Lucy Worsley

New release: Henrician hygiene

By day five without shampoo, I didn’t dare take off my hat for fear of frightening children with horrible hair. Despite its awfulness, my itchy week on a Tudor personal hygiene regime was as good an argument as any for experimental archaeology, or ‘trying things out’. It was all part of the research for my book If Walls Could Talk, published tomorrow by Faber & Faber.
I wanted to know how the Tudors managed before the invention of the bathroom, why they knew about but ignored the flushing toilet, and why they were afraid of bathing.  My week taught me lots of things:
1. If you don’t have to use the washbasin, you don’t have to queue for the bathroom: big advantage.
2. Ideally, your maid brings a basin of hot water to your bedroom, and takes away the full chamber pot.
3. If you don’t have a maid, it’s simplest to wash your face in the kitchen.  
The history of the bathroom is full of diverting twists. The Tudors, for example, feared syphilis so much, as well as wrongly believing that water could penetrate their bodies through their pores, that they bathed much less than the rich medieval Londoners who thronged into the steamy bath-houses of Southwark.  (Even monks were at it, though without the pleasurable steam: Aldred, chronicler of Fountains Abbey, found it helpful to sit in cold water up to his neck when plagued by ‘worldly thoughts’.)
I also carried out hands-on research in investigating the other rooms of the house: sleeping in a Tudor bed, blackening a Victorian kitchen range, using an original 1950s Kenwood chef, and coaxing a little dog named Coco onto a treadmill to turn a Georgian dog-wheel spit-jack to roast a leg of mutton. Every bit of historic domestic life I recreated taught me something new about homes in the past.

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