Nothing but a load of hot air:
some problems, conflicts, and controversies
arising during the development
of the Victorian Turkish bath

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

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2. Technology and attitudes

I have grouped typical issues which the innovators needed to resolve into two broad categories: technological and attitudinal. While this is convenient for my present purpose, it must not, of course, be assumed that the solution to every technical problem was completely unaffected by attitudinal or philosophical considerations.

For example, the effort expended in developing the technology required to heat air in the hottest room (the laconicum) to temperatures around 200-240°F. should not be taken to imply that all were agreed that such high temperatures were desirable. It was not possible to measure temperatures in Roman times, so we do not know how hot their baths actually were. From Victorian times, as is evident from contemporary letters in the columns of The Lancet and the British Medical Journal, to the present day, there have been almost as many opinions as to the optimum temperatures required in each room as there have been individual establishments, and individual so-called experts.

And while the spaces required for the various processes which comprised the Turkish bath—sweating, plunging, shampooing, and relaxing—were carefully positioned so as to ensure that the air in the hot rooms remained as dry as possible, it should be borne in mind that there were some who maintained that a reasonable amount of humidity was not only desirable, but absolutely necessary.  (This controversy is treated in more detail in The Hot Air Controversy elsewhere in this section of the website)

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Cartoon: Jones can't beleive it, 180°!!! [sic]

Section and plan of the London Hammam


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