Cleaning in Roman Britain – What have the Romans ever done for us?
In the classic film Life of Brian, John Cleese posed the question to his colleagues “What have the Romans ever done for us?
Well apart from introducing:
Aqueducts, Sanitation, Roads, Irrigation, Medicine, Public Baths, Education, Freshwater System, Wine, Safety and Peace.
Not a lot really!
When the Romans invaded our shores in AD43 they really changed just about everything, because they were not impressed with how the British people lived at all. They must have thought the Brits were an uncouth, smelly and uncivilized ragtag race that really needed sorting out.
For starters the Romans built an excellent network of straight paved roads across the country, built brick and stone buildings and taught the British how to speak the Roman language – Latin. Much of the English language today is based on Latin. Britannia itself is a Latin name.
In terms of Architecture, many of our towns and cities in Britain today, imitate the buildings of the Roman world. For example the world’s largest Indian restaurant (Akash) in Cleckheaton near Bradford has a very impressive Roman front with large fluted columns, however the staff in this excellent Indian eatery, do not wear togas.
BATHING & CLEANING
In terms of bathing and cleaning, the Romans really earned their laurels. They believed that good health came from bathing, eating, massages and exercise. Many Roman Citizens would bathe frequently during the week.
The Romans saw bathing as a social activity as well as a way of keeping clean. Whilst the wealthiest of Romans would have their own bathing facilities in their villas, most Romans would prefer to bathe in a communal setting where business deals were often sealed. How civilized is that? – imagine doing all your business deals whilst sweating your socks off in a hot steamy room or Calarium.
Areas in Britain which had natural hot springs became ideally suited for baths such as the town of Buxton in Derbyshire (also known for excellent bottled water) and the city of Bath in Somerset.
Other communal baths were reliant on water, which was transported by pipes or by an aqueduct. The ingenious Romans then developed the forerunner to our central heating system or Hypocaust system which was used effectively in their villas.
How convenient it was in those days, when wealthy Romans would conveniently use the human energy of slaves to power their central heating, as opposed to using natural gas to switch on our boilers in our double glazed homes today.
Larger Roman baths were called Thermae. An ingenious idea that could perhaps be viewed as the model for the modern day version of Centre Parcs with thousands of bathers – although in Roman times, the bathers would be mostly male.
CLEANING WITH STRIGILS
In Ancient Roman and Greek cultures, the strigil was used for cleansing the body by scraping off dirt, perspiration and oil that was applied before bathing. Sounds a bit painful to me. However these handy metal objects were also extensively used by male athletes. The standard design was a curved metal blade and they were often found in tombs with a bottle of oil.
Other so called cleaning procedures in Roman times, such as using urine to loosen dirt from clothes (before it was washed) have not survived the modern way of cleaning today – unless of course you are Bear Grylls.
VISITING A ROMAN BATH
In Roman times the communal Roman bath would be arranged as follows.
- Changing Room – place to undress clothes with some slaves to assist
- Tepidarium (warm room) place to relax and unwind
- Calarium (hot steamy room) – place for body to sweat
In this area, slaves would rub perfumed oil over the body of their master, then scrape off with a Strigil
- Frigidarium – cold bath to swim in
Many modern spas throughout the world are based on this model, including the beautiful baths in Bath itself.
So next time you have a hot bath, and contemplate the hot soapy suds near your toes, just ponder – if the Romans hadn’t invaded our shores, us Brits wouldn’t be as clean as we are today.
Two Yorkshire-based commercial cleaning franchise owners are taking part in their second Longest Day Golf Challenge, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.
Adam Marcham and Clive Jones of ServiceMaster Clean Contract Services Huddersfield and Bradford, respectively, will take part in the challenge at Meltham Golf Club, which is situated against the Pennine Hills, near to Huddersfield on June 22nd and are aiming to raise over £500 in the process. During the feat, the duo will complete 72 holes, walking over 24 miles, taking more than 600 shots between them.
Adam Marcham, general manager, ServiceMaster Clean Contract Services Huddersfield, said: “This is the second time we’ve taken part in this challenge and whilst it’s hard work, it’s all for a great cause. We’re hoping to raise over £500 for Macmillan Cancer Support and taking donations on our Just Giving page.”
Clive Jones, director, ServiceMaster Clean Contract Services Bradford, added: “We’ve been practicing our games in preparation; our clubs are ready, golf balls are stocked up and we’re raring to go. It’s just the impact on the ol’ knees that you can’t prepare for!”
Adam and Clive are raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support via their Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/servicemasteryorkshire.
On a wet Sunday afternoon recently, my daughter suggested our family should watch a DVD of the film The Young Victoria. As usual, I had no say in the matter, because I would normally like watching sport, and I thought I was going to be bored stiff for two hours. Despite my early trepidation I actually enjoyed watching the film, because it completely changed my perception of Queen Victoria. My previous view of this long lived monarch was of a small, feisty and bossy person, who didn’t smile a lot and liked to dress in black clothes. In contrast to my early opinion, the film The Young Victoria successfully dispelled the myth of her being a sombre Queen, but in a fact convinced me she was a confident and strong willed person with a warm heart. I also found out during my research that she never actually said “We Are Not Amused”. Her enduring romance with the young Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was very enchanting. After their marriage in 1840 they were truly devoted to each other, until Albert’s untimely death in 1861. After this, Queen Victoria was grief stricken for many years.
Queen Victoria was queen of Great Britain for 63 years – to date, the second longest than any other British monarch (Queen Elizabeth II is currently the longest) Victoria’s reign saw great cultural expansion; advances in industry, science and communications; and the buildings of railways and the London Underground. She died in England in 1901.
In terms of cleaning and sanitation, the Victorian period underwent fundamental change, particularly with the expansion of industry and the growth of cities.
CREATING A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT IN THE WORPLACE AND HOME
The Industrial Revolution in the Victorian saw rapid change, whereby Britain became an economic powerhouse. Some enlightened industrialists realised they would get better productivity from their workers if they created a clean and safer workplace and a decent place to live.
One notable example was the creation of Bournville by members of the Cadbury family in Birmingham in the latter part of the 19th century They were successful in creating a model village, whereby the factory workers could live in well built houses and charge a low rent.
Another fine example was the creation of Salts Mill and the adjoining Saltaire village (near Bradford) developed by the Sir Titus Salt in 1853. The village of Saltaire still exists today, and is now recognised by UNESCO for its cultural heritage.
VICTORIAN VALUES – GOOD CLEANING LIVING
Self-improvement, hard work and progress were of paramount importance to Victorian Britain. Due to the growth of the middle class and increasing wealth through industry, social values changed considerably. Home, hearth and family life became central to well-being, while there was a great desire to raise living standards. The Victorian household was a place where the family would congregate around the piano and sing songs. Domesticity was a virtue encouraged in all women and a middle class wife absorbed herself in home- making or genteel pursuits such as needlework and reading. The rise of the middle class meant domestic servants (mostly women) would do the bulk of household chores including cooking the family meal or cleaning.
Personally speaking I am not sure my own family could hack the Victorian lifestyle, although to be perfectly honest it would probably do them no harm at all, and detox themselves from social media – imagine that!
HOW TO KEEP CLEAN THE VICTORIAN WAY – THE STAND UP WASH
We all love to have a quick shower in the morning. A quick nip and out of the shower cubicle, followed by a drying off with a towel and Bob’s your uncle – a nifty way of keeping clean and energy efficient as well.
In much of the 19th century, personal cleaning was very eco-friendly. This included the Victorian period, whereby personal hygiene was highly valued. The Stand Up Wash was commonly used by rich and poor alike, whether with hot or cold water.
ITEMS USED FOR STAND UP WASH
- JUG OF HOT WATER (COLD WATER OPTIONAL)
METHOD OF STAND UP WASH
- Pour small amount of water into the bowl.
- Dip the flannel into the water then wring out.
- Apply soap and scrub the body – one section at a time.
- Scrub, rinse and dry each part of the body before moving to the next.
- Dispose the dirty water in the pail.
This method of self-cleaning allowed a person to remain almost fully dressed whilst washing because each area of the body was undressed, washed and re-dressed before the next was exposed. Cleaning with style and such decorum!
PERSONAL CLEANING PRODUCTS
In the Victorian era, personal hygiene underwent a quiet revolution. Louis Pasteur in 1860 demonstrated at the start of 1860’s that decay was caused living organisms present in the air, so if germs were everywhere, then cleaning became more important than ever. A clean body neither generated bad airs nor harboured germs.
Carbolic acid remained one of the most popular disinfectants. Sold in liquid and powdered form at pharmacist’s shops, but also pre-mixed with soap , it offered a way of cleaning that went beyond looking and smelling pleasant. It’s own distinctive smell, came to mean ‘clean’ in the new, sterile sense of the world. A personal maid who smelt of carbolic soap came to be one who could be trusted and were more employable. Today, a similar product would be Coal Tar soap, manufactured by Wright’s. The active ingredient would be tea-tree oil.
More to follow soon.