When Margate first developed commercial sea bathing in the early 18th century it is not often appreciated that the majority of visitors, particularly the ladies and children, were very afraid of entering the sea to a level of more than a metre or so. Swimming was a rare accomplishment for most people and so "dippers" were employed by Margate Bathing rooms to submerge bathers from the bathing machines forcibly into the incoming waves, pressing on their shoulders until the sea reached chin level.The lady attendants were called "dippers" whereas the men were called "bathers".
Bathing at the time was regarded as a medicinal exercise rather than a recreational pleasure. These early dippers were very tough and would stand in the water for hours wearing bonnets and flowing skirts forcing bathers under the waves "for their own good". They were often known as the "old bonneted ogres" which I would have thought would have been a polite description under the circumstances.
By 1780 Margate had eleven dipper attended bathing machines and many were regarded with affection by many regular visitors. Martha Knock, Mrs Mitchell, Mrs Sharpe, Mrs Pakey, Mrs Surflen, Jenny the dipper, and Martha Gunn all featured in contemporary guides. Elizabeth Dip or "Blue Bess" was a Margate dipper for nearly 40 years between 1790 to 1830.
In 1801 Mary Brockman employed by the Sea Bathing Hospital submitted a bill for over two poundsfor 31 dippings in October/November in 1801.
Dippers were a common sight on the Margate foreshore until around the 1860's, when they were replaced by stout ropes attached to the bathing machines, to which nervous bathers would cling to.