“The activity of bathing in Britain for reasons of health and well-being, goes back earlier than the 18th century ….. and indeed to Roman times.”
This was written by Susan Kellerman in her fascinating article on “Bath Houses – an Introduction” (in number 1 of the “Follies Journal”, 2004). She found that the majority were built for the gentry, but that there were others for the servants, or for the general public.
There is another excellent article now, published in 2010 by Clare Hickman, entitled “Taking the Plunge: 18th-century bath houses and plunge pools”. https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/bath-houses/bath-houses.htm
In spite of this research, it seems that hardly any bath houses survive today, and those that do, are not surprisingly the elaborate buildings of the wealthy. But it does seem that they would generally consist of a ‘house’, either large or small, for changing in, and a plunge pool of cold water adjoining.
The sites of two Bath Houses are known in Witham, firstly the Vicar’s Bath House, not far from the Vicarage, and secondly the Bath House of the Lord of the Manors of Witham and Newland, who lived at the Grove. They both received their cold water from the river Brain.
The Vicar’s Bath House near Church Street (1762).
This was on the Vicarage fields, and is shown on a map of 1762 drawn by Timothy Skinner (E.R.O. D/P/30/3/5). The Vicar, George Sayer, held his office in Witham for nearly forty years (1722 -1761). His wife, Martha, was a daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was very prosperous, and was said to have “greatly (or rather extravagantly) beautified the Vicarage at Witham”.
In 1749, the writer Horace Walpole thought it was ‘one of the most charming villas in England.’ And in a well-known phrase, he observed the ‘sweet meadows falling down a hill, and rising again on t’other side of the prettiest little winding stream you ever saw’.
At about that time, the Revd Sayer was occupied in laying out a new garden and grounds, with the help of local landscape architect Philip Southcott. A map was drawn of the grounds by Timothy Skinner in 1762. And it is on this map that we see the Bath House, the first known in Witham. (the original map is reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office (i.e. D/P 30/3/5).
I have compiled four small square maps, in date order, shown below.
The first square, at top left, shows part of the original 1762 map of the Vicarage land. It includes Bath Field and the Bath, the latter being in a semi-circular enclosure. I have drawn them all in red. The other three maps show the same area in 1839, 1875 and the 1980s, i.e. from the Tithe Map and from the Ordnance Survey. On these, the former sites of the Bath field, and of the bath itself and its enclosure, are also marked in red.
To find the location of the Bath now, you can start by coming out of the opening at the west corner of Chipping Dell, onto the River Walk. Turn right and walk uphill along the River Walk for about 70 yards, to near the quince trees. The bath is probably down the near-vertical slope on your left. This is suggested by the map, and also because that is where this little brick was found.
And this is the actual bath house, enlarged from the 1762 map.
To digress for a moment, further up the path is the ‘spring’, as we know it, nearly at the end of the Vicar’s land (nowadays near Ebenezer Close). In 1762 it was called a ‘cascade’ on the map. This was usually a fan-shaped arrangement, whereby water flowed slowly down to a central point, probably where the spring is now. If you stand on the path behind the spring, you can sense the shape of the fan sloping down.
2. The Lord of the Manor’s Bath House (near what is now Guithavon Valley) (1795)
This second Bath House was the property of the Lord of the Manors of Chipping and Witham. He was Thomas Kynaston, who had moved to Witham from Grosvenor Square in London in about 1786. He came to the Grove, a large mansion on the main road through Witham (it wasn’t the manor house, there wasn’t one).
So he was quite some distance from the river, and this document concerns the purchase of a strip of land, and the setting out of a path along it, to make the Bath easier for him to get to.
Below is a transcript of the document that introduces us to the Bath in 1791 (Reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office, i.e. D/DDc T83).
“This Indenture made the eleventh of July … Between Thomas Isaac of Witham … Gentleman of the one part, and Thomas Kynaston of Witham aforesaid esquire. of the other part,
Witnesseth that the said Thomas Isaac for and in consideration of the sum of one pound and one shilling … to him … paid by the said Thomas Kynaston … whereof the said Thomas Isaac hath granted bargained and sold … unto the said Thomas Kynaston …
All that piece or parcel of freehold land or ground containing in length from the Gate at the Letter H in the plan hereunder drawn to the Letter A one hundred and sixty five feet, and in width for the space of one hundred and fifty seven feet thereof from the intended fence at the letter G to the letter F, including the Ditch next the Garden in the occupation of William Wade eight feet, and for the remaining part thereof fifteen feet in width near the river
Which said piece of land intended to be hereby granted, is part or parcel of a field or close of land of the said Thomas Isaac, called or known by the name of Temples, and is situate lying and being in Witham aforesaid, abutting upon the said garden now in the occupation of the said William Wade, marked with the letter C upon the river, marked with the letter A upon the Mill field, the property of William Dodd esquire, marked with the letter D and upon the said field called Temples marked BB, and which said piece of land hereby granted now is or intended soon to be, severed and divided from the said field called Temples by a pale fence, to be made done and kept up at the expense of the said Thomas Kynaston.”
Above is a copy of the accompanying map, which includes the letters quoted in the document to describe where everything was. The new path and the Bath House are at the top right.
Below is a set of four maps at different dates, like the ones given earlier for the other site, with the previous location of the Bath House shown as a blue oval on each. The course of the river has been altered over the years which is confusing. But followed through to the present day, the sequence suggests that this Bath House was located somewhere near the top of Armond Road.
The course of the river has been altered over the years, and the ground next to the road has probably been built up, making it hard to be exact. So more research would be welcome.
And finally, a close-up of the Lord of the Manor’s Bath House taken from the first map, and rotated so that it is seen roughly north-south. The bath building stands next to the rather fierce-looking River Brain, and the new path arriving beside it from the north.