Turkish baths in England

24 Clifford Street, Manchester

This is a single frame, printer-friendly page taken from Malcolm Shifrin's website
Victorian Turkish Baths: their origin, development, and gradual decline

Visit the original page to see it complete—with images, notes, and chronologies

Original page

The Roman or Turkish Baths

In April 1859, William Potter announced the forthcoming publication of his booklet on the Turkish bath, styling himself 'proprietor of the original Turkish Bath, Manchester.' 

He had, indeed, been the original manager, and then owner of the first Victorian Turkish bath to open in England, though he did not, initially, give full due to David Urquhart and the members of the Manchester Foreign Affairs Committee who had helped to start it.

Nevertheless, by this time he was feeling confident enough to open a second establishment. A printed label dated 28 July 1859 stated,

Mr POTTER begs to intimate to the Citizens of Manchester, and the inhabitants of the district, that he is about to OPEN a SUITE of BATHS on the premises recently occupied by the 'Albert Club', CLIFFORD STREET, OXFORD ROAD, near All Saints' Church, consisting of Turkish Baths, Medicated and Mineral Baths, Electro-chemical Baths, &c, &c.

Clifford Street is near to Oxford Road and Ardwick Railway Station; and omnibuses run from the Exchange and corner of Mosley Street every ten minutes.

In the booklet itself was an artist's impression of how part of the baths, which Potter called the Sultan's bath, would look when built. It seems as though he intended that no expense would be spared in its construction and decoration.

Potter wrote that they cost him 'upwards of £2,000' to build, and in a later advertisement quoted the views of two local papers: 'Fitted up with great elegance and comfort, in the Oriental style,' the Manchester Guardian had written; 'The taste with which these baths are fitted up deserves praise. They are so completely Oriental in their character as to look like an Oriental dream,' the Manchester Examiner and Times had gushed. Even some years after they had closed, a writer in The Critic lamented the demise of Mr Potter's 'beautiful' baths.

Until recently there was some suspicion that Potter had been exaggerating the style of his new bath—a habit not unknown among bath proprietors; how could a commission agent who had, only two years before, converted part of his house into a Turkish bath afford such a lavish style for a second establishment so soon?

But in 2013 Potter was vindicated when the ruins of part of the bath were uncovered by Archaeology Oxford as part of their investigatory dig prior to the building of the foundations for Manchester University's new National Graphene Institute. The photograph clearly shows the cooling-room floor tiles appearing in Potter's image.

Ian Miller, responsible for the archaeological dig wrote that,

…the preservation of the structural remains surpassed our expectation… we were aware of the importance of the baths largely due to your excellent website, and my field team have been clutching a print-out of Potter's plan throughout the duration of the excavation!

We have indeed exposed some remains of the under-floor heating system, although it was rather fragmentary. …We have also discovered a fragment of an ornate stone column, which has part of a capital very similar to that depicted in Potter's drawing.

Once opened, the establishment was known, and usually advertised, as the 'Roman or Turkish Baths', rather than as the 'Sultan's bath'.

Potter did not have the market to himself, however, even though it was barely two years since the introduction of his first bath—the first in the country. Only a single classified advertisement away from his own, and right below it, was one for the Turkish baths owned by the experienced hydropathist Joseph Constantine, located in Oxford Street, right in the city centre.

By 1860, in addition to Potter's two establishments, there were at least six other Turkish baths in Manchester: Thomas Dalton, who may also have been a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had one just off Lower Broughton Road; Joseph Constantine now had two establishments; and two Manchester joint stock companies owned another three baths between them.

Potter advertised both his baths regularly in the local papers, and also in occasional pamphlets. One such advertisement appeared in Edward Haughton's Facts and fallacies of the Turkish bath question which was published in Dublin. Having, perhaps, found that 'ONE TO FIVE SHILLINGS' may have put off less wealthy bathers from trying his establishments, he now indicated the prices of each type of bath more clearly: Second Class Bath: 1/-; First Class Bath: 2/6; The Sultan's Bath:3/6; Private Bath: 5/.

Two years later, he framed his advertisements round testimonials taken from his visitors' book and made no mention at all of prices.

Perhaps competition was becoming too strong, because less than five years after he opened it, Potter decided to sell his new bath. It may just have been that it was too expensive to run, or that he found it too difficult to run two baths at the same time. But by 11 March 1864, 'The Original Turkish Baths, Clifford Street' were now owned by a 'Mr M Thomas, from Constantinople.'

His approach was to aimed at 'Persons afflicted with Rheumatism [who] will find the above baths an excellent remedy, feeling, perhaps, that this was the way to go since Constantine was advertising his new baths as being 'for coughs, influenza, and rheumatism.'

Thomas's emphasis on the medical approach was reinforced by his providing facilities for his bathers to consult Dr Balbirnie 'the eminent hydropathic physician, late of Malvern, now settled in Southport' every Tuesday from 11.00 till 1.00. Further, his advice to 'working people' was free.

However, notwithstanding this approach, at the end of January 1865, the first of a series of advertisements appeared offering for sale, as a 'desirable investment', the 'lease, goodwill, furniture and fixtures of the Turkish bath, Clifford-street'

Clearly not everyone agreed that the baths were such a desirable investment because, though the baths were still owned by Matthew Thomas, they were due to be auctioned on 28 May 1867. The lease had another two years to run and was subject to an annual rent of £25. The baths were, in fact, still open, charging 1/6 for a second class bath and 2/- for a first class, with Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays being reserved for women.

Even at auction, the baths found no buyer, and remained open till some time around the middle of 1868. They were then bought by the newly established Southern Hospital for £1,880, subject to annual rent of £18.9s.3d. The baths were said to need little alteration and would easily house 25 to 30 beds.

Updated on 25 November 2023

The original page includes one or more enlargeable thumbnail images.
Any enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.

The Sultan's Bath

Top of the page

Other Turkish baths in the provinces


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

Home pageSite mapSearch the site

Comments and queries are most welcome and can be sent to: 
The right of Malcolm Shifrin to be identified as the author of this work
has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

©  Malcolm Shifrin, 1991-2023