

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