Rain Bath (detail)

Hydropathy and wet sheet packing:
a brief note on the cold water cure

The cold water cure You can print this page -- Click for printer-friendly version

It is beyond the scope of this project to deal in any depth with hydropathy—often called the water cure, or the cold water cure. Suffice it to indicate that there were three major components of the cure as systematised by Vincent Priessnitz: drinking considerable quantities of (usually) mineralized water (as is still the practice in many health spas), wet sheet packing, and exposing the body to a wide range of specialised showers or douches. All aspects are admirably, and entertainingly, treated in E S Turner's Taking the cure.1

The wet sheet pack

The wet sheet pack

Wet sheet packing, shown above in a contemporary work on the subject by John Smedley,2 involved wrapping the patient in wet sheets for varying periods of time. Initially the patient felt decidedly cold, then merely cool, and finally increasingly warm until s/he broke out in perspiration, rather akin to a fever. Dr Richard Barter deduced that it was actually the feverish perspiration which was responsible for any improvement in the patient's condition, and realised that the Turkish bath, as described by David Urquhart in The Pillars of Hercules,3 was a far more comfortable and enjoyable way of inducing a sweat. 

Three further illustrations (of varying degrees of authenticity) will probably be more useful here than a lengthy description of this aspect of the water cure.

The first is from a series of postcards by Thomas Onwhyn, not the only artist to recognize a good meal ticket when he sees one. It was sent to a friend by a patient at Smedley's. Onwhyn also drew another series in similar vein on the Turkish bath.


A patient at the Water Cure, getting well
drench'd, & wrench'd, & restored to health

The others, from a larger series, are by a currently unidentified artist. These cartoons were frequently reprinted, sometimes plain and sometimes coloured, and selections were also published in booklet form.

Carrying the patient

I am inclined to knock these fellows down.
But how can I, bound hand and foot like this?

The rain bath

As if there were not cruelties enough,
they have actually invented a Rain Bath

Like Onwhyn's cards, these were extremely popular with patients and over the years sold, probably in their thousands, to patients at hydropathic establishments all over the country.

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