There is quite a furore about sea bathing and sea bathing attire in Europe at present, with riots in Corsica and political troubles in the south of France.
Well, in Scotland it is not that long since we had our own disputes about the rights and wrongs of the practice. Dundee is perhaps not best thought of as a sea-bathing centre, yet in the nineteenth century men and women, girls and boys would flock to the shores of the Tay to dip into the healthy waters. One area for this was the Stannergate.
The name extends back at least to the fifteenth century while the street extends from the docks to West Ferry, with the name perhaps coming from stanner or stoney gait. The name would be more logical without the suffix, for as gait means road, Stannergate Road means Stanner-road Road. According to David Dorward; stanner is the Scots for shingle and suggested it was where people collected shingle for building.
During the Second World War there was a defensive gun battery here, with two six inch guns and a set of torpedo tubes. The guns were never used in earnest as no German surface craft tried to force the Tay, but when the guns fired in training they damaged plasterwork and cracked windows in nearby houses. To go much further back in time, in 1878 workmen dug up some stone coffins that were around 2,000 years old. They also found kitchen middens that were dated to around 6,000 BC, which would make Stannergate the site of one of the earliest settlements in Scotland. Dundee is indeed a city of many discoveries.
All that is fine to set the area in context but has little to do with the topic on the headline, so to return to that. In the 1870s this was a popular spot for sea bathing with the council putting up a hut so that women could get changed away from prying male eyes and a rescue boat at sea to ensure the safety of all. Sea bathing was a popular pastime in Dundee, and at a meeting of the Commissioners of Police in July 1877 the following byelaws were announced:
1: No male above age of 14 to bathe ‘at or near any part of the Esplanade or at or near the Marine Parade between 8 am and 10 pm
II No male permitted to bathe at or near the place set aside for female bathers at the Stannergate, or to loiter or stand in the neighbourhood thereof
III No bathing at or near protection wall, docks, tidal harbour, Edinburgh slip or Craig pier
IV No female will be permitted to bathe except at the Stannergate, and no female shall bathe there without wearing a gown or other suitable bathing costume or covering
V No profane or indecent language
Number IV above suggests that there had been occasions when females had taken to the water without wearing a bathing costume. No wonder there was male interest. Some males of course, also swam without a costume.
In the Police Committee meeting of 5th December that year, Archibald McFarlane, who operated the rescue boat at Stannergate, reported that:
the notices posted up by you have aided me materially in what I have been doing gradually – that is the complete separation of the males from the females
Segregation was the order of the day then, and that is less than 150 years ago. Things change but a lot remains the same – although I doubt that anybody would wish to swim from the Stannergate in Dundee now.