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.

In celebration of our 125th anniversary we have published a comprehensive History of Sussex County ASA 1895-2020. For best effect and access to some additional features we suggest opening the file in Adobe Reader.

We have deposited most of our historical records with The Keep – an archive centre open to everyone. If you would like to view any of these documents.

They have listed the archive and you can see the catalogue here Sussex County Amateur Swimming Association (thekeep.info) – after pressing the link select the Browse by Hierarchy tab and + symbols for more detailed entries).