Oh! I do Love to be Beside the Seaside!

(British music hall song written in 1907 by John Glover-Kind)

First published in Local Reach
Those of you of a certain age may well remember knitted swimming costumes that sagged once they got wet.  Whoever thought wool was a good material for swimwear was wrong!  Having said that, everyone today would recognise what they were.  If you look back at what women were wearing in previous centuries, however, you would probably not believe that their dresses were, indeed, what they wore to go into the sea.  

In the 1800’s sea-bathing became increasingly popular for women but modesty was all-important and bathing dresses were designed to cover most of the body.   At this time a typical costume would have been a voluminous wool dress worn over bloomers which were named after, but not invented by, Amelia Bloomer.  By the end of the century the dresses were shorter and would have been worn over knee-length bloomers with long black stockings and accessorised with bathing slippers and fancy caps.

Butterick Pattern 1914

Little changed until the 20th century when a little more of the figure was allowed to be exposed but, as the illustration (left) shows it still looked very much like a dress rather than a bathing costume and it was not until women started taking up swimming as a sport that their swimwear started to become the style we would recognise today.

Going back to the 1800’s, it was common then for men to swim nude and it was only in 1860 that this was banned.  Thereafter the design of men’s swimwear was equally constrained by the need for modesty and it was illegal in most places for men to have a bare torso.  

Butterick Pattern for boys 1902

The typical costume resembled an undergarment with sleeves down to the elbow and the legs down to below the knee and was usually made of wool.  Some beaches also required men to have an additional piece of fabric covering their genital area.  Although the length of the legs and arms became shorter over time, it was not until 1936 that men were allowed to swim bare-chested at the Olympics and 1948 before briefs were allowed.

The development of both men and women’s bathing suits owes much to the use of new materials for which we must be very grateful.  No more wet wool!!

Enjoy the summer.

Memorial Lecture for Ken Barton


Following the AGM, our President, David Dawson, gave an excellent talk about Ken Barton whose interest in archaeology began when he volunteered at a dig in Chester.  From there he went on to have a varied and interesting career in museums and an interest and passion for medieval and post-medieval pottery.  He was a founder member of the Post-Medieval Ceramic Research group, later the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology.  Whilst working in Bristol he took part in the excavations of the Star Roman Villa as well as at other local sites with Philip Rahtz.   A keen collector of pots, his collection was donated to the Somerset Museum Service.

The History of Brewing in Somerset

Members and friends enjoyed an excellent talk given by Mary Miles. She first of all explained something of the history of beer; one of the earliest recipes that has been found being 6300 years old and written on a clay tablet in Babylon. 

Beer was originally flavoured with herbs such as alecost, bog myrtle, liquorice and coriander and called Ale – the word beer being used after hops were used. 

Although much of the beer was for home consumption, hostelries, monasteries and churches all brewed their own version of ale. Church ales were used to supplement parish income and she showed a photo of Crowcombe Church house which had both brewing and baking facilities. Of course then, as now, people sometimes got somewhat merry and, according to Mary, Thomas Wolsey was put into the stocks by the church warden for being inebriated. Church Ale sales were suppressed in the 17th century and the church houses re-purposed.

In those early days brewing was the preserve of women. “Ale-wife” or “brewster” is a designation from the Anglo-Saxon period in England, between the 5th century and the Norman Conquest, when it was the responsibility of the woman of the house to make sure the men were well supplied with beer. These Ale wives did, however, come into disrepute and were accused of lying, cheating and some were said to be consorting with thedevil. Their reputation was well described by Skelton in his poem “Eleanor Rummyng” (shown left above). 

Following the Norman invasion wine production increased, but ale continued to be the staple drink, being, cheap, sterile and reasonable nutritious. This was of course “small beer” (a watered down version) and Mary suggested that as late as the 1600’s men, women and children were drinking about 3 quarts a day. Following the Protestant Reformation, a temperance movement began to grow as a reaction to Catholic indulgence. Protestant reformers saw ale as yet another area of sin and corruption.