Martha Gunn: Famous dipper
Eliot, schoolboy, asks on May 22rd, 2001: “I want to know who Martha Gunn was.”
Ian Grant (My Brighton and Hove volunteer) replies:
According to “The Encyclopaedia of Brighton“….
“As the popularity of sea-bathing grew so a new profession developed, with some of the town’s fishermen and their families turning to bathing visitors for a living. Ladies were bathed by so-called ‘dippers’ and gentlemen by ‘bathers’; in both cases the subject was plunged vigorously into and out of the water by the bather or dipper.
By 1790 there were about twenty dippers and bathers at Brighton and they continued in business until about the 1850s. The ‘queen’ of the Brighton dippers was the famous Martha Gunn. Born in 1726, she was a large, rotund woman and dipped from around 1750 until she was forced to retire through ill health in about 1814.
She was a great favourite of the Prince of Wales who granted her free access to his kitchens; an amusing story relates how she was given some butter on one of her visits, but was cornered by the Prince who continued talking to her while edging her nearer the fire until the butter was running out of the poor lady’s clothes.
Martha died on 2 May 1815 and is buried by the south-eastern corner of St Nicholas Church; her portrait, painted in 1796 by John Russell, hangs in the tea-room of the Royal Pavilion and her house still stands on 36 East Street.”