As we continue with our focus on Holidays this week, many people look forward to travelling as a way of spending their holidays.
While some stay at home and just take day trips to different places close to their home, there are others who book holidays far away from their homes and spend a few days there.
Now while some might prefer to book at private resorts and just spend their time relaxing and enjoying the resort and its facilities, a very common place for people to travel to for the holidays, is the seaside.
But since when did people start visiting the coastal regions to spend their holidays and what was it like?
Of course, some people had always travelled but these weren’t holidays as we know them. Pilgrims travelled to worship at holy Christian sites. The nobility and their households travelled regularly to the capital cities from their country houses and castles for business and to take part in court life. Later, wealthier people might have travelled to stay with family members or friends who had married and moved away. But most people couldn’t take more than a day or so away from their work on the land, travelling was slow, and besides – where would they go?
The idea of going to the seaside grew out of the theory – popular from the end of the seventeenth century onwards – that seawater was good for you. Sea bathing soon became a recommended cure for all kinds of illnesses, and by the 1730s the wealthy were visiting coastal towns for a bracing, health-giving dip in the sea. There was no splashing around in the sea wearing skimpy bathing costumes however. The bather entered the sea from a bathing machine, a sort of mobile changing room which was wheeled into the water. The bather then descended steps to immerse themselves in the sea; women bathed fully dressed but not the men. The canvas modesty hood attached to the end of the machine concealed the bather from spectators on the beach – it must have been like bathing under a huge umbrella.
Bathing machines were essentially changing cabins on wheels that could be rolled into the surf.
The sexes were kept strictly separated. Wet swimsuits could not be allowed to cling, thus revealing the body’s contours.
Women sported baggy flannel garments.
Hardly anyone really knew how to swim anyway. Most bathers wouldn’t stay in the water any more than two minutes, often just seconds at a time. The English had a rule: ‘Three dips and out’.
So going to the seaside is a custom that began about three hundred years ago, but the segregation and modesty of the woman of that time was truly unique!