Replica of a bathing machine on Weymouth Seafront. Wikimedia creative commons
King George's granddaughter, Queen Victoria, also had a penchant for the bathing machine, a gift from her husband, Prince Albert, who encouraged her and the children to use it. One entry in her Journal shows, "Drove to the beach with my maids and went in the bathing machine, where I undressed and bathed in the sea (for the 1st time in my life)...I thought it delightful till I put my head under water when I thought I should be stifled." Queen Victoria's Journal, 30 July 1847.
Queen Victoria's bathing machine, Isle of Wight. Pxhere creative commons
The earliest image I found of a bathing machine is an 1806 drawing by John Hassell (1767-1825) which depicts Aberystwyth Castle in Wales with a bathing machine being pulled back to shore in the foreground.
Aberystwyth Castle, 1806. Wikimedia creative commons
In 1829, British artist William Heath (1795-1840) created a hand-tinted caricature of society ladies enjoying a sea bath which he entitled Mermaids at Brighton.
Mermaids at Brighton, 1829. Digital Public Library of America, Public Domain
In 1865, a chromolithograph of John Leech's work, Scene at Sandbathe, has the description as "The female Blondin out done! Grand morning performance on the narrow plank by the darling x x x x". The image shows a woman with a billowing skirt, walking down a narrow plank between a bathing machine and the shore and eludes to Charles Blondin who inspired a generation of tightrope walkers, including females, after his infamous walk across the Niagara River in 1859 as well as other dangerous heights.
Scene at Sandbathe. Wellcome Images, Creative Commons
If you look at the back of the bathing machine in the above image, you'll find a variation that appeared in bathing machines for a brief period of the 19th century. Although it's not on the royal bathing machines, you can see it in the 1806 image of Aberystwyth Castle. Here's a closer look at it in a drawing from Punch, 1870. The explanation is that the man has returned after a swim in the sea and apparently, his bathing machine has been walked off by mistake.
"Ahem! Pray Excuse me, Madam. My Bathing-Machine I think." Punch, 1870. Wikimedia creative commons
Horses were the usual method of getting the bathing machines into the sea, and then walking them off. I wonder what the signal was to let the horsemen know the bathers were done, or did the men keep a watchful eye over the scene?
Bathing Carts in Wyk, 1895. Wikimedia Public Domain
Bathing machines were also used in Europe, although not always pulled by horses. For example, the next image taken in 1908 from the coastal city and municipality of San Sebastian in Spain shows a bathing machine being pulled by oxen.
Donostia - San Sebastian hacia, 1908 Wikimedia Public Domain
Lest you think women had all the fun with sea bathing, I was excited to find this wood engraving from the Wellcome Library which shows "A man playing with his sons in the sea; his wife and daughters watch from the beach." I'm glad he added that it was his wife on the beach, because at first glance, I thought that perhaps a bathing machine wasn't so private after all if the neighborhood women could watch from the shore with their opera glasses, or field glasses, depending on the year of this undated engraving.
Papa Giving the Boys a Dip, undated wood engraving. Wellcome images Public Domain
In Rise of the Beach Machines Part 2 we'll take a closer look at advertising and rules of the bathing machine industry, fashionable swimwear of the period, and if it had an impact on North America.
Bathing machines can be seen in images from my recent post, From Rooftop Bandstand to King's Hall.
If you had a chance to use a bathing machine, what would be your biggest concern?
Anita Mae Draper is a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces who served twenty years on Air bases with her eyes on the skies. She uses her experience and love of history to pepper her stories of yesteryear's romance with hardship, faith, and joy. Anita Mae Draper's published stories appear in Barbour Publishing, WhiteFire Publishing, and Guideposts Books. Readers can enrich their story experience with visual references by checking out Anita's Pinterest boards. All links available on her website at www.anitamaedraper.com