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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • NORTH TUSCANY COAST, 1948

Ladies Bathing Place: 1890s

Ladies Bathing Place: 1890s

Circa 1890s-1900. "Beach and ladies' bathing place, Margate, England." Here we see a fixture of Victorian seaside resorts, the "bathing machine" -- a sort of horse-drawn cabana that was backed into the water and from which the lady would emerge, having changed into her bathing-petticoat, let out the back entrance by an attendant and, if an uncertain swimmer, tethered with a rope. Photochrom print, Catalogue J (1905), Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

 

T. S. Eliot was here

But evidently he didn't have a good time:

"On Margate Sands
I can connect
nothing with nothing."

More Bathing Machines

Since Solo beat me to the punch with the Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song, let me point out one of the five distinguishing traits of a snark, as defined in Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark":

The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
Which it constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes--
A sentiment open to doubt.

I wonder

With all of the photoshopping and air-brushing popular now, I wonder if future photo perusers will long for the original as much as I do with this photochrom.

You know what? Scratch that question. I already do.

Its Buenos Ayres

The block of houses in the centre is still there in a street called Buenos Ayres. The low building immediately to its left is the old Margate Sands station from London via Ramsgate - replaced in 1926 by a larger station a bit further inland with direct access from London. The block at the centre right is still there - Royal Crescent. The houses at the left have gone and been replaced by a monster tower block. Most of these holidaymakers would have come from London by steamer on the 'Long Ferry' about 50 miles. There weren't exactly many bathers or horses when I last went there in 2012.

Mysterious Conveyance

In Act II of "Iolanthe," the Lord Chancellor has opportunity to shine with "The Nightmare Song," which contains the immortal line "something between a large bathing machine and a very small, second-class carriage." Learning the song as a small boy, I thought that a bathing machine must be some kind of Rube Goldberg contraption that picked one up for a dunking and a scrub up, perhaps a product of the famous firm "Acme." On being shown a photograph of one, I wondered what the horses were for.

My View

I live in Margate, Kent in England where this is set. It was the first seaside resort in England, generally considered to be about 1736. A local gent named Benjamin Beale was the putative originator of the bathing machines seen here. The seafront still looks very much like this on the beach and we still have a blue flag status, which gives us the highest quality of bathing water.

Margate, like many English seaside resorts, fell out of fashion in the late 20th Century but is having a renaissance due, in no small part, to the Turner Contemporary, a national level art gallery, and, in equal part, the wider interest in history and our place in it to which Margate can contribute significantly due to its amazing collection of historical and architectural resources, due to its continuous habitation from the Neolithic to the present day.

Two Things

Try not to think too much about those horses you're splashing around behind.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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