Enjoying a day on the beach and swimming while recharging between the sea waves, between the 18th and 19th century was not an easy task, or at least very different from today. The Bon Ton and the rules of conduct for example did not allow women to roam around poorly dressed as it was not considered appropriate that men would see them while in a swimsuit.
Below: illustration of women in Brighton swimming behind their bathing machine in an incision by William Heath, c. 1829
To handle such inconveniences, respecting the bathing rules of the end 1700 and 1800 as well as enjoying the beach, the people of the time found a trick which might sound silly to us today. They created the “Bathing Machines”, wooden cabins slightly bigger of those we see along the beach, with wheels, pulled by horses and with locked windows. The women were entering those cabins all dressed up and would get in there to change outfit far from prying eyes.
Below: illustration from Wales, 1800. In the picture some bathing machines
When they were far enough from the beach, they would come out from the rear and would enjoy a relaxing swim without disturbs. In some models the rear of the cabin could have an extension made out of curtains, which would allow to create extra privacy for the female swimmer.
It was not rare that a strong woman would go to help out, so that they could enter the water while climbing down the stairs of the cabin and eventually climbing them back up. It is important to remember that the costumes back them were heavy by themselves, and once soaking wet movements were rather hindered and the weight would increase.
In some cases in the woman didn’t know how to swim, they used to tie around her waist a rope connected to the cabin, so that the girl would have not been carried away by the water. When the swim was over, the woman was going back into the cabin, change her clothes and with a flag or a hand she would send the signal to the coachman that they could go and collect her.
When rules on good manners became less severe, enjoying the beaches without the separation was easier and the cabins were eventually enumerated.
According to many researchers, this machine was invented by a Quaker named Benjamin Beale around the 1750 in Margate, seaside area in Kent. Hence the bathing machine had its debut in England yet it quickly spread to Germany, France and US. Most of these machine remained in circulation around the 1890 and disappear completely in 1901. In some places they were still used as fixed, a bit bulky, dressing rooming beaches.
The bathing machine fell out of use around 1914 and were replaced, after some years by some lighter, smaller less bulky ones, which allow people to change their clothes and put their swimsuit on.
Below: a group picture next to the bathing machines near the shore
Below: some bulls pull a bathing machine
Below: girl climbing down from the cabin
In epoche recenti i costumi erano già più simili a quelli odierni, ma le macchine da bagno continuarono ad essere utilizzate sino all’inizio del ‘900: