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|Olivia P's Question re Letter 39
Written by Julie W
(Sunday, 18 January 2009, at 7:58 a.m.)
Olivia P asked:
In her letter, Jane discusses how bathing has tired her. It seems like bathing/swimming would indeed be very tiring when wearing bulky bathing clothes. Would she have used a bathing machine? How much would use of a bathing machine have cost? Were bathing machines used only by people of means or were they affordable for the average person (whatever that is!)?
In Letter 39 JA wrote from Lyme Regis:
Friday Eveng. -- The Bathing was so delightful this morning & Molly so pressing with me to enjoy myself that I believe I staid in rather too long, as since the middle of the day I have felt unreasonably tired. I shall be more careful another time, & shall not bathe tomorrow, as I had before intended.
Sea bathing was seen not really as a leisure pursuit in our era, more as something to promote health. This was all put in motion by a Dr Richard Russell, a native of Lewes in Sussex. It was he who from the 1740s, and perhaps even before, who prescribed sea bathing and even the drinking of sea-water for many ailments, and the popularity of sea-bathing rapidly increased.
Here is a picture of the title page and frontispiece to the first Irish edition of his influential work.
And this is Dr Russell in all his glory:
Bathing-machines appeared on the beach at Scarborough
circa 1735- the northern haunt of Miss Bingley et al in P+P- and were certainly at Brighton by 1750, and here although bathing was initially mixed, separate beaches for the sexes were later established, the ladies' beach being just east of the Steine with the gentlemen's to the west.
This picture by Thomas Rowlandson, from his work An Excursion to Brightelmstone (1790) shows the first bathing “ machines “ on Brighton beach , with the seaman and fishermen of the old trade which once dominated the town, mending their nets to the right of the picture ;-)
In 1776 Dr Samuel Johnson bathed at Brighton, and when the Prince of Wales expressed his pleasure at the practice during his first visit in 1783 the future and fashionableness of sea-bathing was assured. In the early nineteenth century some doctors even advocated bathing in cold water throughout the winter. This is a picture of the rather formidable Martha Gunn by Robert Deighton. She was a very famous “ dipper’ . Her job was to dip the female bather vigourosly into the sea water when she emerged form her bathing machine-even if she was rather reluctant to go into the water!. ( Gentlemen were similarly plunged into the sea by “Bathers”)
What ladies wore when bathing in the sea seems to have evolved from the type of clothing worn at spas like Bath when being immersed into the spa waters:
The dress worn by those who actually immersed themselves in the waters was described by Celia Feinnes, a connoisseur of spas, who visited Bath both before and after 1700:
This is a picture of a ladies bathing ensemble from 1800: a Circassian Ladies Corset and Seaside Bathing Dress Invented and to be had exclusively from Mrs Bell 26 Charlotte Square, London. You can see the hooded bathing machines in the background of the picture.
These hoods attached to the Bathing machines were called "tilts" and were used as an extra "modesty" precaution.
Here are some more bathing machines with tilts attached from my 1816 copy of A Guide to all the Sea Bathing and Watering Places etc by R Phillips.
There were bathing machines at Lyme: this is a description of the interior of a bathing hut, again by Tobias Smollet via his creation Jeremy Melford :
Image to yourself a small, snug, wooden chamber, fixed upon a wheel-carriage, having a door at each end, and on each side a little window above, a bench below - The bather, ascending into this apartment by wooden steps, shuts himself in, and begins to undress, while the attendant yokes a horse to the end next the sea, and draws the carriage forwards, till the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressing-room, then he moves and 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, and plunges headlong into the water - After having bathed, he re-ascends into the apartment, by the steps which had been shifted for that purpose, and 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, and come down as he went up - Should he be so weak or ill as to require a servant to put off and on his clothes, there is room enough in the apartment for half a dozen people." See The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) "Letter To Sir Watkin Phillips, Bart. of Jesus college, Oxon. from Jeremy Melford Morpeth July 13", page 213.
Elizabeth Ham in 1802 wrote about the situation where no bathing machines were to be had:
I never enjoyed such bathing before or since. We had made our bathing dresses of green baize, and used to threaten to trim them with sea weed and cockle shells, but this we never did. What we used to do was to rise early, put on our bathing dresses, with a loose wrapper and a shawl over, slip our feet in warm slippers, and with a bonnet on our heads our toilet was done. The servant girl with a bundle containing our linen and petticoats, with sheets and towels followed us to the shore . . . We were ready to take to the water in a minute. We used to stoop and let the rolling waves sweep over us, or throw ourselves head foremost into the deepest, and tumble over to our feet again somehow or other.
I'm afraid I have no details of the cost of hiring these bating huts, Olivia: however it was most definitely a genteel activity as the following extract from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, (1813) by John B. Papworth illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson reveals, along with all the fears and claims and slight sauciness involved in early 19th century sea bathing ;-)
I hope that helps...... and on that note I am now going to close down this Group Read of this section of Jane Austen's leeters.
I am not sure if or when the next Group Read of the letters will take place but if there is to be one it will be announced in the usual fashion on the Announcements page,the L+T board and Ramble.
Thanks to you all for reading along and especially to Moni,Caitlin and Cathy Allen for your thoughtful comments.
Groupread is maintained by Myretta with WebBBS 3.21.