Georgian Cold-water Bathing & Balneology – Sir John Floyer & William Falconer
Featured Image: The cold-water bath at Corsham Court, Wiltshire, circa 1761-63
Sir John Floyer (1649-1743) was a physician, practicing in Lichfield by 1675 for over 50 years. He was an advocate of cold-bathing and persuaded the gentlemen of Lichfield to contribute towards the building of cold baths at Abnalls, near the city as the spring water was the coldest in the region. These were known as St. Chad’s baths and set the trend for other small spas. His most popular publication was The Ancient Psychrolousia Revived: Or, an Essay to Prove Cold Bathing both Safe and Useful. In Four Letters. (1702), of which there were 6 editions. (Gibbs, Floyer, Sir John’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).
He refers back to the Classical World and ancient England for his references (I have adjusted the text of his work to make it more readable to the modern eye):
‘No part of Physick is more ancient than Cold Bathing, since we find many descripts of its good effects in or oldest authors, Hippocrates, Celsus, Caelius Aurelianus, and Galen… And that Cold Baths were anciently used in England, may be proved, because the Northern Nations used that method for fortifying themselves against their Cold Air’ (Floyer, ‘The Dedication’, p. 9)
He claims it is foreign trade that has brought commodities that introduced the ‘Hot Regime’ and not natural for the English:
‘I shall add one more reason of the disuse of Cold Baths, which was the increase and interest of Foreign Trade in the last Century, which then introduced the Hot Regime from the Hot Climates, such as Tobacco, Tea, Coffee, Wine and Brandy-Spirits, and Spices, and these are unnatural to English bodies, for a Cold Regimen is proper to Cold Countries, as the Hot Regimen for Hot Regions, because they preserve our Bodies in a State suitable to the ambient air; if we stop the Pores by a Cold Regimen in Hot Countries, a Fever and Fluxes immediately succeed; and if we keep them open by a Hot Regimen in Cold Countries, Defluxions and Intermitting fevers, and Faintness happen.
We cannon assign any other probable Reason, why Pleurisies (which are species of rheumatisms), were rare and unknown to Physicians in Henry VII Days, and they as well as Rheumatisms and Rickets, are now very frequent unless it be that formerly, the English were used to a Cold Regimen and Cold Baths, but of late have disused all the Cold Regimen for the Hot.’ (Floyer, ‘The Dedication’, pp. 16-17).
Floyer makes the link between pre-Reformation use of holy wells and the healing properties of cold water.
As well as being an advocate of cold-water bathing, Floyer introduced the practice of the accurate measurement of pulse rates. He promoted this through his work The Physician’s Pulse Watch (2 vols, 1707-10). He even commissioned a clockmaker in Coventry, Samuel Watson, to make a watch for the purpose of pulse timing. He also researched and wrote on bronchial asthma, separating it from other pulmonary disorders.
CHAD’S BATH HOUSE AT UNETT’S WELL
As part of his campaign to promote cold-water bathing, Foyer built a bath house at Unett’s Well at Abnalls in Burntwood, near Litchfield. In 1701 Foyer took a 99-year lease of the site from the lord of Pipe (Pipe being the name of the place belonging to the lord). By 1703 he had assigned the lease to the Conduit Lands trustees. There were 2 baths with changing rooms, separated by a wall. One for ladies and one for men. Foyer stipulated that the poor of the city and the Cathedral Close were to be admitted free of charge and other inhabitants had to pay. By 1770 only one bath remained. In 1780 Erasmus Darwin took up the lease from the lord of Pipe and he incorporated it in his botanic garden. It was restored in 1889-90 and survived up until the 1980s. (‘Lichfield: Public services’, British History Online, pp. 95-109)
Floyer’s bath house was built with two baths to be called St. Chad’s Bath. Foyer himself describes the baths:
‘The Figure of these Baths is Oblong, 16 Foot long, about 10 broad. The Baths lie close together, but are divided by a Wall, and the lower receives the water from the other; the upper I call for Distinction The Ladies Bath; and the lower, The Mens Bath. The Water is sufficiently deep to reach up to the Neck, and can be conveniently emptied as oft as we please, and will fill both Baths in a Nights time: The Descent into the Baths is by Stone-steps, and there is a convenient Room built to each Bath, for Undressing, and Sweating upon great occasions.’ (Floyer, ‘Letter the First, &c.’, p. 18)
The description of the bath being deep enough for immersion up to the neck is similar to the bath house at Corsham. The idea is to bathe and does not require a large bath – we are used to swimming baths and not this sort of design. The nearest we have today is a jacuzzi, but in my experience they are heated. The steps down into the cold-water bath not only facilitate entry but also would enable an individual to acclimatise to the cold water.
It appears that Floyer’s baths and the bath house at Corsham promoted cold-water bathing as a social activity. It would have been possible to have constructed individual baths as we have in our homes today. Floyer did divide the sexes by having separate baths for each.
Whilst he does promote cold-bathing and keeping the pores closed he also refers to sweating, but only on great occasions – I presume this is some sort of sauna. I also wonder what the great occasions were!
THE CITY OF BATH: BALNEOLOGY & RESEARCH
Another Georgian with a strong interest in the study of balneology was the physician, William Falconer. Balneology is the study of medicinal springs and therapeutic effects of bathing in them. In the 1770s he set up in Bath and was elected to the Bath Hospital. He conducted research into the Bath waters and their impact on chronic conditions such as gout and rheumatism.
He ran a sophisticated medical study on a group of 400 patients with rheumatism at the Bath Hospital – An Account of the Use, Application and Success of the Bath Waters in Rheumatic Cases (1795). His scientific approach to the study concluded that the spa was beneficial. One of his conclusions was that men benefitted more than women. (Borsay, ‘Falconer, William’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography)
I wonder about this idea of cold-water bathing and avoiding food and drink from warmer climes. We know now that tobacco is bad for health. It is interesting that Floyer includes in his list tea, coffee, spices, wine and spirits distilled from brandy. Is a diet free of these much healthier for us? I may give it a try. Although, I am still not sure about the cold-water bathing!
Borsay, Anne, ‘Falconer, William (1744-1824)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sep 2004, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9118> [accessed 2 December 2019]
Floyer, John, Sir, The Ancient Psychrolousia Revived: Or, an Essay to Prove Cold Bathing both Safe and Useful. In Four Letters, (London: Sam. Smith and Benj. Walford, 1702). Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org), <https://archive.org/details/ancientpsychrolo00floy/page/n3> [accessed 2 December 2019]
Floyer, John, Sir & Edward Baynard, Psychrolousia. Or, the History of Cold Bathing: Both Ancient and Modern. In Two Parts. 6th edn (London: W. Innys and R. Manby, 1732). Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org), <https://archive.org/details/psychrolousiaorh00floy/page/n7>[accessed 2 December 2019]
Floyer, John, Sir, ‘The Antiquity of the Religious and Medicinal Immersions’, Letter I in The Ancient Psychrolousia Revived: Or, an Essay to Prove Cold Bathing both Safe and Useful. In Four Letters, (London: Sam. Smith and Benj. Walford, 1702). Full text at Internet Archive (archive.org), <https://archive.org/details/ancientpsychrolo00floy/page/n3> [accessed 2 December 2019]
Gibbs, D. D., ‘Floyer, Sir John (1649-1734)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sep 2004, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9118> [accessed 2 December 2019]
‘Lichfield: Public services’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade (London, 1990), pp. 95-109. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/pp95-109 [accessed 15 November 2019]