1. Bath houses were adopted from Middle Eastern bathing practices, and became very popular throughout the West until the late-1200’s.
But water was heated by wood fires & wood became more expensive as forests were diminished. Over time, it became too expensive to maintain bath houses, and they began to go out of business. Attempts at replacing wood fuel with coal failed due to deaths from the unhealthy fumes.
2. From the 1300’s on, only the very rich were able to afford firewood to heat their bath water in winter. The rest of medieval society remained unbathed for the most part, bathing an average of 3 to 4 times per year, usually around important occasions. On these rare bathing occasions, entire families would share the same bath water.
Oftentimes, during low rains, extended family would be invited to share the immediate family’s bathwater, as well!
3. Within medieval families, there was a bathing hierarchy for shared bath water. And though the wife prepared the bath, her Calgon dreams were soon shattered.
The first to bathe, and the only member of the household to enjoy a bath in clean water, was the male head of the household — usually the husband. Next in line were subordinate male family members in order of seniority — grandfathers, uncles, brothers, sons, male cousins, etc.
4. Women were always last in the familial bathing hierarchy — unless they were widowed with no male family member within the home. But women, too, followed the same hierarchical pattern: highest ranking female first — usually the wife. Then came grandmothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, female cousins, etc.
5. Always last to bathe were the children. These small members of the family bathed in the filthiest bath water. From this practice, we get the expression, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
By the time the baby’s turn came to bathe, the water would be so murky that if a baby went under, he literally could not be seen!
Next time you’re on a bath water haul,
Don’t forget to give family a call!
It was a nasty past-y!
Does your family share bath water?
What say ye about the sharing of bath water?