The bathroom, as we know it, is still relatively new. Before 1870, Victorians would slide into a hip bath in front of the fire. These shallow baths were curved up the back making a comfortable rest and were made of iron or zinc, usually painted dark brown on the outside and cream or marbled on the inside. There were also the bathtubs in which you sat down – they were square or oval with a small seat and portable shower – a tent-like affair, with a water tank at the top from which the water would gush down. These baths are now very hard to find.
In the latter part of the 19th century the hot water system was invented, pumping water round the house through pipes. Drainage and sewage systems were improved and knowledge about hygiene improved. This led to the first fixed bathrooms in late Victorian homes, that soon became status symbols. At first bathrooms were converted from bedrooms keeping the cosy style complete with fireplaces and stained glass windows. Cast-iron baths, coated inside with white porcelain enamel were surrounded by wood panels to hide any ugly pipes.
As health concerns rose in the 1880s, bathrooms became more hygienic, with tiled floors and where brass and copper pipes were left exposed and were polished in order to combat germs. Baths became freestanding, with rolled tops and ball or claw feet so that servants could get their mops underneath to clean the floor.
Not everyone likes antique baths especially as you would have to pay around £800 for the cheapest. There are a number of styles to choose from and you can add original or reproduction taps or even use modern ones. Most salvage and reclamation yards stock bathtubs from the 1900s onwards.
French double-ended baths from the 1900s – 1950s are extremely popular and an original would set you back about £1,700. Many didn’t have tap holes but would have standpipes next to the bath from which the water would pour. Original standpipes are very hard to get hold of so there is a choice of having reproduction standpipes or a wall-mounted tap. You can also have holes put in for the taps.
English roll-top baths are elegant and free-standing and bring definite style to the bathroom. They usually date from 1890-1930 and are big and comfortable and have a nice slope to lean back on. You could have them painted in a colour of your choice and to suit the rest of your decor. A major selling point for many people is the length of an antique bath – rolltops come in any size from 4ft to 7ft long which is perfect if you are very small or very tall.
Canopy baths date from around 1890 and were owned by very wealthy Victorians who lived in stately mansions. They either have zinc or glass tops and are usually snapped up by collectors who pay between £6,000 and £10,000. You can find a reproduction slipper bath with an elegant curving back from around £600.
If you buy an antique bath that hasn’t been restored you have two choices. You can do it on the cheap and get it re-surfaced with a spray-on finish, which would cost around £400 and comes with a 5 year guarantee. If you want it to last a bit longer you can get it re-enamelled with a new vitreous glass finish, which would cost around £1,000.
If you are serious about buying an antique bathtub you should do your homwork and be aware of a few facts:
- Chrome fittings date from 1926 onwards, not before.
- Original baths are deeper than new ones, make sure it’s what you want.
- Beware of the length of the bath.
- If you live an an apartment, make sure your floor is strong enough for your cast-iron bath.