Getting into hot water

Medical science has come a long way since Bath’s Georgian heyday. But it turns out there may have been something genuinely therapeutic in those famous spa waters after all. To find out exactly what, head for the  Bath Royal Literary & Science Institution on the 21st March at 7:30pm and join Dr. Roger Rolls for a talk that will weave the Bath Mineral Water Hospital, a period William Hoare painting depicting Bath’s most famous medic and new scientific insights into the fascinating tale behind Bath’s success as an 18th century spa.

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It’s long been supposed that any benefit derived from spa treatment is merely a function of the placebo effect. However, recent research into the effects of bathing has shed new light on how certain disorders can be improved or cured through the physiological effects of whole body immersion. In the 18th century, open air bathing certainly benefited children with skin disease and rickets, even if improvement was often slow. Patients routinely spent many months in hospital before being well enough to return home.

Dr. Roger Rolls is a retired GP with a special interest in Bath’s medical history. Among other significant publications, Dr. Rolls authored Diseased, Douched and Doctored: Thermal Springs, Spa Doctors and Rheumatic Diseases, a detailed examination of the medical uses of Bath’s famous spa waters.

Bath Mineral Hospital
© Bath Medical Museum

The book is anchored around a 1762 work by renown portraitist William Hoare, known as Dr. Oliver and Mr. Peirce Examining Patients. It shows two men conducting physical examinations of a small child suffering from ‘leprosy’, a man with palsy, and a woman who has rheumatism. Hoare’s painting has hung in Bath’s Mineral Water Hospital for two and a half centuries and its central subject, Dr. Oliver, once resided where the BRLSI itself is now located on Queen’s Square in central Bath and where a plaque commemorates his former residence.

Dr. Oliver, of course, is also famous for inventing the Bath Oliver, a dry biscuit or cracker made from flour, butter, yeast and milk and often eaten with cheese. Popular in the period and still made today by United Biscuits, Dr. Oliver intended the biscuit as a healthier alternative to buns. Oliver believed the biscuits would aid digestion and help to relieve rheumatism, while also helping his patients lose weight.

bath oliver

Each lecture takes approximately 45 minutes and allows 45 minutes for questions.

Visitors: £5.00 BRLSI Members£2.00 All Welcome. 

Income from ticket sales is used to cover the cost of making this lecture available to the public. 

  The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (BRLSI) is an educational charity based in the centre of Bath. The Institution runs a programme of more than 150 public lectures each year of topics including science, philosophy, art and literature. It also maintains collections of minerals, fossils and other items, as well as a library of rare books. The BRLSI’s Jenyns Room is one of Bath’s leading gallery spaces with a year-round programme of art and museum exhibitions.