On the south east corner of Covent garden was an area in the 17th century that was known as the “Hummums“
The Humumm’s (Far Left) 1770
The term crops up in several different places, diaries. letters etc from the 18th & 19th centuries and at first I thought it was the name of the people who owned the establishment that stood there, although a slightly strange one.
Later I found out that the word derives from an eastern word “Humoum.”Among the customs introduced from Italy was a hot sweating bath, which, under the name of the humumm, became widely known in England for a considerable time. I can find no description about the process to show the difference between it and a Turkish Bath other than the inference that the Humumm used hot water instead of steam.
Those early establishments in London,The Covent Garden premises were opened in 1683, seem to have been mostly frequented by women of doubtful repute, and they became, as in the East, favourite rendezvous for gossip and company of not the most moral kind. They soon came to be used for the purposes of intrigue, and this circumstance gradually led to their suppression.
Above is the business card of John Rigg, cupper from 1763. It reads At the Hummums in the Little Piazza Covent-Garden, with a back door from Charles-Street where gentlemen only may be always accommodated (if not full) in the best and neatest manner with lodging, sweating, bathing, or cupping. Cupping is a process in which a suction is created on the skin with the application of heated cups and is reputed to have medicinal properties.
The Humumms (Highlighted) 1760s
It seems by the time John Rigg was plying his trade the Humumms had expanded to the buildings next door to include rooms which a gentleman could rent by the hour, the day or even as a resident. One person who resided there was a Parson Cornelius Ford. Ford seems to have been a less than virtuous member of the clergy and the reason that we know about him is that he was Dr Johnson’s cousin.
A Midnight Modern Conversation by William Hogarth (1795)
The speculation is that Parson Ford was encamped at the Humumms in order to help save the souls of the poor unfortunate ladies that plied their trade on the premises, a sort of an in house vicar. This may be true but it seems that the good parson probably elicited the Ladies favours in return for spiritual guidance. In the engraving above Cornelius Ford is immortalised by Hogarth. The scene takes place in St John’s Coffee House, Shire Lane near Temple Bar, and portrays the final throes of a raucous evening of drinking, debate, and mild debauchery among a large group of men. Third from the right smoking a pipe and casually playing with the ladle from the punch bowl in front of him is Cornelius Ford.
A Life of debauchery finally caught up with Ford and he died in harness as it were, on the premises. Dr Johnson relates a tale following Ford’s death that was catalogued by his biographer Boswell. Apparently a couple of days following Fords death a waiter at the Humumms returned to work after an absence knowing nothing of the parson’s demise. On arrival he went down into the cellars and there encountered Parson Ford. The waiter had cause to go back into the cellar an hour or so later and again saw the parson. On returning to the ground floor he mentioned the encounter to a colleague asking why the parson should choose to be in the cellar. When told that the parson had died a couple of days previously the waiter collapsed and developed a fever that lasted several days. When recovered he said that he had been visited by Ford who had asked him to pass a message to some ladies of his acquaintance although the waiter would not say who they were and what the message was. He came back, and said he had delivered the message, and the women exclaimed, “Then we are all undone!”