I’m about to get on a plane, so naturally my thoughts turn to bathrooms. The bathroom is one of my main concerns when booking a place to stay. I’ll be in Scandinavia, a part of the world I’ve never visited. While I wonder what my luck will be on bathrooms, I’m looking at pictures of bathrooms in the stately homes of Great Britain.
I like a nice hot bath after a long day tramping a city or country lanes. But the owners of Erddig in Wales were proud to own one of the first showers, a newfangled and somewhat alarming contraption in the late eighteenth century.
They commissioned an artist to depict family members lining up for showers, and looking none too happy about it. Why the dunce caps?
At Plas Newydd, a palatial country home on the water in Wales, the Earl enjoyed his leisurely baths with his valet in close attendance. His bathtub had a handy window to the hallway, so the valet could hand him a fresh drink every now and then.
But at some point, the plumbing failed, as the rubber ducky warns visitors. (Once when I was a houseguest, I got up early to use a bathroom off the host’s kitchen, thinking I wouldn’t wake anyone. It turned out that the tap should have had a warning. It had not been used in years, and I caused a flood).
Still, I’m not alone in wanting my hot bath. When Lord Curzon took over Montacute, a grand Elizabethan house in the early 1900s, he appreciated the ancient architecture.
But he found a way to shoehorn a secret bathtub behind the priceless old panelled bedroom wall. (His mistress, the beautiful and accomplished novelist Elinor Glyn, was happily decorating and refurbishing the house when she received word that Lord Curzon was engaged to Grace Hinds, an equally beautiful but also very rich American. She packed up and left in a hurry, but I like to think she enjoyed one last bath).
I think the ultimate in luxury would be a hand-drawn bath in front of the fire, like the one at Standen, an Arts and Crafts mansion built in the late 1800s as a family retreat for a wealthy businessman. Life for the servants who had to haul the water was not so pleasant, of course. In this house, a maid left a recorded account of the day she finally was allowed “upstairs.” It was the day the house was opened to the public by the National Trust. She had toiled “below stairs” in the scullery for her entire working life, not even allowed to haul water upstairs.
I hope this hard-working scullery maid at least had a foot bath for her aching feet, like this one below stairs at Wimpole.
As for me, I’m hoping for the best when I check in on my travels!