HomeNewsGoing To The Beach In The Regency Era Had A Different Meaning

Going To The Beach In The Regency Era Had A Different Meaning

Regency Britons can’t claim the invention of swimming itself. As John K. Walton wrote for History In Focus, the Romans and coast-based Catholics enjoyed a dip in the sea. But it was during the Georgian era that beachgoing became a pastime on a large enough scale to sustain business. Whitby, Yorkshire, and — appropriately enough — Bath became early hotspots for ocean bathing. Later on, George IV popularized Brighton during his regency (and transferred some of his rakish reputation onto the habit).

The beach grew in popularity among both sexes. Per Patrice Hannon’s “101 Things You Don’t Know About Jane Austen,” there were only so many leisure activities open to women, particularly unmarried women, and sea-bathing was one of them. Among its enthusiasts was the author Jane Austen, who enjoyed swimming at the resort in Lyme Regis. She sometimes enjoyed it to excess, as she confessed in a letter to her sister in 1804 (via the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation).

Like other women, Austen was subject to the standards of modesty and decency of the time, which couldn’t bear to have women seen in public in certain states of undress. The solution was the bathing machine — or a “cabana on wheels,” as Hannon described it. After changing inside the machine, which was backed up to the water line, women would plunge in with the help of attendants known as dippers. Men could have a similar arrangement, though their attendants were called bathers.




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