The Great Unwashed

Photo from

Story by the Local History Group

In crowded Victorian cities, the term “the great unwashed” meant the poorest classes of society, who
had limited access to clean water. What little they had was obtained from a street pump shared with
neighbours. Washing was a family ritual that took place once a week in a tin bath in front of the fire.
Drying clothes was also difficult so garments were rarely washed. They harboured lice which carried
typhus, the deadly ‘filth disease’. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” was a Victorian motto. Health and
moral campaigners petitioned for washhouses. Throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries councils
opened scores of public baths in urban areas.


Photo from
Photo from
Photo from
Photo from

The first public baths in Sheffield opened on Glossop Road in 1836, following the cholera epidemic
of 1832. The busy township of Brightside finally got facilities in 1899 on the corner of Earsham
Street and Sutherland Road. The council agreed to spend no more than £5,000 on the new baths,
and not to include a washhouse. However, by the time it was built it had cost £14,500, and even
included swimming facilities.

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