Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It’s Warming Up In Alberta And What About The Saturday Bath?

Not that we want to compete with temperatures in the South-West of the U.S. but there IS a significant difference between –30 and –14C. As a first sign of such warming trend we had the pleasure of running water again. Now, it might have helped that I had added a little plumbing anti-freeze into the freshwater tank, but the higher temperature must have been the main reason for getting our pump working again.

I was very glad to receive your comments about your very own childhood memories. Especially, I noticed that it seemed to be a common procedure to take a bath only once a week, preferably on Saturdays.

Now, I have tried to find the answer to this custom and came up with this:

Although the popular image of the people of the Viking Age is one of wild-haired, dirty savages, this is a false perception. In reality, the Vikings took much care with their personal grooming, bathing, and hairstyling.

Perhaps the most telling comment comes from the pen of English cleric John of Wallingford, prior of St. Fridswides, who complained bitterly that the Viking Age men of the Danelaw combed their hair, took a bath on Saturday, and changed their woolen garments frequently, and that they performed these un-Christian and heathen acts in an attempt to seduce high-born English women.


Under further research I stumbled upon this text which I took from this blog:


As in a lot of things medieval bathing was by some seen as a form of sexual debauchery and by others seen as letting the devil into you. It was also widely believed that being naked and letting the water touch you would make you severely ill.
At any rate, those that were able to in medieval times bathed more than we thought they did, by most historians standards. It particularly became more popular during the outbreak of the Black Plague. People were looking for reasons why it was spreading and how to decrease the effects, they found that frequent hand-washing in warm water, warm wine and also in vinegar helped. They also found that keeping the surroundings more clean helped too.
I’m also sure that looking, feeling and smelling clean was a bonus not only to yourself but to those around you.
Medieval kings and lords and their household bathed more than most. Some had special rooms set aside for bathing and others bathed in huge tubs brought into their rooms. Filling the tubs took forever as the water had to be gathered, heated and then carried in buckets to their rooms, where it was poured in and mixed sometimes with perfumes, scented oils and flower petals. The ladies were just as lucky.
Because gathering water was so difficult several people may enjoy the bath before the water was thrown out. Especially within the poor. The eldest went first down to the youngest, hence the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water…”
Peasants submerged themselves in water rarely for a bath and were more likely to wash quickly with plain water and a rag and if they were lucky some soap. During warm months they may have slipped away to the river for a dip.

Hand-washing before entering the great hall for a meal was standard. During the crusades, knights brought soap from the East. Prior to that people used water only and the oils from flowers.
In chambers, people had basins of water for washing the face and hands, and maybe a more intimate part of themselves…
Rivers, lakes, ponds, etc… were used to taking dips and rinsing the filth from one’s body.
Soft soaps were made of mutton fat, wood ash, and natural soda. Often they had flowers and herb oils added for a sweet smell, but this was very expensive. Hard soaps were made of olive oil, soda, lime, herbs and flowers.
In some cities they had public bath houses, where people could bathe all day.

Elizabeth I, is said to have had a bath once a month. She herself also restored the bath houses in Bath, England.
During Regency times bath houses and sea bathing became popular. In the homes of the wealthy they bathed in copper tubs lined with linen. The poorer if they had a wooden barrel would bathe in them.
Earlier in the nineteenth century the hands, feet and face were regularly washed as in previous centuries, and the rest of your body every few weeks or longer. However the tides quickly changed.

In some journals you read that children of the wealthy and their parents bathed daily. Some in the summer even bathed twice a day.
For the poor a weekly bath that all the family shared was more common.
It wasn’t until piping became regular sometime in the 19th century for homes to have water brought to them, rather than servants gathering the water themselves.

So, the once-a-week-bath can be attributed to the fact that water had to be carried in, warmed up over a stove and then carried out again. The fact that it often happened on Saturday could be attributed to the Christian belief of going to church on Sundays, even though John of Wallingford believed it to be an un-Christian heathen act.  

And from:


The early Irish considered baths a major part of hospitality, and to not offer a guest the opportunity to bathe, or at least wash hands and feet, was an insult. Irish baths were filled with cold water and then heated by dropping rocks, heated in a fire, into the water. There are some suggestions that such heated rocks may have been used to heat saunas.
Bathing in tubs was done in private homes, in monasteries, and in communal bath-houses, which were very common in cities. In the late 13th century, bathhouses in Paris employed criers to announce when the water was hot. In Gasawa Poland, Duke Henryk the Bearded and Duke Leszek Bialy were attacked in the baths in 1227. By the 15th and 16th centuries, bath-houses in Western Europe had mixed clientele, and by the end of our period of study, the 'stews' had the unsavory reputation as houses of ill-repute we remember.


  1. Interesting trivia that you shared with us , thanks.

  2. That was interesting indeed. I also read that many people (including kings) wore the same clothes for a month at a time including to bed. Can you imagine how they must have smelled?

  3. Love all this interesting history stuff. Also glad you got your water running again and your weather is warming up a wee bit.

  4. A very interesting posting, I also remember the Saturday night bath in a galvenized tub on the kitchen floor. Being the youngest, my bath was usually very cool. thanks goodness times have changed!


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