Oliver Goldsmith describes the Baths in his History of Beau Nash written in 1762.
‘There were five baths in Bath. On the south-west side of the abbey church is theKing’s Bath; which is an oblong square, the walls are full of niches, and at every corner are steps to descend into it. This bath is said to contain 427 tons and 50 gallons of water, and on its rising out of the ground over the springs, it is sometimes too hot to be endured by those who bathe therein.
Adjoining to the King’s Bath there is another, called the Queen’s Bath; this is of a more temperate warmth, as borrowing its water from the other.
In the south-west part of the city are three other baths, viz. The Hot Bath, which is not much inferior in heat to the King’s Bath, and contains 53 tons 2 hogsheads, and 11 gallons of water. The Cross Bath, which contains 52 tons 3 hogsheads, and 11 gallons; and the Leper’s Bath, which is not so much frequented as the rest. The King’s Bath (according to the best observations) will fill in about nine hours and a half, the Hot Bath in about eleven hours and a half; and the Cross Bath in about the same time.
The hours for bathing are commonly between six and nine in the morning; and the Baths are every morning supplied with fresh water; for when the people have done bathing, the sluices in each Bath are pulled up, and the water is carried off by drains into the river Avon.’
Oliver Goldsmith also describes the experience. In the morning a lady is brought to the Baths already dressed for bathing, ‘in a close chair’ which we can assume is a Sedan chair as they were in popular use in Bath at the time. She would enter the water fully clothed with an attendant who ‘presents her with a little floating dish like a basin; into which the lady puts a handkerchief, a snuffbox, and a nosegay.’ If you have ever visited the Baths you will know the water has a rather pungent smell of rotten eggs as it contains sulphur which is brought back up through the rocks in the natural spring.
The lady then traverses the bath, with her floating bowl at her side, walking through or sitting in the warm waters; ‘if a novice with a guide, if otherwise by herself’’ I should imagine women conversed in the baths as they let the waters work their believed healing powers.
Once a lady had ‘amused herself thus’ she then called for her chair and returns to her lodgings.
In Jane Austen’s novel, Persausion, the widowed Miss Smith, Anne Elliot’s friend from childhood, who is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, is conveyed daily to the baths in a sedan chair. The colonnades lining the street connecting the Kings Bath with the Cross Bath are believed to have been designed to shelter sedan chairs carrying sick occupants between the Baths.
When Jane Austen visited Bath for the second time in 1799, with her older brother Edward, so that Edward might take the hot spring water for some ailment, it’s recorded that he drank the spring water, from the fountain in the Pump Room, on Sunday, swam in the hot Bath on Monday, and had electric shock treatment on the Tuesday.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
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