Category Archives: Seaside resorts

Bathing Machines to Beach Huts

The very first reference to a bathing machine was in 1721 when Nicholas Blundell wrote of “a conveniency for bathing in the sea” and the first image is in a picture of the beach at Scarborough by John Settrington in 1735 where two different types of ‘machine’ are being drawn in and out of the sea by horses (or perhaps donkeys). A detail is shown above.

In 1753 there was the first use of the term “bathing machine”. This was applied to the improved version devised by Benjamin Beale at Margate. This had a canvas hood on hoops that could be let down on the seaward side of the machine allowing bathers a private space to swim unobserved. One can be seen billowing like a cloud from the machine depicted on a souvenir flask.

Not every seaside resort adopted the Beale type of machine and many had no hood or protection for the modesty of the bather at all, as can be seen in this image of an apprehensive lady being guided down into the sea by two dippers. She may well look apprehensive – not only are they about to plunge her vigorously under the water but this is the chilly sea off the Yorkshire coast – probably Scarborough again. (From The Costume of Yorkshire by George Walker 1814).Costume of Yorkshire by George Walker

The bathing machine persisted in use right through the 19th century and into the twentieth up to the 1920s, although with the adoption of bathing costumes that managed to combine a reasonable degree of decency with functionality for swimming, the modesty hood vanished. This image from the 1880s shows the beach at Cromer with ranks of machines drawn up on the sand.

Many people regarded the ban on mixed bathing, prevalent in most resorts, as outdated and prudish, especially as British resorts were losing ground to more sophisticated Continental seaside towns where mixed bathing was the norm. In Dieppe there were elegant striped changing tents and gradually variations on these lightweight beach shelters displaced the bathing machine, making a drier, more comfortable place for the whole family to change and shelter. These are at Bexhill on Sea in 1919.

The first beach huts as we would recognise them today were erected at Felixstowe in 1895. They were called ‘tents’ but were actually wooden. A guidebook of 1919 explained that they “…serve[d] as snug and pleasant rooms where one could work, read or dream in the shade, close to the sea.”

At Bournemouth in 1908 the Undercliff Drive was created and a row of huts, ten feet square, for day use was built by the town council. They called them ‘bungalows’ and advertised them as providing families with “a storeroom for books, spades, pails and all the impedimenta of seaside life and facilities for simple meals.” They had glazed front doors and a sitting area sheltered under the overhang of the roof. They lined the promenade with a wide walkway before the beach, where traditional bathing machines continued to be drawn up.

From then on the beach hut as we know it today developed. Many were built by the municipality, and came with numerous rules and regulations, but some were constructed privately, especially where there were areas of foreshore with unclear ownership. In some cases they spread, unchecked – the origins of the little community of Jaywick Sands in Essex where many of the little bungalows, even today, show a close resemblance to overgrown beach huts.

Below are the famously colourful huts at Wells Next the Sea in Norfolk, sheltering against the pine trees on the dunes.

Bathing huts are iconic features of the British seaside resort and yet, even when they are municipally owned or controlled, they manage to have such individual characteristics and personalities, reflecting the fantasies and secret worlds of their occupants. They were the ideal setting for a collection of beach-read novellas I contributed to with five writer friends. Beach Hut Surprise gives six glimpses into the beach huts of Little Piddling, a South Coast resort from the Edwardian era to the present day.

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Architecture, Books, Buildings, Entertainment, Seaside resorts

If You Decide to Visit Sanditon -Here is What to Wear

The new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon is all the rage on British TV as I write this post, so here is a collection of fashionable outfits to help you decide what to wear to the seaside. First of all, remember to pack your telescope (or you can hire one from most circulating libraries.) A lady never knows when she might need to check that the gentlemen are sticking to their allocated section of beach.

telescope shoppedThe image above is from La Belle Assemblée for October 1809 and shows ‘Sea Coast Promenade Fashion.’

Telescope0001Somewhat later – I do not have a date for this, but it is c1820 – is this ‘Walking Dress’ from Ackermann’s Repository. I can’t help feeling that this lady is looking positively shifty as she readies her telescope.

 

 

Also in October 1809 the same periodical  showed, ‘Bathing Place Assembly Ball Dress’ (below), illustrated with the neat trick of having a mirror at the back. I can’t help feeling that the head and the bosom are slightly out of proportion… It is interesting that both are published in October – surely far too late for the seaside ‘Season’.

Oct 1809 Bathing Place Assembly

If you feel daring you might like to try one of Mrs Bell’s more… interesting (?) confections….

Bathing evening0001

This extraordinary garment (La Belle Assemblée September 1810) is described as ‘Bathing Place Evening Dress’ and looks like nothing more than some form of night-wear with its buttons right down the front and the display of the shocking pantalettes.

Walking dresses for the seaside show a complete disregard for sea breezes, with bonnets and parasols deployed by every lady. These ladies on the beach at Southend seem to be hanging on to skirts and parasols with some difficulty.Southend

dog walking

This lady, walking her dog on the beach with bathing machines behind her, seems positively agitated as she clings to her hat with her shawl whipping around her. This is a plate from Ackermann’s Repository August 1822.

A rather more tranquil day is shown here in another dog-walking scene, although I would not like to be her lady’s maid, trying to get salt water and sand out of those trailing skirts!

parasol dog bathing machines

1809 Bathing dressWhat did one wear to get to and from those bathing machines? The ever-inventive Mrs Bell produced a magnificent ‘Sea Side Bathing Dress’ for the August 1815 edition of La Belle Assemblée. This is not the costume for entering the sea but for wearing to get there, and it is lavishly trimmed in drooping green, presumably to imitate seaweed. Note the bag she is carrying. This contains Mrs Bell’s ‘Bathing Preserver’ which she produced in 1814. You can see it in its bag again below (La Belle Assemblée September 1814). Here the lady is wearing ‘Sea Side Morning Dress’ with ‘Bathing Preserver. Invented & to be had exclusively of Mrs Bell, No.26 Charlotte Street, Bedford Square.’ The Preserver is in the bag lying beside her chair.

1814 Seaside walking dress & bathing preserver.jpg

Ladies normally wore a simple flannel garment with head and arm holes and possibly a weighted hem – ‘a flannel case’. One could provide one’s own or hire one, and this is what Mrs Bell is referring to in her description of the Perserver:

‘The Bathing Preserver‘ is a most ingenious and useful novelty for ladies who frequent the sea-side; as it is intended to provide them with a dress for bathing far more adapted to such purposes than anything of the kind at present in use; and it will be found most necessary and desirable to those ladies who go to the sea-side unprovided with bathing dresses and will relieve them from the nauseous idea of wearing the bathing coverings furnished by the guides [the ‘dippers’ or bathing-women]. Mrs Bell’s Bathing Preserver is made in quite a novel manner to which is attached a cap to be removed at pleasure, made of a delicate silk to keep the head dry. The Preserver is made of such light material that a lady may carry it in a tasteful oiled silk bag of the same size as an ordinary lady’s reticule.’

Discover all about the Georgian seaside, from bathing dresses to royal patronage, in The Georgian Seaside: The English resorts before the railway age. 

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Fashions, Seaside resorts, Women

Sea bathing – 1756

I have recently acquired this  print of Scarborough dated 1756 which I believe was originally a fold-out illustration in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Scarborough 1

What is so lovely about it is that it shows bathing machines at this very early date. Scarborough was in the vanguard of the new craze for sea bathing, helped by the fact that its original spa was actually on the beach.

Scarborough 2

The first mention of bathing machines is in 1721 when a Nicholas Blundell mentions “a Conveniency for Bathing in the Sea.” In 1735 “Conveniencies” were being provided at Scarborough for ladies (gentlemen simply walked into the sea naked (regardless of spectators) or jumped in from rowing boats. I can count five machines in the sea and another six waiting at the foot of the cliffs (rather indistinct, but behind the furthest carriage with horses on the beach).

The machines in the sea are of two types – one looks like a modern garden shed on wheels, rectangular with a pitched roof. The other is square with a pyramidal roof.

Scarborough bathing huts

None of them have the “modesty hood” or “tilt” invented in 1753 by Benjamin Beale, a Quaker from Margate. This unfolded like an umbrella at the front allowing the bather to swim modestly hidden. Ladies and gentlemen in elegant clothes have been driven down to the beach in their carriages and would have had a perfect view of the bathers, all of whom would have been naked. Sack-like garments for ladies soon appeared but it was considered effeminate for men to wear anything until well into the 19th century.

if you want to read about the Georgian Seaside, which was flourishing long before the  Victorian seaside holiday, you’ll find it in my book, The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railway age

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

Leave a comment

Filed under Entertainment, Medicine & health, Seaside resorts

Bringing Spice to the Kitchen – Or the British and ‘Curry’

The British in India, from the 17th century onwards, cheerfully lumped the many and varied styles of cooking, and the subtle differences in dishes they encountered, under the term ‘curry’, a word copied from the Portuguese. Pietro della Valle (died 1652) described as ‘caril’ or ‘carre’ the ‘broths… made  with Butter, the Pulp of Indian Nuts… and all sorts of Spices, particularly Cardamons and Ginger… besides herbs, fruits and a thousand other condiments [which are] poured in good quantity upon … boyl’d Rice.’

The British in India ate ‘curry’ with every meal, using the term to cover anything in a spicy sauce. No British lady would dream of undertaking her own cooking, so she would have no idea about how the dishes her Indian household served up were made. Eventually curry powder came to be considered a spice in its own right, completely ignoring the infinite varieties and combinations that might be used. Anglo-Indians might think they were immersing themselves in local culture – like the young East India Company employee above, listening to Indian musicians amongst his European furniture – but they seemed to have no appreciation of the subtleties of the cuisine.

As East India Company officials came back to Britain they brought their taste for curry with them and often they brought their Indian cooks with them. These men had learned to create the first Anglo-Indian cookery style to suit their employers and soon curry began to appear in ordinary household cookery books.

One enterprising India entrepreneur, Sake Dean Mahomed [Sidi Deen Mahomet in some sources], opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain in 1810. I discovered it (or, rather, where it had been) when I was researching for Walking Jane Austen’s London. It was located on the corner of George Street and Charles Street, just North of Portman Square, a fashionable area and one that was home to many retired Anglo-Indians.  The Hindostanee Coffee House even had a smoking room where patrons could smoke hookahs. Despite serving ‘Indian dishes in the highest perfection… allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequaled to any…ever made in England’ the business became bankrupt the following year. Possibly his choice of location was unfortunate and many of the Anglo-Indians could eat curry at home made by their own Indian cooks or they preferred to combine business with curry by patronising the various City coffee houses that served curry alongside English food. Norris Street Coffee House on Haymarket had been serving curry since 1773 when its ‘Mistress’ advertised in The Public Advertiser ‘true Indian curey paste.’ ‘At the shortest Notice [she would send] ready dressed Curey and Rice, also Indian Pilaws, to any Part of the Town.’ East India Company merchants had created almost a club for themselves at the Jerusalem Coffee House on Cornhill. No specialist Indian restaurant appeared again in Central London until the 1920s.

Sake Dean Mahomed (right. Painted by Thomas Mann Baines c.1810) had far more success with his bathing establishment in Brighton. “Mahomed’s Baths. These are ascertained [sic] by a native of India, and combine all the luxuries of oriental bathing. They are adapted either for ladies or gentlemen, and the system is highly salutary in many diseases, independently of the gratification it affords, particularly to those who have resided in the East.”  [W. Scott. The House Book or Family Chronicle of Useful Knowledge (1826)] The ‘luxuries of oriental bathing’, I learned when I was researching for The Georgian Seaside, included shampooing – not of the head, but of the whole body in a foaming massage.

The Epicure’s Almanac (1815) has a section on seasonal foods and for July mentions that ‘various preparations of curry afford a delectable repast to those who have acquired a taste for this Indian diet.’ Ready-made curry powder could be bought alongside other spices and was first mentioned in Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery (1747).

Here is a recipe for curry made with curry powder from The New London Family Cook (1811) by Duncan McDonald, head cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel, Covent Garden. The Bedford Tavern and Hotel was a large establishment on the Great Piazza. It opened in 1726 and continued in business throughout most of the 19th century.

And this is from A New System of Domestic Cookery (1807)

curry 2

curry 3 For a fascinating history of Europe’s love affair with curry, try Lizzie Collingham’s Curry; a biography (2005).

 

1 Comment

Filed under Domestic life, Food & drink, Seaside resorts

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part 11 Porrett Saves the Day!

The Georgian SeasideThe Earl of Wittering, his wife, son and daughter in law and grandchildren are all at the theatre, accompanied reluctantly, by Porrett the Earl’s secretary who is in the throes of a violent, whispered quarrel with his granddaughter, Emily.

‘I love you, Frederick!’ says Emily, her declaration covered in the shrieks from the stage where the melodrama put on by the touring company is reaching its climax with bodies strewn in all directions.

theatre

‘You cannot,’ he whispers miserably. ‘Look at the play – it was a wild success in Chichester.’

‘I don’t care if that is Mrs Siddons out there,’ Emily snaps. ‘Do you mean you do not love me?’

Poor Porrett – to do the honourable thing is to lie. ‘Of course I love you,’ he admits miserably. He cannot lie to his beloved even though, as a gentleman, he should. ‘And it can never be. Your grandfather is the Earl, my employer…’

‘Do not be so feeble,’ Emily says, almost in tears. ‘Tell them all how you feel, ask for my hand!’

‘No,’ says Porrett, resolute in his anguish. ‘I cannot.’ The villain stabs the hero on stage and then falls on his own sword. Porrett knows how he feels. ‘You deserve better.’

Emily makes a sound like a furious kitten and turns her shoulder to him. In the interval her father, the Viscount Ditherstone, announces his intention of taking out a pleasure boat and having a family picnic further along the coast.

‘The fishermen expect high winds tomorrow, my lord,’ Porrett, points out. ‘It might be safer to leave it for another day.’

‘Oh, don’t be such a coward,’ says Emily, nose (somewhat pink) in the air. ‘Papa knows all about sailing, don’t you Papa?’

The Viscount, who has spent two days being seasick on a friend’s yacht ten years ago, smirks ‘No need, for you to concern yourself, Porrett. My father will want you to do some work, I’ll be bound. You needn’t be nervous about getting your feet wet.’

Porrett is still smarting from Emily’s disdain the next morning and indeed, the weather looks set fair as everyone except himself and the Earl set out with picnic hampers to hire a small sailing boat. His last-minute plea to Emily to stay behind was met with a reproachful look and a muttered accusation of not having the courage to stand up to Papa for her sake.

But by midday, as he looks out of the window yet again instead of taking the Earl’s dictation , he sees the black clouds boiling up from the west. The wind is beginning to snap the flags along the promenade. ‘My lord, I have the gravest apprehension about the safety of the sailing party. I should hire a boat and go after them.’

The two men run to the harbour and Porrett hails a pair of fishermen who are just tying up. At first they refuse to take him out, but the sight of the banknotes the Earl is brandishing changes their mind. With Porrett clinging grimly to the mast they set sail. By the time they reach the stretch of coast the Viscount intended to land at for the picnic they see no sign of the boat – but then Porrett spots a slim figure on the shore waving a handkerchief. Emily! And, ‘There’s the boat, sir!’ cries a fisherman and, sure enough, mastless, the little sailing boat with a green-faced Viscount clinging to the thwarts, is just before them. They grapple it and haul him aboard – when he attempted to take the party off again in the face of the rising wind, he was washed out to sea, the mast snapped and the ladies and young Arthur were left stranded on the beach, trapped between the cliffs and the rising tide.shore

Porrett does not hesitate, he leaps into the fishing smack’s rowing boat, casts off and rows for shore. It is rough, dangerous and he is exhausted, but he makes it to land, runs onto the beach, helps the Viscountess and young  Arthur in, then takes Emily in his arms, kisses her passionately and wades into the sea to set her gently into the little craft. He feels he could swim back, he is so elated, but he rows back to the smack and is disconcerted when the Viscountess throws her arms around his neck and kisses him, declaring that he is their saviour, their Galahad, their knight in shining armour. Emily just sits and gazes at him with tears in her eyes. When they reach the jetty the Earl, with a look on his face that promises retribution later for his feckless son and heir, hurries his womenfolk and grandson back to the lodgings. Porrett is left to trudge, wet and exhausted, behind.

He is disconcerted to discover a note commanding him to attend the ball at the Assembly Rooms that evening, wishing instead that he could just put his feet up and nurse his broken heart in decent privacy. But an order is an order. He comes down to join the family in the drawing room and, to his amazement, the Earl embraces him warmly, hails him as a hero and announces that he has secured him an influential post in the Home Office. ‘You’ll need it to keep my little Emily in the manner to which she has become accustomed,’ he announces. ‘I’ve had my eye on the pair of you and you, young Porrett, have the makings of a great man about you. More than my clodpole of a son,’ he murmurs in the stunned secretary’s ear. ‘Well, get on and ask her, don’t stand there like a looby.’

So Porrett finds his voice and, in front of the entire family, goes down on one knee and begs Emily for the honour of her hand in marriage. And Emily, throws her arms around him the moment he stands up (almost knocking him flat), bursts into tears and declares that no-one was ever such a hero as he is.

So off they go to the ball. You can see them just slipping off to the terrace (which leads to the gardens) in the far left of the picture. Sometimes Porrett is not quite such a saint as the Earl believes him to be…

ballroom

Pleasure boats were an essential part of the Georgian seaside holiday, but accidents were not at all uncommon, including one Margate party who were tossed around at sea for more than 24 hours before being rescued – no mobile phones, no life jackets…

You can find out more about the perils of the seaside, the Assembly Rooms, the theatres and their travelling companies of players, or, in fact any aspect of the life of the coastal resorts before the railways came in The Georgian Seaside.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

7 Comments

Filed under Accidents & emergencies, courtship & marriage, Dance, Entertainment, High Society, Love and Marriage, Seaside resorts

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside Part 10: A Walk on the Beach

The broad sweep of sand was one of the factors that had decided Porrett in his selection of Weymouth for the Earl’s seaside visit. Now he finds himself delighted with his choice as the Countess and her daughter in law drive off in one of the charming little donkey carts for hire, their husbands stride along the seashore, young Arthur rummages happily amongst the seashells on the tide line and he is left to escort Miss Gatwick – Emily.

beach scene

She clings to his arm and laughs as they pass small children happily building sandcastles. ‘Mama would never have let me do that when I was small.’

‘The followers of Rousseau believe that childish play is healthy,’ Porrett observes, wondering why he has to sound so incredibly pompous when he speaks to Emily. ‘And here on the beach there is so much more room than at the inland spas. Children can play without disturbing anyone else.’

So can adults,’ Emily says as her mother and grandmother pass them in their donkey cart, Mama holding onto her hat and laughing. ‘Oh, do look at that very fetching bathing dress.’

She points to a lady wearing (to Porrett’s vast relief) a costume designed for the walk to a bathing machine rather than the actual costume for immersion itself. He is still finding the somewhat casual approach to ladies’ dress embarrassing.  ‘I assume it is supposed to be trimmed with seaweed,’ he says dubiously, hoping that Emily will not want to wear something so outlandish. (The example shown here is from La Belle Assemblee for 1809. In her hand she is holding the bag for her Bathing Preserver, the costume she will actually wear in the water, an invention of Mrs Bell, the modiste who was also responsible for this subtle little number.).

1809 Bathing dress‘Such a pity green does not suit me.’ They wander on a little, Porrett tongue-tied with love, Emily uncharacteristically silent. Finally she blurts out, ‘You went swimming this morning.’

‘Er, yes. I felt I should check the facilities.’

‘I saw you. From the window.’ She pauses and gulps audibly. ‘With Papa’s telescope.’

Porrett feels the blood drain from his face and tries very hard not to think about where it is heading. Emily had been watching him swimming. Him swimming naked. With a telescope. ‘Miss Gatwick…’

‘Emily, please, Frederick. You looked magnificent rising from the waves. Like a sea god,’ she adds breathlessly.

Porrett has no illusions about his personal charms. He is rather less than six foot tall, has sandy hair,  takes strenuous exercise to prevent a stoop as a result of so much desk work and has to wear wire-rimmed spectacles for documents in small print. If Emily thinks he looks like a god then either she is seriously ill and hallucinating or she… she…

1816 Costumes Parisien‘We cannot,’ he mumbles with nothing like his normal fluency. ‘You are the granddaughter of an earl. I am…’

‘The third son of a bishop and the second cousin of a duke,’ Emily says just as there is a shriek and a lady is hauled spluttering to the surface by two burly female dippers.

Porrett closes his eyes in dismay – this lady has gone in without her flannel ‘case’ – then opens them again with a yelp when Emily digs her elbow into his ribs in a most unlover-like manner. ‘Oh, Papa,’ she says. ‘Do go and distract him before he causes a riot.’ And, of course, the Viscount is on the waterline gawping. Porrett, ready to tackle dragons to save Emily the slightest embarrassment, strides off to deal with her father. Yet again. Dipping crop

Find out more about the many attractions of a walk on the beach and the changing attitudes to children’s play in The Georgian Seaside.

Next time – a rift between the lovers puts Emily’s life in danger. Can Porrett save the day and win her hand? Find out in the concluding episode.

Save

Save

5 Comments

Filed under Entertainment, Fashions, Seaside resorts

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside Part 9: Adventures in the Bath House

bath house 4

The Earl of Wittering marshals his family after breakfast to decide on the morning’s activities. ‘Porrett has made a recce,’ he announces. (He commanded the local militia for four months and, in his imagination, is forever a soldier…) ‘The bath house is up to standard and there is the choice of taking a machine and having a dunking or using the facilities – plunge pools, shower baths, steam rooms and so forth.’

‘I would like to go in the sea,’ young Arthur announces. ‘I will search for marine life.’

‘In that case Porrett will accompany you.’

Porrett attempts to look delighted at the challenge and not like a man who has already been in the sea once that morning.

‘I will bathe too,’ says Emily casting Porrett a languishing look. ‘I am already quite over-warm.’ Quite how she proposes to get close to Porrett once in the water she has no idea, but pretending to drown might be a good start…

‘Over-warm’ is putting it mildly so far as her grandfather’s besotted secretary is concerned. The sea, he fears, will probably boil around him if she is in it too.

‘I intend sampling the warm bath,’ Lady Wittering announces. ‘You will no doubt wish to join me, Emilia,’ she adds to her daughter in law in clear command.

‘I’ll investigate the billiards room. May try a shower later,’ Viscount Ditherstone remarks. If nothing else, Porrett thinks, the wretched man will be investigating just how separate the male and female facilities are.

‘And I will go for a dunking, I suppose,’ the Earl grumbles. ‘No need for you after all, Porrett, so long as I’m with Arthur.’ Fortunately he does not see the expression on his granddaughter’s face. ‘We’ll go in fifteen minutes.’

The family is completely delighted with the facilities of the bath house (except for Emily, who is still sulking). The two older ladies take themselves off to the warm baths where Lady Ditherstone, at least, imagines herself as a beauteous Roman lady about to bathe in asses’ milk –

hot baths

The bathers, Emily chaperoned by her very reluctant maid, troop downstairs to their respective bathing machines and Porrett trails after the Viscount into the billiards room. He is not going to succumb to the temptation to take one of the telescopes out onto the balcony, he tells himself as he fidgets around, glancing at the well-stocked selection of newspapers and journals while keeping half an ear cocked for the click of billiard balls.

Silence, except for the snores of some elderly gentleman over by the bookshelves. Ditherstone has vanished. Porrett hastens out. Goodness knows what trouble the amorous lord is about to get himself into. No-one is visible in the vestibule but the faint click of boot heels comes from the steps under an arch labelled Ladies’ Rooms. With true valour Porrett rushes down in pursuit, just as a piercing shriek echoes up. In front of him is a door labelled Shower Bath. It is open and just visible are the tips of Lord Ditherstone’s brown tail coat. Porrett seizes them in both hands, drags backwards and yanks the door closed, finding himself embracing an armful of very irritated Viscount.

shower bath

‘Thank Heavens, my lord! You had wandered into the ladies’ section in error,’ he gasps, somewhat impeded by an aristocratic elbow in the stomach as the Viscount storms back upstairs. ‘Really,’ he adds severely to the gawping attendants as they reach the vestibule, ‘You should ensure the notices are more legible. His lordship has just been severely discommoded, as might any gentleman, especially a scholar such as his lordship with weak eyesight.’ The Viscount has occasionally been known to glance at the sporting press but that is as far as his scholarship extends.

‘Coffee and brandy,’ Ditherstone demands. ‘In the billiards room, immediately.’ Porrett follows him, fearing instant dismissal, and finds his hand taken and wrung in a painful clasp. ‘Good man, quick thinking. Two cups and glasses,’ he snaps as the waiter comes in. ‘Mr Porrett will be joining me.’ All Porrett can feel is intense relief that he will not be forced to leave the household, forced to say goodbye to Emily for ever…

The photograph at the top of the post is of the Greek Revival-style bath house at Ilfracombe. This was a popular style intended to create a link with the Classical world and impart intellectual respectability to the pleasures of the bath. The two other images are from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough (1813).

Discover more about the Georgian bath houses – the gyms and fitness clubs of their day in The Georgian Seaside

Next time the family take some exercise on the beach.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

10 Comments

Filed under Buildings, Entertainment, Gentlemen, Medicine & health, Seaside resorts

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside Part 8: Porrett Takes to the Waves

bathing machine flaskThe Earl of Wittering’s extended family have all decided that they will try being ‘dunked’ in the sea in the interests of their health, although their enthusiasm for the exercise varies considerably. Young Arthur is eager to observe jelly fish (although he has the tact not to mention them in front of his female relatives), his father, Viscount Ditherstone, is keen to catch a glimpse of any ladies bathing, while the Viscount’s father, the Earl, is grimly determined to suffer for the sake of his digestion, even if that means drinking sea water too.

The ladies are nervous (except Miss Emily) so Porrett, the Earl’s secretary, decides to take an early morning dip to test out the bath house and its facilities himself. He sneaks out early, unaware that Emily has heard him discuss this with the butler. She has armed herself with a telescope and is in position at her bed chamber balcony… (Emily may like to think she looks like the dashing female in the La Belle Assemblée print of October 1809 but unfortunately she is in a very modest gown). telescope shopped

The bath houses control the bathing machines and, although there are over thirty at Weymouth, it is still necessary to register at the bath house and wait to be summoned when one is free. The bath house also provides hot and cold baths, plunge baths, showers and elegant waiting rooms furnished with newspapers, journals and telescopes.

Bathing is normally carried out before noon, but even so, Porrett is so early that he secures a bathing machine immediately, pays one shilling and sixpence (the sixpence covers his ‘guide’ or ‘dipper’) and follows the man down the steps and across the sand to a bathing machine.

Porrett is a confident swimmer who has swum many times in the sea, so he doesn’t really need a guide, but he feels it his duty to examine the quality of the personnel. Nor does he need dipping – being thrust beneath the surface three or four times to ensure total contact with the health-giving ‘briny fluid’. He climbs the three steps at the back of the machine – really only a hut on large wheels, just over six foot long and not much taller – and lets himself in. Inside it is gloomy, lit only by slats set high in the walls, so he undresses more or less by touch, lurching to sit down with a thump on the bench when the horse between the shafts begins to pull the machine down the beach.

There are plenty of hooks for his clothes, he is glad to see. Porrett has nothing to change into, for it is considered positively effeminate for a man to swim wearing any kind of garment, and he winces as his bare feet come into contact with the sodden strip of carpet on the wooden floor and reminds himself to suggest that the ladies wear light sandals. There is more lurching as the machine enters the water, sounds of the horse being unhitched and led away, then a rattle and a splash as the hood is lowered to give him privacy. This hooped canvas device was invented by Mr Beale, a Margate Quaker, to ensure the modesty of bathers entering the water.

‘All ready, sir!’ the guide calls and Porrett lets himself out of the seaward door onto the top step.

bathing machines detailHe waves away the guide with some confidence. ‘I can swim, thank you,’ and plunges in, shuddering at the first shock of cold water. He surfaces within the cover but the space it encloses – about 10 by five feet – is too restricting and he ducks underneath and strikes out strongly.

Up on her balcony Miss Emily felt a most unmaidenly pang of disappointment when she saw the hood being let down on the only machine in operation. She almost turns away, then a dark head appears, seal-like, and she focuses the telescope. It is Porrett! Frederick, as she thinks of him. How strongly he swims. Her heart is positively fluttering and then he stops and… stands up. Frederick, she realises, has admirable shoulders and very trim waist and… Oh, the lens has steamed up.

Porrett spots two ladies walking their dog along the beach, so he hastily dips below the surface and swims back to the machine. Everything seems to be in order so he will reserve machines and dippers for the entire party before he goes back to breakfast, he decides. He dries himself on the scratchy towel provided (Note to self, remind the ladies to bring their own) and dresses with more difficulty than he stripped off as the machine lumbers back up the beach.

Emily hastens to return the telescope to her grandfather’s study, fanning herself with her free hand as she does so. Her slight tendre for Porrett is developing into something altogether more serious. He is so manly…

What will happen when the whole family goes to the beach? Can Emily arrange things so that Porrett comes too? Will the Viscount get his face slapped for leering at bathing beauties? How will the Earl’s indigestion respond to a dunking?

Discover more about the world of the Georgian Seaside  in The Georgian Seaside The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

7 Comments

Filed under Fashions, Seaside resorts

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part Seven. The Ladies Go Shopping (& so does Mr Porrett)

As a confidential secretary Porrett has a well-developed instinct for what will make the ladies of his employer’s household happy – and therefore what will keep the Earl of Wittering himself content. Nothing irritates his lordship more than his wife, daughter-in-law and granddaughter fidgeting about, bored and demanding his attention. Nothing, that is, but Porrett himself attempting to persuade the Earl to cast an eye over his accounts.

seaside shop

Therefore, now that the family is established in elegant lodgings in Weymouth, have signed the Master of Ceremony’s book, subscribed to the library and taken the air the next priority is to introduce the ladies to the retail opportunities that the town holds.

‘It will be intolerably provincial, I suppose,’ Lady Ditherstone observes with a sniff.

‘I venture to hope that your ladyship may not find it so,’ Porrett hastens to interject, seeing Miss Emily’s lower lip beginning to quiver in disappointment. Only one thing mars his optimistic daydreams of a life of bliss with Emily and that is the sneaking suspicion that his income would not satisfy her whims for all things novel, pretty and expensive. Then his romantic nature overcomes these moments of realism. “My darling,” she would cry, throwing herself on his manly (if rather skinny) chest. “I would live in a cottage and learn to cook if only I can be with you.”

‘Mr Porrett? You are gaping like a stricken haddock,’ Lady Wittering observes sharply.

‘Your ladyship’s pardon, I was mentally assembling the list of desirable emporia.’ He blushes in mortification at being so shamed, but Miss Emily sends him a speaking look of commiseration – it seems that perhaps she finds the haddock an attractive fish, or, more likely, she has been on the receiving end of her grandmother’s reproofs before now.

Porrett’s blush is now glowing like the sunset over the English Channel, but he clears his throat and delivers his report. ‘Many of the shops are temporary for the season, my lady. The most select establishments in Dorchester and Salisbury have a branch here during the summer, and, given the royal patronage, so do many London shops of distinction.’ He produces a town plan and begins to point out the highlights. ‘A jeweller with a royal warrant, here… three milliners in this street. A modiste here and here. A bazaar selling elegant trifles that may amuse is located on this corner and…’

‘And we must go and investigate immediately,’ Emily cries. ‘You are so clever Mr Porrett! I must have a new bonnet for I declare none of mine are fit to be seen.’

‘We must also acquire some of Mrs Bell’s Patent Bathing Preservers. Nothing would persuade me to be dipped in some hired bathing dress.’ Emily’s mother produces a shudder that would have made Sarah Siddons proud.

‘As you had the foresight to mention that before we left London I have made enquiries, my lady, and Arthbuthnott’s Haberdashery, Notions and Fancy Goods carries a stock of them.’

And right next door is Madame Ernestine’s hat shop. Porrett was up and about at dawn this morning checking out the shops and there is the most exquisite bonnet in the window that would look enchanting on Miss Emily’s dark curls.

‘We will go immediately. We will not require you, Porrett, as you have so efficiently marked the map. We will take one of the footmen to carry parcels.’

‘But – ’ Porrett’s lower lip begins to quiver with as much pathos as Miss Emily’s ever did.

‘But I have turned my ankle a little, Mama. I need the support of a gentleman’s arm if I am not to strain it and be unable to dance tonight. Mr Porrett would be perfect.’ Periwinkle blue eyes smile into his yearning grey ones.

‘I would be only too happy, Miss Emily.’ Although I may need a cold bath before and after the experience.

Dizzy with delight Porrett shepherds his little party through the streets of Weymouth, Claude the footman bringing up the rear and young Master Arthur tagging along too, for Porrett has promised him a shop selling shells, fossils and geological curiosities. Miss Emily holds tight to Porrett’s arm, limping just enough to give credibility to her tale of a painful ankle, and causing his bosom to swell with protective fervour.

Outside Arbuthnott’s store she hangs back, her gaze on the pretty bow window of the milliner’s shop. ‘I will just look in here, Mama. Mr Porrett will look after me.’ Arthur makes his escape – he has spotted the shell shop. (The one shown above is on the Terrace in Scarborough)

bonnet‘There is a bonnet here I thought might suit you, Miss Gatwick,’ he confesses, remembering to address her properly and not by her given name as he always thinks of her. ‘You see? That one on the stand.’

‘Oh! Oh, Frederick,’ she gasps as his head spins. ‘You are wonderful. It is perfection.’

Will Emily get her bonnet? Will the ladies obtain their bathing preservers? Will Porrett’s blood pressure ever return to normal? In the next installment the Gatwicks (and Porrett) will go sea bathing.

Discover more about the world of the Georgian Seaside – and its shopping opportunities –  in The Georgian Seaside

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

Save

Save

3 Comments

Filed under Fashions, High Society, Seaside resorts, Shopping

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part Six The Ladies (and Porrett) Visit the Library

It is raining today, the second of the Gatwick family’s stay in Weymouth, so Lady Ditherstone abandons her father in law and husband to their news sheets, deals firmly with her daughter Emily’s pleas that taking to the ocean in the rain can hardly make you any wetter than you will be already, and carries off her mother in law the Countess of Wittering, Emily and young Arthur to visit the subscription library.

library

‘You have researched the available libraries I trust, Mr Porrett?’ She is inclined to rather like the Earl’s secretary, such a thoroughly nice, intelligent young man and really, once he takes off those wire-rimmed spectacles, quite good-looking. Intelligent, good-looking men are in short supply in the Gatwick household, although young Arthur certainly has a keen interest in natural philosophy.

‘Certainly, Lady Ditherstone. There are several, but most are not of a standard that would suit you, I fear. However there is one excellent one. As The Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places remarks, those who frequent a good circulating library rather than a ballroom “frequently enjoy the most rational and the most permanent pleasure.” ‘ He regrets the quote as soon as he makes it, for Miss Emily fixes him with a look that is anything but kindly. So far as she is concerned nothing, but nothing, can exceed the pleasures of the ballroom.

‘Mr Porrett can come with us and carry our books as he is so fond of libraries,’ she says pertly. ‘And the umbrellas.’

Porrett, no fool, even if he is blinded by hopeless love, enlists the umbrella-wielding support of two footmen leaving himself to shelter Miss Emily. He employs the walk to the library with regaining her good graces. ‘They have all the latest fashion journals,’ he assures her. ‘And the latest novels.’ From ahead he can hear young Arthur stating that he needs a book on rocks and something on seaweed as he intends to collect both. Porrett is not certain, but he thinks the Viscountess gives the slightest, most well-bred, shudder. ‘And there is a section selling toys (he means novelties and small frivolities for adults, of course) – all the finest fans and reticules and so forth and souvenirs.’

Pic105Emily gives him a beaming smile, much restored by thoughts of shopping, as they reach the circulating library. Porrett, having established that the monthly subscription is eight shillings, deals with the business side, taking out a subscription for both senior ladies. He also subscribes for himself, for he has a secret penchant for poetry and intends to take a slim volume off to the garden where he can brood on his heartache in peace. (Above, the artist of a Regency ‘bat print’ bowl has caught Porrett immersed in his poetry next to a beehive.)

The library they find themselves in very like the one shown at the top of the post (Illustration of 1813 by Rowlandson). Note the shelf of New Arrivals on the right and the two gentlemen in energetic dispute over a political pamphlet on the left. A horn sprouting writing quills hangs in the right-hand window and a poster advertises a new book on Westminster and Its Monuments. The younger ladies shown are all in the height of fashion whereas the older lady with her little dog, long stick and black footman in attendance wisely chooses rather wider skirts and a lower waistline. Note the parasol propped up against the counter – it has the handle at what, today, is the wrong end. This persisted until about 1815 when the point where a parasol or umbrella was held when not in use shifted ends.

This evening the family attends the Assembly Rooms for an evening of dancing and cards. Porrett is thrilled to have been invited to accompany them, but somehow this afternoon, he is going to have to purchase a new pair of black silk stockings. Dare he risk ones with a stripe? What are the shops likely to be like? Find out more in   The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Buildings, Entertainment, Fashions, High Society, Seaside resorts, Shopping