On this Day 2nd May 1823

Taking to the Waters at Penzance

What could be a more delightful to a town with aspirations to become a sought-after watering place, than a commodious bathing machine?

The Napoleonic Wars are over. English invalids and ‘tourists’ (the term is becoming quite well-used these days) were reluctant to cross the Channel a decade ago, but now they are thinking wistfully about the climate of Nice or Geneva. The term Cornish Riviera has not even been thought of.

But Penzance is fighting back. The town has a guidebook, written reassuringly by “A Doctor”, which assures the potential visitor that it is “the most eligible residence he can select… beautifully situated”. The area can appeal to the active, masculine spirit: antiquarians, botanists and geologists might bustle about purposefully. Primarily, though, the mild climate is ideal for “the most delicate invalid”. And it is still mainly for these invalids – often stricken by tuberculosis – that sea-bathing is recommended. By 1823 it is gaining popularity among the general population.

And also gaining in popularity by 1823 were the new machines, commodious or otherwise.

Often with a canvas funnel rather like an aircraft emergency exit tube, they were usually pulled up and down the beach by horses. Use of a bathing machine provided a proper level of privacy, and in Penzance meant that visitors no longer needed to have recourse to the baths at the bottom of Jennings Street, disturbingly close to the heavily industrial dock area. Instead, bathers could relax and enjoy the gentle ride into the sea, down the sandy slope that would later be the site of the Esplanade.

The words of “A Doctor” would be confirmed the next season by a Mr Stockdale, who emphasized the “salubrity” of the air and the recent wave of prosperity and building which had created a “very populous and highly respectable town”. “Invalids”, he continued, “have derived more benefit than they anticipated”. Did Mr Stockdale himself venture out to take the water, and enjoy the commodious machine? We will probably never know.

West Briton 2nd May 1823 - see also A History of the Town and Borough of Penzance, P A S Pool, 1974, page 123

Excursions in Cornwall, F W L Stockdale, 1824, quoted in Pool, A History of the Town and Borough of Penzance page 123

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