Although sea bathing generally had been promoted by various doctors from the Restoration onwards, and had sporadically been practised both in Britain and on the Continent since then, it would seem that it did not reach Clevedon until the very early years of the 19th century.
The first reference to sea bathing proper at Clevedon comes from a Bristol newspaper: 1823 April 26 Bristol Mirror – ‘George Cook respectfully informs the ladies and gentlemen of Bristol, and the public generally, that during the ensuing season he will have Four Bathing Machines on Clevedon Beach which will be drawn in and out of the water by Capstans. Experienced persons will attend the machines and every possible care will be taken.’
Although apparently new to Clevedon bathing machines had been used at Scarborough as early as 1748.
Sea bathing had been invented by the British as a form of therapy, not enjoyment, and this model of treatment by immersion had become the standard in the Continental resorts and those in the Baltic and North Sea, as well as in North America, by the end of the 18th Century. It would not be until the early 19th Century that the idea of enjoying bathing and swimming in the sea began to creep in. This was the point at which Clevedon seems to have come into the picture as a potential holiday resort.
In the early years of the 19th Century Clevedon developed rapidly. In 1828 Samuel Taylor of Hutton purchased land between the sea and the broad path which was to become Wellington Terrace. Today, that site is occupied by a bungalow called Seawalls, which stands on the plot north of the Royal Pier Hotel. The level part of the plot provided enough space for Taylor to build a house, while the sloping cliff was low enough to allow the making of an enclosure which could be filled by the tide and would then retain seawater for the bathers. The importance of this on the Bristol Channel, where the range between high and low tide is some 47 feet at its extreme, was paramount if you were aiming to make your money from those who were bathing in sea water.
Throughout the remainder of the 19th century these early Baths initially flourished and subsequently floundered in equal measure and passed hands several times. The Rates in 1900, as well as the census in 1901, list no occupant for the Baths though Turkish Baths were available in Wellington Terrace a short distance away. In 1905, the old Baths’ outer wall fell into the sea, after they had been left unoccupied for several years, to be followed by the demolition of the remaining building a couple of years afterwards, it having become a public danger. Evidently they had long been little used as to have become impossible to run as a going concern.
Prior to the complete loss of the Baths though the Clevedon Local Board of Health was, by 1886, discussing a variety of ways and means by which facilities in the Baths and on the shore might be updated and made more attractive, and the Bathing regulations from a directory of Clevedon for 1897 make interesting reading.
As is the way with things discussion dragged on and during the subsequent 15 years or so several schemes were reported to the Board (and its successor the Council), but the Board was pre-occupied with the purchase of the pier in 1890 and little appears to have progressed. In retrospect some of the schemes proposed seem amusing including some kind of cage in which swimmers could be towed out to reach the tide, or the erection of tanks at a height of 50 feet into which water would have to be pumped. At that time though it was another scheme which was proposed by man attending a public meeting of ratepayers in 1896 that was unanimously condemned as little more than amusing – the idea of enclosing Salt House Bay at a cost of £12,000 to form a lake suitable for yachts – and there the matter rested… for the time being!
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