Did Charlotte Bronte smell?

When you visit old early nineteenth century houses one thing you notice is the absence of a dedicated bathroom. The Brontes didn’t have one in Haworth, nor did Hamilton Hume in Cooma Cottage.

Privies, yes, sometimes, as can be seen Mr Seller’s house on Quality Row in Kingston on Norfolk Island, but no bathrooms.

And of course, the reason for this was that before the advent of piped water and household hot water services, having a bath was a major undertaking.

Heating even enough water for even a classic tin bath would have been a major undertaking, so most people made do with a ewer and a basin, and even then would most likely have washed in cold water, which would have been a character forming experience in a Haworth winter.

So, while most people did wash, it would have been more of a hurried sponge down with a cloth, and even then, perhaps not every day.

Equally, people did not was their day to day clothes as often as we do. Clothes were expensive – remember just about everything had to be hand made so people had fewer clothes, and washing them would have involved heating a large copper of water – hence the idea of Monday as washday.

So, if we were to stand next to Charlotte a a bus stop, we would probably notice a slight smell of body odour, just as when travelling in poorer countries one sometimes notices a slight smell of body odour, even where the culture emphasises washing.

She probably wouldn’t have smelled terrible.

Women in England typically did not wear underpants until at least the 1840’s – Rowlandson and his contemporaries took great delight in drawing cartoons showing society ladies unfortunate enough to slip on the stairs or fall off their horses and accidentally display their bare bottoms – which probably would have helped with hygiene, especially in the warmer months, but I suspect that even so there would have been a hint of body odour.

And this of course begs a question – colonial Sydney, even Hobart ,was warmer than the Yorkshire moors, and people would undoubtedly have sweated more and smelled more, especially over the summer months …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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