Bognor Regis is one of the first English resorts specially developed for bathing. Back in 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
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
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, for a swim! Men and women bathed in different sections of the beach as women were not allowed to show more flesh than an ankle!
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 Mary operated on the East. Jenkins operated his machines until 1936 when he sold his business, as bathing machines were not as popular as they used to be!
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. She was also in charge of providing bathing costumes and towels for people to borrow!
Mary continued to operate the bathing machines until 1909 when she decided to retire. She died at the age of 89 in 1924 and leaves behind many family members which still live in Bognor today!
Mary Wheatland saved over 30 lives whilst working on the beach! As a reward, she was giving medals which she wore on her uniform every day.