Turkish baths in provincial England

Manchester: High Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock

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

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The Victoria Baths

3: Usage of the Turkish baths

Use of Turkish baths generally declined during the 1914-18 war and rarely reverted to pre-war levels. It is interesting, therefore, to examine the use made of those at the Victoria baths immediately prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

During the year 1913-14, when the total population of the baths' catchment area was 97,967, the Turkish baths were used by 4,643 bathers, of whom 3,406 were male and 1,237 were female. By comparison, 163,897 bathers used the swimming pools during the same period. However, in making this comparison, it is important to remember that, as in most other places, only adults were admitted to the Turkish baths. 

Entrance charges

The prices charged at the Victoria baths were, in the main, higher than in the Corporation's other baths reflecting their more up-to-date facilities, pleasanter ambience and, perhaps, their being in a wealthier area. (At this time, the Turkish baths at Leaf Street and London Road were already over 45 years old.) 

At sixpence, a swimmer in the first class pool at the Victoria baths paid half as much again as a similar swimmer at one of the older baths. But a bather swimming in the second class pool paid only tuppence, and did so at any of the Corporation baths because the 1846 Baths and Wash-houses Act stipulated that the admission charge for a second class bath could not exceed 2d. This, in effect, also limited what could realistically be charged for the first class pools.

But when it came to the Turkish baths, there were no such constraints, so the charge could be pitched at a level much closer to the going rate at one of Manchester's private baths. In 1905, Constantine's excellent establishment in Oxford Street, for example, was charging half-a-crown for a first class Turkish bath, and one-and-six for a second class Turkish bath; so the Corporation was able fix its own charge at two shillings at the Victoria baths, one shilling at Whitworth and Leaf Street, and eightpence at Mayfield.

Proportion of females to males taking Turkish baths

Another point of interest relates to the proportion of female to male users of the Turkish baths during 1913-14. At Leaf Street there was one woman bather for every 6 men and at Whitworth one woman for every 4.25 men; in each venue men and women paid the same entrance charge. But at the Victoria baths, where a woman paid only three-quarters of a man's charge, the proportion of women bathers was higher, and there was one woman bather for every 2.75 men. By 1937, however, both men and women were equally charged half-a-crown.

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