From the 18th century, visits to the seaside to take in the fresh air and sea-bathing for health reasons became popular. Originally, men and women would wade into the sea naked but with stricter Victorian morals, the need to cover up at the seaside resulted in bathing costumes introduced for both men and women. It also resulted in segregated beaches, with separate male and female beaches found around Ireland. The names of once-hidden beach nooks are still found throughout Ireland and show the past segregation. There is a Ladies’ cove and Mens cove in Dunmore East in County Waterford, while Greystones in County Wicklow also has a Ladies’ cove. Ballybunion in Kerry had two separate beaches for the sexes. The beaches are mixed today but the old names are still in use, known as Ladies’ beach and the Mens beach.
The bathing machine or bathing hut was a device, popular in the 18th and 19th centuries it allowed people to change out of their clothes into swimwear, and wade into the sea. Bathing machines were wooden walled carts rolled into the sea like a changing hut on wheels.
The village of Enniscrone in west Sligo is a popular destination since the Victorians began visiting the seaside village. A local landlord spotting an opportunity built the Cliff bathhouse for tourists to enjoy the Atlantic ocean. Bathing machines pictured at Enniscrone strand in Sligo circa 1890’s with the Cliff bathhouse in the background.
While Victorian men were able to change on the beach in full view, their female peers were expected to use the bathing huts. These bathing machines took women to and from the shore. The woman would enter the hut and change into her bathing suit. Clothes were kept on a high shelf in the hut to keep them dry. The hut would then be rolled into the sea and the woman would step down into the water, away from prying eyes on the shore. The huts were pulled either manually into the sea or by a horse.
In the Summer of 1864, a newspaper reported on how Mr William Barber had erected a new bathing machine at Ballincar, County Sligo. This machine was pulled by one horse and was eight feet long by five feet wide. It comprised of two compartments, the first section ‘a neat and commodious dressing room, furnished with all the necessary toilet appliances; off this, and communicating with it by a door, is the shower bath-room’.
A fresh supply of seawater was pumped into the bathing machine and held in a cistern for when the tide was out. Tourists could visit and take a seawater shower without leaving the privacy of the bathing machine.
The bathing machines remained in active use on beaches until the early 1900’s. After that time, they were converted with the wheels removed, parked on the beaches and used as changing huts.
Looking back at what women wore at the seaside in the 19th century. Today’s beach-goers would wonder why bathing huts were ever needed when women were fully clothed from their necks to their ankles.
National Library of Ireland < NLI.ie >
Byrde, Penelope (2013). Journal ‘That Frightful Unbecoming Dress’ Clothes for Spa Bathing at Bath’
Newspaper Archive: Sligo Champion, August 1864.
As read about in Whizzpast.com and allthatsinteresting.com
Background info: Victoriana.com
Background info: Wikipedia.org