This post is sponsored. “So did I get that right, the men would relieve themselves right next to where people where eating?” I thought I must have misunderstood; this could not be the prim and proper uptight England that Jane Austen lived in, let alone the history of Bath, THE spa town of England. I had paid a visit to the fabulous and extravagantly fancy Royal Crescent No 1 in Bath and was wondering at the folding screen in the dining hall. It was indeed for that purpose. And that was not the only candid thing I would learn about people from the past. And do we not all love candid details?
You Call that Hygienic?!
And while it was a very manly thing to stay and drink beer in such a ‘manly room’ (and perform other business), women had to withdraw into the withdrawing room to wait for the men to be ready for a game of cards or other idle pastimes (or could retreat with their handmaid into a guest room with their bourdaloue, a portable female potty pan.)
But it only got worse from there. Apparently, Georgian society – not only in the history of Bath – thought it was still a worthwhile beauty endeavour to put on wigs aka portable lice plantations and endure the pain with head scratchers. Had they learnt nothing from baroque times?! And then the makeup was partially made up of lead. Oh, I could go on and on (if you would like to hear more gruesome beauty stories, take a look at this article on Georgian Beauty). Oh why does beauty and the extremes humans go to achieve it fascinate me so much? And it wasn’t even why I was here.
I came to Bath on the invite of Visit Britain and Visit Bath to walk in Jane Austen’s footpath since it was a big anniversary for her popular novel Emma and I wanted to pay my tribute and finally find out what both attracted and appalled my favourite authoress about the spa town. Her first novel, Northanger Abbey, was mainly set in Bath and showed a place full of glamorous balls, happy girls and fine society. It was where every fashionable and well spirited young lady wanted to be. And then it suddenly wasn’t. Her last finished novel, Persuasion, suddenly painted a rather annoyed picture. Jane Austen wasn’t a big fan of society. Poor Bath.
Finally Some Real Bathing
What gave me additional fuzzy feelings was the Thermae Bath Spa with its relaxing massage treatment, healthy thermal water and overall relaxed vibe. Now that’s the history of Bath that I came here to actually relive (though I enjoyed learning about the dirty secret of Bath’s history as well). I couldn’t stay long (relaxing is certainly not a strength of mine) but paid a quick visit to the ancient Roman Baths next door. These are the ones you certainly know from photos and pinterest posts (Shameless note: Why not follow me on pinterest?) and they were really as pretty as the photos suggested.
And I learned some more lessons on hygiene. The Romans were somewhat better than the Georgians in that respect (weren’t they always when it came to culture?). They certainly knew the benefit of taking a bath – Georgians believed sponge washing was much more preferable -, getting their sweat on and keeping dirty water out of their sacred springs. They not only built amazing constructions around the hot baths, which, by the way, are heated by the earth’s core and not volcanic action, but invented concrete floors to keep the water clean from Bath’s regular floodings. And floor heating.
But they used urine as mouthwash. And with this, my argument goes down the drain. Another interesting titbit on the history of Bath is that famous athletes had servants scratch off their dirt clogged sweat and sell it in bottles on market places to rabid fans and those that wanted to be fit – but not necessarily put in the effort. (If you ever not washed a part of your body because a star touched you – or are incredibly lazy, you shouldn’t really judge.)
And with all these eye opening lessons I made sure to take a prolonged shower at the end of the day and thought back to my swim at the thermal baths. Bath does have interesting sides to it if you look past its amazing looks, busy social life and history. You might not like what you learn about people of the past but it will make you appreciate the present even more. Plus, you get some intersting tidbits to share at cocktail parties (and mark you as the eccentric person you are). Win!
I am leaving you with these insightful throwbacks of hygiene treatments during the history of Bath and would like to know, which shocked you most?
PS: Stay tuned for the next episode in my Literary Britain Travels.
This year marks the anniversary of Jane Austen’s Emma and to celebrate and pay my rabid fangirl tribute, I set out on a tour kindly arranged by Visit Britain and Visit Bath, which naturally included Bath. As always my opinion is my own.