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KENTISH SEASIDE REPORTS

JUNE 2016


On 17 June Anne Kneif described the early history of Kentish Seaside Resorts. At first the interest in sea bathing was medicinal. Thomas Vicary, a sixteenth-century physician, advocated its restorative value and the curative effects of drinking sea water (in those days quite pure), but his ideas were not followed up for more than a century. After taking the waters at inland medicinal spas became common, spas at the seaside followed. The grandest of all, the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital at Margate, opened in 1796 (and is now divided into luxury flats)

Visiting the seaside for entertainment rather than illness became popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In Kent, Margate took the lead. Londoners came down by sailing hoys, steam vessels, the railway, and finally charabancs and motor coaches. Families could rent a house for the season, while single visitors could rent rooms in a boarding house, shopping for their own food but having it cooked by the landlady. With the bank holiday act of 1871 weekend visits became popular.

Once in Margate what was there to do? To swim in the sea visitors in the Victorian period hired a bathing machine, a kind of beach hut on wheels, where they could change into a bathing costume, be pulled out into the surf by horses, and then enter the water with modesty. There is a good description of a bathing machine in Tobias Smollett's novel Humphry Clinker (1771). To sit on the beach you hired an ordinary household chair (deck chairs were an Edwardian invention). Shell collecting, sand castles, donkey rides, Punch and Judy, cards in the Assembly Room, horse races nearby, the camera obscura, the shell grotto, the circulating libraries (popular because new three-decker novels costs 31s. 6d. almost throughout the Victorian period), the pier (originally just a landing jetty for steamers), and boat trips were all popular diversions. Souvenirs included seaside postcards (not yet saucy, and not until 1894 accepted as post). With the First World War all this came to an end.



 

Shoreham And District
Historical Society
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The Kent History Federation and
The Kent Archaeological Society

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