Louis Black Swimming Trunks Vanilla Blush
Swimming and Sea Bathing at British Seaside Resorts and the Evolution of Men's Swimming Costume in Victorian times
[ABOVE ] Les Nageurs ("The Swimmers"), a French print from the Napoleonic period showing a mixed party of young men and women swimming together from a boat. Mixed bathing was commonly practised in France and so it was customary for men to wear brief bathing trunks called "calecons" when in the presence of women.
[ABOVE] A detail from Thomas Eakins' painting "The Swimming Hole"(1883), which shows the common male practice of swimming in the nude. Away from the gaze of women and girls, men generally swam naked.
[ABOVE] A photograph of bathers at a public bath in Paris taken by Henri Le Secq around 1853. Two of he male bathers wear short bathing drawers called "calecons".
[ABOVE] A tintype photograph showing two young men wearing the tight-fitting, one-piece swimming costumes favoured by serious swimmers in the 1870s.
[PHOTO: The Toterly Adjacent website]
[ABOVE] Appropriate swimwear for mixed bathing on the Continent (c1902)During the early years of the 19th century men habitually swam naked. It was not until the mid-1860s that local authorities and swimming clubs introduced regulations to ensure that male swimmers wore bathing costumes when swimming in public, particularly when in the presence of women and children. "... hundreds of men and women may be seen in the water - the men stark naked and the women so loosely and insufficiently clad that for all purposes of decency they might as well have been naked too."
Correspondent in The Scarborough Gazette (1866)
At the major English seaside resorts, mixed bathing was not encouraged and men and women were often obliged to swim separately, either from different stretches of the beach or from bathing machines designated for one sex or the other.
From the 1850s, men who used bathing machines often found that they were expected to wear a bathing costume or hire bathing drawers from the bathing machine proprietor.
Selected Extracts from the Diary of Reverend R. Francis Kilvert (1840-1879)
Thursday 5th September 1872
Reverend Francis Kilvert describes an early morning bathe at Weston-super-Mare:
"I was out early before breakfast this morning bathing from the sands. There was a delicious feeling of freedom in stripping in the open air and running down naked to the sea, where the waves were curling white with foam and the red morning sunshine glowing upon naked limbs of the bathers"
Thursday 24th July 1873
Reverend Francis Kilvert swims without the bathing drawers provided at Seaton:
"This morning Uncle Will, Dora and I drove to Seaton with Polly and the dog cart. It was a lovely morning. At Seaton while Dora was sitting on the beach I had a bathe. A boy brought me to the machine door two towels, as I thought, but when I found that one of the rags he had given me was a pair of very short red and white striped drawers to cover my nakedness. Unaccustomed to such things and customs I had in my ignorance bathed naked and set at naught the conventionalities of the place and scandalized the beach. However some little boys who were looking on at the rude naked man appeared to be much interested in the spectacle, and the young ladies who were strolling near seemed to have no objection."
Friday 12th June 1874
Reverend Francis Kilvert objects to swimming in bathing drawers at Shanklin, Isle of Wight:
"Bathing yesterday and to-day ... At Shanklin one has to adopt the detestable custom of bathing in drawers. If ladies don't like to see men naked why don't they keep away from the sight? To-day I had a pair of drawers given me which I could not keep on. The rough waves stripped them off and tore them round my ancles [sic]. While thus fettered I was seized and flung down by a heavy sea which retreating suddenly left me lying naked on the shingle from which I rose streaming with blood. After this I took the wretched and dangerous rag off and of course there were some ladies looking on as I came up out of the water."
Reverend R. Francis Kilvert (1840-1879)
Robert Francis Kilvert was born near Chippenham in Wiltshire in 1840, the son of Rev. Robert Kilvert, the Rector of Langley Burrell. After studying at Oxford, Francis ('Frank' Kilvert) became ordained as a clergyman. Rev. Kilvert served as a curate in rural parishes near the Welsh borders before becoming the Vicar of St Harmon in Radnorshire in 1876. Between 1870 and 1879, Rev. Kilvert kept a series of diaries, in which he described his daily activities and recorded his observations on rural life. Kilvert was appointed Vicar of Bredwardine in Herefordshire in 1877. On 20th August 1879, Frank Kilvert married Elizabeth Rowland. A few days after returning from his honeymoon, Frank Kilvert died of peritonitis at the age 38.
Rev. R. Francis Kilvert (1840-1879)
Bathing Costumes for Men
[ABOVE ] "Ilyssus" an illustration in George Du Maurier's novel "Trilby" showing three men wearing French-style bathing-drawers ("calecons") at a swimming bath on the Seine. Although the novel was serialised in 1894, the novel is set in Paris during the late 1850s and the costumes illustrated in the book reflect this fact. "Illyssus" is the nickname given to Taffy Wynn, a very tall English cavalry officer who has recently returned from serving in the Crimean War.
[ABOVE ] "Tide Coming in Fast and a Jibbing Horse", a 19th century engraving from the Illustrated London News which shows how a bathing machine was towed in and out of the sea by a man on horseback.
[ABOVE ] "Making the Best of It", an 1856 cartoon by John Leech (1817-1864) showing a man swimming from a bathing machine during a downpour of rain.
[ABOVE ] Male swimmers in Jersey, photographed by Paul Martin in 1893. The pot-bellied gentleman is wearing what appears to be brief bathing-drawers made from stockinet.
[ABOVE ] Three male swimmers in Jersey, photographed by Paul Martin in 1893. Away from the gaze of women, men preferred to wear as little as possible when swimming. However, nude swimming was not as common as it once was in the earlier decades of the nineteenth century.
[ABOVE ] A male swimmer emerging from the sea in a cartoon drawn around 1900 by the illustrator Everard Hopkins (1860-1928).
[ABOVE ] Two members of the Brighton Swimming Club wearing short bathing drawers in a photograph believed to have been taken in 1863.
[ABOVE ] "Summer Scene" by the French painter Frederic Bazille (1841-1870). This painting, which is signed and dated "F. Bazille, 1869", shows the type of short bathing drawers (called "calecons" in France) which were worn by male swimmers in Europe in the 1860s. During the 1870s, if male bathers wanted to swim alongside women on public beaches they were expected to wear bathing costumes that covered the body from neck to knees.
[ABOVE ] A male swimmer from England on a public beach in France in 1877, as drawn by George Du Maurier (1834-1896), a French-born British cartoonist who worked for Punch magazine.
Problems in Dating an Old Group Photograph of Members of the Brighton Swimming Club
[ABOVE ] A group photograph of nineteen members of the Brighton Swimming Club, believed to have been taken by the photographer Benjamin Botham in 1863. During the 1860s, most professional photographers used albumenized paper for photographic printing. Albumenized paper employed albumen from egg whites to bind photographic chemicals to the printing paper. Unfortunately, fresh egg whites contain glucose and the resulting "protein-sugar" reaction in the albumen causes the photographic print to turn yellow over time. Research has shown that albumen prints from the 1860s and 1870s show more yellowing than those printed later in the century.
PHOTO: Courtesy of the Brighton Swimming Club and the East Sussex Record Office
An Old Group Photograph of Members of the Brighton Swimming ClubIn September 2011, the Brighton Swimming Club, which was founded in May 1860, displayed some of its archives to the public, including committee minute books, posters, films and photographs. Amongst the photographs was an intriguing outdoor group of 19 members of the Brighton Swimming Club wearing bathing drawers and incongruous top hats. There is circumstantial documentary evidence in the form of an entry in the Committee Minute Books of the Brighton Swimming Club which suggests the photograph was taken in 1863. At the Committee Meeting of the Brighton Swimming Club held on 2nd June 1863 it was noted that the photographer Benjamin Botham would be admitted to the swimming club "on condition of his taking "a photographic sketch of the members of the Club". Some of those who have viewed the photograph have assumed on the basis of the skimpy bathing costumes worn by the top-hat wearing swimmers, that the photograph was taken early in the twentieth century.
It is true that most of the Victorian images we have of male swimmers show them them wearing the "neck to knee" bathing costumes, the use of which were encouraged by local authorities who wished to uphold the idea of propriety and decency on public beaches. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that men who took swimming seriously preferred to swim in the sea naked. During the 1860s, because of the offence caused by the sight of naked male swimmers, local authorities introduced by-laws and regulations that insisted that men who wanted to swim from the main beach of the seaside resort during the hours between 8 o'clock in the morning and 9 o'clock in the evening had to wear a bathing costume which preserved public decency. It is likely that members of The Brighton Swimming Club would have preferred to swim naked, but in the 1860s rules were brought in to ensure that at public swimming competitions, male swimmers at least wore short bathing drawers (called "calecons" in France). [See section on Men's Swimming Costume above]
[ABOVE ] Detail from the group photograph of members of the Brighton Swimming Club, showing the range of top hats sported by the brazen swimmers. Because details of costume are key to establishing dates of old photographs, the style of top hat worn by these near naked figures is a particularly significant factor. (The straight-sided top hat worn by the young swimmer on the far left of the picture above is associated with the late 1850s. Other top hats featured in the photograph date from the 1860s). The distinctive swimwear - brief bathing drawers tied with a draw-string or ribbon - also provides a clue to the possible date of the photograph. Other features to consider include hairstyles, beards, moustaches and other styles of facial hair and details such as the pince-nez spectacles worn by one of the swimmers. [PHOTO: Courtesy of the Brighton Swimming Club and the East Sussex Record Office] When dating old photographs from the Victorian or Edwardian period, a range of features have to be considered - a) The Type of Photograph - the format, the photographic process used, technical aspects of the photograph etc. b) Details of Costume - changing styles in fashion, c) Knowledge of the Photographer - the years that a photographer was active in a particular location, studio address, the interests of the photographer, negative numbers etc. d) Known details of the subject or sitters - the apparent age of the sitter in relation to known dates of birth, marriage, death etc, written inscriptions on the back of the photograph, e) Circumstantial and documentary evidence relating to the photograph - references to sittings in letters, diaries, a photographer's business records etc. and f) Stylistic, Cultural and Historical Aspects of the Photographic Image. There are other features to consider when dating a photograph (e.g. style and colour of the card mounts, design of the trade plate, studio props and settings, studio furniture and painted backdrops) but these aspects are not really relevant when considering the old group photograph of the members of the Brighton Swimming Club which was an informal photograph taken away from the studio on Brighton's beach. [ABOVE ] A second detail from the group photograph of members of the Brighton Swimming Club, showing the men's faces and range of top hats worn.. If any of the swimmers can be identified by name, the apparent age of the subject in relation to biographical details could suggest a possible date. [PHOTO: Courtesy of the Brighton Swimming Club and the East Sussex Record Office] a) The Type of Photograph and its Technical Quality The group photograph of members of the Brighton Swimming Club is an albumen print on paper. An albumen print was the most common type of photograph produced in the 1860s. These photographic prints were made on paper coated with egg-white, one of the purest forms of albumen. The white of an egg provided an excellent coating for photographic paper, giving a glossy, smooth surface, but unfortunately albumen prints tend to fade and turn yellowish as they age. The naturally occurring glucose in egg-white reacts to the amino acids in the egg protein causing the highlights of the photographic image to turn yellow. In the 1880s and 1890s, professional photographers took steps to reduce the yellowing effect of the "protein-sugar" reaction, by methods such as "gold-toning" and the use of "fermented" albumen. (The process of fermentation reduces the amount of glucose in the egg-white). Scientific investigations have shown that the yellowing of albumen prints dating from the 1860s and early 1870s was found to be more severe than those encountered in photographic prints produced in the 1880s and 1890s and one report concluded that "the additional yellowing is more than the extra age of the prints would allow for". The yellowish appearance of the Brighton Swimming Group photograph suggests that the original photograph was taken during the 1860s or the early 1870s, when the benefits of fermented albumen had not been discovered and "gold-toning" was not widely used. Photographers who took group photographs from the 1880s onward would have been using cameras equipped with the faster, photographic "dry plates" which could capture clear images within a fraction of a second, creating "instantaneous photographs". With the introduction of technically advanced cameras with mechanical shutters and sensitive "dry plates", photographs of large groups became more common in the 1880s. The picture quality of the group photograph of nineteen members of the Brighton Swimming Club indicates that the photographer was using an early camera with technical deficiencies. Only the front row of bathers are in focus. The limited depth of field and lack of sharpness suggests the photographer was using an early type of sliding-box camera, which required longer exposure times. The photographer would have had to make do with a very shallow plane of focus and expose the "wet plate" by the crude method of uncapping the lens for a number of seconds. The "wet plate" photographic process required the photographer to coat the glass photographic plate evenly with the sticky collodion solution immediately before use and all the stages of the process - sensitizing, exposing and developing - had to be done while the plate was still wet. "Wet plate" photography was difficult enough in the studio and darkroom, but outdoor photography was particularly troublesome. In the collodion "wet plate" era of the 1860s, the photographer of the Brighton Swimming Club group would have had to transport his equipment and apparatus from his studio in the centre of town, all the way down to the beach where the photograph was to be taken. For outdoor location work, a photographer would have to carry with him a large amount of heavy equipment, including glass plates, a tripod, bottles of chemicals and some sort of portable darkroom, as well as the bulky camera itself. b) Details of Costume One of the most reliable methods of dating Victorian and Edwardian photographs is to study the fashion details in the costume worn by the sitters (e.g. the bustle on a dress, the size of a puffed-sleeve, the style and shape of a neck-tie, the seam on a pair of trousers). The group photograph of members of the Brighton Swimming Club presents a problem with dating on the basis of styles of costume and fashion details because all nineteen men are naked, apart from their skimpy bathing-drawers and the top hats that they wear on their heads. The men sport top hats in a variety of styles, but two or three are wearing the tall, straight-sided top hats, colloquially known as "stove pipes". Stove-pipe top hats were common in the late 1850s and early 1860s, but were completely out of fashion by the mid-1860s, being replaced by the medium-high top hats with a curly brim. The brief bathing-drawers worn by members of the Brighton Swimming Club in this photograph had only been introduced as required swimming gear by clubs and local authorities during the early 1860s. Before 1860, most men swam naked, but if swimmers were to take part in swimming competitions in front of the public, they were required to wear bathing-drawers to avoid "public indecency". An article entitled "Public Swimming at Brighton", which appeared in "The Spectator" on 6th August 1864, gave an account of the "Fifth Annual Swimming Matches of the Brighton Swimming Club", which started from the Bathing Station, to the west of Brighton's famous Chain Pier, and which took place in front of thousands of spectators. The reporter purchased for one penny a race card on which was printed "the few and simple rules, such as all competitors were to wear bathing drawers". The short bathing-drawers, known as "calecons" in France, had been introduced from the continent, where mixed bathing was more accepted. The brief bathing-drawers were held up by a tied cord or draw-string and in the sea had a tendency to loosen and fall down. During the 1870s, a one-piece bathing costume was introduced to prevent embarrassing accidents and preserve the modesty of the swimmer. Because the swimmers are wearing short bathing drawers, not dissimilar to the brief bathing trunks worn in the 20th century, a number of the people who have seen the photograph have presumed that the photograph was taken many years after the foundation of the Brighton Swimming Club in 1860, some suggesting a date of 1910, which would have marked the 50th anniversary of the swimming club. However, documentary and pictorial evidence indicates that it was customary in the 1860s for male swimmers to wear short bathing drawers when swimming in public. [LEFT] Detail from a Brighton Swimming Club poster of 1862 which informs the reader that the Club's swimming drawers were manufactured locally and could be supplied at 3 shillings per pair. c) Knowledge of the Photographer The group photograph of members of the Brighton Swimming Club has been attributed to the photographer Benjamin William Botham (1824-1877), who was active as a professional photographer in Brighton between 1861 and 1868. By 1862, Benjamin Botham was operating from a photographic portrait studio located at 43 Western Road, Brighton. According to the Minutes of the Brighton Swimming Club, dated 2nd June 1863, Benjamin Botham was admitted to the swimming club "on condition of his taking a photographic sketch of the members of the Club".
To read an account of Benjamin Botham's life and photographic career click on the link below:
Benjamin William Bothamd) Known details of the subject or sitters The group photograph shows nineteen members of the Brighton Swimming Club posing on Brighton beach. The swimmers wear top hats, but are dressed only in short bathing drawers. There are a few men in the assembled group who appear to be in their early forties, but over half of the swimmers depicted appear to be young men in their late teens or in their twenties. In 1860, the year the swimming club was formed, there were a total of thirteen members. By 1863, the membership of the Brighton Swimming Club had risen to 59. George Worsley (c1835-1911), a founder member of the Brighton Swimming Club, was about 25 years of age when the club held its inaugural meeting on 4th May 1860. Charles Hindley (c1820-1893), the Secretary to the Brighton Swimming Club was a 40 year old bookseller when he attended the swimming club's first meeting in May 1860. The well-known swimmer Frederick Cavill (1839-1927) joined the Brighton Swimming Club in May 1862, a couple of months before his 23rd birthday. Leonard Reuben Styer (1843-1932), who was President of the Brighton Swimming Club from 1880 until 1931 arrived in Brighton during the 1860s. A Northampton-born dentist, Leonard R. Styer had established a dental practice at 15 Cranbourn Street, Brighton by 1865. If the yellowing group photograph of nineteen members of the Brighton Swimming Club was taken in 1910 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the club, would there not be more senior members of the club present? An official group photograph of members of the Brighton Swimming Club which was taken in 1891 features some of the founding members of the club who, some twenty years after the establishment of the swimming club, were then middle-aged or elderly.
Identifying Members of the Brighton Swimming Club from Photographs
Two unidentified members of the Brighton Swimming Club (1863?)
Leonard R. Styer Photographed in 1881
Leonard R. Styer (1843-1932)
George Brown Photographed in 1881Unidentified member of the swimming club.
[ABOVE] A detail from an 1891 group photograph of the Brighton Swimming Club, showing the more senior members of the club.e) Circumstantial and documentary evidence relating to the photograph Minutes of the Brighton Swimming Club, recording a Committee meeting held on 2nd June 1863, notes that Benjamin Botham, a professional photographer with a studio at 43 Western Road, Brighton, was admitted to the swimming club "on condition of his taking a photographic sketch of the members of the Club". (See extract below). Periodically, the Brighton Swimming Club commissioned professional photographers to take group photographs featuring members of the club. The Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museum has in its Photographic Collection a group photograph by A. D. Norman & Co. of at least sixteen members of the Brighton Swimming Club posing outside their club-house in the King's Road Arches. The printed inscription on the card mount indicate that the photograph was taken at 8.00 am on a March morning in 1891.
f) Stylistic, Cultural and Historical Aspects of the Photographic Image.
The old, yellowing photograph of nineteen members of the Brighton Swimming Club is unusual in several respects. What is striking is the relative informality of the photograph, especially when it is compared to the more rigidly structured and orthodox group photograph of the Brighton Swimming Club produced in March 1881. Interestingly, the Minutes of the Brighton Swimming Club recorded on 2nd June 1863 specifically mentions that Benjamin Botham was to take a "photographic sketch of the members of the Club". Formal group photographs of sports teams and clubs were uncommon during the 1850s and 1860s. (An early example of a team photograph was taken by Thomas Henry Hennah of the Brighton firm of Hennah & Kent in 1859. Thomas Hennah's camera captured the English cricket team on the deck of the Nova Scotian in early September 1859, just before the ship sailed from Liverpool to Quebec for the start of the team's cricketing tour of Canada and the United States). The conventions of "group photography" had not been firmly established in the early 1860s and the photographer clearly had difficulty in deciding how to arrange this large group of men, particularly because they insisted in wearing their tall top hats. It is unlikely that this photograph would have been commissioned as an official group photograph of the Brighton Swimming Club. In the first place, the members of the Brighton Swimming Club are shown in a state of undress which would make a public display of the photograph unsuitable. The photograph is more of an informal pictorial record of some of the members of the swimming club. It would produce some amusement and interest if displayed on the wall of the swimmer's club-house, but would cause a bit of a stir at home if it was exhibited alongside family photographs at home. Formal group photographs either resulted from a subscription raised by the sitters or were paid for by the supply of copies to individuals who featured in the photograph. The swimmers in the back row of the group photograph would probably be unhappy if they were required to make a contribution to the cost of the photograph by purchasing a copy for themselves. The description "photographic sketch" is quite apt. Although the swimmers appear awkward and uneasy in their posed positions and wear serious or blank expressions on their faces (only a few manage a half-smile), they probably regarded the whole exercise as a "bit of fun". This is emphasised by the odd pose adopted by the bearded figure, wearing the light-coloured top hat, who stands on one leg, slightly in front of the main group. (Is this an unspoken tribute to John Henry Camp, the one-legged swimmer and Steward of the Brighton Swimming Club ?). The bearded man wearing the light-coloured top hat seems to be holding his hands in a position which suggests his thumbs are locked into the lapels or pockets of an invisible jacket or waistcoat.
It has been suggested that the photograph was taken early in the 20th century as a type of pictorial "spoof"; parodying the formality and fashion sense of the founding members, who established the Brighton Swimming Club some 50 years earlier in Victorian times. It is true that the incongruous top hats worn with the skimpy bathing-drawers provides a humorous effect, highlighted by the swimmer who poses on one leg, yet this theory rings untrue and is not supported by the visual evidence. The technical quality, style and general appearance of the yellowish group photograph suggests it was taken in the 1860s or 1870s. If the members of the Brighton Swimming Club had set out in 1910 to "dress up" in the style of the club's founders, it is unlikely that they would have been able to assemble such convincing and authentic costumes.
[LEFT] A group photograph of 18 members of the Brighton Swimming Club, probably taken during the first two decades of the 20th century. If the yellowing group photograph of the nineteen swimmers wearing top hats and bathing drawers was taken in the early years of the twentieth century, wouldn't some of the club members pictured in the photograph on the left appear in the "yellow photograph" too?
Changing Styles in Top Hats
[ABOVE ] Top hats in 1857. The famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (centre-right) and his associates photographed wearing high straight-sided top hats (nicknamed "stove pipes") at the attempted launching of The Leviathan (Great Eastern) in November 1857.
[ABOVE ] Top hats in 1861. A group of foremen photographed by the firm of Cundall & Downes at the site of the International Exhibition held in London in 1861. This is a detail from the original photograph which featured ten men, six of whom are wearing high-crowned top hats.[ABOVE ] Top hats in 1872. A cabinet portrait of two men linking arms, possibly brothers or close friends, photographed in 1872 or 1873 at the "Merrick" photographic studio at 33 Western Road, Brighton, which was owned by Brighton entrepreneur Joseph Langridge (1812-1895). The two men are wearing fashionable versions of the traditional top hat which, compared to the high straight-sided "stove pipe hats" of an earlier period, have a lower crown and a more graceful "incurving" line. The brims of the top hats in this picture are noticeably more curly than the top hats from the early 1860s. [PHOTO: Brighton Museum Photograph Collection]
[ABOVE ] Top hats in 1876. Detail from a "collodion positive" photograph of a group of holidaymakers about to set off in a horse-drawn carriage. The majority of the men in the photograph wear fashionable top hats which have a lower crown and a curlier brim compared to the higher, straight-sided top hats of the previous decade.
[ABOVE ] Top hat in 1877. Detail from a cabinet portrait of a man wearing a top hat , photographed at a studio in the United States around 1877. The man's top hat is medium-tall and has a fashionable curly brim. By this date, it was usual for photographs to be made with fermented albumen, which greatly reduced the yellowing of the photographic image.
[ABOVE ] Top hat in 1885. Detail from a cabinet portrait of a man wearing a top hat , photographed at a studio in the United States around 1877
[ABOVE ] Top hat in 1895. A detail from a studio portrait of the boxing champion James J. Corbett, taken in 1895.
[ABOVE ] Top hats in 1911. Two illustrations from a 1911 fashion plate. Top hats produced in the early 20th century had lower crowns and flatter brims.
Changing Styles in Men's Swimming Costumes
[ABOVE] A male swimmer wearing short bathing drawers (called "calecons" in France) in a detail from an 1869 painting by the French artist Frederic Bazille (1841-1870). During the 1860s, men either swam naked or wore short bathing drawers when not in the company of women. In Victorian England, men and women usually swam separately from bathing machines or segregated beaches. Away from the opposite sex, Englishmen could swim naked if they wished. At public swimming contests held in England in the 1860s, men were required to wear bathing drawers. [ABOVE] A male swimmer wearing a full-length bathing costume, leaving only his arms and lower legs exposed.. In France during the 1870s, if male bathers wanted to swim alongside women on public beaches they were expected to wear bathing costumes that covered the body from their neck to their knees. In the 19th century, Englishmen who preferred to swim naked often criticised the French practice of mixed bathing and regulated swimming costumes. At public swimming competitions held in the 1860s, men were required to wear bathing drawers. In the 1870s, modest bathing suits which covered the chest and upper thighs were generally worn by male swimmers.
Identifying Members of the Brighton Swimming Club
Fred Cavill (1839-1927)
Frederick Cavill[ABOVE] Frederick Cavill (1839-1927) was one of the most accomplished swimmers in the Brighton Swimming Club. Born in Kensington, London on 10th July 1839, Frederick Cavill , a Brighton swimming instructor, joined the Brighton Swimming Club on 2nd May 1862 at the age of twenty-two. In 1878, Cavill decided to emigrate to Australia. Frederick Cavill and his family arrived in Melbourne on board the "Somersetshire" in February 1879. An experienced long distance swimmer, Frederick Cavill established a swimming school in Sydney Harbour under the title of "Professor Cavill". It is possible that a young Fred Cavill posed with other members of the Brighton Swimming Club when Benjamin Botham made his "photographic sketch" in 1863. Unfortunately, the only pictures I have found of Frederick Cavill show him heavily bearded, in middle-age (an 1882 engraving of "Professor Cavill" ) or towards the end of his life ( a photograph of Frederick Cavill published with an obituary). The yellowing picture in the centre shows an unidentified member of the Brighton Swimming Club in a detail from a group photograph believed to have been taken in the 1860s
[ABOVE] John Henry Camp (1826-1875), a founder member of the Brighton Swimming Club, was a celebrated one-legged swimmer, having had his left leg amputated some years before.
PHOTO: Courtesy of the Brighton Swimming Club, the East Sussex Record Office and Paul Farrington of Studio Tonne
Changing Styles in Men's Swimming Costume during the 19th Century
1863 (?)[ABOVE] Two members of the Brighton Swimming Club in a photograph believed to have been taken in 1863. The men wear French-style bathing drawers ("calecons").
1877[ABOVE] "Study at a Quiet French Watering Place", a drawing by George Du Maurier, published in 1877, which shows an Englishman in a modest bathing costume.
[ABOVE] "The Proper Position For Floating", an illustration from an instruction manual published in 1881. During the 1880s, male swimmers were encouraged to wear bathing costumes that covered most of the body.
[ABOVE] Two illustration from a swimming instruction manual published in 1896 showing a more streamlined swimming costume which gave greater freedom to the swimmer's arms and legs. Male swimmers adopted this type of bathing costume for swimming competitions at the end of the 19th century.
Mixed Bathing in France and Segregated Bathing in England
circa 1812: Mixed Bathing in France[ABOVE ] Les Nageurs ("The Swimmers"), a French print from the Napoleonic period showing a mixed party of young men and women swimming together from a boat. Mixed bathing was commonly practised in France and so it was customary for men to wear brief bathing trunks called "calecons" when in the presence of women.
Mid 19th Century: Men without bathing costumes[ABOVE] Two male figures drawn during the 1840s and 1850s by the Irish-born, London artist William Mulready (1786-1863). For obvious reasons, there were very few drawings and paintings of nude male bathers produced in Britain during the early Victorian period. Between 1884 and 1885, the American realist painter Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) produced a series of photographs and sketches showing a group of men swimming naked in a lake. These studies resulted in an oil painting entitled "The Swimmers" (also known as "The Swimming Hole"). There is no equivalent of Eakins' pictorial representation of male nude swimming in 19th century British art.
1866: Mixed Bathing in France[ABOVE] Bain de Mer (Sea Bathing) by George Du Maurier. This cartoon shows an English family, the Titwillows, coming across another English family while taking a "family bath" on a mixed bathing beach in France. Mixed bathing was permitted in France, but beach regulations stipulated that, for the sake of modesty and public decency, bathers had to wear bathing costumes that covered the body from neck to knee.
1870: Designated Bathing Machines in England[ABOVE] An 1870 cartoon by George Du Maurier showing an elderly gentleman, clad only in striped bathing drawers, coming face to face with a young female swimmer when he mistakenly returns to the wrong bathing machine. In the caption to the cartoon, the "Modest Old Gentleman" is saying "Ahem! Pray excuse me, Madam, my bathing machine, I think?". Some seaside resorts kept the designated bathing machines well apart so that embarrassing encounters between the sexes could be avoided.
1877: Mixed Bathing in France[ABOVE] A Different Thing by George Du Maurier. This cartoon shows a family bathing together at a French seaside resort. The father of the family remarks to his friend in the water: "How much better they manage these things in France, eh? So jolly for a fellow to be able to bathe with his own family, you know!" In June 1896 ... a letter in the Standard pointed out that "on the Continent men and women bathe together and there is nothing to shock the sensibilities of the most prudish". The reason for this was that at these Continental resorts both men and women wore neck-to-knee costumes.
Continuity and Change in English Sea-Bathing, 1730-1900 by John Travis (1997)
1882: Segregated Bathing in England
[ABOVE] Two illustrations from "Judy" (The London Serio-Comic Journal) showing men and women sea-bathing separately in England. These two drawings appear beolow the heading "At Home" under the general title of "Dippings at Home and Abroad" and were published in "Judy" on 2nd August 1882.
Designated Bathing Machines in Brighton
[ABOVE] George May's gentlemen's bathing machines on the central beach at Brighton (c1875). [ABOVE] George Cowell's ladies bathing machines on the beach to the west of Brighton's West Pier (c1900).
Segregated and Mixed Bathing
circa 1900: Men ready for bathing on an isolated beach[ABOVE] A group of men wearing a range of beachwear, photographed around the year 1900 at Skagen in northern Denmark. Three of the swimmers are wearing horizontally-striped bathing drawers, but two wear striped bathing costumes which cover their chests.
[ PHOTO: Ud & Se, DSB ]circa 1906: Mixed Bathing in England [ABOVE] A mixed group of bathers photographed in Eastbourne around 1906. The two young women who appear at the rear of the group centre left were sisters Elizma Wiseman (born 1888, Lichfield) and Evelyn Amy Wiseman (born 1887, Lichfield), the daughters of Edward Wiseman (born 1855, Bedford), a printer's foreman to the firm of A. C. Lomax of Lichfield.
[ PHOTO: Courtesy of Richard Marriott]
Segregated and Mixed Bathing in England[ABOVE] Men's bathing machines on a stretch of Brighton beach between the West Pier and the Free Shelter Hall, photographed in 1891.
[ABOVE] A detail from the photograph above, showing two men in the sea at Brighton wearing bathing trunks.
At the major English seaside resorts, mixed bathing was not encouraged and men and women were often obliged to swim separately, either from different stretches of the beach or from bathing machines designated for one sex or the other. In the 1890s mixed bathing was tolerated at some small seaside resorts. In 1901, even the staid resort of Bexhill-on-Sea introduced new regulations to permit mixed bathing on its beaches.
1908: Mixed Bathing in England[ABOVE] "A Merry Bathing Party at Cliftonville", a photograph by Nichols which shows a mixed group of bathers in the sea at Cliftonville, near the Kent seaside resort of Margate. This photograph appeared as an illustration in the weekly magazine "The Bystander" on 9th September 1908.
1912: Mixed Bathing in England[ABOVE] A man in a hired bathing costume poses with a female companion on the steps of a bathing machine in 1912. The man wears a bathing costume with the name "Taylor" embroidered on the back, which suggests that the swimsuit was hired from a bathing machine proprietor named Taylor.
AcknowledgementsI am grateful to the Brighton Swimming Club, Paul Farrington of Studio Tonne (Brighton) and Andrew Bennett of the East Sussex Record Office for providing the images from the Brighton Swimming Club archive. Paul Farrington of Studio Tonne (Brighton) is the Director of Floating Memories, the Brighton Swimming Club Archives Project.