Let’s start with a Bath
One of the most famous spas in Britain is, of course, Bath itself. Legend has it that Bath was founded around 860 BC when the father of the infamous King Lear, Prince Bladud, caught leprosy. He was banished from the court and forced to work as a pig-keeper whereupon he noticed that his pigs wallowed around in mud and cured themselves of a skin infection of their own. After bathing in mud and becoming cured, Bladud went on to found the city of Bath.
The Roman influence
When the Romans arrived in England, they brought their love of baths and bathing with them. As in Rome, not everyone could afford to have a private bath so public ones were set up as a place where you could go and catch up on news and meet up with your friends. The Romans developed Bath and it became a major city under their rule, they also built a temple there dedicated to the goddess Minerva and Sul (a Celtic god).
The Middle Ages
Although the British understood and appreciated the curative powers of the spa, after the Romans left, we began to lead a rather more unsanitary existence. It’s thought that this is because Roman traditions were considered lavish and luxurious and were frowned upon later, especially during the comparatively puritanical rise of Christianity.
It was a lack of sanitation that made a deadly impact when, in the 1300’s, almost a third of the UK population was wiped out by the plague. After this devastating blow to society, bathing and cleanliness became a great deal more accepted.
Cleanliness next to godliness
A complete turnaround in attitudes towards bathing was enjoyed by the Georgians who really relished the spa and believed more than anything the curative powers of cleanliness and hygiene. However, it would be another century or so before Britain truly developed the levels of sanitation we enjoy today.