4:54pm Friday 16th August 2013
By Emily Flanagan
A BUILDING where a wealthy Georgian family would indulge in the fashionable pursuit of cold water bathing has been unearthed.
A regular, bracing dip in fresh water was thought to cure all manner of ills in the 18th century - reputed to help heal everything from leprosy and asthma to deafness.
Now the remains of one such bathing house have been uncovered in the water gardens at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal near Ripon.
The building was built in the 1730s by John Aislabie, who together with his son William, created the water gardens. It consisted of a changing room and covered plunge pool fed by spring water.
It was demolished in the 1850s and nothing visible now remains of it in the World Heritage site, now owned by the National Trust.
Archaeologist for the trust, Mark Newman, believes the building may have been out of sight of more public areas of the garden and used by friends and family.
“During this era they got hold of the idea cold water bathing was for medicinal benefit. It was a really fashionable thing at the time,” he said.
“We know John Aislabie suffered deafness in later life around the time this building was constructed. We know some of his family subscribed to these medical books so it’s reasonable to suppose that’s what he had in mind when this was built.”
The dig has unearthed the back wall of the building. They have also found marble from what they believe a changing room fireplace.
Mr Newman said they had been beginning to lose hope of finding any trace of the bath house as maps placing the bath house in the gardens proved slightly wrong when they dug trenches.
He said: “The whole building is quite a lot further south than the maps show and a slightly different orientation, which is why we were finding it difficult when we dug the trenches.
“If you miss it by six inches, you might as well have missed by a mile.”
It was one of many buildings in the grounds, which once had several kitchens so people could eat whilst out walking.
Mr Newman said there are seven or eight other lost buildings in the grounds, most of which are follies.
“These gardens were like landscape sculptures, they were the Anthony Gormley or Anish Kapoor of their time. It was about how you place the trees and landmarks to suggest you are inside a 3-D classical painting.”
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