It was a long hot summer in 1929 and there was a late heatwave. The 1920s saw the seaside opening up to the working classes thanks to improved working conditions, paid holidays, and an affordable railway network. No longer was Eastbourne the sole preserve of the elites. The heyday of bathing carriages and servants was drawing to an end. Many resorts had already done away with imposing charges and only allowing those who hired a bathing carriage and corporation towel to enjoy sea bathing. The working classes no longer had to keep to paddling with their hankies on their heads as they could not afford the charges. 8p per half hour for the carriage; 2 pence for a towel, plus tip. That was nearly a shilling a dip. So, for a family of 4 for a week this amounted to over £1, or about £70 in today’s money! No, a new working-class bathing habit had arrived in the resorts – the mackintosh bathers. Visitors would arrive on the beach straight from their guest houses already clad in their bathing gear and with their long mackintoshes covering over. Most resorts by 1929 were resigned to the changes and had abandoned the charges. But Eastbourne was not having it. Those in charge were resisting the vulgarity of free bathing. Eastbourne was determined to hang on to its ‘elite resort’ status for as long as possible. Council officials patrolled the pebbles issuing stern warnings. There were bylaws you see; Eastbourne could not be doing with the common people. And besides, 1928 had seen £5,300 profit for the Corporation – that is £300,000 in today’s money. This was double the profit of 1927. So. What was it to be? Profits or people? Time for a showdown.
September 13th, 1929 was ‘the day class war came to Eastbourne’. The ‘Bolsheviks of bathing’ had their sights set on action. An act of civil disobedience saw 150 mackintoshed men and women march their way to the shore with the puzzled onlookers not knowing what to make of it. The beach patrollers rallied upon the protesters demanding their names and addresses so that official letters of reprimand could be correctly executed. The ultimate sanction.
The Eastbourne Mackintosh Rebellion hit national headline news for some full 5 days. The country was on the side of the people. The bathing carriages were described as smelly, dirty, and damp. One reporter asserted: –
‘the name of Eastbourne should stink in the nostrils of holiday makers until Eastbourne’s governors are changed!’
the Corporation response,
‘we do not mean to be vindictive, but we will not have our authority flouted!’
Anyway. By 1932 almost all charges across the country had been abandoned. The end of an era. Even for Eastbourne, that oh so exclusive town ‘built for gentlemen by gentlemen’.
Information and photo ‘Bathing Scene Eastbourne’ courtesy of Charlie Connelly from the podcast 8: The Eastbourne Bathers’ Rebellion of 1929. 14 Feb 2020. For more “Great stories from around the coasts of Britain and Ireland”, please see the Facebook Page Coastal Stories Podcast, brought to you by Charlie Connelly, bestselling author of ‘Attention All Shipping’. For more on Radical Eastbourne see here