Dublin: 50 (Upper) Rathmines You can print this page -- Click for printer-friendly version
The Oriental Baths
1860 The Oriental Baths
   J F Alexander (Propr)
1862 The Oriental Baths
   J F Alexander (Propr)
   The baths closed briefly either at the end of 1861 or at the beginning of 1862, when they were offered for sale. They re-opened in the second week of February, but it is not known whether  J F Alexander was still the proprietor, or for how long they remained open.
Notes In the above chronology, information has been taken from sources cited in the footnotes to the article below.

Very little is currently known about this establishment. The baths seem to have opened some time in the autumn of 1860, a display advertisement appearing on 7 September1 claiming that the Oriental Baths were 'Now Open'.

There had been a hot air bath in Dublin at Lower Temple Street since the previous year, though it is not yet certain whether this was built on the Barter pattern. And Barter's own Lincoln Place Turkish Baths had opened barely seven months earlier. So Mr J F Alexander was being optimistic, if not foolhardy, in expecting a third establishment to be successful so soon after the reintroduction of the then unknown Turkish bath only four years earlier, in 1856.

While his establishment does seem to be based on Barter's heated dry air principle, Alexander would, of course, have been aware of the recent controversy as to whether the air in a Turkish bath should be moist (as in a hammam) or as dry as possible (as Barter maintained). He appeals to supporters on both sides, calling his establishment 'Oriental Baths', but immediately describing them as 'Turkish Baths on the most approved principle'.

He mentions the issue even in his first advertisement, and reiterates his position in another at the back of Edward Haughton's The Uses and abuses of Turkish baths:2

In these baths the heated air is never deprived of its due proportion of moisture; they are never overheated; the system of ventilation is perfect. There is ample dressing-closet accommodation: the attendance and superintendence are unexceptionable.

Alexander also stressed that his establishment was in Rathmines, then a suburb to the south of Dublin.

The Rathmines Oriental Baths enjoy the benefit (not attainable in a central position in a large city) of an unlimited supply of Pure Air, which is very essential to the renovating and invigorating effects of the Bath.1

All of which may be perfectly true but, such is human nature, not necessarily enough to encourage a journey out of the city centre. Alexander himself may even have accepted this reality, addressing his initial advert-isement specifically 'To the inhabitants of Rathmines, Rathgar, Ranelagh, and the south suburbs of Dublin'.

Apart from the Turkish bath itself, there were showers and warm baths. All were available to Gentlemen from 7.00-10.00 am, and from 5.00-9.00 pm, at a cost of 1/6d. In the intervening period, from 11.00 till 4.00 in the afternoon, the baths were open to Ladies. Unlike most other estab-lishments, women were charged 6d more than men, Alexander realistically accepting, perhaps, that during women's hours there would be fewer customers. But, as was generally the case elsewhere, prices were lower when a dozen tickets were purchased at the same time. There was also a smaller private Turkish bath, available at any time by appointment, for groups of up to four persons.

The following month, Alexander emphasised the health benefits of the bath, heading an advertisement,3 'Health, Cleanliness, Invigoration,' and ending,

Gout! Rheumatism! Influenza! &c., &c., Adopt this safe, simple, and delightful mode of cure, which has been efficacious in unnumbered instances.

By the end of the month, after taking the actual usage pattern of the baths into account, Alexander had restructured his prices and tried to make a more efficient use of his resources. When the establishment opened, a Turkish bath cost 1/6d with 'No extra charges'; he was now offering Turkish baths in the morning and evening at just one shilling, with an optional shampoo at 6d extra, and with the prices during the middle of the day remaining at 2/- inclusive.4

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But whereas previously this daytime period had been available only to women bathers, he was now advertising that the baths were open all day between 6.00 in the morning till 9.00 at night 'for either ladies or gentlemen'. It seems most likely, therefore, that women bathers were restricted to the smaller area originally intended only for private groups, albeit at a reduced price.

A major disadvantage of the baths, despite the cleaner out-of-the-city air, seems to have been that it was located in the suburbs. The following year, Alexander tried to get over this by refunding the bathers' bus fare from the city centre.5 There was also 'clean linen, and suitable Bath Costume provided for both Ladies and Gentlemen.'

It would be interesting to know what type of person Alexander was trying to attract to his establishment when he abandoned his original choice of name , Oriental Baths, for Turkish Baths—but with a touch of the Roman.6

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During this time he was also, briefly, running a Turkish bath in Cecil Street, Limerick, a fair distance away. Even less is known about this latter establishment or how long it survived, but by the beginning of 1862, Alexander had decided to put the Rathmines Turkish Baths up for sale.7

It is not clear what happened next but, less than a fortnight later, the Dublin Athenćum was advertising reduced charges for the baths as one of its membership benefits.8

Nor is it known whether Alexander managed to let or sell the baths, whether he decided to keep on with them, or even how long they remained open before finally closing.

It does appear that the baths did close—for at least a short time—because their re-opening was announced on 14 February9 and, four days later, pronounced a 'great success'.10

This page last revised 18 January 2018

This account should be treated as work in progress. Further research is needed to find out about how long the baths survived, and whether their ownership changed.