before the general availability of Turkish baths, Urquhart welcomed
visitors of all classes to his Riverside home near Rickmansworth.
Personal friends, patients of doctors who wished to see whether the
bath could help them, working-class members of his Foreign Affairs
Committees, even a meeting of the London Medical Society—anyone with
a serious interest in the Turkish bath was made welcome—and greeted
with the same set of rules framed so none might feel at a disadvantage
through lack of experience. They start:
two baths at Riverside are open for the use of persons suffering
from disease, only on the following conditions:—
The bath being the practice of a cleanly and polite people, the
habits of cleanliness and politeness must be observed. Visitors,
therefore, must seek to learn from the attendants how to conduct
with such matters as the removal of outdoor shoes before entering the
changing room, covering one’s nakedness with a loin-cloth, the
shampooing process, and politeness, interpreted as not disturbing
establishment embellished its own guidelines. The Nottingham Hammam,
for example, wrote:
will have been gathered...that it is no light and frivolous matter
this bathing at the new establishment in Parliament Street, to be
rushed through with airy precipitance. The pleasing and sensual
rites and ceremonies should be undertaken in a serious and proper
frame of mind.
only time here to mention briefly three examples of the ritual of the
Turkish bath. First, the ritual of the towels.
nudity continued as the norm for British sea bathers until well into
the nineteenth century, Turkish bath proprietors determined to
preclude any suggestion that they were merely modern bagnios,
or brothels. Christianity had encouraged the destruction of the bath
in the Western Roman Empire and nudity has no place in the Islamic
hammam, which from the beginning dispensed with the Roman plunge pool.
Hence the prescription of a variety of towels, each with a different
At St Ann’s
hydropathic establishment in Co.Cork,
undress—the attendant holding a large sheet before you as a
screen. You are then attired in a flowing robe, tied round the
waist, which comes down below your knees; a sheet is thrown over
when the London Hammam opened in 1862, it was already more
visitor having undressed, and his garments placed in a napkin kept
for them, an attendant brings him five cloths. First there is the mahzani,
or loin-towel, with its blue and red border two yards wide, which is
put round the body, and a second cloth, the futa, is put
around the shoulders. The remaining three cloths are used for drying
the body after the douche which follows the bath, and for enveloping
the body when the bather is led back again to the cooling-room.
As late as
the end of the nineteenth century, proprietors were still much
concerned with nudity in what was, after all, a single sex bath. Some
of the better class establishments had a plunge pool straddling the caldarium
and the frigidarium, the rooms being separated by a plate glass
panel stretching from ceiling to water level, under which it was
possible to swim. According to Robert Owen Allsop, author of the
standard work, indeed the only work, on the design of the Victorian
demands of decency must be borne constantly in mind by the architect
of a Turkish bath. If the bather, on leaving the plunge-bath, finds
himself in the frigidarium, he must ascend the steps under hanging
towels. The method now adopted in this country—a direct
importation from the East—is to suspend a hoop from the ceiling,
and from this hang cords attached to towels. This can be swung by an
attendant over the end of the bath, and in it the bather can dry
himself and be wrapped in towels before proceeding to his couch.
to have been no fixed number of towels issued, and (apart from the
loin-cloth) no standard way of wearing them; each establishment
devised its own particular routine.
gently mocks the aficianado who flaunts his knowledge of what to do
with the second of the towels provided. I quote him even though the
story is well-known, since such affectionate teasing of those who feel
the bath must be an oriental experience is not only delightful, but
helps illuminate contemporary attitudes.
there are who carry it under the arm,—simply as a towel; but these
are they who, from English perversity, wilfully rob the institution
of that picturesque orientalism which should be its greatest charm.
A few are able to wear the article as a turban, and that no doubt
should be done by all who are competent to achieve the position. We
have observed that men who can do so enter the bathroom with an air
and are received there with a respect which no other arrangement of
the towel will produce.
is not every man who can carry a blue towel as a turban, and look
like an Arab in the streets of Cairo, as he slowly walks down the
room in Jermyn Street with his arms crossed on his naked breast,
with the recommendation,
the second towel should be trailed. The effect is good, and there is
no difficulty in the trailing which may not be overcome.
The shampooing ritual