Come Josephine to my Bathing Machine

The Goat comes to you today with information that you may not have as well as images of the like case. This info is about the sea and the shore which seems appropriate to the goat as he has been paying much more attention to the TV than normal watching the adventures of Hurricane Irene.

The topic is the Bathing Machine. When I first heard of it, I envisioned a top-loader of generous size that I could ease into, select “extra gentle”, push a button and then pull the hatch over my head a la a WW II Nazi U-boat commander. I was wrong. Wrong in all ways possible it seems.

Rather the bathing machine was a device, popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, to allow people to change out of their usual clothes, possibly change into swimwear and then wade in the ocean at beaches. Bathing machines were roofed and walled wooden carts rolled into the sea. Some had solid wooden walls; others had canvas walls over a wooden frame.

The bathing machine was part of sea-bathing etiquette more rigorously enforced upon women than men but to be observed by both sexes among those who wished to be “proper”.[2]

Especially in Britain, men and women were usually segregated, so nobody of the opposite sex might catch sight of them in their bathing suits, which (although modest by modern standards) were not considered proper clothing in which to be seen.

The bathing machines in use at Margate, Kent, were described in 1805 as “four-wheeled carriages, covered with canvas, and having at one end of them an umbrella of the same materials which is let down to the surface of the water, so that the bather descending from the machine by a few steps is concealed from the public view, whereby the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy.”[3] People entered the small room of the machine while it was on the beach, wearing their street clothing. In the machine they changed into their bathing suit, although men were allowed to bathe nude until the 1860s,[4] placing their street clothes into a raised compartment where they would remain dry.[5]

The most common machines had large wide wheels and were propelled in and out of the surf by a horse or a pair of horses with a driver. Less common were machines pushed in and out of the water by human power. Some resorts had wooden rails into the water for the wheels to roll on; a few had bathing machines pulled in and out by cables propelled by a steam engine. Once in the water, the occupants disembarked from the sea side down steps into the water. Many machines had doors front and back; those with only one door would be backed into the sea or need to be turned around. It was considered essential that the machine blocked any view of the bather from the shore. Some machines were equipped with a canvas tent lowered from the seaside door, sometimes capable of being lowered to the water, giving the bather greater privacy. Some resorts employed a “dipper”, a strong person of the same sex who would assist the bather in and out of the sea. Some dippers were said to push bathers into the water, then yank them out, considered part of the experience.[7]

Bathing machines were most common in the United Kingdom and parts of the British Empire with a British population, but were also used in France, Germany, the United States, Mexico, and other nations. Legal segregation of bathing areas in Britain ended in 1901, and the bathing machine declined rapidly. By the start of the 1920s bathing machines were almost extinct, even on beaches catering to an older clientele.[9]

The bathing machines remained in active use on English beaches until the 1890s, when they began to be parked on the beach. They were then used as stationary changing rooms for a number of years. Most of them had disappeared in the United Kingdom by 1914.[10] However, they have survived to this day as bathing boxes in many parts around the world.

Note – picture above article shows bathing machines and a “Herring Fleet.”

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1 Comment

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One response to “Come Josephine to my Bathing Machine

  1. Nancy

    I found this very interesting…I like to know about the older traditions. Maybe it’s because I am older…but truly not this old.

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