Monday, May 21, 2012

Taking A Bath

While I was in the shower this morning, I found myself thinking about bathing through the ages.

Across the Roman Empire, public baths were popular not only for personal hygiene but for socializing. Sometimes the location of Roman baths was dictated by hydrothermal springs which preheated the water -- as in Bath, England (which wasn't called that until after the end of the Roman occupation. Go figure.)

With the passing of Roman civilization, bathing fell out of favor. By the time of Queen Elizabeth (the last half of the 16th century) doctors thought that bathing wasn't healthy and advised people to wash only body parts which were visible to others.. Exposing the entire body to water at one time? Horrors!

On the few occasions per year when a bath was unavoidable, a large wooden tub was dragged out, lined with cloths to protect the bather from splinters, and filled  with water heated over an open fire. After the bath, the used water was removed by the bucketful and carried outside to discard.

By the start of the Regency period, people were more enlightened about cleanliness and they had better equipment -- metal tubs, often a "hip bath" which allowed the bather to immerse more of the body. But by the time someone set up the tub, heated and hauled the water in, and emptied the used water by the bucketful -- well, she probably needed another bath.

A few very wealthy people started to install special bathing rooms with permanent tubs. The biggest advantage of the permanent tub was a drain hose leading outside, so the used water no longer needed to be dipped from the tub after the bath. But water still had to be heated and carried by the bucket to fill the tub.

Though the Greeks had communal showers which were something like today's locker rooms, the indoor shower didn't become practical until about 1850 -- when indoor sources of running water made it feasible. The earliest Victorian showers were used mostly by men, because doctors of the time considered women too frail to stand up to the pounding of water.

1 comment:

  1. LOL Funny. Frail? Leave it to a man to think that way. Great article.