Turkish baths in private houses

England: Wolverhampton

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

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 Theodore Mander's private Turkish Bath at Wightwick Manor

The original Turkish bath

The Victorian Turkish bath at Wightwick Manor is one of only two which are known to have survived in a privately built country house. The other—like Wightwick, now owned by the National Trust—is at Cragside, Lord Armstrong's home in Northumberland. Yet neither is mentioned in the trust's publicity for these houses; someone is not doing his/her job properly.

Wightwick (pronounced wittick) was built in 1887 for Theodore Mander who, with his brother Charles, was joint owner of the family paint and varnish firm, Mander Brothers. Theodore was also a local councillor, alderman, magistrate and, briefly, Mayor of Wolverhampton. Within six years Mander was already having the house altered and considerably enlarged.

Edward Ould, of the Chester and Liverpool firm of Grayson and Ould, was the architect of both the original house (1887) and its extension (1893). It is not known if he had any previous experience of designing Turkish baths, but his ground floor plan of the original building clearly shows (in the enlarged version) a three-room Turkish bath suite, typical of its period.

What is not typical is the designation of the middle room as a bathroom and the inclusion in the plan of a bath. In fact, there seems to be no evidence to show conclusively that a bath was ever installed, and a recent examination of the room showed no remains of any water feed or outlet drain. Neither is any mention made of it in a description of the Turkish bath which appeared in The Architect shortly after the original house was finished; rather, the description is of an ordinary Victorian Turkish bath with three rooms designed to be maintained at increasingly hot temperatures:

The building, which is of brick, consists of three rooms—two hot-rooms and a cooling-room. The centre one answers as 'tepidarium' and shampooing-room. Three rooms are sufficient, and answer all purposes for a private bath. The cavity in the walls is made use of for ventilating the bath, and is useful as a non-conductor from the cold air outside. The inside walls are of glazed bricks in various colours, designed in good taste. These walls form the best surface for hot-rooms; they are easily washed. The ceilings are concrete, and the floor neatly tiled.

The bath is effectually heated by Messrs J Constantine & Son's (Manchester) Convoluted Stove. The size of warm-air flue is 2 feet 9 inches. The air to be heated is drawn from outside through flues of equal dimensions. With such provision for ventilation a rapid and constant change of air takes place, and all vitiated air and effluvia thrown off by the bather is speedily carried away, and one of the chief desiderata of bathers secured much to their satisfaction.

While mention is made of a shampooing-room, it should be remembered that in the context of a Victorian Turkish bath, shampooing usually retained its original meaning of massaging rather than washing, although usage of the latter meaning does appear in the Oxford English dictionary in a quotation dated 1860.

Joseph Constantine was the owner of his own public Turkish bath and a man with some 27 years' experience in heating and operating them. It seems highly likely, therefore, that when he was commissioned to instal one of his Convoluted stoves at Wightwick, he advised the architect that having a hot water bath in one of the rooms would preclude the provision of the very dry air which is required in a Turkish bath.

The plan of the Turkish bath (above right), which Constantine reproduced in a book published three years before the 1893 extension was built, differs from the architect's original drawing in a number of respects—although it still includes a bath. Such a plan may well have been provided to enable him to calculate the heat required for the three rooms and, consequently, the heating capacity and size of the stove to be supplied.

As one would expect in a Turkish bath, this plan shows no doors across the openings between the three rooms so as to allow hot air to pass into each room in turn, cooling as it goes. Unfortunately no firm conclusions can be drawn from this since the main door into the Turkish bath suite and that from the corridor have also been omitted. Another difference is that each of the rooms has a window which is not included in the original plan. All we know for certain is that Constantine's Convoluted Stove was installed in the basement below the bath and that clean heated air was fed into the hot room by means of a tiled duct, topped with a grille about 3'6" above floor level.

It seems unlikely that we shall ever know exactly how the Turkish bath was originally built since, as Patricia Pegg points out,

There is a noticeable gap in the [Mander] archive papers relating to the period between 1887 and 1893 when Theodore Mander was involved in planning, building and extending Wightwick Manor. There are none of the letters one might expect to find from Edward Ould, with suggestions and inquiries about the design of the new house… The records of Grayson and Ould were destroyed in an air raid during the last war.

The house is extended

The 1893 extension, as large as the original house, was added to the east side of the building. It was during this work that the original billiard room was demolished and the Turkish bath cooling-room removed to make room for a larger back corridor leading from the kitchen to a new dining room.

Theodore Mander died, aged only 47, in 1900, less than a decade after the completion of the extension. In 1937 the National Trust acquired the house, though Lady Mander continued to live at Wightwick until her death in 1989.

The two remaining rooms in the Turkish bath have been 'restored' and are now open to the public, but it is difficult to determine how authentic the restoration has been, and a number of questions remain unanswered: No steps appear on either the architect's original plan or on Constantine's. So at some stage the floor levels of the cooling-room and hot room seem to have been lowered (unlikely), or the levels of the cooling-room and corridor raised (less unlikely). It would seem most plausible that the levels had to be changed in 1893 when the corridor from the kitchen to the new dining room was built. But all three steps are of bare concrete; one would surely expect in a house of such quality that if steps to be used by the master of the house were absolutely unavoidable, they would at least be tiled to match the floor.

If there was indeed a bath, such as that recently added to the restored cooling-room, then it would be important for the floor tiles to continue underneath it, right up to the wall. Yet the area under the bath is concrete, suggesting that it was not a bath which occupied that area at all but a marble topped plinth for the bather to lie on while being massaged, or shampooed, or when cooling down.

The floor in the hot room was also tiled and it would have been normal, specially in Turkish baths which were not heated by a hypocaust, for bathers to walk directly on such a floor, or possibly on such a floor covered by matting. The slatted duckboards which currently cover the floor would not have been used at such a time and the restoration seems to have been influenced by modern practice in saunas.

Again, slatted wooden seating would have been most unusual in a Victorian Turkish bath, and a two-tier slatted seat placed as it is at present would also have been almost unheard of. This part of the restoration seems also to have been influenced by modern sauna practice. The seating in the original hot room was L-shaped and in a house of such distinction would almost certainly have been a marble bench.

There seems to be no conclusive evidence as to when the windows were added. While the addition of external windows to the rooms of a Turkish bath is not unknown, it would have been unusual and, if they were of the type which are in situ today, they would have added considerably to the heating costs. Furthermore, the building of the extension does not in itself seem to have required any windows to be moved, yet the one in the hot room is not positioned as shown in Constantine's plan.

Finally, the arched opening between the hot room and the cooling-room has been fitted with a polished wooden framed door similar to that fitted between the new cooling-room and the enlarged corridor. Such a door would be an unlikely fitting in any Turkish bath which was in regular use.

Yet with all these inconsistencies, we are fortunate still to be able to see any of the Turkish baths which wealthier Victorians built in their country houses.

And the remains of Constantine's Convoluted Stove still stand in the basement and were not scrapped when a modern boiler was installed to heat the house.

For this we must thank both Lady Mander and the National Trust.

Thank you icon


Monty Smith, Retired National Trust Property Manager at Wightwick

Robert Reid, House Steward, Wightwick

In expressing these thanks I should like to emphasize that neither Monty Smith nor Robert Reid necessarily shares my views on the restoration of the Turkish bath at Wightwick Manor, nor do they necessarily agree with my reasoning behind these views. I am, however, most grateful to both of them for their kind help.

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Architect's drawing of the original house

'Bathroom' corner in the mid-1990s


Constantine's Convoluted Stove: remains

Hot-air duct

Hot-air grille in the hot room

Hot room

Plans of the ground floor and Turkish bath

Theodore Mander in 1899

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Other Turkish baths in the provinces

Other Turkish baths in private houses


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

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