Sea Bathing and the First Bathing Machine at Scarborough: Part II

This is the second part of an article originally published in the Yorkshire Journal (Spring Issue, 2012) by Sarah Harrison. She has kindly given permission for her work to be republished here. You can read Part I by clicking here.

Article Summary:

Scarborough rapidly became a fashionable spa town and the first original English seaside resort after the discovery, in about 1626, (by a Mrs. Farrer) of natural mineral springs at South Bay. It also saw the arrival of the first bathing machines in 1735. “Taking the Waters” quickly became Scarborough’s accepted medicine and its fame promptly spread.

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Above: This photo was taken by the well known photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe in about 1905. He has captured a crowed scene on the sands at Scarborough’s South Bay. Scarborough Castle and harbour can be seen in the distance. At the edge of the sea are a number of bathing machines and beyond, swimmers can be seen in the sea. There are stalls on the sands and two horse riders on the Foreshore. (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

The bathing machine was a mobile changing room for swimmers, it allowed people to change out of their usual clothes into their bathing costume and then wade into the sea from beaches. They were wooden carts with four big wheels, steps and small windows. In fact, there were many different designs, ranging from Royalty to the basic bathing machines which were to be seen on the majority of beaches. Some had a small flag which could be raised by the bather as a signal to the driver that they were ready to return to shore.

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Above: Bathing machines line the beach at high tide in the North Bay at Scarborough. Above the line of bathing machines can be seen Scarborough’s North Pier stretching a thousand feet into the North Sea. It opened in 1868 and in January 1905, the pier was wrecked in a severe gale. Above the pier stands Scarborough Castle on the headland which divides Scarborough into two bays, North Bay and South Bay (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Below: Bathing machines on the sands and edge of the sea at Scarborough’s South Bay. A fisher woman with two baskets full of sea food can be seen in the foreground and fishing boats in full sail out at sea. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

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The machines were pulled by horses to the edge of the water or even into it, if the waves and tide permitted. When the machine stopped the bathers inside emerged through a doorway from the back of the machine directly into the water hidden from the view of others. After they had had enough time in the water they could re-enter the bathing machine, dry off, change back to their street clothing and be wheeled back to the rental establishment on the beach, emerging fully dressed and avoiding the stares of the crowd.


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Above: North Bay at Scarborough, looking north towards Scalby Mills. The north promenade and beach bungalows, which can just been seen on the left, were erected just before World War 1. Here a summer crowd enjoy the new facilities and the days of bathing machines are coming to an end. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Bathing machines were rented out by operators whose livelihood depended not only on the renting of bathing machines, but also deck chairs, bathing suits and other beachfront paraphernalia. Their target market was the newly rising middle class and better off lower class holidaymakers, who now had the time and the transportation to go to the seaside once a year. The hiring charge for a bathing machine in 1770 varied from 9d for two or more gentlemen bathing by themselves to 1/6d for a gentleman taking a machine with a guide.

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Above: This old photo faces north towards Castle Hill, across a crowded beach that is full of holidaymakers and traders. Only three bathing machines can be seen. The nearest one has a raised flag indicating that the last bather had, had enough time in the water and had been returned to shore. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

The bathing machines remained in active use on beaches until the 1890s, when they began to go out of fashion. This was due to the ever-expanding nature of the bathing costume, first for women and then for men. The machines were then scrapped or became beach huts used as stationary changing rooms for a number of years. Legal segregation of bathing areas ended in 1901, and the bathing machine declined rapidly. Most of them went out of business and disappeared by 1914, but some have survived as a reminder of those prudish days.

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Above: The South Bay at Scarborough. To the north is Scarborough Castle and headland in the background. A number of bathing machines are at the water’s edge and three bathers can be seen next to one. Photo courtesy of NYCC Unnetie Digital Archive (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Permanent, bathing/beach huts, first appeared in about 1910, but the idea of creating a series of cells in a permanent row was pioneered in Scarborough’s North Bay in 1911. This was followed closely at South Cliff in 1911-12. Beach huts represented a fundamental transformation from the wheeled bathing machines previously used, where people changed in private and modestly lowered themselves into the sea almost unseen. Beach huts were built well above the high tide mark which reflects changing ideas about social decorum: getting changed for bathing, in a hut at the top of the beach, and walking to the sea in full view became a new, liberating activity.

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Above: Brightly-painted beach huts, North Bay, Scarborough (via the Yorkshire Journal, Spring Issue, 2012)

Sources

For a full list of acknowledgements, and to see the article in its original format, please visit the Yorkshire Journal (Spring, 2012). All copyright retained by the author.

Many thanks to Sarah for sharing this article with Stories From Scarborough!

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2 thoughts on “Sea Bathing and the First Bathing Machine at Scarborough: Part II

  1. Pingback: Scarborough Spa and the First British Seaside Resort: Part I | Stories From Scarborough

  2. Pingback: Anne Bronte: Scarborough Connections – Part I | Stories From Scarborough

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