A Bit of Seabathing Would Set Me Up Forever ~ Regency Seaside Resorts

Kristi here. Great Britain, in case you’ve never noticed, is an island. This water-locked state meant that travel beyond the borders was expensive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous. While some still traveled, choosing to spend months if not years abroad in Europe, the state of the things with Napoleon at the beginning of the Regency era had many taking holiday trips a little closer to home.

Sea-bathing was an extremely popular pursuit, giving rise to many seaside resort towns that rose and fell in the elite’s fickle popularity. The idea was that the mineral-rich waters would heal many of a body’s ailments. More than likely it was the removal from the smog-encrusted air of London and the bit of exercise that proved beneficial.

Mermaids at Brighton - a group of women seabathing
“Mermaids at Brighton” by William Heath via Wikimedia Commons

The process of seabathing was a bit cumbersome. Because of the need for modesty, women and men did not enter the waters together. Large changing houses would be wheeled to the water’s edge. Women would change into their very cumbersome swimming costumes and then exit the back door of the changing house and enter the water.

Many small towns on along England’s southern coast tried to lure the rich to visit. They started large seaside building projects including piers, guest houses, and shops. Where sleepy fishing villages had once lived, tourist draws now reigned. Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, was about one such town. It depicted the exaggerations and tales that those craving progress were prone to tell to lure the elite while those who were more practical and liked their town the way it was bristled at the massive changes. Sadly, we have no idea how Austen would have ended her novel. Would Sanditon have become a successful town? Or would it be stuck with progressive buildings and a disgruntled populace?

Some of those real seaside¬†villages¬†were successful. Towns such as Eastbourne, Blackpool, and Ramsgate achieved a certain level of popularity, but no town could compete with Brighton during the Regency thanks to the Prince Regent’s frequent visits there.

The stables at Brighton Pavilion
The stables at Brighton Pavilion, via wikimedia Commons

Brighton Pavilion, the royal residence in the area, underwent significant renovations under the Prince Regent. It was turned into a showplace with spires and turrets galore. Nothing was overlooked in creating the splendor of Brighton Pavilion. Even the stables were a work of architectural art.

Because of the Prince’s preference, Brighton won the seaside battle in the early 19th century. It was rivaled only by Bath, which while not actually located on the coast, had the benefit of an abundant natural spring of hot, mineral rich water. Many sickly people moved permanently to Bath.

Are you a beach-goer? What is your favorite seaside town to visit?