"Martha Gunn, the most famous of Brighton's bathing women (also known as &quot;dippers&quot;), was born in the seaside village of Brighthelmstone (Brighton) in 1726. Martha came from an old fishing family, but when sea-bathing became popular in the 1740s, she found employment as a &quot;dipper&quot; on Brighton's seafront.
Sea-bathing for pleasure did not really become a popular activity until the 1730s. (A letter written from Brighton in 1736 by Reverend William Clarke mentions &quot;bathing in the sea&quot; as one of his regular holiday activities). The idea of bathing in the sea for health reasons was promoted by Dr. Richard Russell (1687-1759), a doctor of medicine who practised as a physician in Lewes. Dr. Russell believed that sea water could cure a number of diseases. In 1750, Dr. Richard Russell published a book, in which he prescribed drinking sea-water and recommended sea-bathing. Dr. Russell encouraged his patients to visit the nearby seaside resort of Brighthelmstone (a place-name later to be shortened to Brighton) where they could drink sea-water and immerse their bodies in the sea.
In the 18th century, mixed bathing, where men and women swimming alongside each other, was discouraged. To ensure proper modesty, special &quot;bathing machines&quot; were introduced. The 'bathing machine' was a small, wooden hut on wheels. Seaside visitors who intended to bathe in the sea could climb into the hut, remove their clothes and change into their swimming costumes without being spied upon. The wheeled huts or 'bathing machines' were then rolled or pulled into the sea by strong bathing attendants. (At some resorts, horses were used to pull the bathing machines out into deeper waters and to haul them back on to the shore when the bather had finished swimming). Female bathers, in particular, felt more comfortable and less exposed if they could enter the sea without being stared at by the holidaymakers and sightseers on the shore.
As Dr. Russell had done in the early 1750s, bathing machine proprietors employed fishermen and their womenfolk to help the bathers into the sea. Tough, muscular fishermen and boatmen assisted the male swimmers and the fishermen's wives, sisters and daughters, if they were strong and sturdy enough for the job, helped to dip women and children. The male bathing attendants were generally known as bathers and the female attendants, who assisted women and children, were called 'dippers'
Martha Gunn, who came from a well-known family of fishermen, probably started work as a ladies' bathing attendant or 'dipper' when she was a young woman in her twenties, yet she did not completely retire until 1814, when she was in her late eighties."
&quot;Martha Gunn.&quot; Sussex PhotoHistory. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://www.photohistory-sussex.co.uk/BTNCHAR_MarthaGunn.htm>