The lighter side of the bath:

some caricatures and cartoons

 

                           

This is a single frame, printer-friendly page taken from Malcolm Shifrin's website

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

        

Original illustrated page with notes

                           

 


Victorian hydropathic establishments mushroomed after the introduction into the British Isles of the cold water cure made popular on the continent by the disciples of Vincent Preissnitz. The rigour of the treatments—the wet sheet bath and the icy rain bath (shower)—was an obvious target for humorists. Contemporary caricaturists, such as Thomas Onwhyn, produced several series of drawings depicting the tortures to which patients were subjected. These were later reproduced as postcards, and since they were often posted by those 'tortured' to their loved ones at home, hydros (such as Smedley's at Matlock Bank in Derbyshire) must have taken their humour with good grace while profitably selling the cards in great numbers to their 'victims'.

Later, when hydropathic establishments added Turkish baths to their facilities, further cartoons were inevitable. These two, from a  set of six, are dated 11 June 1861 and signed with Onwhyn's characteristic monogram.

The sudatorium At the mercy of the shampooer

The sudatorium

The shampoo

Not all illustrations poked fun at the bathers. Mr Punch's visit to a Turkish bath in 1861 was recorded in a relatively straightforward manner.

Being anxious to preserve our figure
we take a Turkish bath
Mr Punch takes a Turkish

And when, five years later, George Du Maurier drew At the Turkish bath, such establishments were already becoming popular and were to be found in an increasing number of towns and cities around the country. Du Maurier's point is made by linking here-now with there-later; to him, at least, the Turkish bath was no longer itself considered unusual or in any way ridiculous.

Come as you are! Smith (abstractedly). "I say, Brown, come and Dine with us to-day, to meet Robinson and his Sisters. No fuss or Ceremony, you know! Come just as you are!!!".

Originally published in May 1866, this caricature was still considered amusing enough to be included in a series of humorous postcards published by Evelyn Wrench some time between 1900 and (probably) 1902.

The known difficulty of withstanding the excessively high temperatures to be found in some establishments was referenced, to good effect, in Tenniel's political cartoon, The Turkish bath. This appeared in 1876 shortly after Gladstone had published a pamphlet describing the atrocities committed by Ottoman forces in subduing the Bulgarian uprising. He attacked Disraeli's government for turning a blind eye to the massacres so as not to weaken Turkey's rôle as a counterweight to the growing influence of Russia. The pamphlet sold 40,000 copies in a week, and 200,000 by the end of the month.'

Attendant. "How do you feel after your bath, my Lord?"
Lord B.... "Pretty comfortable, thank you!—(Aside. Lost some weight, I fancy.) —You made it so confoundedly HOT  for me ! ! !"
Disraeli and Gladstone in the Turkish bath

By the middle of the twentieth century, when many more people had washing and bathing facilities in their own homes, the idea that some people could actually enjoy sweating in a hot room,  be refreshed by a dip in a cold plunge pool, or feel more relaxed after a massage, was still, in some eyes, as funny as it was a century earlier—and perhaps, to the uninitiated, will remain so for ever.

         
 

On the brink

 

For his sins

 

Look at
the clock

 

The ordeal
by steam


 
     
 

                Ferocious friction

 

Ready to serve    

 

Terrors of Turkish bathing:
sample sufferings, hot and cold, we not only endure, but pay for

Artist's captions and text

These drawings were made (at about the half way point between opening of the first Victorian Turkish bath and today) by the American illustrator George Luks. It is interesting to compare them with those of Thomas Onwhyn published 65 years earlier, for it is clear that Onwhyn is the more incisive.

                                  

 
 


The original page also includes footnotes

Top of the page
                   

 

All complete pages,
with images, footnotes,
glossary & bibliography,
can be reached from the

Printer-friendly single frame
versions of all text pages
(and from them, all images)
can be reached from the

You can bookmark this page

Home Page

You can print this page

Site map

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

Comments and queries are most welcome and can be sent to:

malcolm@victorianturkishbath.org

The right of Malcolm Shifrin to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him
in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988