This is not a blog piece about drought and famine but about how water has affected Britain in the past and how it could hypothetically affect our futures. The thinking behind this came from my spending a glorious Sunday in Bath and then pondering on the continuing importance of water to this spa town. How many tourists still pay good money to take the waters there; a small amount of digging suggests that the site has over one million visitors per year (despite in all likelihood the fountain is powered by the tap in the kitchen of the Pump Room restaurant?!). But, I digress. This is one of many European towns that rely on water to stay afloat. In Germany for example, any town boasting the word Bad in the title has been granted permission to promote itself as a spa town.
Back to Bath, this history of which stretches further back than is possible to detail in one blog piece and has already been the subject of much research. The eighteenth century however, witnessed resurgence in the flow of people to the town hoping that the waters will wash a multitude of illness away. As the town became part of the fashionable route, more visitors came along with their bulging pocketbooks, passions and vices. My undergraduate research into female gamblers often lead back to Bath which apparently despite Beau Nash’s attempts at civilising it, was still a den of iniquity. It seems that some sins cannot be washed away. Beau Nash himself, the MC of Bath as his plaque in Bath so helpfully details was Master of Ceremony and not local DJ. His name to me conjures up a glorious dandy with perfect hair and teeth but someone you would not want to get on the wrong side of. Of course, I know very little about the man and wouldn’t at all like to speculate about his appearance.
On our amblings around the town, I spotted an inscription on the side of a yellowed building citing that there formerly stood the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases or Mineral Water Hospital (the ‘Min’) in 1738/9. Pleasingly, the same institution continues to promote the healing benefits of mineral water.
But, you ask – wasn’t there a lot of illness about and a large part of it water-borne throughout history? Well yes kids there was a lot of cholera and typhoid around and whilst the warm geysers of the Roman Baths would have provided some form of sanitation, many would still probably have come out worse than when they went in. A peek in the Cathedral will reveal hundreds of non-Somerset citizens that have perished in Bath throughout the centuries. It made me want to examine more closely the death rates of this town compared to other of a similar size but different role to see how much the dying flocking to a place burdened the town itself. Imagine so many thousands of people descending suddenly now on a relatively sparsely populated town and perishing; I bet their taxes were disproportionately high.
A final thought that came to me was what would happen if we weren’t so fond of water resorts. Would Bath rename itself with a less soggy name if the fountains dried up or would it become ironic? And the seaside towns like Brighton and Bournemouth that have been packed over the weekend; what would they look like? Actually, probably a little more like Blackpool in the winter, or summer…..But, where would people go instead if not to these places? That is something I will have to give a little more imaginative thought to.