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Get Your Kit On!!! Bathing in the Sea in the Early 20th Century

From the archives at Beverley Treasure House ERYC

Bridlington North Shore in early 1900sSwimming or bathing in the sea is an activity we take very much for granted nowadays; we can paddle liberally into the sea in our trunks, bikini, or even mankini, without any concern, save perhaps for whether or not our bodies are 'beach ready'.

But oh, how things have changed, because around 100 years ago people didn't have to worry about their bikini line or getting their chest hair waxed – they had more bizarre matters to concern themselves with, like making sure they kept at least 100 yards distance apart from a member of the opposite sex!

Archives held at the Treasure House in Beverley offer a glimpse of life on the East Yorkshire seaside in the early 20th century, and they show a very different attitude towards bathing:

The Withernsea public bathing bye-laws of 1901 set out some very strict rules for both male and female bathers. In those days, many people used so-called 'bathing machines', which were basically portable changing rooms fixed on wooden carts, pulled into the sea to allow bathers to wade into the water without fear of exposing themselves. As if this wasn't conservative enough, the Withernsea bye-laws established a dress code for the use of such machines:
"Every person of the female sex...shall, at all times wear a suitable gown or other sufficient dress or covering to prevent indecent exposure of the person."

The authorities were also very careful to ensure that male and female bathers didn't get too close:
"A person of the male sex above the age of fourteen years shall not, while bathing, approach within one hundred yards of any place at which any person of the female sex may exclusively be set down for the purpose of bathing, or at which any such person may bathe."

Photo above shows Bridlington North Shore in early 1900's 

Collections Officer, Sam Bartle said: "There seems to have been a notion that, if swimming in the sea went unchecked, then men and women would be wading around in the water with bare skin exposed, giving rise to all kinds of immoral behaviours."

Photographs in the archives also show the bathing tents that people used to change into their costumes, and even in an image of the Esplanade, Bridlington, in 1905, everyone appears very demure and well-behaved.

In light of this conservative attitude, it's strange then to find a photograph in the Archives that shows the star attraction of the official opening of the Withernsea Open Air Swimming Pool in 1911 to be a man diving in a sack, with his hands & feet tied up. Even in our modern liberal times this might seem a little 'over the top' for a local swimming venue.

Thankfully though, our more relaxed attitude towards bathing means we can now enjoy a swim without worrying whether our trunks are breaking the law. Although, the invention of clothing like the mankini might make some people think that a return to the days of the bathing machine isn't such a bad idea after all.

These and more archives are available to view on request at the Treasure House, Champney Road, Beverley. Call (01482) 392790 for details.

Photo Above of Withernsea Open Air Swimming Pool in 1911 of Man tied in sack