Photograph by Sarah Whittingham, from a display at Sambourne House, in London


Recently, I was reminded by my friend and fellow writer, Sarah Whittingham, of the perfume I refer to in my debut novel, The Somnambulist. 

When I was writing this Victorian gothic, I wanted to introduce a perfume that would have been in production during the mid-nineteenth century, and also one that my character Nathaniel Samuels might actually have worn. The heady and glamorous concoction of Penhaligan's Hammam Bouquet fitted that need to perfection.

First created by William Penhaligon in 1872, this fragrance is still manufactured today, and is described as being ‘...animalic and golden... warm and mature, redolent of old books, powdered resins and ancient rooms. At its heart is the dusky Turkish rose, with jasmine, woods, musk, and powdery orris.  

Hammam Bouquet soon became a great favourite with respectable Victorian gentlemen. It owed its provenance to the odours that were found in the Jermyn Street Baths, a place often frequented by homosexuals. Considering this, and the era's repression of freedom of sexual expression, it is somewhat ironic that the seductive musky fragrance that intoxicates the senses should have been so popular. Or perhaps that's exactly why!

The Harrogate Turkish Baths

With their connotations of harems and boudoirs, the concept of Turkish baths became very popular in later nineteenth century England. The practice was said to be introduced here by a man called David Urquhart, a foreign diplomat and sometime Member of Parliament who'd travelled extensively throughout Morocco and Spain.

The Roman Baths in the city of Bath

However, the idea of communal bathing stems back to the customs of ancient Roman. It consisted of first sitting in a ‘warm room’ which was heated by dry air to encourage perspiration. A spell in a second hotter room and the bather would be splashed and cooled in colder water. After this the bather would enjoy an entire body wash, a massage, then relaxation. 

An advertisement for the Southampton Turkish Bath

The Jermyn Street Baths in London also employed a resident tattooist well known for his skill in producing artistic dragon designs, and ~ if the rumours can be believed ~ some of Queen Victoria’s sons were decorated in this manner after visiting the establishment.

Cooling room of the Jermyn Street Bath in London.
From the Wellcome Collection

What would their mother have thought of that? Perhaps she would have encouraged them to keep away from the Turkish baths and install a 'Quaker Cabinet' for their private use instead. 

With thanks to Malcolm Shifrin and information gleaned from his website: Victorian Turkish Baths: Their Origin, Development, And Gradual Decline.


  1. Very interesting post.
    "Hamman Bouquet" sounds wonderful, will try to track some down.
    KNIZE cologne is also lovely, with bergamot, lemon, orange, rosemary added to middle notes of geranium, cedarwood, rose, orris, carnation, cinnamon and sandalwood descended with base notes of leather, moss, amber, castoreum and vanilla.

  2. It sounds very similar, Nora...must look out for that. Hammam Bouquet takes a few minutes to settle but then develops into something quite lovely.

  3. VV, what a delight!

    The whole idea of Turkish baths, including the full body wash, massage and period of calm relaxation, must have seemed like heaven on earth. Even in our era, when people are largely clean, visiting a hammam in places like Istanbul or Amman has been the highlight of our travels. How much more so for Victorians.

    But a perfume redolent of old books, powdered resins and ancient rooms? I don't think so! I think you are much closer to the truth with steamy baths, sex and spices.

  4. Thank you, Hels - always love your comments.


  5. Perfume redolent of old books sounds good to me -- though it is somewhat moldy for a "bouquet."

    At the risk of too much self-promotion, I'd like to link to a blog post I wrote on another aspect of the Victorian "Turk".

  6. Thanks, Liam - the mouldly books scent made me smile. And of course you may link to your 'Turkish' post.

    I haven't the read The Lustful Turk, but it was referred to in graphic detail in a contemporary novel I recently read - so I had to go and look it up! The final outcome with the specimen in the jar is, as you say, most ironic.

  7. My second favourite fragrance, thank-you.

    1. I'd love to know what your favourite is. Essie

  8. Are you back? Reincarnated? Welcome home :)

    1. Now and then Hels. Thank you! :) I'm mainly reviving older posts, but hopefully new articles to come soon.