Plan of Turkish bath for cattle

‘Not wholly beneath the dignity of a pig’:
the Victorians’ provision of Turkish baths
for their animals

This is the page you are now on 2: The first Turkish baths for animals 3: Turkish baths for racehorses 4: Turkish baths for urban working horses

This is a slightly expanded version of a paper given at the
British Association for Victorian Studies
conference on
Victorian cultural industries and elites
at the University of Salford on Saturday 1 September 2007

For copyright reasons,
not all images shown have been included here

1. Introduction You can print this page -- Click for printer-friendly version

This paper looks at the Victorians’ provision of Turkish baths for their animals, by those who believed that a bath, therapeutically beneficial to humans, should likewise be therapeutically beneficial to animals.

Ad for first Turkish bath in England

Ad for first Turkish bath in England

‘Therapeutically beneficial’ here needs some qualification. In 1858, William Potter's Turkish bath in Broughton Lane, Manchester—the first Victorian Turkish bath in England, opened only a few months earlier—was already claiming that it would cure, inter alia, colds, influenza, gout, rheumatism, consumption, and liver disorders.1 Soon, other bath owners were claiming it could cure anything from toothache to syphilis.2

Clearly this last claim was nonsense, while others were greatly exaggerated.

Booklet published by the first Turkish bath in the USA

Booklet published by the first
Turkish bath in the USA

But some, those relating, for example, to rheumatism and gout, were more acceptable at a time when ‘orthodox medicine’ could offer no effective cure, and where remedies to alleviate pain were often in themselves harmful, and sometimes dangerous.

Before and after the bath

Before and after the bath

In this context, where the dry heat of the Victorian Turkish bath did help, the bath was already justifiably considered successful, first by hydropathists prepared to venture beyond the cold water cure dogma of Vincent Priessnitz;

Wet sheet packing

Wet sheet packing

Vincent Priessnitz

Vincent Priessnitz

second, a little later, by doctors self-confident enough not to treat the bath as yet another quack remedy threatening their livelihood.3

Turkish baths are usually perceived nowadays as places for leisure and relaxation.

Women's day in the cooling room

Women's day
in the cooling-room

But when introduced into the British Isles in the mid-1850s, they were, despite some recent suggestions to the contrary,4 predominantly seen either as therapeutic agents within hydropathic establishments or hospitals,

Shandon hydro

Shandon Hydropathic

Newcastle-upon-Tyne Royal Infirmary

Royal Infirmary

or else as cleansing agents found in stand-alone bathing establishments, or within institutions such as workhouses, or ‘lunatic asylums’.

St Peter's Square, LeedsFermoy Union Workhouse, Co.CorkColney Hatch 'lunatic asylum', London


St Peter's Sq


Fermoy Union Workhouse
Co Cork, Ireland


Colney Hatch 'lunatic asylum'
Friern Barnet, London

A final preliminary clarification: there remains much confusion generally as to what the Victorians understood by the term Turkish bath or, for that matter, what we understand by it today.

Crucially, the Victorian Turkish bath was not the Islamic hammam still found in Turkey, and wherever there are or have been Muslim communities.

The Russian, steam, or vapour bath

For bathers in a hammam wash within the hot rooms making them humid and steamy.

Nor was it the wooden banya or Russian steam bath usually experienced today in a room which is actually a prefabricated plastic shell.

There is no steam in a Victorian Turkish bath.

The Scottish diplomat David Urquhart first came across the Islamic hammam while serving in Turkey in the 1830s, later describing it in two chapters of The Pillars of Hercules.5

But Urquhart was not the first to do so, and by 1850—when his book was published—the term Turkish bath was already well-established in English travel writing.

The Irish physician and hydropathist Richard Barter read Urquhart’s book in 1856 and was, as he put it, ‘electrified’ by his description of the bath.6

Title page of Pillars of Hercules
Dr Richard Barter

‘On reading… [about the Turkish bath in] Mr Urquhart's The Pillars of Hercules, I was electrified; and resolved, if possible, to add that institution to my Establishment.’

Dr Richard Barter

Barter had already offended traditional hydropathists by installing a vapour bath at St Ann’s Hill, his hydropathic establishment near Blarney, Co. Cork. Now, he invited Urquhart to stay awhile, and asked for his help in building a ‘Turkish’ bath for his patients.

St Ann's Blarney

St Ann's Hydro, Blarney

Barter believed that the therapeutic value of hot air baths increased with their temperature, and he knew that the human body can tolerate higher temperatures in dry air than in humid air or vapour.

So while Urquhart remains responsible for the rapid spread of the Victorian Turkish bath throughout the British Isles and, indeed, across the Empire, Europe and the United States of America, it was Barter, going right back to basics  and following the Roman pattern,  who  ‘improved’ the

Australia   Sydney Spring Street 1859 
USA  Brooklyn (New York) Columbia Street 1863
Canada   Montreal St Monique Street 1869
New Zealand  Dunedin Moray Place 1874
Germany  Baden-Baden Rőmisch-Irische Bad 1877

Turkish bath and constructed the first dry hot air bath to be built in the British Isles since the Roman occupation.

Barter's patent application

Barter's patent

It was heated by a continuous stream of hot air directed under a series of connected rooms, first the laconicum at the highest temperature, then the caldarium, and then the tepidarium, each being cooler than the previous room, with bathers spending time in each before progressing, in either direction, to the next one.

Cork  Grenville Place  1858 
Sligo  [Address unknown]  1858 
Bray  Quinsborough Road   1859 
Killarney  [Close to the Hotel and the lakes]   1859 
Limerick  Military Road (now O'Connell Avenue)   1859 
Belfast  Donegal Street  1860 
Dublin  Lincoln Place / Leinster Street  1860 
Cork  Maylor Street ("Baths for the Destitute Poor") 1863 
Waterford  Hardy's Road (now South Parade) 1868 
Dublin  Upper Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street)  1869 

In Germany, the term, Roman-Irish bath is often preferred to Turkish bath, because it recognises the bath’s Roman origin, and its rebirth in Ireland—where at least ten public baths were built under Barter’s guidance, from Cork in the south to Belfast in the north.

thank you icon

Leeds Library & Information Service for the image of St Peter's Square baths

Peter Higginbotham for his image of Fermoy Workhouse

Pascal Meunier for his image of the Damascus hammam

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