Liz said, “I have read in books by other authors that no gentlemen took baths before Beau Brummell made it fashionable. I would be interested to know from you ladies if this is true."
In a word, no. While bathing, at the time, usually meant sea bathing--which King George III is doing in the picture above--that wasn't the only kind.
A wonderful book by Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House, shows photos of bath houses and plunge baths dating to the 18th century. Many country houses before Brummell's time had them, although Christina Hardyment’s Behind the Scenes reminds us that these “should be regarded as roughly the equivalent of the modern domestic swimming-pool--having a bathhouse in the grounds did not preclude having a plumbed in bath in the house itself. Fixed baths, equipped with hot and cold water, were installed in the Palace of Whitehall in the 1670s and at Chatsworth in the 1690s.”
Not all houses had them, inside or out. Just because one had a bath, didn't mean one took a bath.
Ian Kelly’s Beau Brummelltells us “Brummell bathed in hot water, and this was considered remarkable. Almost as remarkable as the fact that he bathed every day 'and every part of his body.'”
This would have been remarkable only a generation or two ago in the U.S. Let’s remember that Brummell may have made it fashionable in his time but that doesn’t mean no one did it before he did or that everyone afterward--even every one of his devotees--bathed as religiously as he did. He attracted attention because he was a celebrity. Many people, including doctors, well into the 19th century, regarded bathing in hot water as unhealthy. In most cases, it was simply impractical. Brummell’s house had, Kelly informs us, "an unusually large coal cellar"--which simplified heating all the gallons of water required daily.
Look for more about bathing this week from both NHGs. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this food for thought: “A survey in the 1950s showed that one Londoner in five never took a bath . . . . in 1958, over the whole United Kingdom, ‘about one third of the old dwellings’ were bathless.” --Lawrence Wright, Clean and Decent
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.