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How often did people bathe?


master brummie
Does anyone have any information about how often would an average working class person would have bathed about 1880-90?
What method of batheing would have been most common? In a tub of some sort or would they simply use a washcloth?
I haven't been able to locate any information on the internet. Can anyone recommend a website or a book?

Thanks Karro


Engineer Brummie
There is quite a lot of info on bathing in 'At Home' by Bill Bryson (ISBN 978-0-552-77255-6). Each chapter is loosely based on a room in his own house (and old rectory built in 1851 in England, although Bill is American) and then dives off into the history of each area. It's a very interesting read although I found some chapters a bit heavy going.


master brummie
The quick answer is not very often.I lived with my Grandmother from birth 1930 in a back to back house at GROVE Rd
Colmore Avenue Kings Heath.Gas lightning,cold water.one coal fire in the one down room,Lav up the yard.There was
a tin bath which I used as a very young lad.My Gran and her daughter may have used it but I never saw them.
I never had a proper bath untill I went to live with my Dad in Northfield about 1940
Although there was not enough heat to get sweaty


master brummie
I remember reading books, of the Catherine Cookson type where children were sewn into their clothes - with newspaper in between layers for warmth - for the winter.
Until the mid 1960's I think a bath a week was the normal thing, with a strip-wash every day. When I was a teenager ('66 - '71) I would have a bath about 3 or 4 times a week. We were quick to embrace the daily shower over here in Australia, so refreshing & easy compared to bath night!
Times have certainly changed, we could be a bit too clean now!
In answer to your original question, probably once or twice a year, even if they didn't need it! LOL!
People were afraid of catching a chill, all sorts of superstitions were rife, like not washing your hair on a Sunday or during menstruation.
Strip-washes or dowsing at the water pump were the order of the day for hundreds of years.
I suppose everyone else smelled the same so no-one noticed!
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Super Moderator
Staff member
When I lived in Birmiingham I shared a flat for nine months in 1968 with a teacher who was in his first job in Aston (can't remember which school). I remember him telling me of one child in his class who he found had been sewn into his clothes for the winter


Super Moderator
Staff member
Something I picked up a while back

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour.

Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.


master brummie
Intersting one this Morturn.
In my 12 years of family history research, I have found exactly one marriage in June. I have seen this email before and personally think it's just been made up and does not contain much in the way of truth. In my experience a heck of a lot of people got married Christmas Day because it was the only day they had off work and got paid for. I can't comment on the bouquet, but I am sure before Victorian times, people had a bath just when they wanted one, not at a certain time of year.


master brummie
Never heard of 'being sewn into clothes'. It sounds horible and what happened when the clothes got wet. One bath a week is what I recall in our time and since showers and indoor bathrooms are the standard now...every day for some. This frequency is also a problem though because it makes your skin dry. Once a week underware changes has probably become once a day now. I don't think bathing was frowned upon...it was more an awful chore to heat up water and put the tin bath in front of the downstairs fire. Just think..mothers also had kids to bathe...who were probably being kantankerous.
Ah, the old days. When the houses for the great unwashed came sans any provision for these activities. Unwashed may have been close to the truth but perhaps underwashed is closer. Everyone had a galvanised tin tub hanging in the back kitchen or on the fence outside...at a time when most in NA had indoor plumbing and bathrooms and hot water...oh and telephones. The advent of the cell phone/Iphone whatever has been a great leveller.

And yet...since being retired I will admit to not showering every day. Many days...especially in the winter...I don't go out. Perhaps it was all a bit over the top anyway.
Don't forget there were also the Public Baths to go to. These were not only a swimming pool but also cubicles were provided to just go in and take a bath. Hey you got a small towel and a little piece of soap and one time fill of the old four legged bath tub with hot water...for a few coppers. The hot water fawcett was operated with a key by the attendent and you cooled it down with cold to suit. Actually it was all quite civilised but miserable if it was a rainy night. Towels wern't worth a damn.

When I started work down town I was introduced to the wonderful world of the Turkish Bath...and heat and steam...did I say heat...hmmm. Burned the tip of your nose if you breathed in too quickly. But that's another story.


master brummie
Thanks so all your comments. If taking a bath was such a task in the 1930's one can only assume that it must have even more of a task around the 1880's. I imagine that wash stands must have been quite common, but I doubt that one could actually take a bath that way, more like what my mom called a sponge bath. If someone bathed once a week in England (on land) I wonder how often passengers on transatlantic ships would have bathed? or would they? I'm trying to get a picture of what it would have been like for steerage passengers about 1889. By that time, the trip across the ocean lasted little more than a week and conditions on the ships had vastly improved. However, in one account i read that the normal standards of hygiene were not always adhered to. I'd appreicate any references or ideas on the matter. Cheers Karro


master brummie
Steerage passengers on the Titanic had two bathrooms for 700 people. There must have been more WCs I think. Most of the heat went up the chimney Bernard.