Posts Tagged ‘Bathing machines’

Inquiring readers,

Happy New Year! Are U.S. Austen fans ready for the countdown to Sanditon on PBS? Only 11 days remain until this eight-episode mini-series based on Jane Austen’s final novel fragment airs on Sunday nights. You can also stream each episode. The subscription rate for the PBS MASTERPIECE Prime Video Channel is $5.99/month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. On February 23, you can binge watch the entire series. The DVD is also on sale.

Now, on to the poem, written by Robert Bloomfield “In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack.” It’s a lovely early 19th century description from a beast of burden to her brother about her “work” in a seaside resort.

Image of Robert Bloomfield's Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack, 1807, along with an image by I. Cruikshank ?

Brother Jack I am going to inform you
Of things that ne’er enter’d your head,
And I hope the narration will charm you
Wherever you’re driven or led;

For it grieves me to think of your hampers,
And the cudgel that thumps you behind;
To have none of my frolics and scampers,
My labour’s as light as the wind.

On a fine level form’d by the tide,
The beach and the ocean between,
Fashion here tells young lasses to ride
On the best walk that ever was seen,

The sands, brother Jack, that’s the spot
Where the ladies exhibit their graces;
There they push me along till I trot,
‘Midst a circle of giggling faces.

Not one of the party stands idle,
For, when I move just like a snail,
One half of them pull at my bridle,
And t’other half push at my tail.

Then up, full of frolic and glee,
One will mount, and will scold, and will strike,
And ride me knee-deep in the sea,
Where I stop—just as long as I like.

For what are their tricks and manoevres?
They may pull me, and haul me, and teize,
But I plague them as they plague their lovers,
O, I like to do just as I please!

Don’t be envious—Hark what I tell—
You would never do her for a prude,
Because Jack, you know very well,
You were always inclin’d to be rude;

And if you should set up your braying,
And give them but two or three staves,(willow sticks?)
You would stop all the children from playing,
Or frighten them into the waves!

Sometimes a sick lady will ride me,
More tender and delicate still,
And employ a poor boy just to guide me,
Where I cannot go wrong if I will;

Then back through the town gently creeping,
We stop at some library-door,
Where, nonsense preferring to sleeping,
She loads me with novels a score.

And, dear Jack, by the bye, I’ve long guest,
Tho’ good ladies I’ve no wish to spite ‘em;
That ‘tis we bring these book in request,
And that some of our family write ‘em.

But who’d go to boast about that?
No, I’ll finish by telling you true,
That at Worthing we all might grow fat,
And keep the best company too.

So love to you Jack till next season,
I’ll be happy as long as I can;
For an ass that complains without reason,
Becomes—just as bad as a man!”

Published 25th May, 1807.
By Laurie and Whittle,
No. 53, Fleet Street, London

Detail of the illustration by I. Cruikshank (?) News from Worthingo In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack By Robert Bloomfield, 1807

Image detail. One can see the chaos in the background with asses that were uncooperative. The maid on the ass is obviously stuck and unhappy.  Chaos reigns, which the onlookers love. Notice the woman at the middle, who is about to be bounced off her ass. Cruikshank (?) shows her bare legs with high stockings. Women in that era did not wear underpants. Ooh la la! The muslin cloth of the woman’s white dress front and center indicates how thin it is as evidenced by her nipples. She is trapped in her position until the ass decides to move. Hah!

I especially like the reference to circulating libraries, which abounded in resort cities.

Many scholars think that Worthing, a seaside resort Jane Austen visited in 1805, could have been the inspiration for the town of Sanditon twelve years later.

  • This interesting article, “Could Worthing have been the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Sanditon?,” by Donna Fletcher Crow, Jane Austen UK, July 24, 2019, and downloaded 12/31/2019, is reproduced on the site by the author’s permission.

About the author: “Donna is a novelist of British history, and a traveling researcher who engages people and places from Britain’s past and present – drawing comparisons and contrasts between past and present for today’s reader. “


  • Bloomfield, Robert. “News from Worthing. In a Letter from a Beast of Burden to Her Brother Jack,” Published 25th May, 1807, by Laurie and Whittle, No. 53, Fleet Street, London. Credit Line: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Cartoon Prints, British. https://www.loc.gov/resource/ds.03595/. Rights Advisory:  No known restrictions on publication. (Color cartoon)

The rich and wealthy collected color cartoons. People not as flush in the pocket as purchased black and white cartoons, as shown in the following print from Yale University:

  • Bloomfield, Robert,  “News from Worthing: in a letter from a beast of burden to her brother Jack (from the Monthly mirror for April, 1807). Cruikshank, Isaac printmaker., Laurie, Robert and Whittle, James, publisher, 1807. Digital collection: Lewis Walpole Library. Downloaded 12/31/2019 at this link.

In addition: Jane Austen’s World links to




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Inquiring reader, in honor of this week’s tepid heat wave in Richmond, I continue my coverage of all things seaside during the Regency era. To our moderns eyes, Regency fashions by the seashore covered as much of the body as ordinary clothes, and were as complicated as regular fashions. Let’s take a closer look.

Becky Sharpe (Natasha Little) in bathing costume, Vanity Fair 1998

Becky Sharpe (Natasha Little) in bathing costume, Vanity Fair 1998

I question this image from 1998’s Vanity Fair, in which Natasha Little as Becky Sharpe looks more like a Victorian seaside gamboller than a proper Regency lady. In addition, she would have changed into this bathing costume inside the bathing machine and gone into the water largely unnoticed. She is shown in full view of both men and women on the beach wearing this outfit, which was clearly meant for swimming.

This Belle Assemblee fashion plate depicts a more demure approach to seaside fashion. The muslin gowns are rather plain, meant for the day, but it is only 1810 after all, when dress silhouettes were still classically severe. These dresses could be worn in full view of other vacationers on the beach. One sees the “wrapping” in the style of the turbans and pelisse and cape. A seaside outing was meant to be bracing and restorative, and therefore people would venture to the beach regardless of the weather.
1810_October sea beach costume

The women are sitting, or else the length of the dress would become obvious. The length of dresses meant to be worn when walking along the shore were cut a little higher, one supposes to accommodate a walk along the beach when sand and waves would wreak havoc with delicate hems. The lady in the illustration is dressed for the evening, perhaps for a fete on a public pier, who knows? Either way, she is dressed to be seen in high style, even if the tiered lacy hems of her bloomers are showing.

Bathing place evening dress, 1810

Bathing place evening dress, 1810

Famed illustrator James Gillray showed seaside fashion in all its glory. From the high tide hem of the lady in the center, to the completely covered up garb of the women sitting on the beach. This lovely illustration from 1810, “The Calm,” shows the seashore on a calm day, with our fashionable miss as exposed as she can decently be – her arms and neck bare, her head covered by a small straw bonnet, and her tiny parasol barely protecting her delicate skin from Sol’s harmful rays.a calm 1810 gilray
This illustration shows the sea shore on a raw day that many Britons will recognize, with the winds whipping up waves, woolen capes, and muslin skirts. Even covered up, this lady exposes more to prying eyes than was appropriate!

A squall, Gilray 1810

A squall, Gilray 1810

Taking cold dips in the ocean and drinking foul-tasting spa water were two of the health benefits derived from visiting a seaside resort. Inhaling the fresh sea air was another. These fashions again show how thoroughly one covered up before venturing out of doors.

Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813

Poetical Sketches of Scarborough, 1813

Regardless of their location in or out of the water, non-swimmers remained covered up. It is ironic that once in the water, so many men and women would swim completely naked, but there you have it: Seaside, Regency style.

Steps to the sea, Vanity Fair, 1998

Steps to the sea, Vanity Fair, 1998

On a side note, a dog lover like myself will find the Gilray prints and the Scarborough print quite interesting, for dogs are prominently displayed as realistic touches.

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Bathing machine

Some historians attibute the invention of the bathing machine to Benjamin Beale, a Quaker and a glove and breeches maker who lived in Margate, a coastal seaside resort in England, during the 18th century. This was not so. Beale’s actual contribution in 1750 was the invention of an awning attached to the rear of the bathing machine. The cloth hood became popularly known as a modesty hood. It could be lowered in front of the machine down to the water and provide a private bathing area for the modest swimmer. There were variations to the hood, such as a  canvas awning called a lift, which could be extended over the back of the cart like a tent and completely hide the bather from view. An additional benefit of the hood was that it also protected delicate skin from the sun.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, people did not bathe in the sea for pleasure but for their health. After the publication of the Use of Seawater in the Diseases of the Glands by Dr Richard Russell in 1752, sea bathing became more fashionable.

Ramsgate bathing machines off the High Street

Ramsgate bathing machines off the High Street

The engraving above is an early version of the of the lower High Street in Margate in Benjamin Beale’s time before the Bathing rooms were constructed. The view from the bay shows how the Bathing Machines were accessed from the lower High Street.

Woman swimming in the sea; the need for privacy in such a situation is acute

Woman swimming in the sea; the need for privacy in such a situation is acute

It was considered inappropriate for the upper and middle classes to swim in the waves together, thus bathing machines became popular. Modesty and decorum dictated that the opposite sex should bathe in isolation from each other, for nude bathing for both sexes was common until the Victorian age.  “It is believed that naked bathing continued until 1862, when a law was passed stating that male and female bathers were to be segregated by not less than 60 feet, and that all owners of bathing machines would provide gowns or dresses to female bathers and drawers or similar to male bathers.”  After swimming, bathers would re-enter the bathing machine, dry off, and change back to their street clothing. The bathing machine would be wheeled back to the beach and the bather would emerge fully dressed. “The hiring charge for a bathing machine in 1770 varied from 9d for two or more gentlemen bathing themselves to 1/6d for a gentleman taking a machine with a guide.”*

Bathing machine and attendants

Bathing machine and attendants

Imagine 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, til the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressingroom, 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. – The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, Tobias Smollett, 1771

Beale bathing machine

Beale bathing machine

Beale did not get rich off his invention, and he was reduced to poverty after his machines were destroyed in storms.

“The public are obliged to Benjamin Beale, one of the people called Quakers, for the invention,” writes the author of A Short Description of the Isle of Thanet, published in 1796. But it was the old story; the public became grateful after the inventor had been ruined by his enterprise. His successors had reaped the harvest. Old Benjamin Beale’s widow could remember in her last days the first family that ever resorted to Margate for the purpose of bathing being carried into the sea in a covered cart. In 1803 Beale’s machines were one of the institutions of Margate. It was alarmingly claimed for them that “they may be driven to any depth into the sea by careful guides.” – New York Times, August 11, 1906

southsea_common from a lithograph from A. Pernell 1865

The design of the bathing machine changed little in 150 years, and most, except those built for the rich, remained nothing more than damp wooden boxes on wheels. In the 1865 lithograph of the Southsea above, Beale bathing machines can be seen with their awnings fully unfurled to the water.

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