|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!
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.
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.
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.