The first Victorian Turkish bath
in an English private house

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

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1. The false claim

Until very recently it was believed that the first Victorian Turkish bath built in a private house was George Crawshay's first bath at Tynemouth House, Tynemouth, north-east of Newcastle. (He would later build another in 1862 when he moved to Haughton Castle in Hexham).

In a lecture Why does man perspire? given in January 1861 and reported in the Newcastle Journal, Crawshay himself claimed that this bath was 'the first to be built in England since Roman times'. Four years later this was reprinted in Sir John Fife's anthology of writings on the bath, Manual of the Turkish bath, and the claim has continued to be widely quoted.

Crawshay had first come across the Turkish bath when he visited St Ann's Hydro  near Blarney, Co. Cork, in 1856 to see David Urquhart and discuss with him the complicated financial situation of The Sheffield Free Press. This was the Urquhartite political paper which had for a time been owned by Isaac Ironside, chairman of the Sheffield Foreign Affairs Committee, but was being taken over by Crawshay and Urquhart and renamed The Free Press.

Urquhart was at that time working with Dr Richard Barter on their first experimental Turkish bath. Although it was unsatisfactory, being unable to reach a high enough temperature, it was possible to see how it might soon develop, and Crawshay was so impressed that he decided to have one built at his home, Tynemouth House.

At the beginning of the following year, 1857, Crawshay returned to St Ann's to see Barter's new Turkish bath. He had commissioned local architect James Shotten to build his bath, and took Shotten with him so that he could see Barter's bath for himself and make drawings of it. Shotton was to benefit considerably from this visit and would later build a number of other Turkish baths.

It has usually been assumed that this first domestic Turkish bath was built in the first half of 1857 because another private Turkish bath was built at South Preston Cottage in nearby North Shields, and already described in an article in The Builder in October.

We now know that Crawshay's bath was indeed built in the middle of 1857, but it was not the first such bath.

2. Isaac Ironside's bath—the real first

Another visitor to St Ann's around this time was Isaac Ironside who had been recommended by Urquhart to try the new bath to see whether it would cure his recurrent boils. Ironside visited in December 1856 and, although the new bath had not yet been completed, he found the boils responded well even to Barter's earlier vapour baths.

Barter knew that his Turkish bath would work better than the vapour bath because the higher temperature would be even more efficacious. Ironside must have been convinced because he decided that he would build a Turkish bath, albeit a smaller one, at his own home in Carr Road, Walkley, then still lying just outside Sheffield.

As soon as he returned to England, Ironside, always a man of action, immediately called on John Maxfield for help. Maxfield was a member of the Sheffield Foreign Affairs Committee, a man with much experience in heating houses, and one who would later open several commercial Turkish baths of his own. Together they built Ironside's bath.

We now know from a recently discovered newspaper clipping that this was already in operation by the beginning of 1857, well before Crawshay's had been started.

Like so many of those who were to own private Turkish baths, Ironside was generous in welcoming visitors and sharing his enthusiasm for the bath.

J W Burns, Secretary of the Sheffield FAC, and John Maxfield both wrote to the Sheffield Free Press making known his kindness. And a writer signing himself 'A subscriber to your paper' wrote that he had used Ironside's Turkish bath and since his previous visit, an unknown person had inscribed on the wall,

More healing than Bethesda's pool
Or famed Siloam's flood.

This page published 29 October 2018

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