the finer points of nomenclature, as a conscious or subconscious form of
heritaging, will not have been realised by too many bathers. But the
choice of a bath’s architectural style, and its internal decorative
scheme, were more clearly ‘in your face’—either as marketing decisions,
or political decisions, as with Urquhart’s London Hammam.
It is important to
realise, however, that of approximately 600 baths so far identified,
only about 20% were purpose-built. The remainder, usually owned by a
sole proprietor, were in existing buildings, mainly shops and houses,
and occasionally even churches.
purpose-built baths, two thirds were built by local authorities and were
swimming pools or wash-houses, with Turkish baths incorporated. Their
style was ‘local civic’.
remaining 55, all save one were built by private clubs, hydropathic
establishments, or small limited liability companies, for all of whom
the cost of an unusual design would have been a major disincentive.
in addition to the Cambridge Roman baths, seventeen buildings, or about
a third, were designed to echo what was called the Saracenic style of
architecture. These are what might be called ‘set piece’ Turkish baths:
Cuthbert Brodrick’s Leeds building was his own cut down version of an
even grander design; Goulty’s Brighton baths, even with their modern
cinema canopy, retain a certain elegance; while in the days before every
large city had at least one mosque,
Dalston building, immediately opposite the railway station, was its own
effective sales pitch.
remains that these Saracenic buildings sought to heritage the baths, we
should note that twelve of them were built between 1856 and 1868—while
the bath was still establishing itself. Thereafter, apart from the
Scottish clubs, Dalston, and one the many Nevill’s establishments, no
further baths were built in this style—it was no longer necessary.
private Turkish baths within the homes of the wealthy, had no need to
sell themselves. So they range from the plain, as in Cragside and
Wightwick Manor, to the idiosyncratic Gothic splendour of Avery Hill.
discussions about architectural style in professional journals,
especially around 1861. Architects asked whether the baths had to
look Turkish, or perhaps even Roman.
In a lecture
that year at the Liverpool Architectural Society, a cynical W H Hay,
who had been responsible for the design of the Turkish bath at Lochhhead
Hydropathic Establishment, Aberdeen, the previous year,
admitted that he would now recommend ‘a thoroughly English style’.
reasons again—this time civic pride—despite accusations of extravagance
at the ratepayers’ expense, several local authorities made an attempt to
follow a Turkish style, if only by the inclusion of ogee windows and
doorways. But sometimes, as in Harrogate, Dunfermline and Birmingham,
But in most
house and shop conversions, the internal decoration was about as
authentically Turkish as Ingres’ painting of a brothel is an authentic
representation of an Islamic hammam.
an attempt was made to look authentic.
needed its adopted heritage as a sales asset, and had to
seem, at least, to belong to a tradition.
expressed here are very much work in progress and may well be revised in
the light of comments from visitors to the site.
one thing we can be absolutely certain: the Victorian Turkish bath is
now a part of our heritage, and it’s a heritage which is rapidly
disappearing, year by year.