Friday, April 15, 2016

Bathing Machines from 18C Britain to Early America

In 1794 New York, traveler Henry Wansey visited Long Island reporting, "We crossed at nine in the morning, at Brooklyn Ferry, with our horses, and rode through Flat Bush to Gravesend, near the Narrows, where there is a beautiful view of the sea and all the shipping entering the harbour. A Mr. Bailey, of New York, has just built a very handsome tea-drinking pleasure house, to accommodate parties who come hither from all the neighbouring ports...It seems parties are made here from thirty or forty miles distance, in the summer time."  By the 1790s, public bathing & swimming had become popular up & down the Atlantic Coast. Henry Wansey noted that Mr Bailey "intends also to have bathing machines, and several species of entertainment."

 1700s Benjamin Beale's Bathing Machine Modesty Hood

The bathing machine was an 18C & 19C contraption devised to allow "proper" people to change out of their usual clothes, possibly change into swimwear & then wade at beaches. Bathing machines were roofed & walled wooden carts rolled near or even into the sea. Some had solid wooden walls; others had canvas walls over a wooden frame.  The bathing machine was part of etiquette for natural water bathing more rigorously enforced upon women than men but observed by both sexes among those who wished to be proper.  Men & women were usually segregated, so nobody of the opposite sex might catch even a glimpse of them in their bathing suits, which were not considered proper clothing in which to be seen. 

 1700s Ralph Waters I (1720-1798) Figures and Bathing Machines in the Bay below Tynemouth Castle

Bathing machines usually were rented out by concessionaires whose livelihood depended on the renting of bathing machines, deck chairs, bathing suits & other beachfront paraphernalia. Their target market was the newly rising middle class & upper lower class vacationers, who now had the time & the transportation to go to the seaside once a year, but not money enough to spend on a luxury resorts or private homes on the shore.

 1775 Hall Margate Guide

Of the 1770s bathing machines, Tobias Smollett wrote, "Imagine to yourself a small, snug, wooden chamber, fixed upon a wheel-carriage, having a door at each end, & on each side a little window above, a bench below – The bather, ascending into this apartment by wooden steps, shuts himself in, & begins to undress, while the attendant yokes a horse to the end next the sea, & draws the carriage forwards, til the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressingroom, then he moves & fixes the horse to the other end – The person within being stripped, opens the door to the sea-ward, where he finds the guide ready, & plunges headlong into the water – After having bathed, he re-ascends into the apartment, by the steps which had been shifted for that purpose, & puts on his clothes at his leisure, while the carriage is drawn back again upon the dry land; so that he has nothing further to do, but to open the door, & come down as he went up – Should he be so weak or ill as to require a servant to put off & on his clothes, there is room enough in the apartment for half a dozen people." The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, Tobias Smollett, 1771

 1788 Benjamin West (American painter, 1738-1820) The Bathing Place at Ramsgate

A contemporary description of George III bathing at Weymouth in 1789 describes the king’s dippers thusly: "The bathing-machines make it [‘God Save the King’] their motto over all their windows; and those bathers that belong to the royal dippers wear it in bandeaus on their bonnets, to go into the sea; and have it again, in large letters, round their waists, to encounter the waves. Flannel dresses, tucked up, and no shoes or stockings, with bandeaus and girdles, have a most singular appearance; and when first I surveyed these loyal nymphs it was with some difficulty I kept my features in order." Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, vol 5, pp. 35-6

1789 George III bathing Royal dipping – print by John Nixon, published by William Holland

 1791 Sayer Bathing Machine 

 1800 Droit House with Bathing Machines, Margate, Kent

The bathing machines in use in Margate, Kent, were described in 1805 as "four-wheeled carriages, covered with canvas, & 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."

 1803 Woods Bathing Machine

 1804 Diana Seaside.  

In Sanditon, Jane Austen writes of Miss Diana Parker feeling the need “to encourage Miss Lambe in taking her first Dip. She is so frightened, poor thing, that I promised to come & keep up her Spirits, & go in the Machine with her if she wished"

 1810 A Peep at the Mermaids

1820 Badekarren werden ins Meer gefahren TitelBade Kutschen der See-Badeanstalt auf der Insel Norderney

 1820s Venus Bathing

1829 Mermaids at Brighton by William Heath (1795-1840), Depicts women sea-bathing with bathing machines at Brighton.

 1830s Ramsgate bathing machines off the High Street

An excerpt from The Traveller’s Miscellany and Magazine of Entertainment, written in 1847 recalls the details of a luxury bathing machine, "The interior is all done in snow-white enamel paint, and one-half of the floor is pierced with many holes, to allow of free drainage form wet flannels. The other half of the little room is covered with a pretty green Japanese rug. In one corner is a big-mouthed green silk bag lined with rubber. Into this the wet bathing-togs are tossed out of the way. There are large bevel-edged mirrors let into either side of the room, and below one juts out a toilet shelf, on which is every appliance. There are pegs for towels and the bathrobe, and fixed in one corner is a little square seat that when turned up reveals a locker where clean towels, soap, perfumery, etc. are stowed. Ruffles of white muslin trimmed with lace and narrow green ribbons decorate every available space."

 1831 Bathing Machine by George Bonnart in Margate, Ramsgate & Broadstairs Illustrated History

1858 The Bathe at Newport, by American artist Winslow Homer, Harper's Weekly Newspaper September 1858.

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