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History of swimming in Sussex

Dr Richard Russell

Dr Richard Russell (1687-1759), a doctor practicing in Lewes wrote an essay in Latin entitled De Tabe Glandulari, in which he recommended the use of seawater for the cure of enlarged lymphatic glands. This was translated into English in 1752 as Glandular Diseases, or a Dissertation on the Use of Sea Water in the Affections of the Glands. It was the first book to make a connection between drinking and bathing in seawater and improvements in health.

During the peak of the bathing boom, when Britons were taking to spa towns like Bath for their supposed healing properties, Russell saw an opportunity. He relocated his practice to Brighton, on the site of what is now the Royal Albion Hotel, where he made it his mission to convince people of the seawater’s similar healing properties.

Aquatic tea party in Brighton 1881

To meet the demand for ‘taking the waters’ a small industry soon grew including the development of the bathing machine – a changing room on wheels that was dragged out to sea and allowed woman bathers to get into and out of the sea without being seen. Arguably the most famous ‘dipper’ being Martha Gunn from Brighton.

These health benefits and the fact that Brighton was becoming a fashionable place to be were the reasons that the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) built the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

Other Sussex history pages:

The first clubs

A swim for Freedom

A new era for swimming pools and fans

Championships though the years