Sea Bathing and Fresh

Unlike the mineral-water spa, sea-bathing resorts were not confined to certain geographical areas, and the history of British resort development is above all one of steady geographical spread. People were already cold-dipping in the sea in Lancashire and Wales at the beginning of the eighteenth century, in what seems to have been an entirely local custom. While walking the Welsh coastline in the 1790s, the poet, swimmer, and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge came upon an unusual scene which he greatly admired for its innocence:

At Holywell I bathed in the famous St Winifred's Well—it is an excellent cold bath. At Rudland is a fine ruined castle. Abergeley is a large village on the sea coast. Walking on the sea sands, I was surprized to see a number of fine women bathing promiscuously with men and boys—perfectly naked! Doubtless, the citadels of their chastity are so impregnably strong, that they need not the ornamental outworks of modesty. But seriously speaking, where sexual distinctions are least observed, men and women live together in the greatest purity. Concealments set the imagination a'working, and, as it were, canthardizes our desires.41

By the 1730s Scarborough and Margate on the east coasts were developing recognizable sea-bathing seasons, while Brighton on the south coast took the fashionable lead after Dr Richard Russell eulogized it in 1752, and became the hub of a coastal growth that spread lengthways east and west.42 In the second half of the century the seaside became closely associated with the new European Romanticism, making it even more appealing and 'sublime'. In the 1790s a second wave of seaside resorts and inland 'watering places' was developed for a mass urban clientele, each successive village inexorably swallowed up in turn, as gentry health-seekers sought ever quieter or more exclusive scenery. Partly in response to British travellers' demands, in the early nineteenth century seaside resorts began to spread steadily along the northern coasts of France and Germany, and rapidly extended to fashionable health resort developments on the southern Mediterranean French coast, the French and German Alps, the Italian coastline, and the Italian Lakes. But the most popular beaches of all were near the larger cities. In America the early inland spas and river baths were dramatically eclipsed by sea-bathing resorts springing up on the east coast: in 1794 the crowds coming out from New York to sea bathe, drink tea, and admire the views in the coastal resort at Long Island were so great 'as to keep four large ferry boats, holding twenty persons each, in constant employ'. There were similar crowds on the coast near Liverpool during a hot August in 1791:

For a week past, upon the most moderate calculation, here has not been less than five thousand persons out of the country, for the express purpose of bathing in the sea. If to these we add five thousand of the inhabitants... ten thousand persons have daily been immersed in the briny element; and that on an extent of shore not much exceeding half a mile.43

Nothing stimulated the economy like health resorts. George Carey's famous resort guidebook The Balnea: or, An Impartial Description of All the Popular Watering Places in England (1801) was a lively (and sarcastic) progress report on the genteel state of each of these thriving new settlements. Jane Austen's last, half-finished novel about a mythical coastal resort, Sanditon, written during the renewed resort boom in Britain after the Napoleonic Wars in 1816-17, would undoubtedly have been a satiric masterpiece on the subject of coastal resorts and health-faddery in general. In what is left of it, it still is. Austen's tongue-in-cheek descriptions gently but unerringly undermine all the pretensions of late eighteenth-century British balneological tourism:

'But Sanditon itself—everybody has heard of Sanditon. The favourite—for a young and rising bathing place—certainly the favourite spot of all that are to be found along the coast of Sussex...'... Mr Parker's character and history were soon unfolded... he was perceived to be an enthusiast, a complete enthusiast. Sanditon, the success of Sanditon as a small fashionable bathing place, was the object for which he seemed to live. A very few years ago it had been a quiet village of no pretension... circumstances having suggested to himself and the other principal landowner the probability of its becoming a profitable speculation, they had engaged in it, and planned and built, and praised and puffed, and raised it to something of young renown; and Mr Parker could now think of very little besides____'Civilization, civilization indeed!' cried Mr

Parker, delighted. 'Look, my dear Mary, look at William Heeley's windows. Blue shoes, and nankin boots! Who would have expected such a sight at a shoemaker's in old Sanditon! This is new within a month. There was no blue shoe when we passed this way a month ago. Glorious indeed! Well, I think I have done something in my day. Now for our hill, our health-breathing hill'...

Trafalgar House, on the most elevated spot on the down, was a light elegant building, standing in a small lawn with a very young plantation around it, about a hundred yards from the brow of a steep but not very lofty cliff.. .Charlotte, having received possession of her apartment, found amusement enough in standing in her ample Venetian window and looking over the miscellaneous foreground of unfinished buildings, waving linen and tops of houses, to the sea, dancing and sparkling in sunshine and freshness.44

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