MARTHA GUNN 1776 - 1815

Martha Gunn

A visitor coming to Brighton for the sea bathing did not just pile into the sea from the beach, he or she, would enter the sea from the back of a Bathing machine. These were covered carts pulled out into deep water by a horse and the bather would descend directly into deeper water. This manoevre needed the attentions of a Dipper - for women, or a Bather - for men.

The Dipper would be standing in the water, take her client in her arms as she descended from the Bathing Machine, and “dip” her vigorously into the sea water and pushing her through the waves - no doubt as roughly as the size of the fee demanded. For many years the most famous Dipper was Martha Gunn, known as The Venerable Priestess of the Bath to the Morning Herald. She was very large and very strong, well known and respected by the townsfolk as well as the visitors, and appears in comic caricatures of the times. In one where the French are seen to be invading Brighton - after a real scare that Napoleon was about to land - Martha is seen vigorously wielding a mop, and in an engraving of 1806 she is seen standing in the Old Steine behind the Prince of Wales and Mrs Fitzherbert. Life for Dippers and Bathers was not easy - standing all day in the sea even in August calls for a tough constitution and Martha Gunn’s ample size was no doubt one of the reasons for her success in the cold waters.

The Dippers and Bathers had a good trade going but were slowly put out of business with the opening of Dr Awitzers Baths in 1769 (now demolished) which had both hot and cold seawater - but indoors ! More Hot and Cold indoor baths opened mostly in the area of Pool Valley with pipes coming in directly from the sea, and bathing from the beach became less popular. As a point of interest men were still allowed top bathe naked from the beach up to 1863 !! Martha Gunn may have lived at 34 East Street, she died in 1815 and is buried in St. Nicholas’ Churchyard.