KENTISH SEASIDE REPORTS
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.