I often use paintings or prints as a starting point. When I was writing Lydia Bennet’s Story, this print presented me with an idea for a scene between Lydia and Mr Wickham.
Donkey riding was a very fashionable pursuit at this time and most popular with ladies; tours in a donkey cart could be taken out to the village of Rottingdean. This fad did not last long, the donkeys were soon replaced by ponies, which the ladies preferred.
Sea bathing was also popular as might be expected and was recommended as a health giving exercise. Ladies and gentlemen bathed in designated areas, firstly entering a bathing machine to change into a flannel gown before descending the steps to be ‘dipped’ in the water by the ‘dipper’.
There’s plenty of dippers and jokers,
And salt-water rigs for your fun
The King of them all is ‘Old Smoaker’
The Queen of ’em “Old Martha Gunn”.
The ladies walk out in the morn,
To taste of the salt-water breeze;
They ask if the water is warm,
Says Martha, “Yes, Ma’am, if you please.”
Old Brighton rhyme.
Here is an extract from the ‘Morning Herald’ August 28th 1806.
The beach this morning was thronged with ladies, all anxious to make interest for a dip. The machines, of course, were in very great request, though none could be run into the ocean in consequence of the heavy swell, but remained stationary at the water’s edge, from which Martha Gunn and her robust female assistants took their fair charges, closely enveloped in their partly coloured dresses, and gently held them to the breakers, which not quite so gently passed over them. The greatest novelty, however,….was in a Gentleman undressing himself on the beach, for the purpose of a ducking, in front of the town, attended by his lady, who sans diffidence, supplied him with napkins, and even assisted him in wiping the humid effects of his exercise from his brawny limbs, as he returned from the water to dress.
It is very typical of Lydia that she makes this comment on the view from her room at the Ship Inn where she is staying with her friend Harriet Forster.
'How wonderful is the sight of the sea, its sound so delicious on the ear and its vast waters swimming with gentleman bathers! We have rooms overlooking the water; which provide the most excellent looking post! It is heaven, indeed!'