A look into Queen Victoria’s bathing machine and seaside retreat on the Isle of Wight might alter any dour image you had of the great monarch. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert built Osborne House, their Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, in 1845. It offered all the fun any family could want from a holiday escape.
Queen Victoria’s journals and sketchbooks are filled with joyful references to time spent with her family at the beach. The royal family visited Osborne House every chance they could. They spent the Queen’s birthday in May and most of July and August. They frequently squeezed in a pre-Christmas trip.
Osborne was the place Queen Victoria craved to get away from the formal life of Buckingham Palace. Here she could relax, paint, sketch or search for shells on the beach. She even learned to swim at Osborne.
Queen Victoria’s Paparazzi-Proof Bathing Machine
The Royal Bathing Machine was a glorious shade of deep green. No surprise, it was fancier than other Bathing Machines of its day. Queen Victoria’s featured a changing room, plumbed toilet and a front verandah.
You can see in the photo by Chris Allen, the bathing machine ran on channeled stone rails. These ran into the sea. The Queen would change into her ample swimming costume and emerge through curtains with her modesty intact. The TMZ reporters of her day did not approve.
According to the English Heritage organization which restored Osborne House, when the Queen finished her dip, the bathing machine was pulled back to the beach using a wire rope and winch.”
In Queen Victoria’s own words from her journal entry on July 30, 1847:
“Drove to the beach with my maids and went In the bathing machine, where I undressed and bathed in the sea (for the first time in my life)…I thought it delightful till I put my head under water, when I thought I should be stifled.”
Many Victorian Era women did more bobbing and dipping than swimming. Inexperienced swimmers hired a strong person of the same sex. The “dipper” escorted her into the surf in the cart, pushed her into the water and pulled her out when she was satisfied or scared out of her wits.
Sometime after the Queen’s death at Osborne House in 1901, her bathing machine became a chicken coup. Thankfully it has been fully restored, along with the rest of Osborne House.
The Grounds At Queen Victoria’s Seaside Retreat
Prince Albert took an active role in designing the grounds at Osborne House. The house is surrounded with ornate terraced gardens that were the height of Victorian fashion.
The outer areas are wilder, where Prince Albert supervised the planting of massive numbers of trees. He would sit in a tower and give orders to his gardeners using flag semaphore (much like the communications on an airfield.)
Queen Victoria’s Journal, August 16, 1855.
“Every day, every year, this dear sweet spot seems more lovely, and with its brilliant sunshine, deep blue sea and dazzling flowers, is a perfect paradise, and all my beloved one’s creation, the result of his exquisite taste!”
The Seaside Retreat’s Swiss Cottage
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert believed strongly in “play with a purpose.”
The Swiss Cottage was the playground for the nine royal children. Each of the children was given a plot of land to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Prince Albert would purchase these from his children as a way of imparting valuable life lessons.
The cottage also had a fully functioning kitchen where they learned to cook. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would join them here for afternoon tea.
Visiting Osborne House
The Osborne House, its grounds and once-private beach were opened to the public in July of 2012. You can tour the house, attend events like Punch and Judy shows, swim, stroll and boat where the royal family spent their summers.
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