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Victorian Beach Life: Photos of 19th Century Bathing Machines in Operation

19thcenturybathingmachines

Back in the 18th and 19th century, recreational swimming kickstarted a service industry of aids for decent beach life etiquette. These tools of maintaining dignity were perhaps unsurprisingly mostly aimed at women. Among innovations of this time was the Bathing Machine, or the Bathing Van, which helped bathers change into to their bathing attire right next to the water.

Bathing machines became a thing around all of Great Britain’s empire starting ca. 1750 and spread to the at least the United States, France, Germany and Mexico to serve the greater goal of common decency at beaches. These bathing machines faced steep decline after 1901 when gender segregation no longer was a legal requirement on beaches around Britain. On some beaches, bathing machines had already been permanently parked as stationary changing rooms during the preceding decades.

The gist of the blessing bathing machines brought life in the budding modern industrial era is fairly simple. The passenger enters a horse or human drawn carriage, which is transported some distance out into the water. The van’s human cargo changes into whatever shapeless sack was deemed suitable at the time. The mechanics of it all are unsurprisingly not that glamorous and worth exploring in further detail.

You might imagine these contraptions adding more of a hassle than a day at the beach is worth. But as you can see in the photos we’ve collected below, users of bathing vans did seem to enjoy having some to refreshing dips in the sea. 

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Secrets and scandal: 5 super spies of the Georgian era

Masked Ball, Louis XV court

The long 18th century was a time of revolution, intrigue and court gossip, with espionage quite the done thing no matter where you were in the world. From dashing adventurers to men who might be women, dutiful wives, court beauties and famous last words, join me for a countdown of Five Georgian Super Spies.

Friedrich von der Trenck (1726-1794)

Soldier, seducer and spy, Baron Friedrich von der Trenck lived the charmed life of an adventurer. When word spread that the Prussian Trenck was a spy for the Austrians, Frederick the Great had him imprisoned for life in the fortress at Glatz, at which point things take an A-Team turn. Not a man to accept his fate lying down, Trenck promptly escaped the supposedly inescapable prison and, after a stopover in Russia where he charmed the Tsarina, was recaptured and incarcerated once more following an ambush at the funeral of his own mother. Always one for the ladies, Empress Marie Theresa had Trenck released and in and around making a fortune, writing his memoirs and being a general gadabout, 68 year old Trenck went to France to report back on revolutionary activities. Here his luck ran out and he was guillotined just two days before Robespierre fell, ending the Reign of Terror.

von der Trenck

Chevalier d’Eon (1728 – 1810)

Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont was one of the spies who made up Louis XV’s Secret du Roi, an espionage network established by the king without the knowledge of his government. Sometimes working against political policy, the network spanned Europe and their influence touched most of the major royal houses of the Georgian era. What made Chevalier d’Éon particularly unusual was that he was believed by many to be a woman. So sure were the British that the mysterious figure was really female that bets were taken in London as to the true gender of the spy and he encouraged speculation, whilst refusing to submit to an examination. After the Revolution, d’Éon made his money by competing in fencing tournaments and even attempted to establish a female army, but his final years were miserable and by the time he died in poverty, his once glittering lifestyle was but a distant memory.

Chevalier d'Eon

 

Margaret Kemble Gage (1734-1824)

One of my personal favourites, Margaret Kemble Gage was married to General Thomas Gage, a British military leader during the American Revolutionary War. An American by birth, gossip at the time accused Kemble Gage of being conflicted by her loyalties to her husband and her country and that gossip gathered speed as the stakes rose higher. When someone gave Joseph Warren the lowdown on British raids, all eyes fell on Mrs Kemble Gage. Although her husband couldn’t bring himself to believe that the woman he loved was the guilty party, he still gave her temporary marching orders and Margaret was dispatched to England where she was safely out of harm’s way.

Margaret Kemble Gage

 

Eva Helena Löwen (1743–1813)

Society beauty, fashion icon and adored platonic muse to Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden, Eva Helena Löwen was quite the lady about the Swedish court. She received a very generous allowance from the French in return for promoting their interests with Gustav and though her name was linked to all sorts of empire building activities, Löwen never faced any consequences as a result. She remained a powerful figure at court for years and in 1792, her own son was one of the men who conspired to murder Gustav, by then the king of Sweden and not a popular man!

Eva Helena Löwen

 

Nathan Hale (1755 – 1776)

Best remembered for his possibly misquoted final words, the 22 year old Hale was a soldier during the American Revolutionary War who was captured whilst on an intelligence gathering mission behind British lines. Hale was arrested as he assembled information on troop movements and imprisoned in the headquarters of General William Howe. A cursory search of the Captain revealed sketches of fortifications, notes and other intelligence information and Hale confessed to his mission, knowing that the jig was up. The only punishment for the crime he had committed was death and the following morning, he went to face his fate. Standing before the noose at the Park of Artillery, Hale’s last words were supposedly the suitably stoic and heroic, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”. Whether he said it or not is debatable but one thing is certain, those last words certainly contributed to his unshakeable place in American history.

Nathan Hale

Catherine CurzonGlorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog at www.madamegilflurt.com, Madame G can also be spotted on TwitterFacebook and Google+. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, will be published by Pen and Sword Books.

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Off with their heads! 5 French Revolution executions that changed history

Exécution_de_Marie_Antoinette_le_16_octobre_1793

“Louis must die so that the nation may live.”
Maximilien Robespierre

When revolution swept through France in the final decade of the eighteenth century, the landscape of the nation changed forever. The guillotine loomed large over Paris, its blade thundering down on necks both aristocratic and peasant with equal violence and by the time the Reign of Terror reached its blood drenched climax, 40,000 citizens of France lay dead. Not all went to the iconic National Razor though, and not all are remembered by name or memorialised in the basilicas and history books. Let’s take a look at five executions of the French Revolution that changed history, so if you have an aversion to blades, look away now!

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