“Sea Bathing for the Working Classes”

I spotted this Great Southern Railway sign dating from 1881 in the Old Punch Bowl pub in Boostertown. It offers an insight into a very different era. I can’t imagine anyone writing this kind of copy these days:

“SEA BATHING for the WORKING CLASSES ON AND AFTER SATURDAY MORNING NEXT with a view of affording the benefit of SEA BATHING. A train will leave the following stations for BOOTERSTOWN & KINGSTOWN.”


Underneath a section on departure and arrival times and fares (which were 3 shillings and six pence for men departing Kingsbridge, one shilling and sixpence for women and one shilling and three pence for children) there is another fascinating insight into the customs and traditions of the day:

“Parties availing themselves of this train will be enabled to BATH & REFRESH themselves in ample time to attend a place of worship.”

“It is desirable that tickets be taken SATURDAY EVENING to avoid unnecessary BUSINESS ON THE SABBATH.”

Booterstown doesn’t have a bathing spot anymore and sea swimmers tend to flock to Seapoint or the Forty Foot. I wonder if these structures on the seafront alongside the DART station are old bathing shelters.



The tone of the Great Southern Railway isn’t quite so surprising when you consider that in 1881 the Land War was at its height with the Land League being declared an illegal organisation, the publication of the no rent manifesto, and the arrests of Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell.

A few decades earlier in a pamphlet entitled Brief Reports of Lectures Delivered to the Working Classes of Edinburgh on the Means in their own power of improving their character and condition, James Simpson wrote: “So far is the luxury of a warm bath out of the reach of the working classes that we are convinced two thirds of them toil from the cradle to the grave without ever enjoying one.”

In an age before modern sanitation and bathrooms in every home, sea bathing was much more than a leisure activity for the body and mind, but the only wash that many people had.

Nowadays, we completely take having a shower for granted, and we don’t have to rely on one train a week to have a swim.




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