Brighton bathers part 1: Origins

Mohamed's vapour baths in Brighton
Image reproduced with permission from Brighton History Centre.

In the 1860s, very few houses had running water, and even after the Public Baths and Washhouses Acts of the late 1840s, there were still very few public baths. One way to get clean and relax was to take a Turkish bath and such baths became very popular from around 1859.

The idea of a Turkish bath is to cleanse the body by sweating in hot dry air until the dirt can be rinsed away. Unlike a Russian bath or an Islamic hammam, there was no steam in a Victorian Turkish bath. Bathers spent up to fifteen minutes in each of a series of increasingly hot rooms until they sweated profusely. Then, after a shower, they would take a dip in a cold plunge pool, be scrubbed and massaged by a shampooer, and finish off by relaxing in a cooling room before getting dressed again.

The first short-lived Turkish bath in the locality was a small one opened in 1862 by a Dr Toulmin at 65 Western Road, Hove. The popularity of this bath and of Sake Deen Mahomet’s Vapour baths in King’s Road probably helped encourage a group of wealthy men to build a much larger Turkish bath at 57 West Street in Brighton.

Comments about this page

  • The article was generally informative but is innaccurate regarding the first Turkish Baths. I have records relating to baths from as early as 1822. In 1824 and 1828 J.Molineux is detailed in Pigot’s directory as a ‘baths proprietor (Indian and Turkish)’ at 30 East Cliff. Mahomed Sake Deen is also detailed from around 1824. There were a considerable number of baths of varying description throughout the first half of the 19th century.

    By Andy Grant (27/05/2004)
  • Andy Grant is correct in that there were a few baths which were called ‘Turkish’ before 1856. But these, like Mahomed’s baths, were vapour (steam) or medicated vapour baths. The illustration shows that the signs on the wall called them original and medicated but not Turkish. Before 1856 some vapour baths were called Turkish because they were likened to the Islamic hammams which were steamy and full of vapour, and which were familiar to Victorians from the descriptions of travellers such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, E W Lane, Mark Twain and Thackeray. The Victorian Turkish baths introduced in 1856 by David Urquhart and Dr Richard Barter, and first built near Blarney in Co. Cork, went back to the Roman thermae for their inspiration and, crucially, the three rooms known as tepidarium, caldarium and laconicum were heated by hot DRY air. There was no vapour or steam in a Victorian Turkish bath. In honour of Dr Barter, Victorian Turkish baths are still called Irish-Roman baths in Germany and other parts of Europe.

    By Malcolm Shifrin (24/06/2004)
  • I think you should have more things on Sake Deen Mahamed.

    By jim (26/02/2008)
  • Does anyone know anything abour Whitlaw’s Medicated Vapour Baths in St George’s Road Kemp Town? It’s there in the 1850 Street Directory.

    By Janis Winkworth (09/02/2024)

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