“Lousy”: Winston S. Churchill on Baths and Bathtubs

“Lousy”: Winston S. Churchill on Baths and Bathtubs

Q: “Lying in one’s own dirt”?

I have spent a fruit­less few hours try­ing to find a quote by Churchill about bathing. I inter­pret his remark, “why stand when you can sit down?” as sug­gest­ing that he pre­ferred baths to show­ers, but recall that when he vis­it­ed Rus­sia, he said a bath there was “like lying in one’s own dirt.” Did he say that? The rea­son for my inter­est is that I want to give up baths for a month and would like to enlist the help of some­one like Sir Win­ston. —P.P., UK

A: No, and he probably would not approve…

I trust you are not giv­ing up show­ers! Alas I can find no ref­er­ence to “lying in one’s own dirt,” or sim­i­lar phras­es. I searched the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project dig­i­tal ref­er­ence to 100 mil­lion words by and about Churchill. This is not dis­pos­i­tive: he cer­tain­ly might have made that wise­crack about Russ­ian bath­tubs to a col­league whose account escaped our net.  On the oth­er hand, there are record­ed instances of his bathing in places like Yal­ta or Moscow. Filthy or not, Russ­ian tubs appar­ent­ly didn’t stop him. After return­ing from the Yal­ta Con­fer­ence, he did have his clothes fumigated—but that was a sep­a­rate problem!

Leading advocate of baths

Churchill was a famous bather—twice a day when he had time. On 8 Decem­ber 1900, begin­ning his lec­ture tour of North Amer­i­ca, he addressed the New York City Press Club. “Eng­land and Amer­i­ca are divid­ed by a great ocean of salt water,” he declared, “but unit­ed by an eter­nal bath­tub of soap and water.”

Baths were a life­time habit. Even on sojourns to wild parts of Africa or the trench­es of Flan­ders, a bath­tub would be found—or packed along. Order­lies were kept busy fill­ing baths with hot water, for Churchill pre­ferred a pre­cise tem­per­a­ture: 98 degrees. In the tub, WSC prac­ticed “full immer­sion,” like a Bap­tist chris­ten­ing. He would sound like a por­poise, send­ing up bub­bles as he exhaled. At Chartwell, this some­times caused the bath to over­flow, flood­ing the down­stairs hall­way. After a few acci­dents like this, a plumber installed a drain chan­nel at the base of his tub. A famous but­ler, Frank Sawyers, was appalled at his bathing habits, fre­quent­ly shout­ing, “Dear, dear, Mr. Churchill.” (That was about as cen­so­ri­ous as Sawyers got.)

“LOUSY as a Parliamentary expression”

Nei­ther did Churchill hes­i­tate to apply his bathing stan­dards to oth­ers. One vic­tim was Hugh Gaitskell, Min­is­ter of Fuel and Pow­er in the 1945-51 Labour Gov­ern­ment. In 1947, with ener­gy in short sup­ply, Gaitskell rose to urge con­ser­va­tion of water. “Per­son­al­ly, I have nev­er had a great many baths myself,” he told the House of Com­mons, “and I can assure those who are in the habit of hav­ing a great many that it does not make a great dif­fer­ence to their health if they have less.”

Churchill found this out­ra­geous. Gaitskell was defy­ing WSC’s life­time habits and solemn beliefs. Quick­ly he rose from his cor­ner seat below the Gang­way on the Oppo­si­tion benches:

Mr. Speak­er: When Min­is­ters of the Crown speak like this on behalf of His Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment, the Prime Min­is­ter and his friends have no need to won­der why they are get­ting increas­ing­ly into bad odour. I had even asked myself, when med­i­tat­ing upon these points, whether you, Mr. Speak­er, would admit the word LOUSY as a Par­lia­men­tary expres­sion in refer­ring to the Admin­is­tra­tion, pro­vid­ed, of course, it was not intend­ed in a con­temp­tu­ous sense but pure­ly as one of fac­tu­al narration.

Further reading

Churchill’s Dai­ly Rou­tine (Or: You Can’t Get Good Help Any­more),” 2020

 

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