Ok so I am an Austen-phile. We won’t discuss how many times I watched the Austen movies or read the novels. Or how it spawned an obsession with clean Regency romance fiction. Let’s just say that I could have ended up like the girl in Austenland, if I hadn’t lucked out and found my husband at 19.
So as an Austen fan I had to see Bath, England while there. This town was the home of the authoress Jane Austen, but I wasn’t so interested in her life as the baths of Bath. Bath was essentially the spa getaway for the wealthy in the Regency Era. If someone had money and an ailment, they were told to go to Bath and partake of the waters. And often it helped them feel better. I will explain why at the end, it’s kinda funny really.
I received free tickets to the Roman Baths in exchange for a post about my experience. But, I planned to visit the Baths even without free tickets for my family.
The Roman Baths are the popular site of the Pump Room where those prescribed the waters of Bath in Regency Era would get their drinks. And that is what they did. Drink the water. There was also some places to soak in the waters, but drinking it was the biggest activity (for being a naval power, Regency England had serious hang ups about swimming). I wish I could share photos or the Pump Room, but on our visit was closed for a wedding.
Seeing the Roman Baths in person dug into the Roman history which was long and unique. So I learned 5 major things I didn’t know about Roman life.
- Bath was just an outpost of the Roman empire really. It wasn’t visited by the emperor or anything big. But the waters were incredibly unique for this area of the empire so a temple to Minerva (that’s Athena to the Greeks) was a pretty big deal. But no body went in the temple besides the priests and temple servants. The sacrifices took place outside
- The baths were a huge complex of several bathing tubs, all feed from a geothermal spring that they believed magical because of how it bubbles up from the earth. They also thought that meant it was boiling. Really the bath was bubbling because of microorganisms that give off gasses as they process the minerals.
- You get to touch a lot of the stuff at the Roman Baths but you can’t get in the water. And that’s OK cause the water is murky. After all it’s warm water that algae love. So the whole bath is coated with orange algae.
- The most interesting spot was the Roman drain and large over flow area of the bath. The water levels are still controlled in the same way as in Roman times. The drains and conduits are pretty effective the way they are. You can even see a lead and stone pipe where water flows.
- The Roman’s would etch curses on lead plates and leave them at the temple. Haha, even the Romans had trolls.
- An entire city built over the baths. And that’s weird considering the warm spring was present and used the whole time. But people didn’t take well to Roman pagan ways in the dark ages, I guess. But thanks to the 18th century wealth of England they dug them out. The water level in the Baths is at the Roman level. In the later uses, like Regency England, the level was about 4 feet higher so that people could enter by ramp and therefore most of the other Baths were unknown.
So the “healing waters” of Bath taste like drinking a warm penny. I tried it and it was fun to try, but seriously how people swigged down this stuff in regency era is unknown to me. But I figure when you are told something is medicine you expect it to taste bad.
Were the waters actually healing? Well there is a great deal of documented improvement from those who partook of the waters. But we know in modern day that hot springs waters aren’t gonna cure many ills and work best for a good soak. So why would it work so well for many people? When people spent much of their time in the smokey, dirty and sewage infested city of London just getting out was probably a benefit to one’s health. The aristocracy had country homes for a reason. Yet Bath seemed to help those who spent time in the country too. Turns out, most individuals drank more wine, beer, port and ale than water even given tea habit. So if you tell someone to drink less alcohol and drink some water in excess every day he is likely to detox his system and give the liver a break. And Voila! You are healed. So really the “healing waters” of Bath were just a good cleansing treatment in Regency England. What medical treatments do you think the future will look at and laugh as effective but kinda silly in our day?
If you wanna try the water or tour the Roman Baths check out their website. The Roman Baths
If you want to take tea in the Pump Room Restaurant it is necessary to make a booking (British word for “reservation”) the place is busy and the there is a reason it’s gorgeous.