Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Finally found out about the pump room at Bath
Photo: More like a samovar than a pump, this is the source of the waters taken at Bath. CT
It was one of those questions that you entertain forever and never get around to researching. Though if I had grown up during the Google era, I probably would have looked up The Pump Room at Bath, I never did. In the years since I first read Jane Austen, I've tried to picture it in different ways.
At one time I speculated that it might be a place where only pumps could be worn. Since in the past men's shoes as well as women's were described as pumps, this seemed logical.
But since most visitors to Bath were taking the waters, I suspected that the pump room involved water pumps, and this proved to be the case. The Pump Room today is a restaurant with white napery and sparkling tableware. In an alcove on the side, a uniformed young man presides over the pump, and dispenses the healing waters that pour out of the earth at Bath.
If a picture is word a thousand words, a visit multiplies that many times over. I have seen the pump, and tasted its waters. This natural spring water from deep under the earth is tepid and rather nasty tasting, but supposed to be full of useful minerals. According to Queen Anne's physician, taking the waters, which meant drinking three glassfuls a day, as well as bathing in the waters (in those days fully clothed in many layers), would cure the royal lady of many ills. Apparently it did. Bath's fame spread, and it became a destination spa.
The buildings are works of art in the local honey coloured Cotswold limestone, but the town is rather hilly and some of its slopes are quite steep. Too steep for horses, in fact, and thus the wheeled Bath Chair was invented, in which the invalid sat while others pushed. These conveyances were for hire, and in order to catch one, instead of saying "Taxi," the passenger would call out "Chair, Ho!" Over time this became corrupted to the common British greeting, "Cheerio." This and much other rich lore came from our wonderful guide Ruth, whose Golden Tours I happened to take twice, albeit to different destinations and five years apart.
The Romans were the ones who built the gorgeous baths here. Considering the place a sacred spring, they devoted it to one of those hybrid deities that come into being when a new religion meets with an older one. The Roman Minerva joined with the local deity and became Sulis Minerva.