Beach pavilions and bathing machines

Island Stories #16: The first beach tourism on the island.

In the early nineteenth century, small groups of relatively wealthy people became the first visitors to Zeeland's islands' beaches. Those visits were long before the typical beach holidays became popular. Instead, the purpose was much more serious; bathing in salty seawater was recommended by doctors as a treatment for various ailments, ranging from skin diseases to depression. Patients could spend time by the sea and received specific instructions on how to get into the water, or they could get into tubs filled with seawater to help them get back to health.

The island of Schouwen Duiveland was hard to reach and therefore missed the first beach visitors. Instead, it was Domburg, on the island of Walcheren on the other side of the Eastern Scheldt, that developed into one of the first health destinations, especially after the arrival in this pretty seaside village of the world-famous doctor Johann Georg Mezger in 1887.

In the early 20th century, the beautiful beaches of Schouwen-Duiveland were finally discovered as a holiday destination. The first beach pavilion was built in 1925 on the north coast of the island near the village of Renesse. The owner, Pieter Telle, had received the monopoly on renting out chairs and tents. He was also the only person allowed to rent out' bathing machines,' walled wooden carts rolled into the sea that allowed people to change into swimwear and wade into the sea. 

These devices were trendy in Victorian Britain, where men and women were usually segregated. People of the opposite sex should not see them in their very modest bathing suits. As you would expect, Queen Victoria owned a bathing machine too, which you can still visit on Osborne Beach on the Isle of Wight. I doubt if Telle ever made use of this monopoly on the island of Schouwen-Duiveland; by 1925, there was probably nobody interested anymore in making use of these carts. 

The last summer that Telle's pavilion opened to the public was in 1939. A year later, Nazi Germany had occupied the Netherlands, and there was no access to the beaches anymore. A few years later, the western part of Schouwen became part of the Atlantic Wall; dozens of bunkers are still reminding visitors of the defenses against a possible allied invasion. 

There are now several beach pavilions on the 21 kilometers of wide beaches of Schouwen-Duiveland. Three of them are near the access to the beach at Westenschouwen. I was there recently during stormy weather; you can see them on this short and somewhat shaky video. You can also see the Eastern Scheldt dam that connects Schouwen-Duiveland to Noord-Beverland and, after crossing another barrier, to Walcheren. 

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Notes and further reading:

Drawing of Scheveningen: Rijksmuseum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

De wieg van het kust-toerisme in Renesse, Ilja Mostert, Stad&Lande, 56e jaargang, juni 2019.