Highways and Byways in Sussex - online book

An illustrated appreciation, of the most interesting districts in Sussex.

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164                                             "SMOAKER"                                         chap.
ness's "arch eyes/' that they "seem to look more ways than one at a time, and especially when they are directed towards the fair sex."
Quieter and more normal pastimes were gossip at the libraries, riding and driving, and bathing in the sea. Bathing seems to have been taken very seriously, with none of the present matter-of-course haphazardness. In an old Guide to Brighton, dated 1794, I find the following description of the intrepid dippers of that day:" It may not be improper here to introduce a short account of the manner of bathing in the sea at Brighthelmston. By means of a hook-ladder the bather ascends the machine, which is formed of wood, and raised on high wheels ; he is drawn to a proper distance from the shore, and then plunges into the sea, the guides attending on each side to assist him in recovering the machine, which being accomplished, he is drawn back to shore. The guides are strong, active, and careful; and, in every respect, adapted to their employments."
Chief of the bathing women for many years was Martha Gunn, whose descendants still sell fish in the town; chief among the men was the famous Smoaker (his real name, John Miles) the Prince of Wales's swimming tutor. There is a story of his pulling the Prince back by the ear, when he had swum out too far against the old man's instructions ; while on another occasion, when the sea was too rough for safety, he placed himself in front of his obstinate pupil in a fighting attitude, with the words, " What do you think your father would say to me if you were drowned ? He would say, ' This is all owing to you, Smoaker. If you'd taken proper care of him, Smoaker, poor George would still be alive.'" Another of the pleasant stories of the Prince refers to Smoaker's feminine correlative Martha Gunn. One day, being in the act of receiving an illicit gift of butter in the pavilion kitchen just as the Prince entered the room, she slipped the pat into her pocket. But not quite in time. Talking with the utmost affability, the Prince pro-
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