The bathing machine
The bathing machine, which first appeared around the mid-eighteenth century, provided opportunity to enjoy the sea while preserving modesty. A miniature beach hut on wheels, the bathing machine allowed the bather to enjoy the sea unobserved. Alternatively, he or she could enter the sea in the machine, and come out when suitably submerged.
Bathing machines at Bognor Regis c.1905
Naked sea bathing
This is not to say that all Victorians approved of this rather restrictive approach to bathing. The country clergyman Francis Kilvert, for example, whose diaries leave a fascinating portrait of Victorian middle-class society, was a devotee of naked sea bathing.
In two extracts from his diary, Francis Kilvert describes his experiences of bathing at Seaton in Devon and near Shanklin on the Isle of Wight in the 1870s. Seaton was a small seaside town of about 1,000 inhabitants, which grew slowly in the Victorian period. Shanklin had about 1,500 inhabitants in this period, and was becoming an important holiday centre. Over one quarter of all inhabited houses listed in trade directories in Shanklin in the period 1886-95 were lodging- or boarding-houses, illustrating 'the potential importance of the accommodation industry to the economy of a specialized late Victorian resort'.
Note that although at Seaton, Kilvert used a bathing machine, and he may have done at Shanklin, he emerged from the machine and his nakedness appears to have been quite visible to onlookers.
Exploration 4: 'The Victorian Seaside'