Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Baby's Toilet

Here is a wonderful film showing a nurse bathing an infant in 1905. It has a timeless quality to it, and I got an eerie feeling when watching it, simply because I was getting broody over a child who, in all likelihood, is now long gone. There is real joy in the face of the nurse, she takes pleasure in her job. In fact she reminds me of the advice given to mothers in The Woman's Book, from 1911.

The Nurse
A good nurse ought to be fond of children, good tempered, and thoroughly trustworthy. She must be healthy and active, bright and happy-looking, and capable of gentle firmness.

The Child's Toilet
Perfect cleanliness is another essential in the healthy life of a child, as without this the skin will be unable to discharge its functions. One cannot use too much water, and the somewhat common fear that more than one bath a day is weakening is quite wrong; the error made is more likely to be on the side of too little washing rather than too much. All children should be bathed at least once daily, and the habit must begin from infancy. Each child must be provided with its own sponge and flannel for washing requisites.

It is not so much the advice on hiring a nanny which puts The Woman's Book very much in its place as a manual for the middle-classes, but the advice on frequency of washing. In 1911 few working people had indoor bathrooms and my family tell me of the weekly bath, taken in front of the kitchen range; the water being re-used after each individual had finished -- mother always last in. Indeed, as a very small child in the 1970s, I splashed about in the "avocado" coloured bath only once a week, on a Sunday night, in between watching Songs of Praise and eating sardines on toast in front of the fire. There are layers to our history, multiplicities of experience, and what we ate and how we washed and what we did in our leisure time tells us more about our heritage and how we came to be more than the names and dates of kings and queens. Here are some great books which expand further on food and filth!

Taste: A Story of Britain Through its Food, by Kate Colquhoun

Clean: An Unsanitised History of Washing, by Katherine Ashenurg


Anonymous said...

The video didn't load on your post for me.

I remember having the order of bathing, lol, Dad first, kids second, mother last! Can you imagine what the water was like if your father was a miner or an engineer! Yikes, you'd come out of the bath filthier than before! :)


Marie N. said...

A history of washing-- there are so many facets to history. I do wonder what prompted this book though.

I remember the weekly bath of my own childhood. My kids, rarely went a week between baths, but we never quite got to it every day either.

Susan said...

How fun to click on your blog and hear Matty Groves:)
Interesting old video clip. When my daughter was born, she was "chosen" as the baby to wash by the nurses in this little group instructional they gave to show us all how - my daughter began to howl as soon as they got her wet, I began to howl because she was upset, all the other mommies began to get upset since we were upset...well you can just imagine. Great silliness. She's now 22 and hogs up the shower and all the hot water!

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
My dad tells me that popping the fathers blackheads after he'd had his bath was something of a fun family activity around my way. Apparently miners had tons of blocked pores (you can imagine why) and the kids used to climb about him on a Sunday afternoon declogging him!!!!

Try the vid again is you can, it's worth it.

Hi Marie
Yes, I wondered that too. But I suppose it's because cleanliness is at once very private and very public (simultaneously both small and grand history). The book was serialised on Radio 4 a while back and I just found it fascinating.

Hi Susan
Thanks for visiting. It's so nice to meet a fellow Fairport fan! I think you can tell when girls shift from childhood to womanhood when all of a sudden you no longer have to nag them to bathe and they seem to want to spend all morning in the bathroom!

Nan said...

I watched this yesterday morning, and I've thought about it ever since. My favorite part was near the end when the baby is 'walking' up the chest of the nurse. How I remember that feeling. It made me feel quite 'broody' as well. Where did you ever find this? What a wonderful thing that it exists. I remember in those moments between drying my babies and dressing them that I worried they were going to pee. :<) And I kept thinking that baby was going to!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing film...and yes, very eerie to think that it was filmed over 100 years ago!

love, Tina :)

Anonymous said...

Want baby too now, argh curse you motherly broody feelings!

And yikes at the blackheads!


Dulce Domum said...

Hi Nan
Yes, the walking up the chest thing got to me too, and the constant worry over whether she will pee or not.

The British Film Institute are putting some of their archives on Youtube...I've been wasting a lot of time just recently looking them all up, they're mostly fabulous!

Hi Tina
Yes, I'm a broody old hen for a very old lady! Strange!

Hi Sarah
I knew you'd like the blackheads story. I'm always broody.

Nan said...

You mentioning the British Film Institute reminds me of a wonderful film I saw. I'll just give you the address of my blog entry rather than go into it here. There is that same wonder with the past.


monix said...

I just found your lovely blog from a link on Letters from a Hill Farm. I knew I would like it here when I saw lots of my favourite music on your playlist.

The video of the nurse and baby is superb. I've been trying to explain to my daughter, who is a fairly new mum, what a 'lap' is. Modern mums have to have special mats, special tables and special everything else for tasks that I and all my predecessors did in our laps. This video shows it perfectly!

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Nan
I'm so glad you enjoyed that Stephen Poliakov film. I'm a big fan of his. Have you seen any other? Do you get them on your PBS channel over there?

Hi Monix and Welcome
Any folkie is a friend of mine! Yes, you're right about laps, they're a very portable device too. That nurse had a lovely capacious lap.