Wild Swimming

RiverChristina here. There’s a lot of talk about wild swimming these days. It seems to be a recent concept, even though the practice is as old as time. The term just means swimming outside in a body of natural water – lakes, rivers, waterfalls or the sea. The main thing is that it isn’t man-made. The phenomenon is increasingly being romanticised (at least here in the UK) as it becomes more popular, with lots of people extolling the virtues of going back to natural bathing in this way. Perhaps because we were all shut in for so long during the pandemic, the freedom of swimming outdoors seems extra special. And I agree – it is!

Lake oneI’ve long been a huge fan of freshwater bathing in particular – I much prefer it to the briny sea, although I’ll happily swim anywhere. Unlike the ocean, though, the water in lakes and rivers isn’t salty so you end up feeling really clean and refreshed. There is no need for a shower afterwards and even your hair will be extra soft.

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The Order of the Bath Tub

Slipper bathNicola here and today I’m wallowing in the bath. Or I would be if it weren’t such an un-eco-friendly thing to do these days. Before I sat down to write this blog, I checked out whether showering really uses less water than bathing and of course it all depends on how deep the bath or how long the shower. A bath filled about a third of the way up (which takes the water level over your belly button when you lie down) requires around 75 litres. An ordinary electrically heated shower puts out four litres per minute. So a 19-minute shower uses slightly more water than a bath. If you have a power shower, flow rates could be doubled and you’d need just 10 minutes.

In terms of health benefits there is also positive news on either side. Showers are better for getting you clean and not stripping all the natural moisture from your skin. Baths are more therapeutic to help you relax and of course you can add things to them to soak in. Which is where this all started before I digressed, because what I wanted to blog about today is things we put in the bath!

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Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair

Young Lady At Her Toilet  Combing Her Hair de Peters
















Joanna here, thinking about intimate Regency customs.
Hair washing, y'know.

There's a widely held notion that Regency folks were not scrupulously clean in their bodily habits. For instance, I hear, “They didn’t wash their hair. Not at all.
Not ever.

On the other hand, Regency folk might think we smell dreadfully of chemicals,
or we have no human smell at all,
so it may be somewhat in the way we look at things.

Moving on to the matter of hair washing.

In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, except for a decade or two after 1790, about all women wore their hair long. Those with time and inclination curled, crimped, and powdered to match their highly decorated clothing as they went about town. The great fashionables showed up at grand balls or receptions in confections that towered a foot or more in the air, festooned with fruit, flowers, feathers and jewels.

Wenchjohn russell?1790ish

~1790s short hair

just really fancy hair

this is probably an exaggeration









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The Disappointment of Regency Towels

Wench washing basin gilroy 1810
Joanna here, talking about one of my historical disappointments.

As you're climbing out of the bathtub or stepping out of a shower, how often have you asked yourself – "What did my Regency heroine used to dry her lithe and adventurous body at a similar moment?"

It was not a length of fluffy cotton like I have here. No. Nothing like this here in my hand.

The English and French gentry did a reasonably good job of major bathing, considering they were probably plunging into lukewarm water that had been carted up from the stove in the basement kitchen to their second-floor bedroom. But no Countess or Ladyship dried off with a towel one tenth as lovely and soft as mine.

The mundane washing of hands and face in a basin was practiced all up and down the social scale first thing in the morning and before and after a meal. But that didn’t call forth the soft and fuzzy either.

Even the masters of the bath in that era the Turks didn’t fare as well as I do.

Jean-Jacques-Francois Lebarbier-A Female Turkish Bath or…1785

There's a bath towel ready over the edge of the tub

Jean-Jacques-Francois Lebarbier-A Female Turkish Bath or…1785

Jean-Jacques-Francois Lebarbier-A Female Turkish Bath or…1785

Here she is tucked up in her hammam towel

The Turks knew bathing luxury. Not for them the English noble’s portable tub in the bedroom or the common man’s rapid splash in front of the kitchen fire. For them the hammam, a communal bath house of gleaming tile and heated pools. And for them the pleasure of rising from the water to be enfolded in the latest technology of towels.

The children's bath 1495

The Children's Bath 1495, with towel and very patient woman

The Turkish bath towel of the period was huge three by five feet big enough to surround the whole body in such bath towel luxury as was available. It would have been made of linen or cotton. In the Eighteenth Century in both the Ottoman Empire and across Europe, cotton was displacing linen as the affordable luxury fabric of choice, so if we want, we can grant our characters towels of the softest, silkiest cotton.

But the towels were flat woven. Smooth cloth. No loops sucking up the excess water. No fluffiness. Even the best of Turkish bath towels of 1810 would be the texture of the tea towels you may have hanging in the kitchen

No soft, thick terrycloth for my Regency heroine.
Quel disappointment.

The towels were maybe plain white in the English bedroom. Time out of mind the Turks had decorated their bath towels with splendid embroidered designs. 

1792 drying hands

Wiping his hands on a white towel

The British, on the other hand, seem to have kept embroidery for bed linens and chair cushions. British hand towels were sometimes embroidered, but the larger bath towels seem to have been plain.

You’re asking yourself, "Why didn’t the English have lovely fluffy towels? What were they thinking?"
It’s the terrycloth technology problem.

Baigneuse aux roseax  1770 france

Bath towels before terrycloth
Degas woman with a towel 1894

Bath towels after terrycloth











Terrycloth has loops that stand up from the surface of the weave. This requires special loom techniques. (They're called Dobby looms, which strikes me as appropriate somehow.) The word terrycloth may be derived from French terre, meaning high, from the elevation of the loop above the warp and weft.

The Turks started making this looped terrycloth on hand looms sometime in the Eighteenth Century. Henry Christy observed this on a visit there in 1833 and brought the technology back to Europe. Terrycloth of silk was made in France in 1841 and the first cotton terrycloth in England soon followed. It went into mass production in 1850 and soon became cheap enough to revolutionize the comfort of washing.

Queen Victoria approved. As do I.

What do you like best about the bath? Is it towels, like me? (Mine are primary RED.) Or those bath salts that foam up? Or just very hot water.

Or are you more of a shower person?

A book of your choice from me goes to some lucky commenter.

Wonderful Wenchly Eighth Anniversary

 Joanna here, at the Great Word Wenches Eighth Blogiversary. 

 Today we're celebrating by harking back to our favorite blog posting evah!
There'll be four blog links today.  Four on Friday.

This is my own fourth Word Wenches anniversary.  I'm still the newest Wench — the baby Wench, as it were.  So proud and happy to be here.   

When I went looking fStevens the_bath mid c19or my favorite posting, I had quite a number that called to me.  I could go back to the one about women fighting with fists and swords.  Or the 'fireworks and explosives' post.  Or the one about Regency liquor.  (I sense a certain disreputable trend in my posts that had hitherto escaped my notice.)  But on the whole, I decided we'd go with a cleaner topic.  Bathing.

So here is Georgian and Regency Bathing Customs  – here.RupertBoye


Nicola says:

It’s lovely to be celebrating the 8th anniversary of the Word Wenches blog and with it our wonderful Wench readers and a huge variety of blog posts.

It was very difficult to choose a favourite from my time as a Wench and I got completely distracted reading through old posts and thinking anew about a range of fascinating topics relating to history and writing and much more besides. In the end, like Andrea, I chose one of my first posts as a wench, One Man and his Dog.

I was so excited to be a part of the group (I still am!) and so keen to share my quirky research interests with a group of like-minded people. The blog illustrates a couple of my passions – dogs and Prince Rupert of the Rhine – and I know I am not alone in loving both of these disparate subjects! In addition, Prince Rupert is a character in my current work in progress and so there is a nice connection from one of my early Wench posts to my writing now.

So here is a link to the blog post, with thanks to my fellow wenches for being such an amazing group and to our readers for being such  fun to chat with!

Wenches sharpCara/Andrea here,

I think one of the reasons the Word Wenches have thrived for eight years in an internet landscape where sites come and go at the speed of light is because we all have wide-ranging and eclectic interests. (that’s an erudite way of saying we are quirky!) Which makes choosing a favorite from the blogs I’ve done over the years no easy task. Like a magpie, I tend to collect bright shiny tidbits of arcane information. I call it research . . . and usually the esoteric historical information I find fascinating does end up in my books. But most, I just find the stuff fun to know.

However, after going over my contributions to the blog, I’ve decided to spotlight the very first post I did for as a Word Wench. There are two reasons—firstly because I was—and still am—thrilled to be part of such an amazing group of writers. Not only do we share a passion for writing and history, but on a more personal level, we have become a close-knit, supportive group of best friends. Secondly, I’m choosing it because it Wenches gunfireillustrates the sort of offbeat historical subject that set fire to my imagination. And what makes it even more fun is that there is an audience of kindred spirits who seem to share my passion. So without further ado, here is a link to the history of gunpowder. And I’ll also add my own colorful fireworks of thanks to all you readers whose enthusiasm for our posts keeps us going!

 Sherrie drops in to say —Image001

From Sherrie Holmes and Sparky Tabasco, happy anniversary to all the Wenches for 8 wonderful years! As your  blogmistress, I've been privileged to come along for the ride from the very beginning. It's been a trip! I can remember when I was first approached by Mary Jo about researching blog venues and then becoming the blogmistress to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes. Blogging had really exploded back then, and many authors were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the blogosphere. Now, blogs are a great way for authors and readers to connect, and a side benefit has been the wonderful friendships that have been formed as a result. Here’s to another glorious 8 years!

BathingmenAnd Jo:.

I was delighted to be invited to join the Word Wenches back in 2006, and then it seemed quite an achievement to reach our anniversary in May 2007. Of course we wanted to do a group blog worthy of the milestone, so what else but Getting Naked With the Wenches? The topic was "nakedness in the past — the fiction and the non-fiction."

I pulled together the first of three posts on nakedness. In this one the Wenches discussed bathing habits — naked or not?– and even the definition of nakedness, which uncovered (sorry!) this from the OED. 1761:  "The streets were…filled with naked people, some with shirts and shifts on only, and numbers without either." There are pictures.

We also discussed nakedness in sex. No pictures in the blog, but there's a link, with appropriate warnings. Enjoy!

 Stay tuned for Friday's posting when we'll hear from Anne, Pat, Susan and Mary Jo.  On Friday we'll offer a plentitudeand a half of Wench Book Swag to lucky commenters on either of these posts.  What kind of book swag?  Let me say — ARC!  Let me say — Newly released books.  Let me say — audiobook!

 So …  What's your favorite Wench post from the eight years of Wenchdom?