Tag Archives: seaside holidays

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

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside. Part 3 – Where to Stay?

‘Well?’ The Earl of Witting glares at his  unfortunate secretary making Porrett drop the pile of paperwork he is juggling. ‘Here we are in June already – where have you found us to stay in Weymouth?’

Weymouth estate agent

[Porrett would have used a local agent, like this modern Weymouth estate agent. Or consulted advertisements in a guidebook or the local newspapers]

‘As you know, my lord, I returned yesterday and I have fully reviewed the options. There are boarding houses, where meals and domestic services are included in the charge. Meals would be taken communally, however and I am not certain large private drawing rooms will be available…’

lodging house breakfast

‘Communally! Have you taken leave of your senses, Porrett? Gatwicks do not take meals communally. Heavens knows what type of people one might encounter – medical men, clergy – ‘ (A nasty dig that, Porrett’s father is a clergyman) ‘ – merchants, even!’

[Above: a communal breakfast at a boarding house by J Green, etched by Rowlandson, in Political Sketches of Scarborough]

‘Quite, my lord. I dismissed those. Then there are lodgings where one might take a floor or the entire house. The lodgers would have to provide their own servants and cook, however, or rely on paying extra for whatever the landlady has to offer.’ The earl is becoming puce in the face, so Porrett adds hastily, ‘I assume you would be taking Gaston with you?’ Always assuming the French chef would condescend to cooking in an unknown kitchen.

‘Of course we are taking Gaston, unless I can rely on decent food. What about these hotels one reads about? Jumped up inns, eh?’

‘So I understand, my lord, although apparently some are being created with er, new facilities.’

‘Facilities? I should damn well hope they have facilities!’

‘No, my lord, I mean sanitary facilities. Water closets.’

‘Outrageous! Probably most unhealthy. What’s wrong with a chamber pot? So, does Weymouth have hotels?’

‘Not that you would find acceptable, my lord. I feel that lodgings might be most suitable. My researches show that there are, at present, one hundred and eight lodging houses.’ [Standardized rows of houses were built for lodgings, as these, below, in Weymouth probably were – and they still are ‘lodgings’ today]

Weymouth houses

The colour of his lordship’s face, which had begun to subside, becomes more vivid as Porrett hastens to explain, ‘I have reduced the number to six, my lord.’ And now, the question he has been aching to ask, the question that will tell him whether his summer is to be spent labouring in London on the receiving end of his lordship’s demands by post or whether, oh bliss!, he is to accompany the family. The family and Miss Emily. Emily with her dark curls and blue eyes, Emily with her rosebud mouth and the freckle just on the –

He pulls himself together. ‘How many chambers will be required, my lord? I collect that Viscount Dithermore and his family are to accompany you and the Countess, but will you require me with you, my lord. Or do I remain here?’

‘Hah! Leave you to frivol your time away in Town? The mice at play while the cat’s away? No, you will come with us, Porrett.’

It is hard for Porrett to keep the blissful smile from his lips. ‘I have the perfect house, in that case, my lord. On the Esplanade, newly built with a fine balcony on the principal floor to give views of the sea.’ And a little balcony on the floor above. As soon as he saw that little wrought iron confection he could imagine Emily standing upon it, the breeze stirring her hair as she turned to him. ‘Oh Porrett, Frederick… I have long lov-‘

Weymouth balconies

[Above: could this be Porrett’s romantic little balcony (left?) I’m not certain it would take the weight of two lovers… Houses on Weymouth’s Esplanade]

‘Then reserve it! Don’t stand there with that look on your face like a distressed halibut! We leave within the week.’

‘At once, my lord.’ Ah, bliss….

What will the journey be like? Will Gaston condescend to accompany them? Will Emily even notice Porrett? Find out in the next installment and meanwhile read about the vibrant world of the early English seaside holiday  in  The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

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The Earl of Wittering Plans His Summer

This May morning in 1816 the Gatwick family gather around the breakfast table in the Small Dining Room of their vast Mayfair mansion. It is obvious that the head of the family, the Earl of Wittering, has something on his mind, although the Countess of Wittering supposes it is only his bowels troubling him again. Like most of the upper classes of his age his diet – heavy on meat and alcohol, low on fruit and vegetables – means that his lordship frequently feels liverish, or to put it more bluntly, he’s appallingly constipated. She makes a mental note to send off another order to Savory & Moore, chemists (by Royal Appointment) in New Bond Street. (Shown below) Thomas Field Savory is making his fortune after acquiring the patent for internationally best-selling laxative, Seidlitz powders but, naturally, she does not mention such a subject at the meal table.

028

The Countess would much rather finish her toast and return to her sitting room where she is putting the final touches to a highly imaginative, and exceedingly dramatic, sketch of an Alpine pass. What she would really like would be to paint the sea. Ever since she read Edmund Burke’s tract On the Sublime and the Beautiful and learned that the ocean was “an object of no small terror” she has been fascinated by it.

On either side of the breakfast table sit the Earl’s heir, the Viscount Ditherstone (coughing, as is his irritating habit at breakfast) and his wife, flanked by their children, seventeen year old Emily and twelve year old Arthur. Ditherstone, ever tactless, enquires if there is anything on his father’s mind.

Porrett, the earl’s secretary has, it transpires, been making enquiries about his lordship’s intentions for the summer so that he can begin to put in place the arrangements and, for once, Lord Wittering is undecided. Normally, after the London Season the family embark on a lengthy round of summer visits to the far-flung branches of the family, their travels greatly eased by the splendid condition of the network of turnpike roads across the country. The tour would always culminate in two weeks spent toadying to his elderly, terrifying and exceedingly wealthy aunts. But the aunts had died that winter, their money left, as he had always desired, to their godson, Master Gatwick, the future earl. Now his lordship wonders if he really wants to spend three months travelling about before he can retire to his country estate for the autumn and set about slaughtering anything with fur, feathers or fins. What he would like to do is recover his health in a spa, as his father would have done, but Bath is hopelessly dull these days, quite out of fashion.

“Perhaps we should take a house at a seaside resort,” ventures his daughter-in-law. “I am sure the pure air would be a benefit to Ditherstone’s lungs.” Ever since she read that amusing novel Emma she has not been able to forget the phrase, The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be. And was it not the case that the great Mr Wordsworth was only able to write his beautiful verses “Upon Westminster Bridge” The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air… because he was amazed to find, for once, the atmosphere free of polluting smoke?

Ditherstone himself perks up. He rather fancies a dip or two in the briny. He’s heard exciting stories about the ladies bathing and what they might, or might not wear, to say nothing of amorous encounters in bathing rooms. And all kinds of dashers visit the seaside, so his bachelor friends tell him.

“Oh, Grandpapa,” Emily breathes. “I would love to go to the seaside.” She bats her eyelashes. “The south coast, they say, is so warm and quite delightful.” And, facing the enemy France, as it does, it is stuffed with troops. All those officers in scarlet coats. Oh, the opportunities for flirtation. (Below: tourists admire the militia parading at Cromer in Norfolk)

Cromer militia

Young Arthur extracts his nose from a scientific journal – he is showing an alarming tendency (in his grandfather’s opinion) towards natural philosophy and not manly sports. “The south coast, it said in a paper I was reading the other day, has much of interest to the fossilist and the mineralogist. I would like to go.”

The Earl glowers down the table. He doesn’t like change. On the other The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEBhand the sea-water cure sounds as though it would be helpful for what ails him. His wife keeps leaving prints of craggy cliffs and tossing waves about, so he supposes it would keep her happy and the rest of the family seemed keen enough. He would think on it.

What will the earl decide? Will the Gatwicks go to the seaside and, if so, to which resort? You can follow their summer adventures here over the next few months and read about the vibrant world of the early English seaside holiday (definitely not a Victorian invention!) in  The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

Meanwhile, now the smog has gone, you can find Savory & Moore’s shop for yourself in Walk 2, Walking Jane vis1Band admire Wordsworth’s view in Walk 6, of Walking Jane Austen’s London

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Filed under Buildings, Entertainment, Gentlemen, High Society, Medicine & health, Military, Seaside resorts, Travel