Bognor Regis is one of the first English resorts specially developed for bathing. During Victorian times, people were not allowed to undress or change clothes publically on the beach therefore bathing machines were invented.
Bathing Machines on Bognor Regis Beach (approx. 1900) - Copyright of Cartland (1979) Bygone Bognor - Picture 79
These were designed almost like a wooden hut on wheels which would allow people to change in. Horses would then pull the machines into the water so people could climb out into the sea, in order to swim. It was inappropriate for men and women to bathe in the same section of the beach, therefore different sections were available for them. Bathing machines were mainly used by those who could afford to use them and there were many different styles.
Bathing Machines on Bognor Beach - Copyright of Alford (2002) The Paradise Rocks: A 1930’s Childhood in Bognor and a Little Local History - Picture 4
The two most famous owners of these bathing machines on Bognor Regis’ seafront were Mary Wheatland and Frederick Jenkins. Jenkins operated the machines on the West side of the pier whereas Wheatland operated on the East. Jenkins built and designed his own bathing machines in his own back garden. His were distinctive as they were blue and white (his wife’s favourite colour) whereas, Wheatland’s bathing machines were yellow and red. Jenkins operated his machines until 1936 when he sold his business as the popularity of bathing machines began to diminish.
Mary Wheatland - Copyright of Sylvia Endacott
Mary Wheatland is still today considered a famous figure in Bognor Regis’ history.
She was similar to a modern day lifeguard, teaching people on the beach to swim. During her time on the beach, Mary Wheatland saved over 30 lives and was rewarded with medals which she wore everyday on her uniform. She was also in charge of providing bathing costumes and towels for people to borrow. Mary Wheatland continued to operate the bathing machines until 1909 when she decided to retire. She died at the age of 89 in 1924 and was buried within Bersted Church graveyard. Mary Wheatland remains one of the only historic figures in Bognor Regis photographed to date. Many descendants of her still live in Bognor Regis today.