Public baths project on a boat in Rouen.
© Departmental Archives of Seine-Maritime
Publication date: June 2013
Head of iconographic collections, departmental archives of Seine-Maritime
First steps towards hygiene
In the XVIIIe century, rivers remain the only place for swimming for almost the entire population. Their opening is obviously subject to the authorization of the local authorities but also that of the king.
In 1762, the Rouen architect Louis Gilbert presented the Municipality and the Académie des arts et belles-lettres a project for a boat fitted out for the use of public baths. It receives a favorable reception, and the city councilors stress that "this establishment will be very useful, even necessary for the maintenance of the health of the inhabitants". By letters patent dated April 9, 1763, the king allows Louis Gilbert and his wife Marie Adrienne Bioche "to settle on the Seine river in front of the city of Rouen and in the places which will be indicated to them by the police judges. from the said city one or more boats on which they will be able to establish hot or natural baths in accordance with the plan attached to the said letters ”.
In the following decades, the quays of Rouen will accommodate several boats of this type. Wash-houses will also appear there.
An architectural work
Very simple, however, the layout of the boat is described in detail. The distribution of the space is detailed, the accesses and the different levels specified. The indication of cast shadows, stairs, scale and direction of the current of the river called "river" are characteristic of an architectural plan. The project includes very modern engineering elements, a pump is used to raise the water from the river which is then heated in a furnace located in the hold. The use of this water is clearly evidenced by the use of the same shade.
The establishment welcomes men and women, two walkways providing access to the spaces reserved for them respectively.
A careful representation
The right to provide hot baths is not granted frequently. This service is often the exclusive property of the corporation of barbers and hairdressers. The king's agreement sets the maximum price that can be charged to each user at three pounds. Of exceptional quality, this plan was appended to these letters patent upon their registration by the Parliament of Normandy. A few decades later, swimming training boats appeared on the Seine, the more sketchy plans of which have come down to us. The departmental archives also keep photographs of washing boats that allowed washerwomen to work in better conditions while continuing to wash with river water.
· "Notes on Bath-Showers" in Congress of Norman, Scientific, Artistic and Literary Societies / Jules ROGER, Le Havre, [s. n.], 1905.
Jean-Pierre GOUBERT, The Conquest of Water, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1986.
To cite this article
Catherine DEHAYS, "Public baths on a boat in Rouen"