One of my recent library reads has been If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. An excellent read BTW, and full of interesting social details about beds, underwear, child birth, marriage etc. If you’re writing historical romance or you’re interested in all things historical this is the book for you.
Thirteen Factoids about Baths & Bathing Through the Ages
1. Medieval people mostly washed their hands and faces rather than taking baths.
2. That said, Medieval people weren’t afraid of baths. Knights used to indulge in something called a Knightly bath, which involved decorative sheets, flowers and herbs placed around the bath. A servant would take a basin of hot herbal potion and use a sponge to scrub the knight’s body. The knight was then rinsed with rose water and rubbed dry with a clean cloth. He was then dressed in socks, slippers and a nightgown and sent to bed. Doesn’t that sound luxurious?
3. Baths were made of wood and lined with a linen sheet to prevent splinters in the bottom!
4. The English embraced the idea of the Turkish hammans after reports from returning Crusaders. Records show the presence of 18 bathhouses in London in 1162. They were known as stews and were communal with men and women sharing them. Most were in Southwark. Wow, imagine the potential for an erotic romance…
5. The communal aspect did cause problems and some became houses of ill-repute. Henry VIII closed the bath houses down in 1546.
6. From around 1550 to 1750 baths were considered dangerous and weird. Bathing became medicinal rather than cleansing. People feared that bathing spread disease such as syphilis. Hot water opened the pores, allowing illness into the body.
7. During the 17th century medical understanding improved. People started to understand perspiration and a bath in cold water was considered beneficial. A full bathing, despite recommendation by doctors, was slow to catch on. The ballrooms at this time were pretty stinky.
8. Beau Brummell and other gentlemen of his ilk popularized bathing, making it classy, and soon everyone was doing it. Victorian etiquette books started to state bathing was good manners.
9. Water was usually carried from the basement up to the bedroom, then once used, it was carried down again by servants. Hard work!
10. Around 1860 some houses started to receive piped water to first-floor bathrooms, which made bathing much easier for all concerned.
11. The en suite bathroom was first seen in the New World. American heiresses sent to secure an English nobleman as a husband were horrified by the primitive bathing conditions.
12. The Methodist minister John Wesley would not preach in a place without a toilet and thus came the idea of cleanliness becoming next to godliness.
13. By the end of the 20th century thinking in the bath/reading in the bath becomes a way of relaxing and relieving stress.
Personally, I’m a shower girl and seldom have a bath. The bath doesn’t get much use in our house. I’d love to own one of those sleek wetrooms with tiles and lots of shower heads. Maybe one day…
Bath or shower? What does your dream bathroom look like?