Dipping with Decency
The 'bathing station' and 'floating machines' of the 18th and 19th century were designed to make swimming in the sea possible without offending public morals. Although men and women were already required by law to use separate parts of the beach, there was anxiety that the men might ogle the women as they approached the water.
The 'bathing machine' was a sort of changing room that could be pushed into the sea, allowing women to put on their swimming costume and enter the water discretely via steps on the side facing away from the beach. Some even had canopies that folded out to hide the bathers completely while in the water.
Bathing machines could be found in all coastal resort towns, and were considered essential for public decency.
One commentor in 1805 described them as the means whereby, "the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy."
Some bathing machines were more elaborate than others, and offered all sorts of modern conveniences. Royalty had particularly fancy ones, as you might expect.
Strangely, they were largely unknown on the other side of the Atlantic. An American writer in 1893 had to explain the concept for readers back home (see below)
When 'mixed bathing' became legal at the start of the 20th century, to the horror of many traditionalists, bathing machines quickly fell out of use or were converted into static bathing huts.