There seemed to have been two reasons why people would use these bathing machines. Firstly they protected the modesty of fashionable bathers, especially women. Secondly they may well have enabled frail or sick visitors to the health-giving sun and sea water to make their way to the water's edge.
Originally used in the late 19th & early 20th centuries, beach huts had started out as bathing machines during the Victorian era where bathing was a cumbersome and expensive affair. The luxuries of the beach were stifled by the notion of Victorian modesty, and men and women bathed on separate beaches. To hide the indecent act, bathing machines, which were essentially sentry boxes carted out to sea, were 6ft high wooden boxes where mainly women would change into their swim-dresses. Uncomfortable and dark, they gave the Victorians the privacy society demanded to bathe in peace, as it was deemed unacceptable to see the opposite gender in bathing clothes.By the C19th Queen Victoria made sea bathing even MORE fashionable with her machine on wheels at Osborne Bay on the Isle of Wight. So these machines enabled queens and ordinary women to roll the machine down to the water’s edge, without having to run immodestly across the open sand in their bathing suits.
In Sydney Australia, the Woolloomooloo baths looked after women carefully; see Sydney City and Suburbs blog. Between 1833-1955 this area of the Bay was the site of 4 separate ladies’ bathing facilities: Mrs Biggs’ Ladies Baths, Robertson's Ladies Floating Baths, the Corporation Ladies Baths and the Domain Baths for Ladies.
Beach huts came next. They were small wooden buildings located on the foreshore and fixed to the ground, unlike the horse-drawn bathing machines. They were still responding to the bathers’ need for modesty and privacy, just as the bathing machines had done.
Once mixed gender bathing became socially acceptable, during the Edwardian era and First World War, the days of the bathing machine were numbered. Changing in public however was still considered indecent and would often result in a fine. It was then that people would use the abandoned bathing machines, take off their wheels and turn them into the beginnings of the beach huts we know today. From then on, beach huts were available to rent for the day or week, and even contained a boiling stove and kettle for the all-important English afternoon tea.In Britain, Bournemouth had beach huts alongside the pier by 1908. However across the British world, beach huts were not widely introduced until WW1 ended. This was about the time when attitudes changed, allowing men and women to swim at the same time. Many seaside councils erected beach huts for people to use, I am assuming because they thought it would attract well heeled holiday makers and because it would keep their beaches respectable. In Britain, the huts were erected on Crown land and owners had to pay council rates and public liability insurance.
It was reported an issue that was relevant for British beaches, but not Australian. WW1 restrictions had put much of the coastline out of bounds, especially in southern England. Elaborate defences against invasion along the beaches usually included coils of barbed wire at the top of the beach head, thereby effectively preventing use of the beach.
Beach huts were constructed from whatever materials were available after the war. Yet beach huts have large retained their original appearance: single room, gabled roof, usually simple timber, next to no windows and a locked double door. On the beach side of some huts, there was a simple porch construction, allowing two adults to sit and watch the children play. Bright colours enabled families to easily identify which, of the dozens of otherwise identical huts all in a row, was theirs. In Britain, as in Australia, there were never any facilities like running water and electricity inside the huts.'