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Bathing has been part of the history of mankind since our earliest ancestors first dipped their toes into a local watering hole. Although no cave paintings have ever been discovered depicting bathing, it is conceivable that primitive people could easily have ventured into the water for a playful splash about. Prehistoric man may or may not have bathed, but over the years much has been learned about the comfort and pleasure man gets from water.
Symbolically, in many ancient civilisations offering the means of bathing has always been the height of good manners. In biblical times, guests feet were washed by their hosts and by the middle ages the offering a bowl for hand washing at the table had been firmly established.
The principal of the first shower, dates back to the Egyptians when an attendant poured water over the heads of Pharaohs by the means of a jug. From the Egyptians to the Greeks, the act of bathing held both social and religious significance, reaching its peak with the Romans taking to bathing as a normal part of everyday life. No respectable Senator would have denied himself a hasty dip or shower and a rub down before attending the Senate. Early Roman baths date back to the 4th Century B.C. but were cold water only. By the time hot water baths had been discovered, the Romans had turned bathing into a fine art, not just for cleanliness but also the enjoyment.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, much of the knowledge the Romans developed was lost, and unfortunately not passed on.
With the rise of the Byzantine Empire, a new interest sprang up among the hierarchy of priests and nobility. In castle upon castle the privacy of the WC, with cubicles possibly separated by wooden screens or built into the walls with seats of golden limestone, were to be enjoyed.
By the Middle Ages, bathing was practically non existent as etiquette decreed that hands, face and teeth must be washed frequently whilst bathing was not a necessity. The washing of linen was thought adequate and by the time fashions changed and bathing the body became more popular, the washing of clothing was being neglected.
As bathing started a slow decline in Europe, the Middle East relished in the Turkish bath which was said to promote good health. Turkish baths – bathing by means of steam and water in a varying succession of temperatures - were often built near mosques and were used by the religious before going to prayers.
With the Crusades came the French and English knights who delighted in the wonders of the Turkish bath, using them as a ritual for initiation.
The plagues of the 16th Century had an adverse effect on bathing as it was considered a health hazard. Believing a thin layer of oil covering the body protected it from plague and disease, and that bathing would remove this layer, bathing was encouraged to be avoided at all costs. Instead bodies, often covered in several layers of silk, lace and velvet would be doused with scented water to disguise unpleasant personal odours.
Towns were dirty and crowded, and disease and epidemics spread unchecked because of the lack of sanitation. With contaminated water, and personal hygiene being virtually ignored, diseases such as Tuberculosis, diphtheria, smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever, were all rampant. As many children died as lived and the average life span was under 30 years.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that bathing made a full comeback. The Industrial Revolution, with its gift of running water for everyone, brought personal bathing back into the home with the mass production of the bath which to date, still forms part of the bathroom, with a sink and toilet included in the same room.
Thankfully, the backward thinking that bathing is dangerous has been proven by medical science to be false, and instead has been proven to be beneficial.
To find about more about the history of the bathroom please visit the Gladstone Museum Blog by clicking HERE
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