Sea Bathing at Margate
Martin Stanton shows that to take a dip in the sea at Margate is to take part in a long historical process with cultural, sexual, medical, economic and social overtones.
The simple joys of a dip in the sea are not as timeless and universal as many people think. In fact the ritual we follow today, the dress we wear, the cabins we build, the games we play, and the postcards we send home, date back little more than 250 years. The seaside began to be viewed in a radically different way in the 1730s and 40s, admittedly, though, by a select few. Doctors, in particular, became interested in the curative properties of sea-water, and a number of treatises appeared on the subject. Opposition tended to stress that immersion in water encouraged lascivious thoughts, incest, and general moral turpitude. One of the early advocates, Richard Russel, author of the trend-setting Dissertation on the use of sea-water in the diseases of the glands (1750), was even accused of acquiring such a perverse interest whilst on study in Padua, Italy. The whole project was frequently dismissed in the press as 'foreign' or, worse, French. Still, the public took to the new cure-all for ills and made for the coast, along with their medical advisers.