Beach Days –in Regency England

Do you love the beach? I do. I’m addicted! Who could not enjoy a walk on an ocean beach, with a cooling breeze and the green thundering waves dashing down into foam and then washing gently up by your feet? You walk between the wide expanse of blue sky above and the blue reflection in the smooth wet sand beneath you. Then lured into the water, you float enveloped in its clear green invigorating coolness, coming out utterly refreshed.


I’m certain that throughout human history, people who lived near beaches enjoyed them. I am lucky enough to live in a state with plentiful ocean beaches very nearby, and at this time of year I try to juggle my work schedules to find one day a week when I can go. But did you know that it was only as recently as the 18th century that people who didn’t live near beaches began to come to visit them as tourists? Dr Richard Russell’s 1752 publication A Dissertation: Concerning the Use of Sea Water in Diseases of the Glands, about the health benefits of sea-bathing and even drinking sea water is credited with helping create what became a thriving industry, but certainly improvements in transportation in this period and the Regency also were a big factor in the development of sea-side resorts.

Just as guides to the great houses were published for tourists, guides to the beach resorts such as John Fletham’s A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) also became available. Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, is set in a small town trying to become the next popular resort, and Jane visited Brighton, made popular by the Prince Regent, as well as Worthing in Sussex and spent time in Southhampton. Competition between resorts was fierce. Jane would have heard all about Sandown on the Isle of Wight, and Bognor, and Eastbourne. Margate was famous and by 1816 so popular they had more than 40 bathing machines, and four bathhouses where patrons could relax while awaiting their turn. For an interesting discussion about whether or not Worthing stood as Jane’s model for Sanditon, check

ramble5Whether Regency people visited the shore for pleasure or for health reasons, the activities they pursued did not differ greatly –they walked on the sand, and enjoyed watching the waves and ships offshore and each other. They “dipped” in the sea (only men actually engaged in swimming). The way they dressed at the seaside is an entire fashion topic in itself. I highly recommend that you check out (or reread if you have been following our Risky blog for a while) posts from past summers made by Elena and Myretta and others here –just type “beach” into our search box and they will come up. Myretta wrote about Brighton. Elena did a terrific post that explains about the bathing machines with attendants that made it possible to be “dipped” into the ocean while preserving modesty at all costs!!

This line about sea-bathing at Ramsgate in 1811 from Memoirs of a Highland Lady by Elizabeth Grant makes me glad I am not limited by the old system they used, for once I am in, I am always reluctant to get out of the water until I am blue with cold: “The shock of a dip was always an agony: that over, we would have ducked about much longer than the woman let us.” I found this in a great article by Andrea Richards of the Jane Austen Society of Australia (

If you can’t get to the modern-day beach, perhaps you can make a vicarious trip, and go back in time as well! Besides the above, I recommend the following:

Are you a beach-lover? If you had lived in the Regency, would you have traveled to one of the many resorts to try the water? Have you read any Regency stories that use this setting? Jump into the comments and share!

About Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood is the author of seven Regencies that were originally published by Signet/Penguin. After taking ten years off for family matters, she has wobbled between contemporary romantic suspense and more Regency stories, wondering what century she's really in and trying to work the rust off her writing skills. Her backlist is gradually coming out in ebook format, and some are now available in new print editions as well. She is working on the start of a Regency-set series and other new projects. Stay tuned!
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7 Responses to Beach Days –in Regency England

  1. What a fabulous article! As a person who has ducked into the waters off the coast of Britain I can attest to the fact they are C O L D !! I think I would have liked to have had a Regency era swimming costume on when I took my dip!

    I live inland now, but when I was in grad school in Hattiesburg, Mississippi I spent quite a bit of time on the Gulfport / Biloxi beaches. This was pre – Katrina. I haven’t been back since, but I would love to go and see how the beaches look now.

  2. HJ says:

    Louisa makes the point I was going to – the sea is always cold in England, so you would have to be persuaded that it was good for you before you would voluntarily go into it.

    But the seaside is lovely!

    • Jo Beverley says:

      I grew up in Morecambe in Lancashire, which is in the north. We lived on the sea front as my parents had a boarding house and we spent the summer on the beach and often in the sea.

      As we always said, “It’s all right after a minute or so.”*G* You do get used to the temp, plus they make ’em tough “up north.”

      I remember one lady — Mrs. Thrace? — writing of taking their daily dip in Brighton in winter. Now that I tip my bonnet to. That’s tough.

      But then the Scandinavians like their icy dips, and cold bathing is supposed to truly boost the immune system.

      • Thanks, Louisa and HJ. Good points! Jo, I didn’t know that cold bathing is truly supposed to be good for the immune system! Some Regency doctors did recommend winter sea-bathing. I always thought that rather fell into the category of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”!!! LOL. (But then, we might make that case for medicine in general in our time period.) Next time I am inching my way into a cold ocean, I’ll remind myself that not only will I like it once I’m in, it really is good for me!! Thanks for commenting.

  3. Elena Greene says:

    Your post reminds me of that lovely beach day we shared last summer, Gail! I’m not into lying around roasting in the sun, but I do love beach-combing and swimming. I’ll brave some fairly chilly water to enjoy the latter.

    I like beach-related Regencies. The one I wrote was Saving Lord Verwood which started in Brighton and ended in Cornwall with beach scenes at both.

  4. Good points about the water temps in England, although in some areas I understand the water can be quite mild –the Gulf Stream and all that!! I’m off to an author tea party today, so won’t be able to respond more until tonight or tomorrow, but now you’ve got me intrigued enough to do a little water temp research!! BTW, I’m in New England –up here we think water at 70 degrees is “warm” for the beach! 🙂

  5. See what I found! A map showing current sea temperatures for the UK. Here is the URL:
    And yes indeed, chilly even in August!!! About the temps we have here in New England at the start of the summer…

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