Tag Archives: sea bathing; Georgian seaside; bathing machines

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.

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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

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Filed under Fashions, Seaside resorts