The Shocking History of Bath Jane Austen Didn’t Tell

Bath & Hygiene or Lack thereof during the Time of Jane Austen and the Romans

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?


If you dive right in into the history of Bath and want to learn all about staying clean and healthy, you might be in for a shock. The past was rather dirty. You don't want to read the stories. Or maybe you do?

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.

Check out my travel videos on youtube
If you dive right in into the history of Bath and want to learn all about staying clean and healthy, you might be in for a shock. The past was rather dirty. You don't want to read the stories. Or maybe you do?

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.)

If you dive right in into the history of Bath and want to learn all about staying clean and healthy, you might be in for a shock. The past was rather dirty. You don't want to read the stories. Or maybe you do?

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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Related Posts

Previous Post Next Post

Comments

  1. Oh Gosh!Urine as mouthwash?! Anyhow, it’s fabulous that you got to walk in the footsteps of Jane Austen and explore so much! I would love to visit places mentioned in books and see where some authors grew up too.

    1. Reply

      Hi Menorca! Yeah, I couldn’t believe my ears either when I was told that. How… interesting. And yeah, it was awesome to get to know more of Jane Austen and her little world. Which authors would you love to travel to certain places for?

  2. I do love a good hot spring. I didn’t know the bit about the Georgians preferring sponge baths, but I guess it goes along with the “lice plantations” (lol). Beautiful photos!

    1. Reply

      Hi Paige! I agree, a good hot spring is amazing. So relaxing! And yeah, sponge baths and lice plantations compliment each other wonderfully, I guess.^^

  3. Reply

    I have heard of the city Bath quite a lot…but I’ve never really had a close look on the city! It looks super interesting now simply because of your photos! Was planning a trip to UK by end of the year. Are those spas open during winter time?

    1. Reply

      Hi Matt, I had heard about it a lot before I visited as well. But somehow I was never quite drawn to it. But it definitely is worth a visit. Both the Roman Spa and the Thermae Bath Spa will be open all year round, except for Christmas and New Year’s. Where else will you be going in the UK?

  4. Reply

    urine as mouthwash is the bizarre thing I have learnt today from your post. I certainly appreciate the present in this case with a wide range of shower products , soaps, shampoo and many more. Though I would say that its an interesting read . I am going to follow your blog now on. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Reply

      Hi Parnashree, thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog! It’s funny the things we can learn when we travel (or write about it). I agree, urine as mouthwash is totally bizarre. Have a great day! :)

  5. Reply

    Asking the servants to scratch off their dirt clogged sweat and sell it in bottles and Urine as mouthwash sounds weird. Overall it was an interesting read and indeed I am shocked to know so much about Bath and its hygiene level.

    1. Reply

      It did sound weird, didn’t it? I am so glad we don’t do it anymore. Though I think there would be people out there buying sweat from famous people. Bath has had quite an interesting history and you wouldn’t think it when you visit nowadays. So different! Thank you for your compliment.

  6. Reply

    Those are some very quirky and hard to digest facts. Definitely not the England of Jane Austen. This post made me feel like visiting England now to unearth its fascinating stories from the past.

    1. Reply

      Hi Abhinav,
      I was quite taken aback myself. Please do visit and tell me what more gruesome facts you uncover about England. :)

    • Ria
    • 02/07/2016
    Reply

    I never heard about it before and it make me more curious to read :) and some “actions” a bit strange for my understanding :D but nowadays life a bit different from the past :) In any case – more such places should be explored and shared with the world:)

    1. Reply

      Hi Rita, absolutely! I think the past is utterly fascinating. I am curious what future generations will think of us.

  7. Pingback: Getting around the Cotswolds – Where Food Sports and Folk Lore Meet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

102 shares