Bathing in Brighton’s chilly waters should hold no fears for a Horam woman who unearthed details of a fascinating ancestor while dipping into her past.
Marion Jones, 75 from Grange Close enrolled in an ACRES family history course run by geneaology expert Alison Standen, also from Horam. She discovered she is the great, great, great, great grandchild of Martha Gunn, (1726-1815,) most famous of the Brighton Dippers. Dippers operated bathing machines used by ladies who could not be seen walking into the sea unprotected. The Dipper pushed the machine into and out of the water and also helped the bather. She had to be large and strong to do this work and Martha filled both requirements.
She was well-known across Britain and her image appeared in many popular engravings. In one, now hanging in the Royal Pavilion, she’s seen holding the baby Prince of Wales (the future George IV) although it’s believed the Prince did not visit Brighton until he was 21. But Martha was one of his ‘favourites’ and was given free access to the royal kitchens. Marion explained: “The Prince popularised Brighton and the idea of bathing huts on wheels. I got really interested in family history when someone said I had royal blood on my mother’s side. Family trees are fascinating - you go up one branch and find something, then there’s another branch you haven’t explored. Alison’s classes are absolutely wonderful.”
Widowed with two children and two grandsons, Marion aims to dig deeper into her intriguing past. “I’ve got bits of paper all over the place. I can’t wait to find out more.”
Martha is buried in St Nicholas’ Churchyard in Brighton and there is a pub in Upper Lewes Road called The Martha Gunn. There is even a bus named after her. The Brighton Swimming School has launched a series of walking tours all about the city’s fascinating sea swimming history, including Martha Gunn’s contributions.
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