Staying Clean in Regency England
Published on October 17, 2014 by lahilden | Views: 2461

Bathing in Regency England is sketchy in regards to historical information, since people didn’t often write in journals the daily habits of their toilette, likely they felt such information boring and mundane for their literary genius.  This makes bathing habits speculative at best, but we do know some facts.

Soap was a luxury and not all were able to enjoy its benefits.  Soap was usually spherical in shape and could fit in the palm of your hand.  Soft soaps were made of mutton fat, wood ash, and natural soda; herb oils could be added for scent, but they were more expensive.  Soap was sometimes referred to as a wash ball and was kept in a wash ball holder next to a basin.  Pear’s Soap was sold in 1807; it was an oval bar, transparent, and said to carry the scent of an English garden.  Hard soaps were made with olive oil, soda, lime, herbs, and flowers.  People in rural areas were known to make their own soap.

The majority of Regency folk did not bathe their entire bodies, they spot cleaned body parts, which is still common in many parts of the world.  There was an old belief that washing could bring about illness and water could carry disease into the body through the skin.  Nevertheless, Beau Brummel, who was said to bathe everyday, advocated for frequent washing.  (To read more on Brummell follow link:  Many folks visited public medicinal baths believed to bring about health and even cure skin ailments.  These people were not actually bathing to get clean, although this would occur.  My Regency Historical, The Vengeful Earl has scenes that take place in the public spas, in Bath, England.

The most common form of bathing was done with a basin, which was usually placed in the bedroom.  The basin was filled with water from a jug and then a cloth or sponge was used to get the job done.  It was rare to have a full bathtub where you could submerge your entire body, and showers were uncommon, thus workers utilized rivers, streams, and lakes.  It was not unusual to only bathe once a week, and many went much longer.  Perfumes and colognes worked wonders to try and hide body odor.  Swimming for fun also brought about clean bodies, but people were more likely to swim in the sea to improve their health than to have fun, since seawater was believed to have medicinal purposes.  Upper and middle classes did not swim together, and men and women were isolated from each other.  Bathing machines became popular.

A Bathing machine was a wheeled buggy that carried the bather into the sea, the bather would then return to the machine to dry and dress before being wheeled back onto the beach.  There were fees to use the bathing machine, but let’s move away from swimming.

The assumption is the lower classes were cleaning themselves in the rivers and half barrels, while the middle and upper classes were sending for moveable tubs.  These small tubs were usually placed behind a dressing screen in front of the fire in a bedroom.  Often they were lined with linens, perhaps to ward off the cold metal of the tub or to prevent splinters from a wooden one.  Footmen would carry buckets from the well to the kitchen to be boiled and then carried to fill the tub.  Sometimes a servant would leave a bucket on the fire to add as the water cooled.  This same water would then need to be carried away again.  Woven linen was used to dry off.  The hauling of water was labor intensive, and water was shared when necessary, especially by the poor.  This is why the basin and pitcher method was utilized by the majority, and even found in bedchambers in respectable inns.

The idea to have a room devoted to bathing can be traced to the 17th century to Samuel Pepys, an English navel officer.  Wimpole Hall had a bathhouse with a shower, but it was unusual for the era.  Until plumbing with warm water was introduced in the mid 19th century, showers remained rare.  The third Earl of Hardwicke had a plunge pool installed that heated the water from a basement boiler.  Toward the end of the 18th century, attitudes toward bathing were changing and bathing became associated with good health.


A special thank you to Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Leslie Adkins,