Prior to, and on into the Regency, the idea of bathing was connected to its medicinal value. It was particularly valued for the salutary effect it had on one’s health, and not for the sensibilities of one’s neighbors. By the eighteenth century, cold bathing had become quite the vogue.
“Mr. Porter, who is an apothecary, was talking of the cold bath and the service it had done him by making him of a more strong firm constitution than before. He says it is extremely good against the headache, strengthens and enlivens the body, is good against the vapours and impotence, and that the pain is little. I have almost determined to go in them myself.”
–Dudley Ryder, London attorney, 1715
And much cheaper than Viagra!
A large country house like my character’s estate would not have been complete without an open air cold bath. I modelled the cold bath at Northam Park after the one at Wynnstay in Denbighshire, pictured above. A extended discussion of this building’s historical value is here.
Capability Brown included one in his landscape design for the Earl of Northam, commissioning the architect James Wyatt (1746 – 1813). Wyatt was already a rival to Robert Adam by this time and had not yet entered his Gothic period. He designed a classical pavilion for Northam Park’s gardens, distinguishing it with a portico echoing that of the great house itself, and supported by ornate Corinthian columns. It overlooked a rectangular pit lined with stone. The cold bath was large enough for swimming, nevertheless the temperature discouraged extended sojourns in its icy waters. Afterwards, one could retire to the pavilion and change. To enhance one’s feeling of accomplishment, refreshments would be served. Just the thing for warming up.
The Countess of Northam, the main character in Notorious Match, would entertain guests to her estate with at least one trip to the bath house. It was something of an outing. Both sexes would bathe together, appropriately attired of course.
More examples of cold baths built and used during the Georgian and Regency periods are to be found here along with some very pretty photos of examples made out of grottos and gothic pavilions.
The various baths pictured in Jane Austen’s World are instructional, saving the naughty bits.