Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Royal Governor's Bagnio

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Susan reports:

It's awfully easy to generalize with history.  We read of how, before indoor plumbing, people found bathing such a difficult and complicated process that only the wealthy attempted it.  We hear of wooden tubs lined with sheets against splinters (ow!) and laboriously filled with buckets of heated water lugged upstairs by servants.  We assume that, with so much work to wash one's self, that it wasn't done very often.  

Then we NHG stumble across something that tosses all those assumptions right out the window where they belong.

This little brick building next to the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg isn't a privy, or a guard-house, or a garden folly.  It's the governor's outdoor bath house: his bagnio.  After a hard day governing the royal colony of Virginia, he'd shut himself inside and strip naked. Then he'd sit on the convenient wooden bench and have
buckets of cold water poured over him. Considering that the bath house was installed by the last royal governor, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore (1732-1809), a transplanted Scotsman, this ritual was probably the only way he survived the notoriously steamy Tidewater summers.  

Being intrepid NHG, we naturally looked inside.  (That's an interior picture to the right.)  We can also report that we found no naked governors on the bench, but then, it was only April.

11 comments:

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

'morning, NHG! I SO wanted this to have a lovely cedar tub or something. But I wasn't thinking 'colonial,' I was thinking 'romance.' Is there a fireplace in the side? or am I going for romantic again? And what was cleanliness like among the colonials when compared to their British counterparts? If the lower-class Brits couldn't afford soap (unless that's myth), were the colonials all about making their own? Or is that quaint myth also, created so we have exhibits to view while visiting reconstructed villages? Speak on it, NHG Susan! (wow, in print, that looks like a demand, rather than as cool as it sounds in the vernacular).

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Michelle,you ask many excellent questions! *g* There's no fireplace in the governor's bath house because he didn't use it in cold weather. The point of it seems to have been more for cooling off than for getting clean. As for the romantic possibilities of sitting in a brick box while slaves dumped buckets of icy water over one's head -- I dunno. I have a feeling that Lady Dunmore, who was very much An English Lady, would not have gone for it.

As for the general state of 18th c. cleanliness -- hmmm, I think that merits another blog of its own next week.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Oh, please do a blog about the general state of cleanliness! Just the other day I was trying to track down info on the types of bathing/bathroom facilities that might have been available in the best houses in London during the Regency. Would love any elucidation from TNHG.

Too bad about the lack of naked governors.

Loretta Chase said...

If Susan is willing to talk about soap and water in olden times, I am, too. This is one of the subjects very dear to my nerdy heart because it's not that easy to ferret out the info.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sure! Cleanliness is next to Nerdiness. *g* So it shall be next week.

ConnieG said...

LOL at the buckets of cold water not being romantic! I bet the governor's wife would be disappointed after that. But like Michelle and Vanessa I'm looking forward to 'soap and water in olden times.'

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Thanks for the info, susan! can't wait for the skinny on hygiene prods. As an aside, yesterday I was a field-trip mom w/my daughter's class to a save-the-prairie, seed-gathering jaunt. One of the instructors showed me a plant and crushed one of the pods, then said, "oh! smell this!" It was bergamot! Like in shaving soap! She brought alive one more romance cliche for me. i sighed, then went back to pretending I was Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Margaret Evans Porter said...

Too funny, I come here and find your post on an 18th century American bagnio when I'm embarking on a scene in a 17th century London bagnio!

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Connie G -- Yes, I thought much the same thing about the buckets of cold water. Not much romance happening there!

Michelle -- Love the bergamot story! I've always thought that the scent is one of the most evocative of the senses. One sniff, and you can be instantly transported...

Margaret -- Really? Too cool! Though I know you are another NHG through and through, so I suppose it's not surprising. *g*

Liz said...

I have read in books by other authors that no gentlemen took baths before Beau Brummel made it fashionable. I would be interested to know from you ladies if this is true.

Reference Services said...

Your blog is terrific!

Here is the url of the blog from the Archives of the Sandusky Library, if you would like to take a look:

http://sanduskyhistory.blogspot.com

 
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