"Comedy always works best when it is mean-spirited" - John Cleese

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Blighty's Believe It or Not - Part 1 of 5

New Five Part Series on Merrie Olde England
Blighty's history reporter, Morris Bell, has dug up some fascinating facts about the Elizabethans this week. In a new five part series Blighty's Blog will present a vignette of life in Merrie England half a millenium ago.

Legends of Old England - Part One: Bathing

When I was a wee little lad Sunday night was bath night. For the rest of the week we would wash our hands and faces, but on a Sunday evening we would take a bath.

Right after lunch on a Sunday afternoon, father would switch on the "immersion" (for non-Brit readers that means turning on the electric heater in the hot water tank). By the evening the hot water tank was full of piping hot water - enough for the whole family to enjoy our weekly trip to the tub.

Smellie Olde England

But that was a luxury compared to life in England in Elizabethan times. Back in Smellie Olde England bathing was a very rare practice indeed. Folks just didn't see the need for it. They didn't have running water anyway so getting twenty gallons of hot water prepared involved boiling a cauldron over an open fire for hours.

Obviously this was something that couldn't be done in winter. Without the benefit of a warm home, nobody wanted to strip down to the buff for a bath. And, since winters in England can be very severe, with temperatures sometimes falling below freezing (editor's note: We thought Morris was being a little sarcastic in that last sentence, but we'll let it go this time) it would have been difficult to get the water hot enough with an outdoor fire.

Naked Young Maidens

So, bath time was the Merrie Month of May. Fair maidens would emerge from the family tub fresh and clean and ready to be wed. Most weddings were held in June when the lovely young damsels were still fairly neutral to the nostrils.

But, to make sure that their natural bodily processes did not offend the noses of their grooms, they would carry a bouquet of flowers to their nuptials. The practice of carrying a bouquet at a wedding continues to this day. Now you know why.

Don't Throw the Baby ...
Incidentally, the man of the household would be the first to use the Elizabethan tub, followed by his wife, then the children and finally the babies. By the end of the day the water would be so dirty you could lose somebody in it. So now you also know the origin of the expression "don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

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