Vintage Season : Those naked Victorians (Part 2)

Even today, the male of the species will readily go naked much quicker than his female partner. I think that there tends to be a bit in the male’s social and psychological DNA that explains this. Males are more accustomed to being in changing rooms after team sports, where communal nudity is the norm. The female changing room tends to be, I think, a much less fleshier place and we do, as a species, tend to cover up a bit more. You can see this in naturist settings too, where the female will walk to the beach in a sarong, sort of covering up, before removing it on the beach itself and for swimming. It doesn’t matter that the wind may be blowing the sarong open and effectively revealing her intimate parts -the female naturist doesn’t care much about that- but she still needs her modesty and respectability, often, for that walk from a car park or apartment to the beach.

And it has tended to be this way for decades.

Before the mid-1800s, nude bathing was the norm. Indeed, the nature of clothing materials would have meant that a one piece, full body costume was actually dangerous, the weight of the materials in question (knitted! in some cases) adding a lot of extra weight that could have resulted in drowning.

One Victorian minister, the Reverend Francis Kilvert, was angered to find that, when he went for his swim, new legislation had been introduced at his local beach that insisted on swimwear. He wrote in his diary of

‘the detestable custom of bathing drawers that are now becoming de rigeur’ when he went for a swim at Seaton, Devon in 1873, previously unaware of the new requirement for wearing bathing suits and recorded that

‘the young ladies strolling near seemed to have no objection.’ (to his nudity).

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Below is a famous photograph (sorry it’s so small) of the police chasing naked swimmers in Hyde Park, London, during the Victorian era. Why? We’d now have been entering an era where nudity was frowned upon, but for poor families swimming costumes were an unnecessary purchase, and thus nude bathing continued.

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Across Britain during the Victorian era there also emerged the ‘gentlemen’s bathing place’, (Oddicombe Bay, Devon, Bangor Northern Ireland, Forty Foot, Dublin, Ireland & others retain the quaint ‘gentlemen’s bathing place’ titles)

This was a euphemism for  ‘nude bathing’, and the practice continues to this day at Forty Foot, Dublin (named after the Forty Foot Infantry Division who were once in barracks there, and used the beach -in Victorian times- as their bathing facilities).

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Don arrives at the ‘Gentlemen’s Bathing Place’ for his nude morning swim, prior to the arrival of ‘the gentler sex’
Photo taken at the New Brighton sim. Note that this is not an official nudist beach in SL.

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The ‘gentlemen’s swimming place’ at Oddicombe, Devon, showing typical features of the ‘facility’, steps into the sea,

and an isolated location with drying/changing potential -the flat area created from the rocks.

Another phenomenon of Victorian communal nudity would have been the spas and turkish baths of England. Some Turkish baths were built during Queen Victoria’s reign, and a spa had existed in Harrogate, Yorkshire, since the late 16th century, both forms of bathing being hugely popular across Europe.

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Nothing so rustic as a ‘ladies’ bathing place’ existed. Instead, females got to use the bathing machine, a hut on wheels in which the woman changed, before the hut was reversed into the sea (by horse) and from which the lady could emerge, clad in a voluminous swimming costume, away from prying eyes and thus pre sever her modesty.

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Roberta dons a retro swimming costume to take to the beach at the New Brighton sim. Note the pier in some shots. Piers were a uniquely Victorian construction, still much in evidence around Britain today.

At the beginning of the Victoria era nude, mixed bathing was the norm. As I’ve said, the purchase of a swimming costume was an unnecessary luxury, and the practice of what were effectively nudist beaches, before nudism or naturism existed as a lifestyle choice, and it was the pressures of Christian evangelism, so often the bearers of funlessness, that caused the practice to end, for swimming costumes to become essential for the sake of ‘decency’. Essentially this was a problem just of British attitudes. In other countries in Europe, the practice of mixed nude bathing, in discreet locations, remained widely accepted.

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In France, they do things differently. ‘Pierre et Catherine’ (modelled by Don & Heather) find a bridge beside a river, some way from town, where they can bathe nude.

It has been my experience that the reduction in SL’s variety of sims has seen some Victorian styled sims lost to us, evidence of the period exists more by accident than design in some architecture and, at the likes of the New Brighton sim, where an accurate depiction of an English seaside town remains.

Meanwhile, it remains possible to look at an emerging Victorian era pornographic culture (not unique to Britain, but around the world in the period of Victoria’s British reign, mid-1800s through to 1900) and replicate that for SL. Our next depiction of vintage, from the dawn of photography, roughly commensurate with the Victorian era, will be to re-enact, to some degree, early examples of photographic pornography. And with the birth of the nudist/naturist movement at the very  end of Victoria’s lifetime, at the beginning of the 1900s, we’ll examine how the early naturist movement looked.

Ella

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