Welcome one and all to my beach hut

Grab a deck chair, Tea or coffee and help yourself to a buiscuit but you'd better mind the seaguls or they'll grab them first. Just look at that view and doesn't the sea look inviting.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

History of Sea bathing and Bathing Machines.

The popularity of sea bathing dates back to the early 18th century when doctors spoke publicly on the advantages of sea air and sea bathing to the general health of individuals. One doctor described the practice of a sudden shock from the submergence into cold sea water as a cure for numerous ailments. Marine hospitals were set up in parts of the country to facilitate sea bathing. 
Mix bathing was banned along our coast until as late as 1901 so bathers were segregated. Local authorities became concerned with the moralities of sea bathing and so bathing machines were introduced that would ensure that people could undress in private and alight into the sea in all modesty. Calling the earliest bathing apparatus machines was not at first common practice, one observer called them a “ house on wheels”, they were also referred to as ‘bathing chariots’. The term ‘bathing machine’ was first used to describe a carriage invented in Margate by Benjamin Beale, it was describe as a machine because of a canvass type hood attached to the front on metal hoops that could be lowered down to the sea allowing the bather to descend from the machine into the sea without being observed from the shore. (sea picture above). The bather could step into the machine from the shore, horses would then be attached and it would be pulled down to the sea shore allowing the bather to change and store there clothes on a shelf above before changing into the bathing costume and then descending down the steps into the sea. Nude bathing was strictly prohibited. and by the end of the 18th century sea bathing had become very popular amongst the well to do mainly due to George III many visits to Weymouth in the hope that sea bathing could cure is ailments.  A certain Fanny Burney recorded a humorous incident in her diaries. “Think but of the surprise of His Majesty when, the first time of his bathing, he had no sooner popped his royal head under water than a band of music, concealed in a neighbouring machine, struck up "God save great George our King.
The Wealthy flocked to the coast and more and more of these bathing machines started to appear, some were owned by hotels that were springing up in various locations. The bathing costumes of the day were  “made of a fine yellow canvas, which is stiff and made large with great sleeves like a parson’s gown; the water fills it up so that it is borne off that your shape is not seen, it does not cling close as other linning (see drawing left).  The Gentlemen have drawers and waistcoats of the same sort of canvas.

Also it was quite popular in the early day for a person of the same sex as the bather to be employed to go out with the bathing machine and help the bather down into the sea and ensure that they had the right number of immersions prescribed by their doctor, these people were referred to as dippers.

There were incidents recorded when using the bathing machine’s one such incident was recorded in Lytham in 1857.
‘A deplorable accident, by which two men, named William Farrow and James Earnshaw, lost their lives, occurred at Lytham on Saturday last. The deceased had come from Oldham by at excursion train, and after enjoying themselves with others for some time in Lytham determined to bathe.

Accordingly, about one o'clock in the afternoon, they and two companions, Archibald Booth and James Lees, hired a bathing machine, which was driven into the water. The tide was running out strongly at the time, and immediately the horse had been taken from the machine by the owner, John Parkinson, the van came down what is called the "steep breast" into deep water. Farrow jumped into the water, and was drowned; the other three climbed the roof of the van, but Earnshaw afterwards leaped off into the water with the intention of swimming to the beach, but the current and the ebbing tide were too strong for him, and he was swept back by the retiring waves and drowned in the presence of a great number of persons. Booth and Lees were then rescued by some men who went to their assistance in boats.

With the introduction of the railways, more and more people were flocking to the coast so to deal with the high number of bathers new designs were appearing including a saloon bathing machine that could hold up to 50 people, one machine would hold men and the other women positioned at a modest distance from each other and reached from the shore by rickety looking series of raised planks. In Folkestone Walter David Fagg patented and built is ‘Safety Bathing Carriage’ to run on tramlines into the sea.

By 1910 the practice of running the machines down into the sea had stop and they were left on the beach for people to use to get changed in them and eventually they disappeared completely, later to be replaced by beach huts. But that is another story to be told on another day.

I’d like to at this point thank Kathryn Ferry and her book entitled ‘Beach Huts and Bathing Machines’ which was the inspiration behind this piece and for her consent for allowing me to use information from it.

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