From the 18th Century on, bathing resorts multiplied, especially along England’s southern coast. They included Brighton, Ramsgate, and Eastbourne, all mentioned in Austen’s works. In addition to enjoying the “bracing sea air,” people could bathe in the always chilly waters* of the Channel by using a bathing machine (pictured at left). In order to assure a woman’s privacy, there were designated areas for members of each sex. After the bather entered the bathing machine, he/she would change out of their street clothing and into their bathing costumes, and then the machine would be rolled into the water. Some resorts hired “dippers,” who were strong and hardy souls who would help the bather into the sea and might possibly push a person into the water to enhance the bathing experience.
*According to Tony, who has gone sea bathing in the Channel, the air temp can get quite warm--as high as 86 degrees F. (See comment.) Having lived in Arizona for 14 years, I don't go swimming unless the water temperature is above 80 degrees F. I am such a wuss.