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History of sea bathing


The sea bathing establishments and the beach cabins on the coast of Picardy

The sea bathing establishments were the first facilities to be installed on the beaches for the sea-bathers, usually even before railways began serving each resort.

The cold water bathing establishments, which were designed for swimming directly in the sea, featured beach cabins, rented to the swimmers, where they could change in privacy. Set up as close as possible to the sea, such cabins were usually located on the beach, and therefore on public land: the owner therefore had to obtain permission from the administration. At the same time, a “bathing police” was created, in charge of regulating rental prices and other services, such as proper use of bathing facilities, where the two sexes were often kept separate.

The warm water bathing establishments, like spas, featured bathtubs and waiting rooms. Written sources for bathing establishments on the Picardy coast show the following chronology for early bathing:
- 1846 (ca) : sea bathing facilities at Le Crotoy, installed by Jean-Baptiste Fanthomme, cloth merchant (1836), who declares himself as Bathing Director in the 1851 census [arrival of the railway in 1887]
- 1847 : inauguration of the Amiens Boulogne line with a station at Noyelles-sur-Mer
- 1850 : Guerlain bathing establishment at Le Crotoy
- 1852 : bathing facilites at Cayeux-sur-Mer, installed by François Dufresne, a blacksmith and publican [arrival of the railway in 1887]
- 1854 : the town of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme adjudicates the 'city baths', with an obligation to arrange the ruins of the Harold Tower as a lounge for bathers  [arrival of the railway in 1858]

The first bathing establishment would appear to be located at Le Crotoy, created by Jean-Baptiste Fanthomme around 1846, the year in which the city council granted him permission to use part of the beach, located below the walls of the old town. The beach huts were built of wood.
In 1846, the perfume maker Pierre Guerlain, whose family was from Abbeville, also obtained plots of public land next to Le Crotoy beach, but moved his projects and had a proper bathing establishment built higher up in the town, which was still partly walled at the time. This building was used as a resting place and a lounge, while beach cabins were made available to bathers.

In those days, a casino was often associated with the bathing establishment, whether the water was hot or cold. The building was then used as a shelter for the bathers, in the event of rain or excessive heat. It was a meeting place, where people could read and play games, but not gamble. For instance, shortly after having built his beach cabins Jean-Baptiste Fanthomme had a 'casino’ built, as a resting place.

Starting in the 1870s, the local towns decided to take over their own facilities and combined bathing establishments and casino in their programmes. For instance, at Cayeux-sur-Mer, the warm water establishment was built in the basement of the casino, around 1880.

Warm bathing having become less fashionable in the early XXth century, such establishments gradually disappeared, leaving no visible traces today.

Only the beach huts have withstood the test of time, bearing witness to the ancient therapeutic practice of sea bathing. Removed at the end of each season, they re-appear on the beaches in late spring. At Le Crotoy, vintage postcards show that the huts were fitted with wheels, so they could be moved into the sea. Early XXth century postcards show that by then, the huts had become static, and were combined with beach tents.
At Cayeux-sur-Mer, these huts are all identical and are named after French cities or regions. They stand next to a boardwalk built as early as 1896, to ease walking on the shingle. 
At Saint-Valery-sur-Somme and Brighton, beach huts could also be found, but for various reasons, they have vanished: at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, the La Ferté and city baths no longer exist and in Brighton, it is the beach itself that has disappeared.

Source : Inventaire du patrimoine culturel des hauts de France

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