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Bathing Machines

What are bathing machines and how are they connected to the RV?

Bathing machines at Ostende, Belgium, c1900 (Source:unknown)

Developed in England in the 1750s to allow women to bathe in the sea unseen by men, bathing machines consisted of a changing hut on wheels with a ladder covered by a fabric canopy at the rear to allow (mainly) ladies to enter and exit the water in private. Bathing machines were taken down to the waters edge by horse, and once in the water women were not expected to swim beyond the canopy. Some had flags to notify the machine operator when the bather was suitably attired and ready to leave the water.

Ad advert for Sayers Bathing Machine, England,1790s (Source: unknown)

Bathing machines thrived during the periods of sex segregation on beaches in England, Europe and Australia. Segregated bathing ended in Britain in 1901. Bathing machines declined rapidly thereafter.

Dover Beach bathing machines, UK,1820s (Source: unknown)

Following their decline, some bathing machines were later turned into caravans. Others became the beach huts that now line many beaches. Queen Victoria’s bathing machine can still be viewed at Osborne Beach on the Isle of Wight in southern England.

So although bathing machines had a very specific sea-going purpose, their use as leisure vehicles for over 150 years would have served as inspiration for their road-going cousins. Bathing machines demonstrated that wagons could be used for pleasure as well as work, and as such bathing machines were some of the earliest leisure vehicles.

Andrew Woodmansey


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