The woman in the picture looks very happy. It’s an advertisement, of course, dated 1986 — when the shower had established itself as a fixture in the household and gone beyond being a mere appendage to the bath.
Its invention, in mechanised form and operated by hand pump, is often attributed to William Feetham, an early 19th-century ironmonger on London’s Ludgate Hill, just north of the Thames.
Then again, showers only seemed to arrive in my area of north London on schedule for the poet Philip Larkin’s “Annus Mirabilis”: 1963.
They were a sign of (an unknown word for the day) “gentrification” and came in tandem with converted lofts and builders’ skips in the street.
Locals regarded the shower as an American mod-con, and indeed the woman who first had one in our street came from the US. She was divorced, it was assumed, and she had an unusually named son, Jasper — two more firsts for our immediate neighbourhood.
Before showers it was a relative luxury to have a bathroom. Ours was beneath the doorstep, in an area reclaimed from the coal cellar that stretched under the pavement.
In the 1950s, the area’s doorsteps, destabilised from the wartime bombing, had a way of collapsing into the room underneath, which for some families was the kitchen. My father, who worked in the building industry, made sure that this didn’t happen to our bathroom.
A family of four, we each took a bath once a week. Some years later I was shocked to read that some Asian cultures had a low view of westerners for wallowing in their own dirt.
Getting out was freezing and central heating didn’t turn up until the mid-1960s, with a wave of pipe fitters and radiators in the street. Not that my parents ever put it on in the whole house.
Many people in the area still had their weekly hot wash at the public baths. Two were within walking distance.
Into the 1970s as a student in Brighton, and town council driver in the holidays, I used, usually alone, the very good showers at the depot each workday evening. The dustmen, whose union had long pushed to have them installed, piled in on Fridays.
Home showers often meant a crouched position in the bath, rubber attachments on the taps and much spray on the floor.
But a shower enclosure, tray and a door as the picture here advertises? More the late 1970s and 1980s norm, hence the woman’s smile.
Follow on Twitter or on Instagram to find out about our latest stories first. Listen to our podcast, Culture Call, where FT editors and special guests discuss life and art in the time of coronavirus. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.