William Quekett on baths & wash-houses for the poor

from My Sayings and Doings 
(Kegan, Paul & Trench 1888) pages 174ff

I felt from the first coming to London the need of establishing proper bathing facilities for the working people. In their own homes there was little convenience, and it was most important, for sanitary reasons, as well as for their personal comfort, that they should not neglect the necessary duty of bathing. Moreover, much discomfort was caused in the homes of the working people by the washing having to be done with cramped accommodation, and in the midst of large families of children; and the cost of washing was much in excess of what it needed to be if a large and properly-fitted establishment could be erected for the use of numbers of women washing at one time. A poor woman's washing at home occupies parts of three days; in an establishment such as I contemplated it could all be done in half a day.

I took an active part in getting the Act passed by which the ratepayers of any district might borrow upon the security of the rates sufficient sums to establish public baths and wash-houses for the labouring people. Mr. William Cotton, director of the Bank of England, took the leading part in this matter.

Very shortly after the passing of the Act, I issued the following circular to the people of St. George's-in-the-East; the result of which was ultimately the building of baths and wash-houses near that parish. The example was followed by every vestry in the Metropolis; and there are now few provincial towns which are not supplied with proper bathing and washing accommodation for their working people.

[His slogan Cogitate! Cogitate! Cogitate! on the poster depicted here had echoes of current anti-slavery rhetoric.]


To the Inhabitants of the Parish

I beg to call your attention to the Act of Parliament lately passed, for enabling parishes to establish baths and wash-houses for the use of the labouring poor and other classes.
  • The Government are authorised to advance the money at 4 per cent. interest, and to extend the loan over a period of twenty years.
  • The management to be invested in commissioners, chosen by the vestry from the ratepayers of the parish.
  • The first cheap baths and wash-houses form the poor were established at Liverpool by the Corporation, in the year 1842; there are 18 baths and 28 washtubs, which now yield a profit over the working expenses of about 3½ per cent. on the outlay of £2,300. The receipts were last year £450; the working expenses £370; profit £80. And others are now in the course of erection.
That the poor in London will take advantage of these places is sufficiently evidenced by the small establishment at Glass House Yard, near the entrance of the London Docks, where, in its first year, it was used by 27,662 bathers, 38,480 washers, and 4,522 ironers, and the working expenses less than 1½d. for each person. At George Street, Euston Square, is another establishment, opened August 3rd, 1846; it contains 60 washing tubs and 40 baths; from that day to September 27th there have been 25,357 bathers and 2,132 washers and ironers; the receipts to the present time are ample; and the number of applicants daily increasing.

There is every reason to believe that baths and wash-houses, established under the Act, with proper management, will not only afford great benefit, tending to promote the social, moral and religious improvement of the inhabitants of populous districts, but will, in a few years, yield a surplus to go in aid of the rates.

Extract from the circular, issued by the Committee for providing baths and wash-houses for the labouring classes, in Goulstone Square, Whitechapel:-
There are very few labouring men in London who can get for themselves, or their wives and children, a thorough good wash, in warm, or even in cold water, without a great deal of trouble. There are very few of them who are not obliged to have their clothes washed, and dried, and ironed in their own rooms.
'The baths and wash-houses are meant to help them in keeping themselves and their families cleaner and more comfortable than they now can be. Some large buildings are to be fitted up for this purpose. There are to be separate entrances to the men's and women's baths, and to the wash-houses, which will be under one roof.

'The baths are to be very cheap. In one building there are to be many small rooms, each of them large enough for a person to undress, and bathe, and dress in. Each of these rooms is to have in it a bath, a seat, and a looking glass. The bath is to be 6 feet long, and about 2 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. This bath is to be filled with either hot or cold water as the bather pleases. The lowest price is to be one penny if the water is cold, and twopence if it is hot. Every bather is to have about 80 gallons of clean water. As soon as the water has been used, it is to be run off into a drain, so that the same water cannot be used twice. There are to be some larger baths, where a woman may wash all her children under ten years old, and she will only have to pay one penny or twopence, as if she bathed by herself. There are to be shower baths and vapour baths, likewise very cheap. There are to be some sixpenny baths also. The difference between the two sorts is to be in the fitting up of the rooms. The bath itself is to be the same in each case. A clean towel is to be found for every bather.

'The good of these baths will be very great. A clean skin is not only very pleasant, but helps to keep people in good health. When people who work hard get a good wash all over, the comfort of it is very great indeed. They are set up again for their work in a way that surprises them if they have not been used to it. The Bishop of London said, at the public meeting at the Mansion House, last October, that when he went to see about the baths and wash-house in Liverpool he heard of a labouring man who said, when he came out of a warm bath one Saturday night, "Why, I feel as if I could do another week's work, now I have been in the bath."

'There are many diseases which are brought on by having a dirty skin, but which are put down to other causes. A good wash every now and then does better than physic, for it helps to stop sickness; and everybody knows that "prevention is better than cure". A comfortable warm bath will not cost more than a pint of porter.

'The charges at the wash-houses are also to be very small. There are to be a couple of tubs for every woman who may wish to wash her family's clothes and other things there. She will first wash her things in one tub. Then they will be boiled, by means of steam, in the other tub. Then she will rinse them out in cold water, in the first tub. She is to have about 100 gallons of water for all of this, which is a very handsome allowance. Her tubs are to be close together; and there is to be a wooden partition on each side of her, so as to keep her comfortable to herself, and prevent her neighbours overlooking her. When she has washed all her things, she may either take them home, or she may take them into another roomn, and put them on a clothes horse, which is all to herself, so that her things cannot get mixed up with any other woman's things. The horse will then be pushed into a hot closet, through which there is to be a draught of hot air. In about half and hour all her things will be dried and aired. Then the clothes horse will be pulled out, and she will take her things off it. She may then iron them at the ironing tables, which are to be provided with blankets and hot irons. Any woman who can wash at home, but cannot do her drying and ironing there, may bring her things to be dried and ironed at the wash-house; but she will be charged the same as if she used the tubs also.

'For all this, she will only have to pay one penny, if she does not stay more than an hour at the tubs, and two hours more at the drying closet and in the ironing room. If she stays two hours at the tubs, and three hours more in the drying closet and in the ironing room, she will have to pay threepence. If she stays longer she will have to pay more. She will have to pay just the same whether she uses the drying closet and ironing room or not; because she will have to pay according to the time she uses the tubs. No objection will be made to two women agreeing to do each other's washing. They may take turns for one to wash for both, while the other minds all the children at home.

'The comforts of these wash-houses will be very great. There will be no need for any labouring woman, who can go to the wash-houses, to wash, or dry, or iron her family's things at home. If she is quick at her work, and does not waste her time, she may, by paying one penny or twopence, save herself all the trouble of fetching water for washing, and of boiling it, and of carrying it away; and all the mess of washing and drying in her room; and all the expense of water, and coals, and irons. Besides this, her family will be saved all the trouble and unhealthiness of a damp room; and she will be able to keep her room much more comfortable, and much wholesomer, than she can at present. She will have to find her own soap, &c. There are to be no mangles at the wash-houses, because many industrious persons make their living by keeping mangles.

'With the baths and wash-houses together, labouring men and their families may keep themselves much cleaner and more comfortable than they now can be, and for less money than their washing at home now costs them. The plan has been tried with great success at Liverpool. They will save in time, and emoney and labour, and trouble: and it is to be hoped that they will find the truth of the old proverb, that "Cleanliness is next to Godliness."

In order to take the matter into consideration, for the establishment of baths and wash-houses for this parish, a requisition pursuant to the Act was signed by 102 respectable inhabitants and sent to the churchwardens.

The churchwardens having fixed Thursday, the 8th of October next, 1846, at six o'clock in the evening, for the purpose of the meeting, I cannot but hope that every ratepayer, who values such a boon to his poorer neighbours, will come forward and give his vote, if he really wish to effect any great improvement in their moral and physical condition; when he considers that 30,000 out of 42,000 are poor, it should be no subject of expense that should keep him away; suppose the sum required be three our four thousand pounds, and to bring no profit, it would only add one half of a farthing to the rate, or one halfpanny once a year to his rental, for a limited period; and this little sum be eventually the means of giving two hundred thousand annual benefits to the poor of the parish - for the means of reducing pauperism - adding many domestic comforts to thousands of homes - and, finally, I believe, bringing an annual profit, and a reduction of the rates.
Believe me to remain, with every good wish, yours faithfully
Incumbent of Christ Church, Sant George's-in-the-East

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