A Grand Pleasure Bath

JobigblueAs you know, I'm always exploring primary sources for my period. A while ago I came across a snippet from 1766. "We are informed that a grand Pleasure-Bath is intended to be made this Summer in Richmond-Gardens, for the Reception of the Royal Family." This would be at Richmond Lodge, which George III and family used as a summer retreat.

"Although in 1761 a guidebook stated that the Lodge was ‘unsuitable to the dignity of a King of England’, part of the royal couple’s honeymoon was spent there and for seven years from 1764 Richmond was the royal family’s chief country retreat, where they would stay from June to late October." (From the web site on the Royal Collection.)

Richmond Lodge was demolished in 1772. You can see an image here. The royal family then took their summer break at Kew House, which is now called the White House or the White Lodge.

Here's a reminder that even royalty in the 18th century couldn't do anything they wanted. "…it came to Queen Caroline's daughter, Princess Amelia, in 1751. The Princess, who also became the ranger of Richmond Park, closed the entire park to the public, except to distinguished friends and those with permits, sparking public outrage. In 1758, a court case made by a local brewer against a park gatekeeper eventually overturned the Princess's order, and the park was once again opened to the public."

Even now, every now and then some rich and famous foreigner — generally American, I have to say — buys an English estate and starts to make it private, closing down public footpaths and rights of way. After all, they can't have just anybody wandering through….

Sorry, that comes with the territory. Ancient rights are ancient rights.

Perhaps a desire to scare off invaders explains why Queen Charlotte, wife of George II, apparently kept tigers at Richmond!Merlin

Another oddity from Charlotte we have her  Hermit's Grotto and Merlin's Cave, the latter created about 1735 at Richmond. It was adorned with astrological symbols, and contained wax-work figures, of which the wizard Merlin was the chief. There's more about this structure here. Both were knocked down in 1770, so there's still time to find a use for them in a Malloren book. 

But What About the Pleasure Pool?

Despite digging and trawling I've found no more information about George III's pleasure pool at Richmond, so perhaps it was never constructed. There is a great deal about another pleasure pool of the period, perhaps the inspiration for the desire — the Peerless Pool in London.

I'd heard of it, but never taken a close look, so I was surprised to find that it wasn't simply a pool enhanced to make it more pleasant for swimming, but something we would recognize today as a "swimming pool." It was large, rectangular, and with a reasonably solid bottom of gravel. It had steps to go down on, and a depth that went from four feet at the edges to five feet in the middle, with one end only three feet for the very nervous — or short, I suppose! Not for diving, you'll note.

It was created in 1743 by a Mr. Kemp transforming a piece of water called the Perilous Pool, because people regularly drowned there. I get the impression this wasn't suicidal, but from a fondness among boys and men for swimming.(That, and the praise of trees to give shade, does rather suggest hot summers, doesn't it, she mutters with a sigh.) Boys swam in the Thames, and perhaps in other rivers, but they were polluted, tidal, and in the case of the Thames busy highways. A safe place to swim, and even to learn to swim, was a big hit.

It was 170 feet long and 100 feet wide. The length is a bit more than an olympic swimming pool, which is 164 feet. There were changing facilities.

I'm a bit puzzled by this bit of a contemporary description. "On the south side is a neat arcade, under which
is a looking glass over a marble slab, and a small collection of books for the entertainment of the subscribers."(Quotations are from A new and universal history: description and survey of the cities of London and Westminister, the borough of Southwark, and their adjacent parts (Google eBook)1776)

The books I can understand, but the looking glass over a marble slab? Hanging over and simply for looking at oneself? But then why is the marble slab mentioned? On the ceiling, reflecting the marble slab? Why?

Turn a stone in the past and we find mysteries.

Another one about the Peerless Pool is this. "Here is also a cold bath, generally allowed to be the largest in England, it being 40 feet long and 20 feet broad, with flights of steps and dressing rooms at each end."

All right, am I suppose to believe that the Peerless Pool was heated?

I can't, because I've read many descriptions and none mentions it, or temperature at all — apart from those annoying references to hot sun. Perhaps the cold pool was fed directly from a spring that ran cold, or perhaps it was particularly deep, so it held the cold….

In another account I found that was basically true. The cold bath was only four feet deep, but the floor was a grid beneath which was another five feet of water, fed by a particularly cold spring. Cold bathing was considered of medical benefit. In 1811 a doctor wrote: "We have in London several handsome cold baths for medical purposes, but they are at too low a temperature for amusement or for swimming in—Such are the baths in Harley-street, in Bagnio.court, at Peerless Pool, &c. The cold bath in Harley-street is about the temperature of 54 degrees. Thecold bath at Peerless Pool is something lower,about 52 degrees, and this I believe to be the coldest in London. The warm baths are for the most part mere marble troughs—in which the bather, imprisoned, sits, or reclines; and into which he can admit by turning a stop cock, either hot or cold water, at pleasure." (From Cursory remarks on contagious diseases and on baths.)

There was also a large fish pond, well stocked, and a tree-lined walk.

A gentleman could enjoy all of this for an annual subscription of one guinea. (21 shillings, or close to a modern pound.)

Here's a description of arrival. "You enter from a bowling-green on the south side, by a neat arcade thirty feet long, furnished with a small collection of modern books for the entertainment of those subscribers
who delight in reading. Contiguous are many dressing apartments; some of which are open, and others rendered private, all paved with purbeck stone ; and on each side of the bath is a bower divided into apartments for dressing. At the other end is placed a circular bench, capable of accommodating forty gentlemen at a sitting, under the shelter of a wall. One side is inclosed by a mount i50 feet long, planted with a great variety of shrubs, and on the top is an agreeable terrace walk planted with limes. "
(From London and its environs described: Containing an account of whatever is most remarkable for grandeur, elegance, curiosity or use, in the city and in the country twenty miles round it. Comprehending also whatever is most material in the history and anitquities of this great metropolis, Volume 5 1761)

Other people have blogged about the Peerless Pool. 

Jane Austen's World.

This interesting blog relates past items with present London.

Here's another interesting side-note. In 1761 models of ships were tested at the Peerless Pool to test what made a good ship good. There were four 32-gun frigates and two 74-gun ships.

Does the nature of the Peerless Pool surprise you as much as it did me? There are so many things about London in the 18th century to be discovered in order to have a well-rounded life for our characters. So much going on.