Tag Archives: Victorian swimming

The Gentleman at the Beach: 1903



Two-Piece Affair Now the One Universally Accepted.

From the Haberdasher.

The man who swims and the man who suns will be better taken care of in the matter of raiment this coming summer than they have ever been. It is not many years since the average bathing costume was as hideous as it was uncomfortable, and man never appeared to worse advantage than he did when dressed for the beach. The old style one-piece suits of baglike form with their unsightly row of buttons down the front and their very peculiar striped patterns have been finally retired in favor of garments that not only fit perfectly, but that are comfortable, and to most men at least, becoming. At the seaside resorts bathing and beach lounging are now accepted as the principal diversion and men and women have learned to appreciate costumes that while slightly and not vulgar possess those attributes which are essential to comfortable swimming. The two-piece suit is now universally accepted and the model is practically universal. The only points so far as difference is concerned lie in the sleeve lengths. The shirts are made with quarter sleeveless or sleeveless, the latter being the favorite style with the young men, and for that matter with all men who really swim. As the beach is located at some distance from the hotels and houses at the majority of seaside places, it has become customary for men to wear a gown over the bathing suit while walking from the house or hotel to the beach.

Heretofore the bath robe was considered good enough for this purpose, but this summer there has been put on the market a robe designed specially for beach wear. These robes are made of heavy mercerized Oxfords in neat striped or figured patterns in combinations of self and contrasting colors. The robes are quite long, reach to the ankles, and have a button at the neck. The collars are of the Eton form and moderately wide, and the sleeves are finished plain or with a raglan cuff. There is one pocket which is patched on on the left hip, and the girdle is made of the same material as the robe. The robes are cut full so that they can be wrapped about the figure, and being light in weight and of a smooth finish can be thrown on the sandy beach without injury. When a man has put on his bathing suit and sandals, he puts on his robe and then he may amble about the beach or walks to his heart’s content. When he emerges from his dip he spreads the beach robe out of the sand and sits or reposes on it. This keeps the sand off the body and admits of one’s drying clean, a process which is impossible if one dries off on the sand.

The improvements made in bathing suits have been as great in the matter of fit as of colors and combinations. There is a great deal of variety now, and the colors are all perfectly fast if good quality garments are bought. Navy blue continues to be the favorite color. Suits having this for a ground color are relieved by stripes on the sleeves, shirt and drawer ends of white, red or light blue. The sleeveless shirts have solid half-inch bands of color about the arm-hole. Broad striped shirts come in college colors and are generally worn with solid trunks.

One of the best-selling suits is of army gray, with relief stripes in red, white, blue or black. Another good suit shows fancy pattern stripes in one color, and others show the granite or mixed stripes in gray, red or blue.

The novelty of the season in bathing suits is the broad striped sleeveless shirt worn with the loose solid color trunks. The trunks have belt loops and through them is a white cotton belt with nickel snake buckle is passed. The shirt of this suit is tucked into the trunks. Another new idea is to have the monogram embroidered in colors on the left breast of the shirt.

Bathing sandals are made of white canvas, with canvas or leather soles, or they are made entirely of leather. The latter consists of a sole which is held on by straps after the manner of the old Roman sandals.

Evening Star [Washington DC] 9 May 1903: p. 25

Bathing shoes, c. 1910

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  There was a good deal of resentment from ladies at the comparative sartorial freedom for gentlemen at the beach. Some ladies said that if they had to wear stockings, the men should also be compelled to conceal their nether limbs.

Aroused at strict toggery laws enforced by the beach authorities with regard to the fair sex Mrs. H.B. Harrison, of Washington, in a letter delivered to Chief Surgeon Charles Bossert, head of the “beach patrol,” today says:

“The way men are allowed to parade the beach makes them repulsive. The girls, after all, have curves and attractions not at all disgusting when they are permitted to come out on the beach without stockings. Why can’t you say something about the awful looking men who parade around in nothing but a little scrap of a bathing suit, which fails utterly to cover their unsightly bodies?

“And their limbs are simply awful, full of knobs, and besides most men are bowlegged. Could anything be more unsightly? The men, not the girls, should be compelled to wear stockings, and long stockings at that, also something to cover up their arms and chests. Nobody wants to see them, and they only clutter up good-looking scenery.” Atlantic City Special.

The Bambert [SC] Herald 21 August 1919: p. 6

Gent’s bathing costume, 1877


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



Swimming on Dry Land: 1900

swimming on dry land


Lewis Stevens

It sounds paradoxical to assert that swimming may be learned on dry land, yet such, according to many eminent authorities, is undoubtedly the case. It has been found, after long experience that men and women, and even children, who have studied the various movements of swimming while upon the dry land have become far more proficient in the art than those who commenced by floundering about in the water. This strange theory of learning how to become a successful swimmer was first propounded ten years ago by the English Royal Life Saving Society. The idea was laughed at, and dismissed without any serious consideration whatever. The London School Board was approached, but the theory was too novel and so altogether opposed to accepted ideas that the offer was declined, although the Amateur Swimming Association sent a deputation to the School Board Committee supporting the claims that were advanced.

But, strange to say, although the system has not received the official recognition of the Board, it is in one of their schools that children are being taught upon the dry land to swim in the water.  Miss Kingston, an organizing teacher, with controlling power over certain board schools in the district of Hackney, made a study of all known systems of learning to swim, and she came to the conclusion that the new theory was well worth putting into practice.

She introduced the system, and by dint of perseverance has brought it to perfection, so that now there is not the slightest doubt that the water is not the place in which to learn to swim.

How well the system has worked is shown by Miss Kingston’s report, issued last year. She says: “The swimming and life-saving drill has already proved a great help to the acquisition of the art of swimming. I have visited many schools in the district, at the request of the head teachers, to impart instruction to those children who intended to visit the bath this summer. It is not only an effective and beneficial form of physical exercise, but it materially helps to shorten the amount of time spent by the children in the water in learning the movements.”

French children, it is interesting to note, have for many years past been taught to swim upon dry land in accordance with the new theory. The little ones lie face downward on small stools raised about a foot from the ground, and in this position are taught the movements of swimming.

Breast stroke, first movement.

Breast stroke, first movement.

We publish a number of photographs [Mrs Daffodil has not published all of them.]showing the method in which the classes are conducted, and the movements through which the children are put. Those who understand swimming will readily appreciate the first three pictures, which show the positions and actions of the arms, shoulder, and breast in moving through the water. The fourth illustration shows how the children learn the side stroke.

Breast stroke, second movement

Breast stroke, second movement

The exercises depicted in the fifth and sixth photographs are very useful, and can be explained much more fully upon shore than in the water. In the seventh, the children are being taught how to release themselves from the clutch of a dying person, whilst in the eighth picture they are practising the method of carrying an insensible person in the water—one, for instance, who has met with an accident or who has been seized with cramp.

swimming freeing from drowning1

swimming supporting unconscious

Of course, in connection with the swimming lessons, the children at Miss Kingston’s school are taught how to induce artificial respiration in a drowning person who has been brought to shore, and the method of “turning” such a person in the way most likely to aid in restoring consciousness.

All the children who have been through the course of swimming lessons as arranged by Miss Kingston have turned out remarkably successful swimmers, far more so, indeed, than if they had studied in the old orthodox manner. Many other schools and night classes are adopting the system under Miss Kingston’s direction, and an exhibition given not long ago led all those who were present on that occasion, and favored the old system, to come to the conclusion that, after all, there was something in learning to swim upon the dry land. Perhaps the greatest advantage of the new system is that all children—the timid as well as the daring—have equal opportunities in learning to swim. Under the old regime many children became terribly frightened upon finding themselves in the water, and it was next to impossible to teach them any of the movements. But by going through the various exercises upon the dry land, in a quiet and thorough manner, the children master every detail of the art, and thus, when they at last enter the water, they have infinitely more assurance than they possibly could have did they not know how to support and propel their bodies.

Another advantage of learning to swim upon the dry land is the great saving in time and trouble which is effected; the lessons in this very useful art have been so inadequate on account of the inconvenience entailed by a visit to the swimming baths. Few schools possess baths of their own, and thus it has been necessary, when a lesson in swimming was to be given, to proceed to some public bath. Such a visit would at least occupy a whole morning, and naturally the lessons have not been so frequent as to give them the value they might otherwise possess. Now the school hall or the gymnasium takes the place of the swimming bath, and thus lessons may be conveniently given two or three times a week.

Swimming on dry land is an occupation for the whole year round. It is as much a winter as a summer exercise, and, in fact, the somewhat violent drill is perhaps better suited as a recreation for cold weather than for those months when outdoor bathing is most attractive. We heartily recommend this system to the public schools of America, having no doubt that it will ultimately be adopted.

Everybody’s Magazine, Volumes 1-2, 1900

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This method has been touted as being far more sensible than throwing a young person overboard (with or without a rope) and letting them flounder their way into sinking or swimming. Fair enough, but Mrs Daffodil can only imagine that it is the first step on the primrose path to Rhythmic Dance.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


“A Little Duck:” Miss Beckwith Swims the Thames: 1875

Agnes Alice Beckwith in a rather daring aquatic costume.

Agnes Alice Beckwith in a rather daring aquatic costume.

“A LITTLE DUCK” A Young English Girl Swims Five Miles on a Wager of £60 to £40

[From the London Standard of Sept. 2.]

A young girl named Agnes Alice Beckwith, daughter of the professor of swimming at Lambeth Baths, yesterday accomplished the difficult feat of swimming from London Bridge to Greenwich. The distance is rather more than five miles, and the time was remarkably fast−namely 1 h. 7 m. 45 s. Mr. Beckwith has been connected with the Lambeth Baths for nearly a quarter of a century, and for fourteen years held the proud position of champion swimmer of England. The heroine of yesterday’s proceedings is but 14 years old, of slim make and diminutive stature. The object was to decide a wager of £60 to £40 laid against her by Mr. Baylis, the money being deposited with Bell’s Life. The event created a great deal of excitement, and all along the route the progress of the swimmer was watched by excited crowds on the wharves and barges. In addition to the London Steamboat company’s Volunteer, a private steam launch, and a rowing-boat containing her father, the referee, and some half dozen others immediately interested in the result, a perfect swarm of boats accompanied—and indeed impeded—the swimmer the entire distance. London Bridge was crowded, as were the vessels and other points whence a view of the start could be obtained. Miss Beckwith dived from the rowing-boat at nine minutes to 5, and at once commenced a rapid side stroke, which she maintained to the finish. She was attired in a swimming costume of light rose pink llama, trimmed with white braid and lace of the same color. The water was very smooth and the tide running about three miles per hour. Swimming about a couple of yards in the rear of the referee’s boat, Turner Pier was reached at 11 minutes past 5. At Horseferry Dock (5:22) a salute was fired, and the swimmer was encouraged with lusty cheers. The Commerce Dock was quickly left behind, and soon after the Hilda, on her return from Margate, crowded with excursionists, passed the flotilla. Passing Millwall Miss Beckwith crossed to the north side and took advantage of the strong tide. At this point she was met by the saloon steamer Victoria, whose passengers were vociferous in their applause. The foreign cattle market at Deptford was breasted at twelve minutes to 6, and, as Greenwich Hospital appeared in sight, the intelligence was conveyed to the swimmer by repeated cheers, a salute being also fired from the Unicorn. The pier at Greenwich and the grounds of the ship were crowded with people who cheered to the echo when the spirited strains of “See the Conquering Hero Comes” announced the success of the attempt. Miss Beckwith swam some distance beyond the pier, and was taken on board at 5 h. 58 m. 45 s., having accomplished the distance, as stated above, in 1 h. 7 m. 45 s.

She seemed almost as fresh as when she started, and to all appearance was capable of going considerably further. It is worthy of mention that this was Miss Beckwith’s first essay of the sort, if we except a trial trip on Monday from Battersea to Westminster. Her nearest approach to the present feat was a swim of two and a half miles in the Lambeth Baths in three-quarters of an hour. Sunday Times [Chicago, IL] 19 September 1875: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While there seems to be a misprint in the time the young swimmer spent in the water, Miss Beckwith went from strength to strength, swimming from Chelsea Bridge to Greenwich, a distance of ten miles, in 1876 and from Westminster Bridge to Richmond, in a “pleasure swim” of twenty miles in 1878. Described as “A London Naiad,” in 1883 she made an unsuccessful attempt to swim from Sandy Hook to the Iron Pier at Rockaway Beach. Here is a detailed article describing Miss Beckwith’s subsequent career.