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Monday, 22 June 2015

Beside The Seaside

My latest feature for Family Tree magazine is on the history of the British seaside and its health benefits. When Jane Austen was a little girl in the late 1770s, very few of our ancestors had a bath in their home. During the eighteenth century sea-bathing was recommended for many types of ailments (the ‘sea-cure’).

The patronage of the royal family made sea-bathing very fashionable at places like Brighton, Sidmouth and Margate. Long-established watering-places like Bath, which was famous for its hot springs, fell out of fashion.
Fanny Burney.
People did not necessarily bathe on hot sunny days. In late November 1782, the novelist Fanny Burney (later Madame D’Arblay) went bathing at 6am at Brighton by moonlight : ‘We had bespoke the bathing-women to be ready for us, and into the ocean we plunged. It was cold, but pleasant'.

Fairlynch Museum.
As Austen joked in her unfinished novel Sanditon, great claims were made for the coast’s briny benefits: ‘Sea air and sea bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every disorder of the stomach, the lungs or the blood. They were anti- spasmodic, anti-pulmonary, anti-bilious and anti-rheumatic’.
A Regency belle on a donkey at Worthing – the donkey is refusing to come out of the sea. With a poem by Robert Bloomfield. I. Cruikshank, 1807. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-03595.
Fanny Burney. Collotype after the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale, T.N. Foulis, 1910. Author’s collection.  
A cottage orné at Budleigh Salterton (now the Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre). © Sue Wilkes.


  1. Dear Sue,
    It does seem that both "taking the waters" at Bath and bathing in Brighton was rather popular in Jane Austen's time - both prescribed by apothecaries for health reasons. Of course, other activities occurred at bathing destinations. Miss Lydia Bennet, perhaps after a little too much sun, elopes with Mr. Wickham in Pride & Prejudice.
    Now that it is the hot month of July, I am inclined to agree with Mrs. Bennet in saying,"A little sea bathing would set me up just right."

  2. Hi, thanks for taking the time to comment. My impression is that Bath was no longer as fashionable in Austen's day as it once was, but you are quite right, it was still an important health resort.