The Victorian Turkish bath
arrives in19th century London



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


Original illustrated page with notes and links



4: Charges and class

When the London Hammam was opened in 1862, it was, relatively speaking, more expensive, charging 3/6 for male bathers and 5/- for females, while at the same time, a shampooer was being paid 25/- per week.

Urquhart was repeatedly at odds with his fellow directors over admission charges. For as well as arguing on behalf of the bath as a curative agent, he felt no less strongly that, in an age when most people were still without indoor water supplies, let alone bathrooms, the Turkish bath, as the most effective cleansing agent, should be available to all as inexpensively as possible.

While most establishments were as cheap, or cheaper, than Nevill’s no-one was providing much-needed Turkish baths at something approaching cost price.

Locating London establishments on Booth’s 1889 poverty map shows that they were rarely in the poorer areas where they were most needed; preferred locations were more often adjacent to railway stations used by commuters travelling home to the suburbs. However, for a number of reasons, I should not wish to draw too many unqualified conclusions from such an oversimplified exercise.

‘The site of the southern part of [Pottery] Lane is now occupied by the southern part of Portland Road. From the mid 1830s onwards the south-eastern part of the district served by the lane was commonly referred to as the Potteries, and after the cholera epidemic of 1848-9 the conditions of filth, disease and insanitation in which its inhabitants were found to be living and dying gave the area a notoriety perhaps unsurpassed by any other district in London...

‘During the three years 1846-8 living conditions at the Potteries became so appalling that the average age at the time of death among the 1,056 inhabitants was only 11 years and seven months, compared with an average at death throughout the whole of the land of 37 years...’  

Only one establishment provided free Turkish baths for needy Londoners.

In the mid 1860s, Richard Metcalfe set up a hydropathic dispensary and Turkish bath in the deprived Potteries area of Notting Hill as part of Mrs Bayley’s Ragged Castle and Workmen’s Hall. Mrs Bayley, more concerned with healthy souls than bodies, saw the bath as part of her armoury in the battle to convert the unwashed to temperance and Christianity.

Her landlord, on the other hand, saw it as a fire risk and had it closed down.

When the first Baths and Wash-houses Acts were passed in 1846 and 1847, Turkish baths did not exist. This was very widely interpreted to mean that they could not legally be provided by local authorities, so none was built in London during the Victorian period.

But outside London, local politicians were occasionally more subtle. Southampton Corporation, for example, provided publicly funded Turkish baths by the simple, if risky, expedient of calling them—inaccurately, but pragmatically—vapour baths, and these were permitted under the Acts.     

‘The Local Government Board would not allow the Council to borrow money for the erection of Turkish baths, as they said they had no power to do so, but the Town Council found a way out of the difficulty, and they applied for a loan for £1,000 for vapour baths; these were Turkish baths under another name, and, as is well known, the work was subsequently carried out.’


But there was a downside to this ruse: under the Acts they had to provide First and Second Class Baths, just as they were legally bound to provide two classes of swimming pool.

Urquhart had seen the Turkish bath as enabling different classes to mix and get to know each other. But most private bath owners, though not covered by the Acts, voluntarily chose to distinguish first and second class bathers so as to enlarge their potential clientele.

Occasionally separate facilities were provided, but usually second class bathers came at different times, at a lower price, sometimes had to bring their own towels, and often had to do without a massage.

Working class bathers faced another problem in some parts of London. As William Bishop, owner of the Putney Turkish baths, complained, pressure from Church and Chapel prevented his baths from opening on Sunday—the only day the working classes had sufficient time to use them.

5. London women and the bath



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Minute book of the London & Provincial

Booth's Poverty Map of London, 1889

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

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