Seaside Holiday ~ 1880s
They lived a fairly affluent life. Herbert says that when his father had their bathroom installed it was only the third in Aylesbury. Even so, he says that the children thought a bath in the corner of an unheated room was a poor substitute for a tub in front of the nursery fire. The family had an annual seaside holiday and this is Herbert’s account of one year.
“My father took us to the seaside in August, and one year we went to Ramsgate, where he had rented from an Admiral a large furnished house.
The London and North-Western Railway provided a special coach which had four compartments, two on each side of a small one for baggage. When the exciting morning came, behold us, father, mother, eight children (one in a pram), governess, nurse-maid, cook, housemaid and possibly a cat or two. My father and mother took a compartment to themselves inviting the older children in from time to time. We were hitched to a fast train to Euston which shed us at Willesden Junction. There we were shunted by an enormous and jolly old Shire horse, who, when he heard his chains being hooked onto our coach, immediately put his back into the job without waiting for the word of command. Then we bumped and bumped across the points at the huge junction, the horse’s great hairy hooves picking their way daintily over all the obstacles.
By strange routes and several more shuntings we got on to the London, Chatham and Dover line. Sometimes we stopped for long periods at stations, and this, as the provision of lavatories on trains had not been thought of yet, was found convenient. All this took a great part of the day. At Ramsgate Station, most of the family got into ‘growlers’, while my father stopped to oversee the unloading of the luggage into the railway van provided by the company. Besides clothes, etc, for fourteen people, (if you count the baby as only one) there were hampers of fruit and vegetables, and sacks and sacks of potatoes. Silver was rarely included in a let, so there would be boxes of that as well, and also of linen, although not so much bed-linen was needed as would be nowadays as all the beds were double.
Next day we went down to bathe. The machines were on four wheels, and were on the move all day long as the tide rose or fell. They were pulled by horses, not in the least like the jolly one at Willesden, but crushed by the misery natural to those whose feet are never dry. They were often mounted by small boys, who were presumed to be immune from female attractions. Mixed bathing would have shattered all right-thinking people, and the group of women’s machines were separated by two hundred yards of innocent sea from those of the dangerous male sex. Each women’s machine had an awning which could be pulled down to within a few inches of the water, for use by the most coy, and the whole group was superintended by a woman, who, like the horses, spent her time in a foot or two of water. She was nothing short of a tyrant, and if coaxing failed would seize her frightened victim and not only haul her into the sea, but duck her too.
They wore a long, ill-fitting sort of over-all, on top of out-size bloomers reaching below the knee and suitably flounced. So modest indeed were some that they wore stockings as well. No rubber caps existed, but a hideous mop-cap, big enough to contain all their long hair, was drawn down nearly to their eyes. The men wore a one-piece combination affair, with sleeves, striped all the way down like a football jersey. We boys got away with bathing drawers.
One morning we arranged to meet our sisters in No Man’s Land. But the Ramsgate powers-that-be had foreseen this terrible thing might happen, and engaged a burly old waterman to lie offshore in a tub of a boat. Drowsy as he looked, he spotted us, shouting dire threats and began pulling on his oars. We judged it wise to retreat, and thus prevented a front-page scandal. Twenty minutes was the absolute maximum for a bathe, and afterwards we were hurried to the nearest confectioners and given hot tea or cocoa, which was rather silly for us boys, after our spartan bathing at school.” [Herbert went to a school where the boys had to dive into the freezing river every morning before breakfast]
He was about thirteen at the time of this holiday and was the third in the family of eight with an older brother of sixteen, an older sister of fifteen, three younger sisters of eleven, six and three, another brother of nine and the baby was a boy.
© Marjorie Dawn 2009
Servant of this House; Life in the Old Bank of England by H.G.de Fraine. Constable. 1960