'The ladies ought to have
at least three nights in the week':
women and Victorian Turkish baths

    

                           
This is a single frame, printer-friendly page taken from

one of the linked parts of an article published on Malcolm Shifrin's website

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

        

Original illustrated page with notes and links

                           

                          


This is a slightly extended version of the paper given at the

12th Annual Conference of the Women's History Network
on
Contested terrains: gendered knowledge, landscapes, and narratives
at
King's College, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
on Sunday 14
September 2003
            

1: Introduction

Of more than 600 Turkish baths which I have traced in the British Isles, only 21 remain at the time of writing. At least 370 were opened during Victoria’s reign—just over a hundred of them catering for women (see Table). Yet women were involved in almost all of them—as managers, proprietors, or shareholders, and as attendants or masseuses.

This paper takes a first look at these Victorian Turkish baths for women: their facilities, availability, admission charges, and the wages they paid. It aims merely to highlight just a few aspects of a virtually unexplored subject, gently suggesting it as one worthy of study by those who, perhaps, may more appropriately consider it in relation to other areas of women’s history—for it spans such discrete spheres of activity as beauty aids, health promotion, therapy, and aids to cleanliness.

Although the first Turkish bath was built as a therapeutic facility, an anonymous leader in the Manchester Critic in 1872 advised:

If ladies only knew what a real and lasting beautifier the Turkish Bath is, they would abandon all agitation for ‘Women’s Rights,’ &c, and at once build a Turkish Bath for their own special use. By using it, they would thereby render themselves so fascinating and beautiful, that there would be no resisting any appeals they might make to the weaker sex.

And by the late 1880s, when Lillie Langtry was promoting the Pilgrim Street Turkish Baths in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the promise of softer skin and beautiful hair was the most common advertising approach to women as potential bathers.

Less appealing still, was Dr Thomas Lewen Marsden’s view of the male/female relationship:

To show the delightful influence of the Turkish Bath, suppose a man comes home ill-natured, jaded, and weary with the affairs of the world, cross with his wife, and quarrelling even with his dinner; let the good wives who hear me take my advice, and tell their husbands to go wash in a Turkish Bath, and they will throw off their ill-humours--mental and bodily--and then return delighted, as I am sure they will be, in spirit, happy with their wives, contented with their dinners, and playful with their children.

It is true, however, that the Turkish bath is a great relaxant and,

throughout the various processes a feeling of delicious languor and indescribable enjoyment generally prevails, while afterwards there is a wonderful feeling of buoyancy and vigour.

But to begin at the beginning…

2: The first Victorian Turkish baths


                                  

 
 


The original page includes thumbnail pictures which can be enlarged.
All the enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.

Mrs Butcher who was in charge of the Turkish baths

The Tepidarium, Melbourne

Women's day in the hot room, York Hall, London, 1990

Lillie Langtry

The cooling-room at 2, Edgar Buildings, Bath

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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