Victorian Turkish Baths

BookVictorian Turkish Baths

Victorian Turkish Baths

Historic England


November 15th, 2015





Victorian Turkish Baths is the first book to bring to light the hidden history of a fascinating institution—the 600-plus dry hot-air baths descended from the ancient Roman thermae—which opened between 1856 and 1975. They started in Ireland, almost immediately spreading around Britain and the countries of the 19th century British Empire. Soon they were copied in Europe—where they are known as Irish-Roman baths—and crossed the Atlantic Ocean, where they could be found in almost all of the United States of America.

Malcolm Shifrin traces the bath’s Irish-Roman antecedents, looking at how its origins were influenced by the combination of physician Richard Barter’s hydropathic expertise, and idiosyncratic diplomat David Urquhart’s passion for the hammams of the Middle East.

The book reveals how working-class members of a network of political pressure groups built more than 30 of the first Turkish baths in England. It explores the architecture, technology and sociology of the Victorian Turkish bath, examining everything from business and advertising to sex–real and imagined. This book offers a wealth of wondrous detail – from the baths used to treat sick horses to those for first-class passengers on the Titanic.

Victorian Turkish Baths will appeal to those interested in Victorian social history, architecture, social attitudes to leisure, early public health campaigns, pressure groups, gendered spaces and much else besides. The book is complemented by the author’s widely respected website, where readers can find a treasure trove of further information.

Retired librarian, Malcolm Shifrin has here produced a book that is unrivalled in most of its architectural insights and social understanding. It's a really good read ...
The AMS Newsletter

... Malcolm's coverage of the subject is comprehensive ...
Graham Hudson, The Ephemerist

Malcolm Shifrin's Victorian Turkish Baths, an absorbing, scholarly and generously illustrated book, is also an elegy for an almost vanished piece of our social history and architectural heritage.
Peter Parker, RIBA Friends of Architecture

... his book is so appealing to the eye and so full of fascinating information that those with a more general interest in the Victorian period, or even the simply curious, will also find it a pleasure to read.
Jaqueline Banerjee, Cercles

Given his acknowledged expertise on the subject of Turkish Baths, ... it is no surprise that Malcolm Shifrin has produced an excellent text ...
Dave Day, Social History

Manchester Metropolitan University

Malcolm Shifrin's magisterial and frequently surprising book charts the rise and fall of the Victorian Turkish bath movement ... Only a handful of Turkish baths survive in their original form and use. A whole world has been lost, but Malcolm Shifrin is to be commended for bringing it back to vivid life.
Michael Scammell, Context

... a major act of historical recovery; it is also a true labour of love ... a sumptuous and delightful book, a tribute to Historic England who produced the volume ... Alas, very few Turkish baths remain today. Shifrin is the pre-eminent historian and archaeologist of this phenomenon. The Turkish bath endures at least through his pages.
Rohan McWilliam, Journal of Victorian Culture

... the amount of information about the buildings and the processes within them is remarkable, the bibliography is extensive, and the glossary and four separate indices for people, places, users, and subjects are helpful.
Timothy Brittain-Catlin, Landscape History

Shifrin is very thorough in his examination of the economics and personalities of the Turkish Bath business, but it is in his appreciation of the architecture of these baths that he excels ... It is one of the many virtues of this study that so many delightful photographs are provided ... Shifrin leave no stone unturned in his examination of all available sources, literary and archival.
Alistair J. Durie (University of Stirling), Industrial Archaeology Review

Author Information

Malcolm Shifrin is former Head of the Inner London Education Authority's Central Library Resources Service and has written extensively on the fascinating history and sociology of the bath. Malcolm was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS) following the publication of Victorian Turkish Baths (2015).