Spas and Public Baths

In 1553 yet another trickle of humanist medical thought joined the main flow when a Venetian publisher, Thomas Junta, took it upon himself to compile a definitive description of all the major European mineral and thermal waters, DeBalneis Omnia (1553), which primed yet another revival of European mineral-water balneology.35 Disciples of the iconoclastic Protestant chemist Paracelsus (1493-1542) turned up at mineral springs everywhere, with all their equipment, eagerly checking the mineral content and its supposed effects, carrying on the classification process started by the Romans. The doctors were given a professional springboard via Paracelsian chemistry, and their enthusiasm transmitted itself both to their clients and to baths builders. The English medical author Dr William Turner visited Italy, translated Junta, and produced England's first spa guide, A Book of the Natures and properties as well as of the Bathes in England as of Other Bathes in Germanye and Italye—very necessary for all those persons that can not be healed without the help of natural bathes (1562, 1568). As the Anglican dean of Wells Cathedral, he devoutly deplored the still-prevalent custom of mixed bathing, and still more the lack of Christian charity towards 'the poure sicke and diseased people that resort thither.. .There is money enough spent upon cockfightings, tennys playces, parkes, banquetings, pageants, plays . . . but I have not heard tell of a rich man hath spent upon these notable Bathes... one grote in [many] years.'36 He carefully gave directions for cheap and homely domestic medical baths—'certayne rules how that everye man maye make artificiall bathes at home'—with the learned physician supplying the correct brimstone, alum, saltpetre, salt, or copper according to the disease of his patient.

But the new mineral waters were mostly taken internally, as a purge. 'Spa' became the generic word for a new crop of lesser cold mineral springs, after the success of the fashionable late sixteenth-century water resort at Spa in the Ardennes. European spa illustrations from the seventeenth century show stone-built neoclassical-style town squares, with richly and fully clad figures gathered around tall fountains and basins with cups in their hands, testifying to the new craze for drinking the water. The three main categories of chalybeate, sulphurous, and saline ('tart, stinking, and salt') were used as diuretics to 'provoke' the evacuation of very large quantities of stools and urine—'as Soap put to Foul Linnen with Water Pirgeth and Cleanseth all Filth and maketh them to become White again;so these Waters with their Saponary and Detersive Quality clean well the whole Microcosm or Body of Man from all Feculency and Impurities'.37

Exposing the external skin to watery ablution and purification, however, was quite another matter. In Germany the period of hot-bath decline coincided with a rise of increasingly hysterical river-bathing regulations, suggesting that artisanal, merchant, and courtly youth had taken to brothels and cold river-bathing—naked bathing—the old German custom from pre-bathhouse days; while in France, river-bathing became not only popular but fashionable at court.38 As far as hot water is concerned, there is (so far) little evidence of small local artisanal stews or public baths ever existing, in England, to the same extent as in other parts of Europe. For the wealthy few in seventeenth-century London there were private 'bagnios'

based on Italian models, but also owing much to the influence of the Turkish 'hummums' imported into Europe from the flourishing Turkish Empire. These later bagnios were discreet private club-like establishments serving an exclusive (usually aristocratic) male and female clientele.39 We have a rare description of a real but rather special English Royal Bagnio at Charing Cross, London, built into the back of the palace gardens in Charles Il's reign, which in 1795 was still a substantial brick-built complex, with a 'large and noble cold bath', sweating rooms, and a suite of upstairs entertaining rooms, with columns, mouldings, and wide staircases, all guarded by a 'massive gate nearly four inches thick [with] a strong iron grating, and in the middle of it a very small iron grating as all such houses had to peep through'.40 Samuel Pepys's wife famously went once to some public baths 'intending to be very clean' and then reportedly never went again—was she scared of getting into deep water?

In seventeenth-century London public baths were evidently deeply mistrusted. When Dr Peter Chamberlen attempted to open a set of 'Publick Artificiall Baths and Bath-Stoves' in London in 1648, similar to those in 'Germany, Poland, Denmark and Muscovia', and arguing that public hot baths could 'save above 10,000 lives a year', he was firmly rebuffed. The Civil War Parliamentary Committee told him that his baths would be 'hurtful to the Commonwealth' since it was well known that public baths had often been the cause of 'much Physical Prejudice, effeminating bodies and procuring infirmities, and morall in debauching the manners of the people'. There were already enough 'divers Cradles, Tubbs, Boxes, Chairs, Baths and bath-stoves' in private houses.41 In their eyes, the plague and pox had taught everyone to be vigilant about their health, and to stay sober and clean in every way. Public baths were no longer necessary. The godly could clean themselves at home. The hot bath represented the bad old days and ways, and in England moral prejudice against hot baths continued well into the nineteenth century.

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