seen that, for some bathers, the Turkish bath comprised a series of
rituals. But there were three comunities of bathers who had no need of
a ritual which was, for them, irrelevant.
well-established hydropathic establishments saw Urquhart’s bath as
just the latest in a series of water-cure treatments which, to the
unconverted, were so bizarre as to make the Turkish bath seem totally
members of Urquhart’s Foreign Affairs Committees were pioneers of
the Turkish bath, the Manchester committee building the first public
hot-air bath to open in England since Roman times. At least
thirty-five of the first Turkish baths were associated with these
committees. The bath was introduced to them by David Urquhart himself.
They were self-confident.
of the later commercial establishments cared only to be cleansed and
rituals have largely disappeared, the Turkish bath remains a set for
performances. In the early 1990s, a visitor noted
that the same women had been meeting at a Turkish bath for years,
though they claim that they wouldn't recognise each other with their
clothes on, they know all the ins and outs of each others lives. As
one of the Lewisham regulars puts it: ‘You bare your body and you
bare your soul down here.'
And at the
same time, in the York Hall Turkish bath in a different part of
London, another visitor experiences live theatre:
here, it's like being in a nude Harold Pinter play. Conversation is
punctuated by long pauses as people gather the strength to mutter a
profundity. ‘Poll tax eh.’ (two minute pause) ‘Bastard.’