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January 18, 2012

Stink to High Heaven: Baths and Bathing

Thursday Thirteen

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?


  1. Heather

    Some interesting tidbits. While I usually shower, I do like to indulge in the occasional bubble bath with book and candles. Unfortunately, since my bathroom is next to the most-used entrance of our building, it is not always as relaxing as I would like.

    • Shelley Munro

      Heather, that’s a pity about the location. Maybe some earplugs will do the trick?

  2. Debra G

    Bathing requires more time than I have. So usually I shower. But when I get a chance, there is nothing better than a nice hot bath with bubbles.

    • Shelley Munro

      Debra, yes. That’s why I prefer showers. The whole process is much quicker. I never seem to have time to luxuriate in a bath.

  3. Maria Zannini

    Shower. I’m short and I’d drown in the extra long bathtub in my house. Though if hubby is with me…

    • Shelley Munro

      Wow, that bath tub must be really big! Husbands can be very handy at times – just sayin’.

    • Shelley Munro

      Hey Mia/Brenda! This book is a very fascinating read. I learned all sorts of interesting stuff.

  4. Maddy Barone

    That was fascinating! Thanmk for sharing. Wonder if I can get hold of that book?

    • Shelley Munro

      Maddie, it covered bedrooms, bathrooms, grooming habits and much more. I understand there is a BBC documentary about the same thing, but I haven’t seen it yet.

  5. Kimberly Menozzi

    Very interesting stuff, indeed. I miss being able to take a bath – here in Italy shower stalls are much more common in many homes (they take less space than bathtubs, and space is truly at a premium, here).

    I long for the chance to take a long, hot soak. When we visited London in 2009 and 2010, the first thing I did after we were settled in our room was take a hot bath!

    ‘Twas Heavenly!

    Happy TT!

    • Shelley Munro

      I think I’d enjoy a bath more if it was bigger. I seem to have the opposite problem to Maria.

      The British seem to have baths more than showers in older properties.

    • Shelley Munro

      Hi Paige. Thanks for stopping by. :)

  6. Mary Kirkland

    I’m totally a shower person. I live in an apartment right now and my bathroom is tiny…just enough room for the necessities. My dream bathroom would be as big as my bedroom and would have one of those sauna type bathtubs in it. But the wall by the bathtub would be made of rock and I would have the option of running the water down the rocks like a waterfall into the bathtub. And on the other side would have a walk in shower with tiled flooring that slants just enough and drains really nice right in the middle that there is no need for doors of any kind.

    The whole bathroom walls would be made of dark rocks and look kinda like an old medieval castle.

    • Shelley Munro

      Now you’re talking! That sounds great. I was thinking when I read your description that I’d need a view too.

  7. Alice Audrey

    A knightly bath does sound nice for it’s time, but I’d rather a long soak in the tub.

    • Shelley Munro

      I quite liked the sound of the knightly bathing ritual, except they would have probably fainted in terror at the idea of a female knight ;)

  8. Angela Brown

    Definitely shower girl. Time is usually of the essence.

    However, if I came upon a chance to sit in the tub and soak while reading a good book – undisturbed by Chipmunk – I would love it.

    • Shelley Munro

      I always smile when I read about Chipmunk :)

  9. Brinda

    Your title is so funny on this one. I’m a bath girl. I take a hot bath every night and mineral salts to relax. I love my tub.

    • Shelley Munro

      LOL – glad you like the title. A bath at night would be an excellent way to wind down.

  10. Savannah Chase

    Oh man have times changed…I can’t imagine not bath and or shower..

    • Shelley Munro

      Savannah – I know. The thought of not having a daily shower makes me itchy. The idea of going for months with just a brief wash…ugh!!!

  11. Jenny Schwartz

    I adored the fact about a linen sheet in a wooden tub. I’d never considered…splinters!

    • Shelley Munro

      Splinters sound painful to me. It’s not something I’ve ever thought of in the past!

  12. anny cook

    For nearly twenty years we had a huge garden tub with air jets…LOVED my tub. Now we live in an apartment with a TINY tub–too small for me so I’m stuck in the shower. If I could I would take back my garden tub.:-(

    • Shelley Munro

      Our tub is quite small too. Your garden spa sounds decadent. I need one!

  13. Janice Seagraves

    I like baths, but I shower more often now since getting out of the tub hurts my back and joints.


    • Shelley Munro

      Showers are certainly much easier if a person has any type of mobility problems.

  14. Amy Gallow

    When I was small, galvanized tubs were all the go, usually in the kitchen floor and warmed by the stove in a weekly ritual. The kids got the first go, followed by the parents.
    Since then, I’ve bathed in many places, from communal affairs in Japan, to thermal springs in half a dozen places, including NZ.
    The best bath I remember was soaking in a spa after three days searching for lost skiers in the Alpine country (fortunately successful), but showers are my normal pleasure, just before bed (keeps the sheets clean).

    • Shelley Munro

      Ah, if you have to go without a bath or shower for a few days, you really appreciate running hot and cold water. There were times in Africa when we cleaned with wet wipes or a basin of water for several days in a row. I never take running water for granted. It’s such a luxury!!