It was during the 18th century when bathing in the sea became popular for its therapeutic benefits. Locally, in 1811 a cottage was advertised at Little Holland, now known as Holland on Sea, as being suitable for sea bathing. Before the coming of Clacton on Sea the coastal area of Great Clacton was known as Clacton Beach, and occasional visitors would explore along Rosemary Lane to where there was a track leading past a pond to a gap in the cliff which gained access to the beach and the sea. Here bathing could take place.
Bathing Machines, a small wooden hut on wheels, is where bathers with due modesty of those times could change into their bathing costume, then descend steps directly into the sea water to bathe, and first appeared in the 19th century. When the new resort of Clacton on Sea was established in 1871, it was an opportunity for an enterprising person to introduce them to the new resort. The first record of bathing machines and beach tents at Clacton was in May 1872, and in the following year James Cattermole introduced a row of machines along the west beach, with horses and winches to move the huts according to the state of the tide and ply for custom. Cattermole’s enterprise must have proved lucrative because his son Alfred then continued the business.
The new resort was rapidly developing and attracting increasing numbers of visitors. The coming of the railway in 1882 further enhanced the scope for travel to Clacton and its bathing and its other attractions. In 1887 there was clearly an opportunity for further bathing machines and Edmund Almond introduced his machines onto the east beach. Like Cattermole, Almond’s son Herbert continued his father’s business.
The bathing machine business was just about the first enterprise in the new resort to make use of the beach and the sea. Early postcards of Clacton on Sea beach graphically show the extent of the bathing machines along the shoreline and for some forty summer seasons the bathing machines and their patrons were part of the seaside scene. The coming of the Great War in 1914 and with soldiers patrolling the cliff-top, the bathing machines disappeared, and were never to return. Sea bathing post-war further increased in popularity but with evolving social attitudes, more informality in the preparation for swimming from the beaches of Clacton then took place.
Information provided by: Clacton VCH Group