Thursday, 8 April 2021

Bathing Machine

Public Domain,

I was reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier, about Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, renowned nineteenth century fossil-finders / palaentologists from Lyme Regis. 

There is a scene where Elizabeth's younger sister, Margaret, uses a bathing machine to swim in the ocean. 

"The bathing machine, a little closet on a cart, had been pulled far out into the water to give her privacy, and Margaret swam with it between her and the shore, preserving her modesty. Once or twice we caught a glimpse of an arm or a plume of water as she kicked." (page 48)

That got me wondering about any other references to these modesty-preserving contraptions, and their history. There's a pretty good write-up in Wikipedia

Above: Mermaids at Brighton swim behind their bathing machines in this engraving by William Heath, c. 1829. 

Queen Victoria used a bathing machine at Osborne Beach on the Isle of Wight, where it can be viewed. 

There is even a children's picture book entitled
Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine. Read more about it here.

Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine | Book by Gloria Whelan, Nancy Carpenter |  Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster AU

Howard Means, in his 2020 book Splash! : 10,000 Years of Swinning (Allen and Unwin, Loondon, 2020) devotes several pages to the onset and development of the bathing machine, whereby men and women (separately) were towed into the ocean in these horse-drawn contraptions. I have made a separate entry on Means' excellent