I had always wondered about this hot bath scene in 1986’s Northanger Abbey (click on the link to watch a 2-minute YouTube video) and how accurate it was. I was particularly curious to know if men and women truly mingled in the hot baths, and what kind of items were placed on the floating objects that the bathers held. While Jane Austen did not write this scene in her novel, the scene in the film lent a note of authenticity to Catherine Morland’s visit to Bath.
In Aristocrats, Stella Tillyard writes a full description of these 18th century bathers:
In the eighteenth century pride of place went to the Pump Room, where warm mineral water was sold by the glass, and the King’s Bath. This giant communal cistern was right under the windows of the Pump Room, open to the gaze of all. Patients sat in the bath with hot water right up to their necks. Men were enveloped in brown linen suits. Women wore petticoats and jackets of the same material. They sat side by side in a hot, faintly sulphurous mist.
Limp cotton handkerchiefs caught the sweat which dribbled down the bathers’ faces; afterwards they were tucked away in the brims of patients’ hats. Lightweight bowls of copper floated perilously on the water. Inside them vials of oil and sweet smelling pomanders bobbed up and down. On a cold morning the bathers in their caps and hats looked to the curious onlookers pressed against the glass above them like perspiring mushrooms rising into the thick gaseous air (p 35-36).
- My other posts about Bath
- Update: Victoria Art Gallery, Bath
- Mary Chandler, Poet and Bath Milliner
- The Official Roman Baths Museum Website
- Roman Baths, England
- Northanger Abbey, 1986
Image and two details: Cruikshank, Public Bathing in Bath or Stewing Alive, 1825