Taking a dip in the sea is one of our favourite holiday pass times and the story of how we became a nation of water babies is an interesting one that shines a light on how dramatically customs and social expectations change with time.

Scarborough South Bay - Historic

The first visitors to flock to Scarborough came not for the chance to wet their toes in the sea but to imbibe the Spa waters first discovered by Mrs Tomyzin Farrer 1626 and reported to have restorative qualities.

It would be another century before sea bathing would gain popularity in the town when in 1730 local Scarborough  Doctor, Peter Shaw, wrote of the benefits of taking to the water as a healthy pastime. It still wasn’t sea swimming as we know it today. Male bathers were advised to be in the water for a maximum of five minutes before breakfast seven days a week whilst women as the “weaker sex”, children and the elderly were limited to just three two minute dips best taken three hours after breakfast. 

By 1735 this form of outdoor recreation had become so popular that the beaches were lined with horse drawn bathing machines intended to preserve the modesty of wealthy ladies. Even with the added privacy that these sheds on wheels provided we were still a long way from the familiar sight of bathing trunks and swimming costumes, ladies of quality took to the water fully clad, the gents on the other hand just jumped in naked.

Fun Fact: The invention of the modern bikini is credited to French engineer Louis Reard who invented it in 1946 as a solution to the rationing of fabric during WW2, the name of the swim wear also has a link to the war as it was taken from the site of atomic testing – Bikini Atoll.

The arrival of the railway to Scarborough in 1845 also brought with it crowds of day-trippers and the necessity for more stringent rules around bathing etiquette. It was now cozzies on for the fellas between 7am and 9pm and strict distancing rules imposed between the sexes at all times. But attitudes were changing and by the early 1900’s the bathing sheds had fallen out of favour and were replaced by far less cumbersome beach tents.

Soon a more permanent solution to beach changing was sought and the North Bay pioneered the first known permanent bathing huts in the country. South Bay quickly followed suit and these colourful little boxes remained a fixture beside the popular Clock Café until a build-up of water pressure behind the retaining wall caused it to collapse, the resulting damage to the huts sadly lead to their removal over safety fears. However their original installation marked the beginning of a major shift in societies attitude to sea bathing, people could now comfortably spend whole days at the seaside and in turn attitudes to modesty began to change with a lady walking from the beach hut to the sea in her swimming attire no longer seen as scandalous.