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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Jane Austen and Bath III: The Pump Room

King's and Queen's Baths, Bath.
Bath's warm mineral springs have been renowned for their soothing properties since Roman times. In Austen's day, the four public baths were open-air and surrounded by handsome colonnades to shelter bathers from the weather. The celebrated King’s, Queen’s, Hot, and Cross-Bath were frequented by the common sort. Men and women bathed together, and you would have seen people entering the water with running sores and open ulcers.  Poor people paid 6d for bathing. More genteel folk used Bath Corporation’s private baths on Stall St, adjoining the King’s Bath, and also the Abbey Baths belonging to Earl Manvers.
Invalids sipped their daily internal dose of Bath water at the Pump-Room which opened early in the morning. It cost a guinea per month to drink the water, plus a tip for the ‘pumper’ who serves it from the marble vase on the south side of the room. The recommended dose was a maximum pint and a half (710 ml) per day, but you did not drink all that at once.Invalids took two half-pint doses in the morning before breakfast, and the last portion at noon. American visitor Benjamin Silliman did not enjoy his small sample of Bath’s celebrated water: ‘The taste... is slightly chalybeate, and disagreeably warm, exciting the idea of an emetic’. 
Pump Room, Bath, 1804.

New arrivals to Bath wrote their name in the visitors’ book kept in the Pump-Room. This entitled them to subscribe to the weekly balls and assemblies. 
In Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland was disappointed that handsome Henry Tilney’s name ‘was not in the Pump-room book...He must be gone from Bath’. 

Pump Room Restaurant, Bath.

From mid-day, including Sundays, people crowded together at the Pump Room to meet friends and parade up and down the room while the orchestra played. Catherine Morland and her friend Isabella ‘eagerly joined each other’ in the Pump Room in Bath ‘as soon as divine service was over’. But after discovering that the crowd there was ‘insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen... they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company’.
Pump Room, Bath, 1804. Engraving by John Hill from an aquatint by J. C . Nattes. Library of Congress collection, LC-USZ62-134778.

Photos © Sue Wilkes.

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