Friday, 17 August 2012

Syphilis, Bathing, and Dentures. You Know It Makes Sense.

We have written before about Lucy Worsley, a British curator and historian, and her bathroom-related tv programme. Recently we happened, for reasons perhaps best left undisclosed, to be doing some research on syphilis, and found some rather fascinating information on this topic by the same Lucy Worsley. We believe we may also have mentioned the decline of bathing in post-medieval Europe on a previous occasion. Or perhaps not. Either way, here's what Worsley has to say on the subject:
"People often use the word 'medieval' to mean something horrible and dirty, but those at the top of medieval society actually kept their bodies very clean. Medieval London contained numerous communal, mixed-sex bathhouses, with single tubs and communal tubs, steam baths and herbal potions. You could spend the whole day and even have a meal, like a modern spa.
Around 1500, though, bathing entered upon two hundred years - the 'dirty centuries' - of decline and neglect. This was partly because many bathhouses had become brothels, and partly because of fears that water spread illness, especially the new and frightening Tudor affliction of syphilis. People were concerned that polluted bath water might penetrate their skin."
(From the BBC website)

Water and syphilis: a dangerous combination. Image from CBC

Worsley further says, of doing an experiment involving a week of Tudor hygiene:
"Denied the use of my bathroom, I ended up washing my face in the kitchen, and I discovered just how people managed without baths. It was actually very convenient, being able to wash in any room of the house, and I can see the advantage of having your maid bring an empty chamberpot to your bedroom and to take it away when full. Why would you want to walk to the loo when the loo could come to you? No one would see you en route to the bathroom, and you’d never have to queue. I began to appreciate why, even though Queen Elizabeth I had a flushing toilet (the technology was known) it didn’t catch on until the nineteenth century."
(From the Lucy Worsley blog.)
 Well, quite. Believe us, if we could persuade someone to empty chamber pots for us, we'd get one before you could say "empty your own goddamn chamber pot"!

We can't get enough of these little critters, from Giant Microbes!

The thrills don't end there: we even found a not-as-spurious-as-you'd-think connection between dental hygiene and our favourite disease, syphilis! Read all about it on Lucy Worsley's blog.

If you find yourself craving more information on the fascinating topic of syphilis, you can get some at this fun and informative website, called Disease of the Week!

Related reading
The History of Plumbing in the British Isles
The Post in Which We Finally Manage to Combine Our Two Favourite Topics Ever, Toilets and Syphilis!

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