Turkish baths in provincial England

Skegness: Scarbrough Avenue

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

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Skegness Turkish, Hot, Cold & Swimming Baths

A wide range of baths

The Turkish, Hot, Cold, and Swimming Baths, designed by Lincoln architect, Mr. James Whitton, were built by George Dunkley, a local contractor, at a cost of about £3,000, and opened in 1883. They were situated on the left hand side of Scarbrough Avenue, when approaching from the direction of the pier.

Male and female bathers each had their own swimming pool together with separate hot and cold baths, but there was only one set of Turkish baths which was used by men and women at different times of the week. The two sets of baths—women’s on the left and men’s on the right—were separated from each other on the ground floor by the manager's offices and on the upper floor by his apartment. Each set of baths had its own entrance leading to a small lobby where bathers bought their tickets and were given bathing costumes and towels.

Bathers left the appropriate entrance lobby either down a short flight of stairs to their swimming pool, or through a door leading to the slipper baths and, further on, the Turkish baths.

The Turkish baths

Bathers not wishing to use the swimming pool left their entrance lobby through a door opening onto a corridor, on one side of which were four private rooms, each with a slipper bath and fireplace.

The full size, flat bottomed slipper baths were supplied with hot and cold sea water and made of white glazed porcelain—the only enamel that would withstand salt water. Unusually, for the period, all the pipes were out of sight because, being at street level, there was ample space under the baths for examining and repairing them without disturbing the floor or walls.

At the end of each corridor, and down a short flight of wide stairs, was the single Turkish baths suite, intended for use by men and women on different days.

At the bottom of the stairs was another lobby which could, if necessary, be used as a waiting area. The exact layout of the baths is not known, but leading off this lobby was a corridor with dressing rooms on one side, and the entrance to the hot rooms on the other. Also off the corridor were entrances to the sea water plunge pool, to the shampooing room with its hot and cold fresh water spray, and to the cooling-room.

There were the usual three hot rooms, each at a different temperature, with the hottest being furthest away from the entrance, and the interconnecting doorways between them covered by heavy curtains.

The large cooling-room, 26x24 foot in area and 16 foot high, was furnished with couches where bathers could lie for an hour or so, wrapped in sheets or blankets, until thoroughly cool. Cigars, coffee, and newspapers were also provided.

It is known for certain that the Turkish baths, together with the water used for shampooing, were heated by a stove supplied by Thomas Whitaker, the co‑inventor with Joseph Constantine of the Convoluted Stove. But the contemporary description of the manner in which the air was circulated around the hot rooms raises a number of questions.

It was stated that the heated air was first drawn into the hottest room, and then continued onwards through the other rooms, cooling as it went. This much was standard practice. But it is then suggested that at the end furthest from the stove there were gratings near the floor into which the warm air was drawn and returned to the stove by means of a flue. It is further suggested that since the heated air was in constant circulation, no further ventilation was required.

It seems unlikely that this was actually the system in use. Air which had already passed through three rooms of sweating bathers would already be vitiated and unsuitable for re-use without an air purification system that would not have been available at that time. If such air was continually reheated and recirculated the atmosphere within the hot rooms would soon become totally unacceptable to any bather.

Besides, Constantine and Whitaker, together with William Crumblehulme who supplied similar stoves, were all by this time leading experts in heating Turkish baths and any of them would have warned the company about the dangers of such a system. One possible explanation might be that the reporter covering the opening of the baths misunderstood how the system worked. For if the baths were ventilated in such a manner it seems extremely doubtful whether they would have survived as long as they did.

The swimming pools

The two swimming baths benefitted from the site’s being at a naturally low level. This allowed the pools to be supplied with water from the sea, partly by gravity and partly by pumping, with the aid of a powerful steam pump. Provision was also made for warming the water when required.

The men’s pool was 63 feet long by 30 feet wide, and its depth ranged from three foot six inches at one end to six foot six at the other. Around the pool were twenty changing cubicles. The women’s pool on the opposite side of the building was, as so often the case, smaller than the men’s being only 40 feet long. It was shallower too, ranging from three to five foot deep. It seems clear that fewer women were expected to use the baths, and only twelve changing cubicles were provided for their use.

The roofs of the swimming baths were open-timbered, stained, and varnished. Skylights allowed the passage of light from avenue-facing windows which, in common with all the other windows, were glazed with obscured sea-green tinted glass.

The later years

In 1890, the company which owned the baths was wound up due its inability to meet its liabilities, and the baths were bought by the liquidator, Edward Arthur Jackson, who—with partners or, later, alone—operated them for the next few years until, some time around 1904, they were purchased by Henry Rowley, an engineer at the local council's pumping station.

Sometime between 1896 and 1930, possibly soon after Henry Rowley died of double pneumonia in 1924, the baths were purchased by R L Kemp’s Skegness Entertainments Ltd, a company which also owned the Winter Gardens and the King’s Theatre. This gave them, according to one writer on Skegness, 'almost a monopoly of indoor entertainments before the war.' But the theatre had originally been part of the baths, and when mixed bathing was approved at the beginning of the century, the women’s bath was boarded over to form the Kings Hall theatre and cinema.

The baths were closed after a bombing raid during the Second World War. It is assumed that the Turkish baths remained open till then. The building was demolished in the 1950s.

This page last revised 23 November 2018

Thank you icon

Dawn Bradley, Skegness Library

Angela Gooch, for permission to use her transcript of an article published in the

Skegness Herald during May 1883, part of the image from one of her postcards, and

the four 2009 images of parts of the pipework which fed sea water to the pools.

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

Exterior view of the baths, 1883

Pipework which carried sea water to the pools

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Other Turkish baths in the provinces


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

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