In 1750, Dr Richard Russell, an eighteenth-century physician from Lewes, published a paper called “Dissertation On The Use Of Sea Water In The Affections Of The Glands”. He recommended bathing in and drinking sea-water and believed it vastly improved health by curing enlarged lymphatic glands. It seemed to work, purging the body after drinking and disinfecting the body after bathing, (this was a time when people did not wash often), or at least provided a placebo effect.

In 1753, Dr Russell relocated his surgery from Lewes to Brighton, where he bought a plot of land on the Old Steine for £40 (£6,000 in today’s money) and built a large house there. The Royal Albion Hotel now stands on the site and has a plaque on the wall which says, “If you seek his monument, look around”, accrediting Dr Russell for the part he played in catapulting Brighton from a small fishing village, Brighthelmstone, to the seaside holiday destination it is today.

Bathing in the sea was strictly regulated and separate beaches were established for men and women. ‘Bathing machines’ – enclosed wooden carts – were wheeled right into the sea so the swimmers could step straight into the water after undressing in private. Not only did his work on the health benefits of sea-water bring visitors from far and wide, many jobs were created by the influx of visitors. In particular, the role of “Dippers” or “Bathers”, who would assist the affluent visitors in getting in to the sea, sometimes further assisting the swimmer in their quest for good health, by plunging them up and down in the water, for extra invigoration.

By the late 1700s, Brighton’s fashionable reputation had drawn in frequent visitors such as Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland, who was the Prince Regent’s uncle. And after a visit with his uncle, the Prince Regent fell in love with Brighton too and went on to build the Marine Pavilion, the modest predecessor of the lavish Royal Pavilion we see today.

Dr Richard Russell Dr Richard Russell