Early bathing in Swansea Bay

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Bathing at the Slip has a long history. In the 1780s, sufficient people were making their way to Swansea for the waters to prompt the Corporation to involve themselves in the development of a genteel bathing house near the site of the present County Hall, by the 1790s, a fine assembly house and numerous bathing machines graced the beach at this point. However, this was bathing for ladies and gentlemen, usually well heeled visitors. Bathing was seen as an exclusive health and leisure activity, a complete social protocol developed which reflected a person’s social and financial standing. Clearly the many local residents who also enjoyed taking to the waters did not conform to the niceties of ‘civilised bathing.' They were often loud, coarse and most horrifying of all, they were not disposed to wear bathing costumes. The net result was that the Corporation reserved the portion of the beach between County Hall and Black Point (now West Pier), for tourists and gentlefolk. The local residents were encouraged to bathe elsewhere.


The locality favoured by residents was the point on the seashore that would eventually form the Slip. It was considered far enough away from the Bathing House so as not to offend the sensibilities of genteel tourists. This ‘alternative’ bathing scene obviously had its own attractions as this diary entry from 1802 shows:


'As we were strolling on the sands, about a mile above the town, we remarked a group of figures, in birthday attire, gambolling in the water: not suspecting that they were women we passed carelessly on, but how great was our surprise, on approaching them, to find that the fact did not admit of a doubt. We had not paused a minute, before they all came running towards us, with a menacing tone and countenance, that would seem to order us away. Though we did not understand their British sentences, we obeyed, and very hastily too, on finding a volley of stones rattling about our ears. This hostile demonstration, we afterwards found, arose from a suspicion that we were going to remove their clothes, a piece of waggery often practised by the visitants of Swansea. to enjoy their running nudiores ovo. The girls knew we were not their countrymen. or we should have passed unconcerned; unless, indeed, acquaintances, who would have made their usual salutation, and perhaps joined in the party’s amusement. In our subsequent rambles on the beach these liberal exhibitions of Cambrian beauty afforded us many pleasing studies of unsophisticated nature.'

(Taken from J.T. Barber, A Tour throughout South Wales and Monmouthshire (London, 1803)

By the 1850s this particular spot on the beach was evidently well established. People would congregate here in the summer months and the place became notorious for theft, robbery and misfortune. It is also likely that an ‘alternative’ market was in operation. A place for cheap stalls and stolen goods that could be bought and sold away from the prying eyes of the market officials and the Borough policemen.


Left: A simple plan of the Slip area in the 1880s. The pub that would eventually be known as the Bay View is coloured red. The Slip is coloured green.
The Slip emerges continues the story


The View for Sunday October 15 2000

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