I liked this very Victorian letter I found on the British Newspaper Archive which was sent from an anonymous contributor in Cromer to the Norfolk Chronicle, who published it on 19 September 1863. The railway didn’t reach the town until 1877 and the contributor was clearly worried about the “profane vulgar” rushing in….
“Sir, Is there no summary way of dealing with the offences against decency that visitors at the sea side are compelled to witness: or must we do nothing and consent to place among the social evils that are inevitable the practice of nude bathing at mid-day on our public promenade? I am writing this from a small and much frequented watering place, not at present accessible by railroad, and, therefore, comparatively speaking, unknown to the class commonly called the profane vulgar. The objectionable practice is, however, not the less in full force here, and ought to be remedied.
What adds to the culpability of the local authorities is the fact that there is an almost unlimited extent of sea beach, and therefore no obstacle to a wide separation between the machines set apart for the use of the sexes. The fact is that fifty yards at furthest is the space dividing them, the piles of the breakwater running between, affording convenient seats for the lady visitors who, strange to say, select that portion of the beach as the spot most agreeable to work and to read in. The naked male figure is doubtless an interesting object of contemplation, but although we have seen the paint brush in the hands of some of the fair visitors on these occasions, we cannot suppose that they posted themselves exactly on this spot at this hour in the interests of high art. Let them be told that apart from the inconvenience caused by their proximity to the machines set apart for men, but which gentleman naturally avoid – the sober sense of English husbands and brothers revolts at the spectacle of women of all ages seated within speaking distance of naked men, disporting themselves in the water.
Things may be, and I believe they are worse, in some parts of England, than they are here. Nearer London a certain reciprocity prevails in this species of libertinism, making the sea-beach, which is meant for all, forbidden ground to modest women. We do not want French manners and customs over here, but surely there is some safe, middle course which might be adopted in the matter of bathing. As things are it is common decency that is outraged. It is morality that is endangered. Even a New Zealander has some sense of propriety in his ablutions. If what we daily witness here were seen on the continent of Europe, the person offending would run the risk of being flogged and imprisoned. The evil with us is of long standing, so are many other abuses – but that is not the point. We must mend our bathing manners. A word from you would suffice to remedy the evil, and cause some regulations to be adopted (for there are none at all now) with regard to the placing of the machines, and the proper time and place for bathing from the beach.
I remain, Sir, yours obediently
The newspaper replied under the letter, saying that they agreed, adding:
“We have ourselves witnessed with amazement the preference shown by some ladies for the break-water during bathing hours, and have been reminded often of the old usher’s shrewd remark, when ordered by the judge to clear the court of all women during the hearing of a particularly objectionable cause, and when, in spite of orders, a few still seemed inclined to “sit it out” – “My lord, all the modest women are out of court” – Editor.