In 1752 Dr Richard Russell published a Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Diseases of the Glands, particularly scurvy, jaundice, leprosy and consumption. He is seen as one of the people who built up a passion, based on science, for beach culture in the early 19th century.
The first wheeled bathing machines soon arrived. Georgian bathing machines, which might have used as far back as the 1730s according to a 1735 engraving by John Setterington, were horse- or human-drawn devices. Then Benjamin Beale’s Invention for Bathing Machines was formalised in 1750.
There seemed to have been two reasons why people would use these bathing machines. Firstly they protected the modesty of fashionable bathers, especiallywomen. Secondly they may well have enabled frail or sick visitors to the health-giving sun and sea water to make their way to the water's edge.
Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast was the world's first seaside resort which became popular when doctors began prescribing cold-sea treatment as a cure for many things. This was where the mobile changing room or swimming machine first appeared. My favourite description of summer holidays at the beach comes from the Victorian History blog and my favourite image of bathing machines in Scarborough came from Pruned blog
bathing machines, Scarborough
In Sydney, the Woolloomooloo baths looked after women carefully. Between 1833-1955 this area of the Bay was the site of 4 separate ladies’ bathing facilities: Mrs Biggs’ Ladies Baths, Robertson's Ladies Floating Baths, the Corporation Ladies Baths and the Domain Baths for Ladies.
Beach huts came next. They were small wooden buildings located on the foreshore and fixed to the ground, unlike the horse-drawn bathing machines. They were still responding to the bathers’ need for modesty and privacy, just as the bathing machines had done.
You would expect British customs to have been adopted and adapted across the Empire, especially in countries were summer weather was hot. But I wonder if Australia was actually copying British customs or vice versa. Bathing boxes in Melbourne were reputed to have existed as far back as 1862. They were usually brightly painted with timber framing, weatherboards and corrugated iron roofs. They backed right into the tee-trees, to keep the sand from eroding and to add a smidgeon of shade in summer.
Small, simply furnished and with a minimum of decoration, the interiors would do no more than allow a family to store bathing suits, towels, sandwiches and swimming equipment, and to change their clothes modestly. An open box at Edithvale will show the simplicity of the interior.
open box at Edithvale, MelbourneThe boom in beach huts came straight after WW1 and they are now a significant part of Melbourne beach culture. They probably started in Brighton then spread across Port Phillip Bay and Western Port Bay.
In Britain, Bournemouth had beach huts alongside the pier by 1908. However across the British world, beach huts were not widely introduced until WW1 ended. This was about the time when attitudes changed, allowing men and women to swim at the same time. Many seaside councils erected beach huts for people to use, I am assuming because they thought it would attract well heeled holiday makers and because it would keep their beaches respectable. In Britain, the huts were erected on Crown land and owners had to pay council rates and public liability insurance.
Beachhutworld noted an issue that was relevant for British beaches, but not Australian. WW1 laws had put much of the coastline out of bounds, especially in southern England. Elaborate defences against invasion along the beaches usually included coils of barbed wire at the top of the beach head, thereby effectively preventing use of the beach.
Beach huts were constructed from whatever materials were available after the war. Yet beach huts have large retained their original appearance: single room, gabled roof, usually simple timber, next to no windows and a locked double door. On the beach side of some huts, there was a simple porch construction, allowing two adults to sit and watch the children play. Bright colours enabled families to easily identify which, of the dozens of otherwise identical huts all in a row, was theirs. In Britain, as in Australia, there were never any facilities like running water and electricity inside the huts.
Shedworking is a wonderful blog for images and histories. Littlehampton on the south coast has many beach huts owned by the local authority alongside its broad promenade which provides free access to the beach and the beautiful River Arun. At St Helens on the Isle of Wight, the beach huts have been made from some of their redundant railway carriages and until very recently they all had cladding. Different designs may also be determined by the local coastal environment and the date when the huts were built.
uniformity at Great Yarmouth
Shedworking recommends two books by Kathryn Ferry: Sheds on the Seashore: A Tour through Beach Hut History, 2009 and Beach Huts and Bathing Machines, 2009. I will add another by Fred Gray Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature, 2006