Turkish baths in private houses

England: Oakworth (Near Keighley)

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

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Sir Isaac Holden's private Turkish bath at Oakworth House

Isaac Holden and Joseph Constantine

Isaac Holden was an inventor whose achievements included the Lucifer (striking) match—from which he made nothing because he omitted to patent it—and wool combing machinery—from which he made a fortune. From 1865, he was a Liberal MP for 30 years, was made a baronet in 1893, and died in 1899.

Oakworth House was built in stages between 1864 and 1875, on the site of an earlier house owned by his second wife, Sarah Sugden. In July 1877, Holden wrote to Joseph Constantine, asking him for advice on improving its heating and 'perhaps a Turkish bath'.

Holden was unaware that as a young lad Constantine had been a hand-comber at Holden’s mill, and had lost his job after the invention of the new machinery. But, as he later told Mrs Holden, it was the best thing that could have happened to him because he then became a bathman in Keighley. In 1850 he opened his own vapour bath establishment in Manchester, adding a Turkish bath seven years later, less than a year after the opening of William Potter's Manchester bath—the first in England. He dedicated two of his books to Holden in gratitude.

In 1866, in conjunction with Thomas Whitaker, he took out a patent on the Convoluted Stove which he later used to heat Holden's Turkish bath and which, in the intervening period, had become the most popular furnace for heating such baths.

Holden's Turkish bath

Constantine submitted two versions of a spacious well-equipped building, for siting close to the house. The first was on a single level, with the furnace room placed next to the bath; the second was on two levels, with the furnace room in a basement. The layouts of the hot room and shampooing room were slightly rearranged, so that the flues would be in the most appropriate position, but the facilities in each were the same.

They comprised an entrance porch with adjacent toilet, a large cooling and dressing room, a hot room with two benches—one of which was raised 5ft above the floor—and a shampooing room with marble slab, circular needle douche, and washbasin.

Constantine’s detailed quotation was itemised, and at a total cost of £101 13s 0d does not seem over-expensive for a wealthy man’s Turkish bath in a house which was to cost £80,000.

Yet the auction catalogue produced for the sale of the house after Holden’s death, described a smaller, very different Turkish bath. In a plan in the papers of Steve Sharp, a descendant of the family of builders who were involved in the construction of the house, the bath was shown sandwiched between a billiard room on one side, and a dynamo house and a potting house on the other, all within a small building separated from the main house by a winter garden.


Unusually, the Turkish bath could only be reached from the billiard room. A door led into a vestibule at the end of which was a toilet which could be used by billiard players or bathers. Also opening off the vestibule were, at either end, the hot room (11ft × 13ft) and the cooling-room (10ft × 11ft), while between them was the shampooing room (11ft × 12ft) with shower.

According to Constantine, Holden was an extremely health-conscious person and a great believer in exercise. Even at the age of 83 he walked regularly for one-and-a-half hours daily, and on his return,

He went into his private Turkish bath, which is always kept warm, took a warm and cold shower and changed his underclothing … He takes one Turkish bath a week, and if the least out of sorts two or three.

Holden’s bath was destroyed when Oakworth House burnt down in 1909. Its layout and style seems to have been rather similar to that which Constantine designed and fitted out 10 years later for Theodore Mander at Wightwick Manor, Wolverhampton. Holden’s bath led directly off a billiard room; Mander’s bath was located adjoining one. In both cases, the Convoluted Stove also kept the billiard room warm.

This page last revised and enlarged 18 January 2019

Thank you icon

Alison Cullingford, Special Collections Librarian, JB Priestley Library, University of Bradford

Steve Sharp, whose family have been builders in the area for over 150 years, and who

'contributed to the building of Oakworth House, the neighbouring chapel, and the Sunday School'

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Oakworth House

Sir Isaac Holden

Joseph Constantine

First alternative

Second Alternative

Constantine's estimate

The bath as built

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

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