Social Life in the Reign of Queen Anne, taken from original sources, Volume II

Ashton, John


CHAPTER XXXI: Spas and Bathing


CHAPTER XXXI: Spas and Bathing




IT was a great time for our English spas, and 'Spaw Water' was a favourite drink with the temperate. Chief of all, for its curative qualities, and for its society, was Bath, or 'The Bath,' as it was called; and, as it occupies such a prominent position in the social life of this time, more than a passing notice of it is required. Misson's description of it is short but businesslike. 'This Town takes its Name from the Baths for which it is famous. Several in Switzerland and Germany are called Baden for the same reason. In Winter Bath makes a very melancholy Appearance; but during the Months of May, June, July, and August, there is a concourse of genteel Company, that peoples, enriches, and adorns it; at that Time, Provisions and Lodgings grow dear. Thousands go thither to pass away a few Weeks, without heeding either the Baths or the Waters, but only to divert themselves with good Company. They have Musick, Gaming, Public Walks, Balls, and a little Fair every Day.'

The manners of this 'concourse of genteel company' are thus described by Steele.'[1]  'In the Autumn of the same Year I made my Appearance at Bath. I was now got into the Way of Talk proper for Ladies, and was run into a vast Acquaintance among them, which I always improved to the best Advantage. In all this Course of Time, and some Years


following, I found a Sober, Modest Man was always looked upon by both Sexes as a precise unfashioned Fellow of no Life or Spirit. It was ordinary for a Man who had been drunk in good Company, or passed a Night with a Wench, to speak of it next Day before Women for whom he had the greatest Respect. He was reproved, perhaps, with a Blow of the Fan, or an Oh Fie, but the angry Lady still preserved an apparent Approbation in her Countenance: He was called a strange wicked Fellow, a sad Wretch; he shrugs his shoulders, swears, receives another Blow, swears again he did not know he swore, and all was well. You might often see Men game in the Presence of Women, and throw at once for more than they were worth, to recommend themselves as Men of Spirit.'

Perhaps the most graphic description of daily life at Bath is given in a sixpenny pamphlet entitled 'A Step to the Bath with a Character of the place' (London, ). It is published anonymously, but I have no doubt in my own mind that it was written by Ward, as it is exactly his style, and is published by his publisher. Of course, in his writings, we must not look for polished language; but his descriptions are accurate, and as such well worth having. He thus describes the place:-

'The first we went to, is call'd the King's; and to it joyns the Queen's, both running in one; and the most famous for Cures. In this Bath was at least fifty of both Sexes, with a Score or two of Guides, who by their Scorbutic Carcasses, and Lackered Hides, you would think they had lain Pickling a Century of Years in the Stygian Lake; Some had those Infernal Emissaries to support their Impotent Limbs: Others to Scrub their Putrify'd Carcasses, like a Race Horse. ... At the Pump was several a Drenching their Gullets, and Gormandizing the Reaking Liquor by wholesale.

'From thence we went to the Cross Bath, where most of the Quality resorts, more fam'd for Pleasure than Cures. Here is perform'd all the Wanton Dalliances imaginable; Celebrated Beauties, Panting Breasts, and Curious Shapes, almost Expos'd to Publick View: Languishing eyes, Darting Killing Glances, Tempting Amorous Postures, attended by soft Musick, enough to provoke a Vestal to forbidden Plea-


sure, Captivate a Saint, and charm a Jove: Here was also different Sexes, from Quality to the Honourable Knights, Country Put, and City Madam's.... The Ladies with their floating Jappan Bowles, freighted with Confectionary, Kick- Knacks, Essences and Perfumes, Wade about, like Neptun's Courtiers, suppling their Industrious Joynts. The Vigorous Sparks, presenting them with several Antick Postures, as Sailing on their Backs, then Embracing the Element, sink in Rapture.... The usual time being come to forsake that fickle Element, Half Tub Chairs, Lin'd with Blankets, Ply'd as thick as Coaches at the Play House, or Carts at the Custom House.

Bathing being over for that Day, we went to walk in the Grove, a very pleasant place for Diversion; there is the Royal Oak and several Raffling Shops: In one of the Walks, is several Sets of Nine Pins and Attendants to wait on you: Tipping all Nine for a Guinea, is as common there, as two Farthings for a Porrenger of Barley Broth, at the Hospital Gate in Smithfield. On several of the Trees was hung a Lampoon on the Marriage of one Mr. S - a Drugmonger and the famous Madam S-- of London.

'Having almost tir'd ourselves with walking, we took a Bench to ease our weary Pedestals. Now, said my Friend, I'll give you an impartial Account of the Perfections, Qualities and Functions, of a few particular Persons that are among this Amphibious Crowd.... To give you a particular Description of each of 'em, will require a Week's time at least. Come, therefore, let's go to some Tipling Mansion, and Carrouse, till we have Exhilerated our Drouthy Souls: To which I readily agreed. About five in the Evening, we went to See a great Match at Bowling: There was Quality, and Reverend Doctors of both Professions, Topping Merchants, Broken Bankers, Noted Mercers, Inns of Court Rakes, City Beaus, Stray'd Prentices, and Dancing-Masters in abundance. Fly, fly, fly, fly, said one; Rub, Rub, rub, rub, cry'd another; Ten Guineas to five I Uncover the Jack, says a third. Damn these Nice Fingers of mine, cry'd my Lord, I Slipt my Bowl and mistook the Bias. Another Swearing he knew the Ground to an Inch, and would hold five Pound his Bowl came in.



' From hence, we went to the Groom Porters, where they were a Labouring like so many Anchor Smiths, at the Oake, Back Gammon, Tick Tack, Irish, Basset, and throwing of Mains. There was Palming, Lodging, Loaded Dice, Levant, and Gammoning, with all the Speed imaginable; but the Cornish Rook was too hard for them all. The Bristol Fair Sparks had but a very bad bargain of it; and little occasion for Returns. Bank Bills, and Exchequer Notes were as Plenty, as Pops at the Chocolate Houses or Patternoster Row. Having satisfied our Curiosity here; we left them as busie a shaking their Elbows, as the Apple women in Stocks Market, Wallnuts in October.

'And meeting with three or four more Acquaintance, we stroul'd to a Bristol-Milk Dary-House, and Enjoy'd our selves like brave Bacchanalians.'

This, then, was how the day was spent at Bath, with the exception of when some person of quality gave an entertainment to a select number of visitors-and this they were expected to do. Our writer describes his experience of one: ' The Ball is always kept at the Town Hall, a very spacious Room, and fitted up for that Purpose. During which, the Door is kept by a Couple of Brawny Beadles, to keep out the Mobility, looking as fierce as the Uncouth Figures at Guild-Hall; there was Extraordinary Fine Dancing (and how could it otherwise chuse, for Spouse and I had a Hand in it). A Consort of Delicate Musick, Vocal and Instrumental, perform'd by good Masters; A Noble Collation of dry Sweet Meats, Rich Wine and large Attendance. The Lady who was the Donor, wore an Extraordinary Rich Favour, to distinguish her from the rest, which is always the Custom; and before they break up to chuse another for the next Day, which fell upon a Shentlewoman of Wales; but no ways Derogated from hur Honour, or Disparag'd her Country in the least, but hur was as Noble, and as Generous, as e'er an English Shentlewoman of them all: To hur Honour be it Spoke.'

And he winds up the pamphlet with' A Character of the Bath.'

' 'Tis neither Town nor City, yet goes by the Name of


both: five Months in the Year 'tis as Populous as London, the other seven as desolate as a Wilderness. Its chiefest Inhabitants are Turn-spit-Dogs; and it looks like Lombard Street on a Saints day. During the Season, it hath as many Families in a House as Edenborough; and Bills are as thick for Lodgings to be Let, as there was for Houses in the Fryars on the Late Act of Parliament for the Dissolution of Priviledges; but when the Baths are useless, so are their Houses, and as empty as the new Buildings by St. Giles in the Fields; The Baths I can compare to nothing but the Boylers in Fleet Lane or Old Bedlam, for they have a reaking steem all the Year. In a Word, 'tis a Valley of Pleasure, yet a sink of Iniquity; Nor is there any Intrigues or Debauch Acted in London, but is Mimick'd here.'

The Water was bottled and sold, and in order to guarantee its purity an advertisement was issued in : 'Notice is hereby given, that George Allen is now chosen Pumper of the King's Bath Waters in Bath, and that the true Waters are to be had of none but him who seals all Bottles and Vessels with a Seal, whereon is the City Arms, viz a Borough Wall and Sword, and round it these Words, The King's Bath Water, George Allen, Pumper.' It was supplied in London fresh three times a week, as we find by another advertisement of .

Tunbridge ranked next to Bath as a fashionable resort, and it is thus described in a contemporary play ('Tunbridge Walks,' ed. ).

Loveworth. But Tunbridge I suppose is the Seat of Pleasure; Prithee,

what Company does the Place afford?

Reynard. Like most publick Assemblies, a Medley of all Sorts, Fops

majestick and diminutive, from the long Flaxen Wig with a splendid

Equipage, to the Merchants' Spruce Prentice, that's always mighty neat

about the Legs; Squires come to Court some fine Town Lady, and Town

Sparks to pick up a Russet Gown; for the Women here are Wild Country

Ladies, with ruddy Cheeks like a Sevil Orange, that gape, stare, scamper,

and are brought hither to be Disciplined; Fat City Ladies with tawdry

Atlasses, in Defiance of the Act of Parliament; and slender Court Ladies

with French Scarffs, French Aprons, French Night Cloaths and French


Loveworth. But what are the Chief Diversions here ?

Reynard. Each to his own Inclinations-Beaus Raffle and Dance-

Citts play at Nine Pins, Bowls, and Backgammon-Rakes, scoure the

Walks, Bully the Shop keepers, and beat the Fidlers-Men of Wit rally

over Claret, and Fools get to the Royal Oak Lottery, where you may lose

Fifty Guineas in a Moment, have a Crown returned to you for Coach

Hire, a Glass of Wine, and a hearty wellcome. In short, 'tis a Place

wholly dedicated to Freedom, no Distinction, either of Quality or Estate,

but ev'ry Man that appears well Converses with the Best.

People, however, went to Tunbridge to drink the waters, not to bathe in them. So was it with Epsom Wells, which was decidedly lower in tone. From its easy access to London, it was crowded with citizens-and some very questionable characters. If Bath allowed some licence to its frequenters, Epsom gave more. 'But if you were not so monstrous lewd, the freedom of Epsom allows almost nothing to be scandalous.'[2] 

The Epsom season began on Easter Monday, and one advertisement will sufficiently indicate its character. . 'The New Wells at Epsom, with variety of Raffling Shops, will be open'd on Easter Monday next. There are Shops now to be Let, at the said Wells for a Bookseller, Pictures, Haberdasher of Hats, Shoomaker, Fishmonger, and Butcher; with conveniences for several other Trades.

It's design'd that a very good Consort of Musick shall attend and play there Morning and Evening during the Season; and nothing will be demanded for the Waters drunk there.' Pinkethman would take his performing dogs down there, and Mr. Clinch, with the wonderful voice, would spend the season there. Morris-dancing and other sports were got up, and at last they had races, which have since evolved that national saturnalia the Derby.

They had not yet analysed these purgative waters, and consequently 'Epsom salts' were unknown, so that people, did they wish for them, must either go to Epsom, or buy the water in London, where almost all the other 'Spaw' waters could be procured. It is astonishing how they could drink the quantity they are recorded to have done-i.e. if those accounts are trustworthy. Brown, in one of his ' Letters from the Dead to the Living,' talks of a lady 'that has drank two


Quarts of Epsom Waters for her Mornings draught'; and Shadwell, in 'Epsom Wells,' says:-

Brisket. I vow it is a pleasurable Morning: the Waters taste so finely

after being fudled last Night. Neighbour Fribbler, here's a Pint to you.

Fribbler. I'll pledge you Mrs. Brisket; I have drunk eight already.

Mrs. Brisket. How do the Waters agree with your Ladyship ?

Mrs. Woodly. Oh, Soveraignly: how many Cups have you arrived to?

Mrs. Brisket. Truly Six, and they pass so kindly.

There was, and even yet is, a mildly chalybeate spring at Hampstead, which made that beautiful northern suburb very fashionable. The well has been lately altered, and the old Assembly Rooms, which had lasted from Anne's time, were pulled down in the early part of . Old gardens have been grubbed up, and fine new villas set a-top of them. It is only a question of time as to when the trees in Well Walk will die and be no more, and but a few houses will remain to attest the glory of Hampstead in Queen Anne's time, when the Kit Cats made it their summer meeting-place. Like all places of amusement then, the spirit of gambling had invaded it, and either Swift or Steele notices that: 'By letters from Hampstead which give me an account, there is a late institution there, under the name of a RAFFLING SHOP; which is, it seems, secretly supported by a person who is a deep practitioner in the law, and out of tenderness of conscience, has, under the name of his maid Sisly, set up this easier way of conveyancing and alienating estates from one family to another. [3]  Concerts of music were frequent here in the season, as they were also at Richmond Wells, which opened in the middle of May.

The medicinal powers of divers springs near London had been known for generations, and we find them duly advertised and puffed-Acton Waters, Dullidge and Northall Waters, Lambeth Wells, Sadler's New Tunbridge Wells near Islington, 'at the Musick House by the New River.' The London Spaw, 'at the sign of the Fountain in the parish of St. James's Clarken Well; in the way going up to Islington' ('the Poor may have it Gratis'); whilst in we find an advertisement: 'This is to give notice, That at the King's


Arms Inn in Haughton Street in Clare Market, over against New Inn back Gate, is lately discovered a Spring of Purging Water, known by the name of Holy-well, or the London Water, exceeding for their Cathartic Excellency, all other Purging Waters; working in small quantities without neglect of Business. This Water has been tried and approved of by some of the best Physicians. To be had at the Pump, at the place aforesaid at 2d. the Quart, and to those that buy it to Retail it, at the Usual Rates.'

One of those in the country was Buxton, of which we get the following notice in : 'Whereas the Bath House at Buxton, in Derbyshire, so famous in the North for divers Cures, hath of late Years been mismanaged, by disobliging Persons of Quality and others usually resorting to the said Bath; this is therefore to give Notice to all Persons of Quality and Gentry of Both Sexes, That Care has now been taken, by his Grace the Duke of Devonshire, to remedy the like Treatment, for the future, by sending down from London a fitting and obliging Person sufficiently qualified: So that now all Persons resorting to the said Bath will meet with Civil Usage, and have the best of every thing for Man and Beast at reasonable rates.' Then there were springs at Scarborough, Bury, Astrop, Croft, Holt, and Blurton Spaw Water, which was belauded by Floyer. Of course these are not a tithe of those which were locally famous, but were not pushed into public notoriety.

Foreign mineral waters were in use, but evidently only for medicinal purposes. 'Purging Spaw Waters newly brought over from Germany, to be sold at the Two Golden Images in King Street, near St. James's.' And they were sold at prices varying from 12s. per doz. or 1s. per flask, to 5s. per doz.

Not only were the hot springs of Bath frequented for the purposes of bathing, but the Turkish bath was peculiarly an institution of this reign, and the 'Hummums' or 'Bagnios' were well frequented, until the latter got an evil reputation, and the name of Bagnio came to be regarded as synonymous with a disorderly house. Some of the medical men of the time took up the subject of bathing with relation to health, and, as is generally the case, took opposite views; some


advocating cold bathing, like Sir John Floyer and Dr. Ed Baynard in ': or, the HISTORY of COLD BATHING, Both Ancient and Modern,' , or Dr. Browne,. who wrote in 'An Account of the Wonderful CURES perform'd by the COLD BATHS. With Advice to the Water Drinkers at Tunbridge, Hampstead, Astrope, Nasborough, and all the other Chalibeate Spaws'; whilst others took up the cause of hot bathing, and decried the use of cold water, even in immersion in Baptism, like Guidot, who in published 'An Apology for the Bath,' having previously printed a Latin tract, 'De Thermis Britannicis.'

Ward describes a visit to the Hummums in Covent Garden with a friend, who suggested to him [4]  'if you will be your Club towards Eight Shillings, we'll go in and Sweat, and you shall feel the effects of this Notable Invention.' Let him tell his experiences in his own words. 'We now began to unstrip, and put ourselves in a Condition of enduring an Hour's Baking, and when we had reduc'd our selves into the Original state of Mankind, having nothing before us to cover our Nakedness, but a Clout no bigger than a Fig leaf, our Guide led us to the end of our Journey, the next Apartment, which I am sure, was as hot as a Pastry Cooks Oven to Bake a White Pot; that I began immediately to melt, like a piece of Butter in a Basting Ladle, and was afraid I should have run all to Oyl by the time I had been in six Minutes; The bottom of the Room was Pav'd with Freestone; to defend our feet from the excessive heat of which, we had got on a pair of new-fashion'd Brogues, with Wooden Soles after the French Mode, Cut out of an Inch Deal Board; or else like the Fellow in the Fair, we might as well have walk'd cross a hot Iron Bar, as ventur'd here to have Trod bare Foot. As soon as the Fire had tapt us all over, and we began to run like a Conduit Pipe, at every Pore, our Rubber arms his Right Hand with a Gauntlet of coarse hair Camlet, and began to curry us with as much Labour, as a Yorkshire Groom does his Master's best Stone Horse; till he made our Skins as smooth as a Fair Ladies Cheeks, just wash'd with Lemon Posset, and greas'd over with Pomatum. At last I


grew so very faint with the expence of much Spirits, that I begg'd as hard for a Mouthful of fresh Air, as Dives did for a drop of Water; which our attendance let in at a Sash-Window, no broader than a Deptford Cheese Cake; but, however, it let in a Comfortable Breeze that was very Reviving: when I had foul'd many Callico Napkins, our Rubber draws a Cistern full of Hot Water, that we might go in, and Boil out those gross Humours that could not be Emitted by Perspiration. Thus, almost Bak'd to a Crust, we went into the hot Bath to moisten our Clay, where we lay Soddening our selves like Deer's Humbles design'd for Minc'd Pies, till we were almost Parboiled .. . then after he had wiped me o'er with a dry Clout, telling us we had Sweat enough, he reliev'd us out of Purgatory, and carried us into our Dressing Room; which gave us such Refreshment, after we had been stewing in our own Gravy, that we thought ourselves as happy as a Couple of English Travellers, Transported in an Instant, by a Miracle from the Torrid Zone into their own Country. Our expence of Spirits had weakened Nature and made us drowsie; where having the Conveniency of a Bed, we lay down and were rubb'd like a couple of Race Horses after a Course.'

An advertisement of these baths tells us fully of the extent of the accommodation they afforded. 'At the Hummum's in Covent Garden are the best accommodation for Persons of Quality to Sweat or Bath every day in the week, the Conveniences of all kinds far exceeding all other Bagnios or Sweating Houses both for Rich and Poor. Persons of good Reputation may be accommodated with handsom Lodgings to lye all Night. There is also a Man and Woman who Cups after the Newest and easiest method. In the Garden of the same House is also a large Cold Bath of Spring Water, which, for its Coldness and Delicacy, deserves an equal Reputation with any in use.'

There were also 'John Evans's Hummums in Brownlow Street near ,' 'John Pindar's (The German Sweating House) in Westmoreland Court, in Bartholomew Close, near Aldersgate Street,' and 'The Queen's Bagnio in Long Acre,' kept by Henry Ayme, chirurgeon; where not only could you have a bath for 5s., or two or more 4s. each, but


there was 'a lesser Bagnio, of a lower Rate, for the Diseased and Meaner Sort.' 'There is no Entertainment for Women after Twelve of the Clock at Night, but all Gentlemen that desire Beds, may have them for Two Shillings per Night, for one single Person, but if two lie together Three Shillings both; which Rooms and Beds are fit for the Entertainment of Persons of the highest Quality, and Gentlemen.'

Then there was the Royal Bagnio in Newgate Street, at the Corner of what now is Bath (formerly Bagnio) Street. There was also Pierault's Bagnio, which was in St. James's Street, and was established about . 'The charge of going in is 5s.-if lie all Night 10s. each. Here also is a Cold Bath, for which they take 2s. 6d. each Person.'

The disciples of cold bathing might be suited at 'A Convenient large Cold Bath, that is Erected upon an Excellent Cold Spring, adjoyning to the Bowling Green in Queen Street in the Park, Southwark. ... Prices 1s. and 6d. -The Chair 2s.'; and at No. 3 Endell Street was a bath which, tradition says, was used by Queen Anne. It was about twelve or fourteen feet square, and was originally lined with old blue and white Dutch tiles. I can find nothing confirming this tradition, which may or may not have a foundation in fact.


[1] Spectator, No. 154.

[2] Epsom Wells, Shadwell.

[3] The Tatler, No. 59.

[4] The London Spy.