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Before Our Lidos

It is clear that locally nude bathing in the Thames was quite common in the 1880s, for example.  There are several cases of absolute shock-horror at the occasional glimpses that females might have got, and suggestions arising that some form of fencing be put up, and changing rooms built.  Thus, the concept of a "lido"!

FROM THE PRESS – swimming in the river

Hampton Wick , 25th June 1863
The Hampton Wick Local Board held its first meeting on 22 June 1863 and one of its first legislative actions was to limit public bathing to before 8 am and after 9 pm during June, July and August, and to before 8 am and after 8 pm during the rest of the year.

Surrey Comet June 1863
Permit me to ask, through your paper, one or two questions with reference to bathing in the Thames, off Messenger's Island (Raven's Ait, off Kingston). Are there any stated hours for gentlemen to bathe; if so, what are they? Are gentlemen compelled to wear the usual bathing dress, or are they not? Are they allowed to come out of the water on the Towing Path in a state of nudity, for the edification of ladies who are constantly walking there, or are they not? By these three questions being answered, gentlemen will know at what time they can take a quiet row on the river with ladies without their morality being shocked, and ladies will know how far they may venture to walk down the towing path, without on their return, being subjected by the disgusting annoyance of running headlong against a lot of naked men.

I was, until lately, under the impression that people were not allowed to bathe until dusk, but have discovered that I was labouring under an error, for I take a row every evening, either with my wife, sister or friends, and never do I remember passing Messenger's Ait without seeing some naked men, either on the island, in the water or on the Towing Path. Surely this sort of thing cannot be allowed. Are ladies to be subjected to such disgusting sights every evening, just because men do not see fit to put off their baths for half an hour or so? If so, it speaks but little for the morality of the Kingston people.

I was this evening on the river with my wife, {before 8 o'clock) and there stood on the Towing Path a man without his clothes, and at the side of the river, two more in similar, cool, summer attire. Within ten yards of these three gentlemen were two ladies and a gentleman, walking towards Hampton Court. They evidently did not know that they were in such close proximity with what might have been taken for savages …. and so they walked on, but suddenly the discovery was made; the ladies appeared horror stricken, as well they might; but there was no alternative but to go on, which they did. This is but one case I could mention, and which I have been an eye witness to.


Richmond and Twickenham Times, March 22nd 1890
The Daily Graphic of Tuesday contained the following letter from the pen of Mr Harry Bodkin Poland, Q.C., -

If you think my experience of bathing all year round in the river may be interesting to your readers, here it is. When I lived on the banks of the Thames, at Strawberry Vale, Twickenham, I used, at quarter-past seven every morning, to plunge into the river. I continued to do this for several years, and although the dark mornings for about three weeks before Christmas and a few weeks after were a little trying, I always found myself both invigorated and refreshed, and on no occasion did I feel the worse for it. I was obliged to be so early, as the Courts wait for no man. The great thing to attend to is to make your header directly you are out of bed, and to take care to keep warm until you plunge. For this purpose you should put on a coat lined with flannel, with a thick coat over that, trousers lined with flannel, slippers lined with lamb's wool and warm gloves. You should stand on a piece of carpet and throw your clothing off like a quick-change artist, and on coming out of the water you may stand in the open and thoroughly enjoy the east wind for the first time in your life, and the snow, sleet, hail, or rain will only be a diversion. My friends, the bargees, who were nearly frozen to death on their barges used, naturally, until they got accustomed to the sight, to think the winter bathers mad. About three of my neighbours were also in the habit of bathing nearly all year round, one all the year, but I was the last of the maniacs!

Cold bathing in winter will not. of course, do for a man whose liver is sluggish. The great advantage of cold bathing is that it prevents you from "catching cold". As the bathing season will be coming on, I will write you another short letter with some hints on bathing in general, in sea and river, for the benefit of your young readers."