Were our Ancestors Greasy Grimy or Squeaky Clean? A Brief History of Bathing.

Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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Thank you for such an interesting article with so much picture evidence of bathing through the ages and especially in the Regency era. I love the showers. As with so many things Regency, they look familiar, as if they are just old fashioned, rather than from a by-gone age. My studies included medieval French texts and from those we know it was the custom to set a huge cauldron of water over a fire, so that people could take a bath and the water would stay hot for as long as you wanted to soak. Of course there was a story of a man being boiled to death by a vengeful enemy.
All over the Ottoman empire, high officials would build bath houses for the benefit of the local people. You can see a couple from the 1500s in Budapest, for example. Europeans must have been aware of these, maybe enjoyed the incredible cleansing scrub, which keeps your skin clean for ten days afterwards.
Returning to the bits that ordinary folk washed, if you click on this link [ Hampshire Heritage Collection ] you can find Gilbert White’s House [it’s not far from Jane Austen’s house at Chawton. There is a picture of his bedroom, and by the four poster bed is a small wooden stand, with his wash basin on it. I was horrified because it’s no bigger than my cereal bowl.

Looking forward to more of your posts,



This is very interesting, Sharon. My own researches indicate that bathing, at least in England, fell out of popularity in the late 18th century, partly because of a growing sense of prudery, until the early 19th century when Beau Brummell declared that for a gentleman to be properly dressed in society he must first be scrupulously scrubbed clean. This also led to more-frequent changing of undergarments, including men’s shirts, which were considered undergarments.

In any case, I’ll continue to enjoy Darcy’s bath scene in P&P-1995! Many thanks for posting.

Sheila L. Majczan

Very informative. Thanks for sharing.


Thank goodness I don’t have to rely on one of those hip baths as I’m not sure my hip would fit and certainly they wouldn’t both go in!!!
Luckily my shower is a little more modern than the ones pictured – another perk of living in this century rather than the nineteenth!
Apart from anything else, having no servants it would be left for me to carry the buckets of water.
Saying that, until I was nearly five the house we lived in had no bathroom. We had an outside toilet and a tin bath that my Mum had to fill from a boiler. I was first then my two older brothers.
We then moved to a house with a bathroom – such luxury!
Thanks for this post Sharon, I look forward to more.

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