London history over 2000 years

London history over 2000 years

Chapter 10. The Cold Bath. - John Ashton 1888

This London history site is a wiki of early London streets.

Coldbath Fields were, a hundred and twenty years ago, fairly rural, for (although it certainly is recorded as an abnormal occurrence) we find, in the _Daily Courant_, November 12, 1765, "Friday afternoon, about two o'clock, a hare crossed the New Road, near Dobney's Bowling green, ran to the New River Head, and from thence to Coldbath Fields, where, in some turning among the different avenues, she was lost. She appeared to have been hard run, by her dirty and shabby coat."

These fields took their name from a spring (part of the River of Wells) which had its source there. A Mr. Walter Baynes of the Temple, who was, for his day, far-seeing, and made the most of the "town lots" which were in the market, bought this plot of land, and at once utilized it to his profit. It was of some note, as we read in a book published in Queen Anne's reign, "A New View of London," 1708, vol. ii. p. 785. "Cold Bath. The most noted and first[47] about _London_ was that near _Sir John Oldcastle's_, where, in the Year 1697, Mr. _Bains_ undertook and yet manages this business of Cold Bathing, which they say is good against Rheumatisms, Convulsions of the Nerves, &c., but of that, those that have made the Experiments are the best judges. The Rates are 2s. 6d. if the Chair is used,[48] and 2s. without it. Hours are from five in the morning to one, afternoon."

We learn two things from this--the pristine existence of "tub," and the fact that it was purely matutinal. Nay, from the same book we learn more, for, under the heading of "Southwark Cold Bath," we find that the "utmost time to be in, three minutes." At this latter places were "ex votos," so frequently seen at shrines on the Continent. "Here are eleven Crutches, which they say, were those of persons cured by this Water." Bathing was a luxury then--water was bought by the pailful, and a warm bath at the _Hummums_ cost 5s., equal to between 10s. and 15s. of our money.

Walter Baynes, Esq., of the Middle Temple, seems to have been a pushing man of business, and willing to make the most of his property. He traded on the uncleanliness of the times, when baths were mostly used in case of illness, and daily ablution of the whole body was unknown. Ladies were quite content to dab their faces with some "fucus" or face wash, or else smear them with a greasy larded rag. The shock of a veritable cold bath from a spring, must have astonished most of those who endured it, and no doubt invested it with a mysterious merit which it did not possess, otherwise than by cleansing the skin, both by the washing, and the subsequent rubbing dry.

 

SOUTH VIEW OF THE COLD BATHS

[Illustration: SOUTH VIEW OF THE COLD BATHS.]

However, we find Mr. Baynes advertising in the _Post Boy_, March 28, 1700, the curative effects of his wonderful spring. "This is to give notice that the Cold Baths in Sir John Oldcastle's field near the north end of Gray's Inn Lane, London, in all seasons of the year, especially in the spring and summer, has been found, by experience, to be the best remedy in these following distempers, viz., Dizziness, Drowsiness, and heavyness of the head, Lethargies, Palsies, Convulsions, all Hectical creeping Fevers, heats and flushings. Inflammations and ebullitions of the blood, and spirits, all vapours, and disorders of the spleen and womb, also stiffness of the limbs, and Rheumatick pains, also shortness of the breath, weakness of the joints, as Rickets, &c., sore eyes, redness of the face, and all impurities of the skin, also deafness, ruptures, dropsies, and jaundice. It both prevents and cures colds, creates appetite, and helps digestion, and makes hardy the tenderest constitution. The coach way is by Hockley in the Hole."

Of course, viewed by the light of modern medical science, Mr. Baynes was a charlatan, and a quack, but he acted, doubtless, according to his lights, in those days; and, if a few were killed, it is probable that many more were benefited by being washed.

Sir Richard Steele, writing in 1715, says thus:

"ON THE COLD BATH AT OLDCASTLE'S."

"Hail, sacred Spring! Thou ever-living Stream, Ears to the Deaf, Supporters to the Lame, Where fair Hygienia ev'ry morn attends, And with kind Waves, her gentle Succour lends. While in the Cristal Fountain we behold The trembling Limbs, Enervate, Pale and Cold; A Rosy Hue she on the face bestows, And Nature in the chilling fluid glows,

The Eyes shoot Fire, first kindled in the Brain, As beds of Lime smoke after showers of Rain; The fiery Particles concentred there, Break ope' their Prison Doors and range in Air; Hail then thou pow'rful Goddess that presides O'er these cold Baths as Neptune o'er his Tides, Receive what Tribute a pure Muse can pay For Health that makes the Senses Brisk and Gay, The fairest Offspring of the heavenly Ray."

At one time there was a famous house of refreshment and recreation, either called the Cobham's Head, or the Sir John Oldcastle--or there were one of each. Authorities differ, and, although I have spent some time and trouble in trying to reconcile so-called facts, I have come to the conclusion that, for my reader's sake, _le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle_. There is a tradition that Sir John Oldcastle who was a famous Lollard in the time of Henry V., either had an estate here, or hid in a house of entertainment there, during his persecution for faith. But the whole is hazy.

We know that there was a Sir John Oldcastle, who was born in the fourteenth century, and who was the fourth husband of Joan, Lady Cobham, in whose right he took the title of Lord Cobham. We know also, that he enjoyed the friendship of Henry V., and was of his household. But he got imbued with the doctrines of Wyclif, was cited to appear, more than once, before the ecclesiastical authorities, declined the invitations, and was duly excommunicated. He wrangled with the priests, got committed to the Tower, escaped and hid in Wales, was accused of heading a trumpery insurrection, and was, finally, captured, tried, and hanged in chains alive, upon a gallows in St. Giles' Fields, when, fire being put under him, he was slowly roasted to death in December, 1417. A pious nobleman, like the late Lord Shaftesbury, for instance, was not popular at that time, if we may believe a few lines from "Wright's Political Songs from Edward II. to Henry VI."

"Hit is unkindly for a Knight That shuld a kynges castel kepe, To bable the Bible day and night, In restyng time when he shuld slepe, And carefoly away to crepe; For alle the chefe of chivalrie, Wel ought hym to wail and wepe, That swyche[49] lust is in Lollardie."

The English were always famous bowmen, and archery--although gunpowder has long superseded bows and arrows in warfare--still is a favourite and fashionable pastime, witness the Toxopholite Society in Regent's Park, and the various Archery associations throughout the kingdom; so that it is not remarkable that an open space like Coldbath Fields should vie with the Artillery ground at Finsbury, in favour with the citizens, as a place for this sport; and we find, in Queen Anne's reign, that the _Sir John Oldcastle_ was frequented by Archers. And for this information we may thank that old sinner, John Bagford (who spoilt so many books for the sake of their title-pages) for preserving. It tells its own story:--[50]

"All gentlemen of the ancient and noble exercise of Archery, are invited to the annual dinner of the Clerkenwell Archers, Mrs. Mary Barton's, at the sign of Sir John Oldcastle (Cold Bath Fields) on Friday, July 18, 1707, at one o'clock, and to pay the bearer, Thomas Beaumont, Marshall, 2s. 6d., taking a sealed ticket, that a certain number may be known, and provision made accordingly. Nath. Axtall, Esq., and Edward Bromwich, Gent., Stewards."

There were very pleasant gardens attached to this tavern, and, like all the suburban places of recreation, they were well patronized, and they gave a very decent amusement in the shape of music--instrumental and vocal--and, occasionally, fireworks. But there seems to have been the same difficulty then, as now, as to keeping outdoor amusements, if not select, at least decorous, for, acccording to the _Daily Advertisement_ of June 3, 1745, "Sir John Oldcastle's Gardens, Cold Bath Fields. This evening's entertainment will continue the Summer Season. The Band consists of the best masters. Sixpence for admission, for which they have a ticket, which ticket will be taken as sixpence in their reckoning. Particular care will be taken that the provisions shall be the very best in their separate kinds; likewise to keep a just decorum in the gardens. Note.--Several ladies and gentlemen that come to the gardens give the drawers their tickets, which is no benefit to the proprietor; therefore it's humbly desired that if any gentlemen or ladies don't chuse to have the value of their tickets in liquor, or eating, they will be so kind as to leave them at the bar."

THE SMALLPOX HOSPITAL IN COLD BATH FIELDS

[Illustration: THE SMALLPOX HOSPITAL IN COLD BATH FIELDS.]

As a place of amusement, it seems, even in 1745, to have been on the wane. In 1758 the Smallpox Hospital was built close to it, and in 1761 the Sir John Oldcastle was bought by the trustees of the hospital, in order to enlarge it, and was pulled down in 1762. Noorthouck ("New History of London," ed. 1763, p. 752), speaking of Cold Bath Square, in which was the famed cold bath, says, "The North side of this square is, as yet, open to the fields, but a little to the east stands the Small Pox Hospital for receiving patients who catch the disease in the natural way; and is a very plain, neat structure. The Center, which projects a little from the rest of the building, is terminated on the top by an angular pediment, on the apex of which is placed a vase upon a small pedestal. This excellent charity was instituted in the year 1746, and is supported by a subscription of noblemen, gentlemen, and ladies, who were desirous that a charity useful in itself, and so beneficial to the public, might be begun near this great metropolis, there not being any hospital of the kind in Europe. A neat hospital for inoculating this disorder has been lately built clear of the town on the north side of the New Road."[51]

In 1791 this hospital wanted extensive repairs, which would need an outlay of about L800; and the trustees, not willing to incur this expense, built another on the site of the Inoculating Hospital at Islington; and thither, when it was finished, all the patients were removed from Cold Bath Fields. But their new home was wanted for the Great Northern Railway, and another place was built, and still is, on Highgate Hill. The old building in Cold Bath Fields was first of all used as a distillery, and afterwards subdivided.

Quoting again from Noorthouck: "Eastward from the Small Pox Hospital, on the south side of the Spawfield, is an humble imitation of the Pantheon in Oxford Road; calculated for the amusement of a suitable class of company; here apprentices, journeymen, and clerks dressed to ridiculous extremes, entertain their ladies on Sundays; and to the utmost of their power, if not beyond their proper power, affect the dissipated manners of their superiors. Bagnigge Wells and the White Conduit House, two other receptacles of the same kind, with gardens laid out in miniature taste, are to be found within the compass of two or three fields, together with Sadler's Wells, a small theatre for the summer exhibition of tumbling, rope-dancing, and other drolls, in vulgar stile. The tendency of these cheap, enticing places of pleasure just at the skirts of this vast town is too obvious to need further explanation; they swarm with loose women, and with boys, whose morals are thus depraved, and their constitution ruined, before they arrive at manhood; indeed, the licentious resort to the tea-drinking gardens was carried to such excess every night, that the magistrates lately thought proper to suppress the organs in their public rooms."

There is no doubt but that some of these tea-gardens needed reform; so much so, that the grand jury of Middlesex, in May, 1744, made a presentment of several places which, in their opinion, were not conducive to the public morality; and these were two gaming-houses near Covent Garden, kept by the ladies Mordington and Castle; _Sadler's Wells near the New River head_, the New Wells in Goodman's Fields, the New Wells near the London Spaw in Clerkenwell; and a place called Hallam's Theatre in Mayfair.

A possibly fair account of these gardens is found in the _St. James's Chronicle_, May 14-16, 1772:

"To the Printer of the S. J. CHRONICLE.

"SIR,--Happening to dine last Sunday with a Friend in the City, after coming from Church, the Weather being very inviting, we took a walk as far as Islington. In our Return home towards Cold Bath Fields, we stepped in, out of mere Curiosity, to view the Pantheon there; but such a Scene of Disorder, Riot, and Confusion presented itself to me on my Entrance, that I was just turning on my Heel, in order to quit it, when my friend observing to me that we might as well have something for our Money (for the Doorkeeper obliged each of us to deposit a _Tester_ before he granted us Admittance), I acquiesced in his Proposal, and became one of the giddy Multitude. I soon, however, repented of my Choice; for, besides having our Sides almost squeezed together, we were in Danger every Minute of being scalded by the Boiling Water, which the officious Mercuries[52] were circulating with the utmost Expedition thro' their respective Districts: We began therefore to look out for some Place to sit down in, which, with the greatest Difficulty, we at length procured, and, producing our Tickets, were served with Twelve pennyworth of Punch. Being seated towards the Front of one of the Galleries, I had now a better Opportunity of viewing this dissipated Scene. The Male Part of the Company seemed to consist chiefly of City Apprentices, and the lower Class of Tradesmen. The Ladies, who constituted by far the greater Part of the Assembly, seemed, most of them, to be Pupils of the Cyprian Goddess, and appeared to be thoroughly acquainted with their Profession, the different Arts and Manoeuvres of which they played off with great Freedom, and I doubt not with equal Success. Whatever Quarter I turned my Eyes to, I was sure to be saluted with a Nod, a Wink, or a Smile; and was even sometimes accosted with, 'Pray, Sir, will you treat me with a Dish of Tea?'... A Bill, I think, was in Agitation this Session of Parliament for enforcing the Laws already made for the better Observance of Sunday. Nothing, in my Opinion, tends more to its Profanation, among the lower Class of People, than the great Number of Tea Houses, in the Environs of London; the most exceptionable of which that I have had Occasion to be in, is the _Pantheon_. I could wish them either totally suppressed or else laid under some Restrictions, particularly on the Sabbath Day.

"I am,

"Sir,

"Your Constant Reader,

"and occasional Correspondent,

"_Chiswick_, May 5. SPECULATOR."

This PANTHEON was a large circular building surmounted by a statue of Fame. It was well warmed by a stove in its centre, and the grounds were prettily laid out. There were the usual walks, flower-beds, and pond, in the centre of which was a statue of Hercules, and, of course, the usual out-of-door refreshment boxes, or arbours. But it is just possible that it was owing to its somewhat disreputable conduct that the landlord became bankrupt in 1774, and the Pantheon was offered for sale. It was closed as a place of amusement in 1776, and the famous Countess of Huntingdon had some idea of utilizing it for the propagation of her peculiar religious views. However, the sum necessary for alterations, proved too much for her ladyship, yet by a strange mutation of fortune, somewhat akin to what we have seen in our time, in the Grecian Theatre in the City Road, being taken by the Salvation Army, the Pantheon was turned into a Proprietary Chapel, called Northampton Chapel, which was served by clergymen of the Church of England of strictly Evangelical principles, and it filled so well, that the incumbent of the parish church asserted his right to preach there whenever he liked, and also to nominate its chaplains. This the proprietors did not quite see, and they closed the chapel. Then Lady Huntingdon bought it, and, henceforth, it was called Spa Fields Chapel.

The illustration[53] is taken from the _New Spiritual Magazine_, and I do not think that an uglier building could be produced. Probably the statue of Fame was obliged to be removed, but the ventilator in its place was certainly not an improvement. However, it is now pulled down; but, before its demolition, it had to pass through the ordeal of more proceedings at law. As long as the chapel was served by clergy, nominally belonging to the Church of England, so long did the incumbent of St. James's, Clerkenwell, assert his right to the patronage of it. The Countess relied on her privilege as a peeress, to appoint her own Chaplain, but this was overridden by competent legal opinion, and nothing was left but for the officiating clergy to secede from the Church of England, and take the oath of allegiance as Dissenting Ministers. This the Countess did not relish; she would fain be in the fold, and yet not of the fold, as do many others of this age, but she had to eat the leek. She had the proud privilege of founding a religious sect, and she left the bulk of her large property, after very generous legacies, to the support of sixty-four chapels which she had established throughout the kingdom. She died at her house in Spa Fields, and was buried at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, in Leicestershire, "dressed in the suit of white silk which she wore at the opening of a chapel in Goodman's Fields."

VIEW OF NORTHAMPTON OR SPA FIELDS CHAPEL, WITH THE COUNTESS OF HUNTINGDON'S HOUSE ADJOINING

[Illustration: VIEW OF NORTHAMPTON OR SPA FIELDS CHAPEL, WITH THE COUNTESS OF HUNTINGDON'S HOUSE ADJOINING.]

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