Keeping It Clean, Part Five: The Royal Waterloo Bath, Or How the Other Half Bathed

From the June 1819 edition of Ackermann’s Repository, may I present to you, with mingled delight and horror…

THE ROYAL WATERLOO BATH
“This very elegant floating bath is stationed near the north end of the Waterloo-bridge, and has recently been built and completed with entirely new and substantial materials, in a style of superior accommodation, at a very considerable expense: it contains a plunging bath, 24 feet long by 8 feet wide, and two private baths, 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. The depth may be regulated at pleasure by machinery, which raises or depresses the bottom as required, secured by cross timbers, and bound with iron. To each of the baths are attached small dressing rooms, commodiously fitted up, with proper persons to attend upon visitors. These baths are so constructed, that the water, being a running stream, is changed every two minutes. The advantage of bathing in a flowing stream is obvious, and gives a decided preference over a cold still bath, which is frequently dangerous from the violence of the shock. The terms of bathing, as our readers will see, are extremely moderate:–they are–
In the plunging-bath. . £0 1s. 0d.
For the season. . . £1 11s. 6p.
In the private baths . £0 1s. 6p.
For the season. . . £2 2s. 0p.
Constant attendance at Waterloo-bridge to convey visitors to and from the bath.

Bathing is so essentially connected with health, that we cannot but congratulate the public on this new establishment. It is singular that so few of the kind should be known in London, while there is scarcely a street in the French metropolis that has not its cold, warm, vapour, Chinese, and Tuscan baths, with a variety of others, suiting the capricious tastes of the inhabitants. Yet how deficient they are in the most important article connected with bathing every body knows, while we have a noble river filled with the purest and most wholesome waters in the world. The want of baths in London has led to the incommodious and indecorous practice of public exposure in the Thames.

All I can say is, eek! Or maybe just ick. Though the waters of the Thames might indeed have been pure and wholesome upriver, at this point it served as drainage for all the city…gulp! I applaud the recognition that bathing was associated with good health and understand the desire for cleanliness (and for getting the nudists off the banks of the river!) but do have to wonder if the writer of this article visited the baths in person. Unfortunately, no interior views were provided–it would have been interesting to see how the water depth controls worked.

It’s highly doubtful any young ladies of fashion would come here; I expect it was for the working class population of London who didn’t have those hip baths before the fireplaces in their bedrooms and legions of servants to carry up cans of hot water to fill them.

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