Turkish baths in Scotland

Edinburgh: 90 Princes Street (ie, 38 Rose Street Lane)

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

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The Edinburgh Turkish Baths

As befits an establishment advertised as being located in Edinburgh's Princes Street, the Turkish bath opened by A H Allshorn in 1861 appears to have been quite spacious and well laid out. In fact, the baths were at the back of the Balmoral Hotel in Rose Street Lane, being reached by a long passage from Princes Street.

A publicity leaflet headed 'First Class Turkish Bath', and issued just over one and a half years later, claims that it was built 'on the model of Jermyn Street Bath'. This must have been intended to describe the general arrangement of the bath and its facilities rather than the decorative style, which showed no obvious Turkish influence. But the first hot room had a central raised platform and several smaller ones round the outside of the room for bathers to recline on. Glass doors and a central glass screen divided it from the cooling-room with the plunge pool straddling the two rooms allowing bathers to swim underwater below the dividing screen.

Rain and douche showers, a first class swimming bath, and (by prior arrangement) a smaller baths suite for women, were also advertised in the leaflet. The baths were open daily from 8.00 am till 9 pm, with entrance after six in the evening being reduced from 2/6d to 1/6d. No additional charge was made for shampoos. For those not using the Turkish bath, a charge of 1/- was made for the swimming bath.

A H Allshorn was a homeopathic chemist and he was assisted, initially at least, by Dr George Edward Allshorn (whose testimonial 'The best Baths either in London or anywhere else' is, surprisingly, included amongst others in the leaflet). Perhaps this accounts for the lack of any of the outright claims that the Turkish bath cures specific diseases which are to be found in so many other proprietors' publicity. Rather, in the manner which we are accustomed to in 21st century television ads, the leaflet claims that Turkish baths 'have been found beneficial' in cases of colds, influenza, bronchitis, rheumatism, sciatica, dyspepsia, indigestion, lumbago, gout, stomach, 'and all nervous complaints.'

Some time between 22 April and 12 August 1865, The Edinburgh Turkish baths moved to 76 South Clerk Street. What happened to Allshorn's original baths is not yet clear, though local directories show that Turkish baths were open again on the site by 1868 and that a swimming bath had been 'added' to the facilities.

By 1875, Thomas Fleming had become the owner of baths which were now known as Fleming's Turkish Baths. His advertisement for the baths makes no mention of a swimming pool, but only 'Plunge, Hot Water, and Shower Baths', so the initial existence of a separate swimming pool must be open to question. Allshorn may have been referring to the plunge pool as a swimming pool. Alternatively, the swimming pool may have been little used (being more expensive than the larger public baths) and been discontinued. The main change at this time was that the Turkish bath was open to women from 8.00 till 11.00 every morning, while the men's hours were from 11.00 till 9.00 at night.

At one o'clock in the morning of 2 April 1888 the baths caught fire and in spite of the Fire Brigade's valiant efforts with three separate sources of water, the fire was not extinguished for several hours. By this time,

the entire roof of the back portion of the premises was destroyed, while the furnishings of the bath-room proper, as well as of the smaller rooms, were also greatly damaged—smoke and water having completed the work of the flames so far as the internal fittings were concerned.

It is thought that the fire originated in the hot room at the western end of the building and was caused by the heating apparatus. The damage was estimated at about £1,000 and although the owner of the building was insured for damage to its structure, Fleming, as tenant, had no insurance against the destruction of any internal structural components (such as the pool), for the furniture and fittings, or for the business itself.

This seems to have marked the end of Fleming's career as a Turkish baths proprietor. When the baths reopened, there was a new lessee, Alexander Hardie, and Fleming seems also to have had to sell the Ladies' Turkish baths which he had opened in Stafford Street barely eighteen months earlier.

After the fire

The refurbished and refurnished premises opened on 11 December 1888, being advertised simply as The Original Turkish Baths. No proprietor was named but their listing in the 1890 Macdonald's Scottish Directory referred to them as the Edinburgh Turkish and Other Baths, and showed that Alexander Hardie was still the lessee.

The last proprietor so far identified, from around 1893 till at least 1915, was William Cameron. He had previously been the Manager of the privately owned Drumsheugh Swimming Club from its opening in 1882 until it too burnt down in 1892. Although the club was also rebuilt and speedily re-opened, Cameron must have decided that by this time he was ready to run his own Turkish bath.

It is not yet known when the baths closed. An advertisement which appeared on 27 March 1920, offering the ground floor of the building for sale, indicated that it was 'presently occupied as Turkish baths'. Since the baths occupied part a building in the most important commercial street in Edinburgh, it seems unlikely that it would have been allowed to remain empty for any length of time. Unless further evidence comes to light, then, it must be assumed that the baths remained open till 1920.

What can be seen today

The building, however, continues to exist, at least in part, until today (2018), although there may be a planning application currently being processed.

The aerial photograph, and the two photographs taken by Jean Leith, show the bricked up rear entrance to the baths in Rose Street South Lane, and part of the multi-sided roof of the hot room. This can more easily be compared with the hot room roof in the contemporary drawing above by viewing the enlarged images.

This page updated 02 January 2023

This account should be treated as work in progress. Further research is needed to find out about how the baths were used, how long they survived, and why their ownership changed so soon after they were opened.

Thank you icon

Jean Leith, a descendant of Alexander Hardie, for the images of the rate card

Jim Thompson, Head of Central Library & Information Services, and

Andrew Bethune, Librarian, Edinburgh and Scottish Collection

Celal Erdogdu for his photo of the advertising post seen from the Camera Obscura

Tony Millar for permission to copy the Edinburgh Camera Obscura image

The original page includes one or more enlargeable thumbnail images.
Any enlarged images, listed and linked below, can also be printed.

Hot room, cooling-room and plunge pool

Part of a leaflet

Card showing charges in 1890

Advertising sign in Princes Street

Aerial view, 2018

Roof view, 2018

Rear entrance, 2018

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Other Turkish baths in Scotland


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

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