Martha Gunn, Brighton’s Queen of the Dippers

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Jane Austen's World

Martha Gunn, dipper Martha Gunn, dipper

In a scene in 1998’s Vanity Fair with Natasha Little as Becky Sharp, she visits Brighton with her husband and friends. The film, set during the Regency era, depicted a scene in which one of the party is taken from a bathing machine and dipped into the cold waters by a large woman. The bather floats on her back with her bathing costume billowing from the trapped air. This comical scene was based on fact. Brighton during the late 1790’s early 1800’s  employed some twenty male and female “dippers”” whose jobs were to vigorously dip their clients into the sea and push them through the waves, keeping them afloat, then help them back into the bathing machine.

floating with billowing skirt vanity fair 1998Brighton’s most famous dipper was Martha Gunn, a large, sturdy woman whose fame exists to this day. Bathers were separated by sex, a restriction that remained until 1930 in Brighton…

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