Performance in the raw:
some aspects of the ritual of the
Victorian Turkish bath

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

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5. The shampooing ritual

Descriptions of the shampooing ritual suggested all manner of torture to be endured by the fearful novice. Hear the reassuring words of the physician at Newcastle’s Pilgrim Street baths.

The British subject, on being for the first time submitted to this process, is apt to consider that liberties are being taken with his sacred person, especially when the conclusion of the performance is signalised as usual by a resounding smack. But on the whole the sensation produced is decidedly pleasant, and there is no doubt that the effect of it is salutary.

Very Public School!

At the Brighton Hammam, after the manipulation is over,

the attendant dashes the foreign matter from the body by tepid water from a bowl, much as a servant-girl would wash the windows of a house. Camel hair gloves are then brought into use, and the bather is well rubbed with them; the fruit of their use being also washed off with tepid water. A lather made from Castile soap is next applied by something like a gigantic shaving brush made from the fibres of the palm tree.

At the London Hammam, the ritual is tripartite:

As soon as the skin of the bather exhibits a flow of gentle perspiration a tellak, or bathman, commences the manipulation which characterises the native tellak. We are conscious immediately that Eastern hands are upon us.

First a gentle massage to loosen the muscles, and then

with a camel's-hair glove on his hand [the bathman] sweeps over every inch of the body from the neck to the heels, starting the skin and planing it off in successive rolls, his dextrous hand missing no portion of the body.

And when all was considered to be clean

Every part of your body is then cracked with surprising skill—an alarming operation to a novice, but a perfectly safe and necessary one when performed by experienced tellaks.

Like all initiation ceremonies, the description of the shampooing ritual was then embellished by the initiate to be related in even more terrifying terms to the next novice he meets.

This page reformatted and slightly revised 29 October 2018

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And this is Shampooing… [caricature]

The Academy Picture House, formerly the Brighton Hammam

Shampooing room: the London Hammam, mid 1920s

Any aches? Low cartoon in Nevill's booklet, mid 1930s


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