has not taken a Turkish bath . . . ’, Trollope almost wrote, ‘we
will give the shortest possible description . . . ’ and to avoid any
misunderstanding, I too will indicate what I mean, and what the
Victorians meant, by the term Turkish bath.
Turkish bath, then, is a type of bath in which the bather sweats, in a
room which is heated by hot DRY air. It is this use of hot DRY air which
distinguishes the Turkish bath from the medicated vapour bath, or the
steam baths usually known as Russian baths, which existed before 1856.
distinguishing feature is that bathers progress through a series of
increasingly hot rooms until they sweat profusely. This perambulation,
perhaps repeated, possibly interspersed with cold showers or a dip in
the cold plunge pool, is followed by a full body wash and massage. The
wash and massage, together, were known to Victorians as shampooing.
less important than anything preceding it—follows a period of
relaxation in the cooling-room, often lasting up to an hour or more. The
Victorians relished this part of the bath, and frequently wrote about it
in prose of the most purple hue.
In 1856, Dr
Richard Barter, a hydropathist practising the fashionable cold water
cure of Vincent Preissnitz, came across The Pillars of Hercules,
a quirky travel book by the Scottish diplomat, David Urquhart.
In it, Urquhart
described his use of hot air baths while serving at the British embassy
in Constantinople-hence the inaccurate designation, Turkish bath. In fact
the bath he had found in the middle east was a somewhat diminished version
of the 2,000 year-old Roman thermae.
immediately saw it as a therapeutic agent and, being convinced that hot
dry air could be more effective than the water cure, invited Urquhart to
St Anne’s, his hydropathic establishment near Blarney, to help him
build a hot-air bath—the first in the kingdom since Roman times.
hydropathists initially considered the inclusion of a hot-air bath to be
heretical, with a concomitant drop in the number of patients, Barter used it
successfully and it rapidly came to be seen as an acceptable
development. From the patients’ point of view it was pleasanter, more relaxing,
and less unsociable than the water cure; and from a purely commercial
view, the bath was judged successful.
Barter also provided a bath for all who worked at the hydro, or on its farm.
‘At the end of the week,’ wrote a pamphleteer,
arguing that the use
of the Turkish bath kept people away from drink, ‘the numerous workmen
and labourers, and after them their wives and children, have the
privilege of being refreshed and cleansed by the Bath.’
A red flag flew when it was occupied by men, and a white one when it was
occupied by women.
year, Urquhart, now back in Manchester, helped William Potter build the
first Victorian Turkish bath in England open for public use. Potter,
whose wife Elizabeth supervised the women bathers, was secretary of one
of the Foreign Affairs Committees which Urquhart had set up to
promulgate his political views.
committees, organized on a daily basis by Urquhart’s remarkable wife Harriet,
played a major role in promoting the bath becoming, in effect, a Turkish
Bath Movement. At least
thirty-five such baths were opened on the mainland by committee members.
meanwhile, was opening Turkish baths all over Ireland. So that in
Germany today, such baths are more accurately called Roman-Irish baths,
distinguishing them from the damp and humid baths found in Turkey, and
paying tribute to Barter’s work.