When I first glanced at this postcard I was focused on the busy beach scene, with the row of bijou beach huts and the slightly exotic tents that are rather reminiscent of Rudolph Valentino desert scenes. Then I noticed the mill in the background. In spite of the distance of the mill from the camera and the lack of detail, I was chuffed to bits to see it there because this is only the third photograph of the mill I have found. The steam-powered roller mill, Melin Ardudwy, has been covered on a previous post.
The postcard shows 11 beach huts, and several tents. The visitors gathered at the water’s edge, women, men and children, are all elaborately dressed in fashionable outfits with hats. Just like previous postcards that show railway tracks on the beach, this photograph, showing beach huts summer visitors in the foreground, rail tracks at the back of the beach, the Cambrian Railway bridge beyond and the flour mill on the horizon, are all a reminder of two of Aberdovey’s important but sometimes conflicting income streams – industrialization and port trade on the one hand, and tourism on the other. Having said that, I am sure that most visiting children will have loved to see all the goings-on on the wharf and jetty, with vessels of all size and trains with their cargoes. It’s a busy scene. Few have been brave enough to venture into the sea, but a few are paddling in a rather gingerly way. None of it looks even slightly relaxing. Visitors at this time probably arrived in greatest number by rail, but the Aberystwyth.gov.uk site says that a steamer offered trips to Aberdovey from Aberystwyth during the summer, allowing day-trippers the novelty of a cruise and the diversion of another resort.
The origins of the beach hut lie with medical professionals of the 18th Century. Just as warmer climates were believed to be beneficial for alleviating some ailments, and the waters from natural spas at places like Bath and Harrogate were recommended for an assortment of conditions, in the 1700s, immersion in sea water began to be recommended by the medical profession as a cure-all for various health problems. Just as ailing people began to migrate to spas to take the waters, combining the hope for a cure with the enjoyment of local entertainments, there was a gradual flow of people to the seaside, requiring both facilities for entering the sea and entertainment when back on shore. In order to enable these early health tourists to immerse themselves in the sea whilst retaining modesty, horse-drawn bathing machines were introduced to beaches, enabling people to dispense of their clothes in privacy while the bathing machine was pulled to the water’s edge. Initially people entered the sea naked, as in the painting of a scene near Aberystwyth, left. Soon specially designed beach wear was designed. By the time Victoria came to the throne in 1837, bathing machines were well established and seaside holidays were becoming increasingly popular, aided by the growth of the railway network. Queen Victoria had her own personal bathing machine at her home on the Isle of Wight (there’s a photograph of it on Wikipedia).
Initially men and women were segregated, and the bathing machines delivered men and women to the designated parts of beaches. As beach holidays became commonplace, and all-encompassing swimwear eliminated the need for people to be delivered to the water’s edge, the need to divide men for women diminished and mixed bathing became the norm. The upshot of all this was that bathing machines were joined and eventually replaced by fixed beach huts, which offered people the same facility to change in privacy, but also gave them somewhere to return to as a base for their day on the beach. Once established, beach huts could be hired by the hour, the day, the week. Eventually they could be hired by the year or purchased outright. Beach huts today exchange hands for fairly eye-watering sums.
The reverse of the postcard gives the information that the card was posted in June 1913 from Aberdovey, the year before the First World War. The visitors were staying at 11 Bodfor Terrace, which is still rented out for holiday accommodation today. Unlike the people in the postcard, these visitors had been swimming and the writer concludes that she and her companions were “very happy.” It was sent to Lymm in Cheshire.
The postcard itself was one of James Valentine’s but surprisingly isn’t numbered, so no production date is available but the clothing in the photograph is consistent with the postal mark.
Main sources for this post:
A Short History of Beach Huts
The History of the Humble Beach Hut Unveiled
(For those interested in verifiable factual information, the Daily Mail is perhaps the antithesis of a research tool. It does, however, have a review of a new book about beach huts by Karen Averby, and there are some really splendid beach hut photos on the page).