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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The Healing Waters of Bath

Caitlin presents the healing waters of Bath

The hot springs at Bath have long been considered to heal the sick. The Romans mainly used baths for leisure, but several writers, such as Pliny the Elder, Asclepiades and Celsus, talked about the therapeutic benefits.

In Britain, for about 1500 years the belief was that the hot water balanced the humours, which would make you healthy again. As the minerals gave it a dry taste and immersion made you urinate more, hot baths were considered hot/dry, which is odd, as you would think a hot bath would be hot/wet!

The four humours and their interactions

By the medieval period, the Church was against bathing, calling it a luxury. It considered the Roman baths to be immoral, so many baths fell into disrepair. Later, the Church condoned the use of bathing for healing/spiritual purification, and so in the 1100s the Kings Baths were built on the sacred spring by the Bishop of Bath at the time.

As the Baths became more and more popular, there were even some royal visitors such as King Charles I in the 1600s and Queen Anne in 1702 and 1703. By the Georgian period, people began to drink the water instead of bathing with the crowds. In 1706, the Pump Room was built for those who wished to drink the water, rather than bathe in it. Drinking the water became much more popular and trendier so the Pump Room was expanded in 1795.

Glass bottle for "NOTED BATH WATERS, 1894"

With more competition from other spa towns, like Tunbridge Wells and Leamington Spa, in Britain, new treatments were on offer at the Spa Treatment Centre in Bath, such as electrotherapy and needle douches. These new treatments boosted visitors, and by the 1890s, 100,000 people had visited the baths. It was also during this period that the remains of the Roman baths were revealed, although evidence of a Roman Bath house in the area had been known since 1755.

Spa treatment photographs. L: Man standing in needle douche; R: Man being lowered into the Hot Bath

The beginning of the 20th century brought new treatment innovations with the discovery of radon and radiotherapy, which helped keep the Spa Treatment Centre visitors numbers high. However, after the Second World War, visitor numbers declined due to fewer people travelling for leisure, and in 1948, treatment centre was under the control of the NHS. Treatments soon were only available to those with a prescription, and then in 1978 the Bath treatment centres were shut after spa treatment therapy was dismissed by orthodox medicine.

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