A day at the Seaside
Candyfl oss, donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows are all traditional things associated with the British seaside. A day by the seaside has been popular with the British for over 200 years.
In the beginning
So how did the seaside resorts develop and why, even today with cheap fl ights to Mediterranean resorts, are they still popular?
In the late 17th century spa treatments became popular with the wealthier classes in Britain and gradually people were also encouraged to visit the seaside to bathe in sea water as part of the cure, or promenade to inhale the “ozone” (see Glossary) considered benefi cial to the health.
Mrs. Elizabeth Farrow discovered a spring of water running from the cliff s. This was deemed to have benefi cial health properties and gave birth to Scarborough Spa. Although, initially just drinking the water and promenading was suffi cient, bathing soon became popular and the fi rst “bathing machines” (see Glossary) were recorded on the sands in 1735. It was the building of the railways in the 1840s that allowed less wealthy people to visit the seaside and many coastal towns pressured railway companies to divert their lines to them on the way to the more commercial ports and manufacturing towns. Special outings were organized by churches for children attending Sunday schools. Factories grew bigger in the 19th century and many needed periods of maintenance. Soon the tradition arose of “Trips week”, when all the factories in an area would close for a week at the same time. This allowed the workers to have a holiday, often organized communally by the workers themselves. The money was saved up throughout the year (no holiday pay in those days) and a week, or day, at the seaside became a popular choice. Small cheap hotels were established or houses turned into “B & Bs”(See Glossary), or guest houses, to accommodate the growing number of visitors who could not aff ord to stay at the larger hotels.
The seaside towns soon realized the potential for making money from the visitors and the need to compete with other towns. Many of these seaside towns had few natural harbours and since boat rides were popular, they built elaborate piers, like the one at Sopot. Funfairs, theatres and market stalls were installed on the piers and in the 20th century cinemas were added.
In Victorian times donkey rides for children, and “Punch and Judy” puppet shows became popular attractions on the beach. Candy fl oss is a more recent invention; invented around 1900 in the USA, becoming popular in Britain in the 1920s. Other traditional foods include “rock”, a hard candy in the form of a rod with the name of the town intruded through its centre.
Many towns developed diff erently, according to the wealth and demands of their clientele. This can be seen by discussing two examples, Brighton and Skegness.
Brighton (pronounced [braɪtən]) is situated on the south coast about 50 km (29 miles) from London. It was an ancient fi shing village and became popular for sea bathing from the mid 18th century when it was recommended by Dr Richard Russell in 1740. In his book he claimed that the water at Brighton was more benefi cial than those of inland spas for treatment of internal ailments. Word soon spread and by 1780 a fi ne terrace of Georgian houses had been built.
The Price Regent, the later George IV, visited the town in 1783 and fell in love with it. This prompted him to build his summer retreat, ‘The Brighton Pavilion’, there from 1788, completed in 1823. This was in the Indo-Islamic Style, an unusual style made popular by the British involvement in India. The British incorporated many styles from the colonies into works of art in the 18th and 19th century. The Pavilion’s interior is extravagantly furnished mainly in the then popular Chinoiserie style (Chinese infl uence). In fact the whole building is one of the best examples of these styles in Europe.
The presence of Royalty encouraged the middle classes to visit for the summer season and with the coming of the railway in 1840 the town became accessible for day trippers, principally from London. The town grew and incorporated the nearby coastal towns of Hove and Portslade. The Grand Hotel was built to encourage wealthier visitors in 1864 and the West Pier was built in 1864 and The Palace Pier in1899. The West Pier was destroyed by fi re in 2003. In 1984 The Grand Hotel became infamous due to a bomb detonated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in an attempt to kill the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her cabinet.
To increase the availability of the more distant beaches for visitors, the narrow gauge “Volks Electric Railway” was built in 1883. It is the world’s oldest electric railway that is still running and takes passengers two and a half miles eastward, past the nudist beach, screened by artifi cial dunes, to the “Brighton Marina”, a shopping and boating complex built in the 1970s.
The original town centre is marked by a series of streets called “The Lanes”. These very narrow streets follow the old medieval plan, with no access for cars. They are now full of attractive restaurants, though 20 years ago they were famous for their antique shops, of which only one remains. Unfortunately no ancient buildings are preserved due to destruction of the town by the French in the 16th century and subsequent rebuilding in the 19th century. The oldest building in Brighton is the parish church of St Nicholas built in the 14th century with some stone from an earlier church. It was heavily modified in 1853 to accommodate the growth in population.
Today there are theatres, cinemas, museums and numerous festivals, including a Gay Pride Festival organized by the large gay community.
Nearby, to the east, are the highest chalk cliff s in Britain, called Beachy Head. This is a popular and attractive tourist location. Unfortunately, it also has the notoriety of being the second most popular place to commit suicide in the World. Special units of chaplains and social workers constantly patrol the area, trying to prevent people jumping but at times, the count has been over 25 deaths per year.
Skegness is situated on the east coast of England about 230 km (142 miles) from London. It is on the point of a bulge that sticks out into the North Sea, just north of the Wash (See Glossary). As a result, temperatures are lower than Brighton and there is often a strong wind, giving rise to the nationally well know slogan “Skegness is so Bracing”. This is often displayed on post cards often including a picture of “The Jolly Fisherman” a character invented by the railway to market the resort in 1902. Today he is the town’s logo and a statue of him is found in the Embassy Gardens.
Skegness was originally a fi shing village with no harbour so boats were drawn up on the wide, gently sloping, sandy beach. Just to the South at Gibraltar Point was the entrance to the “Wainfl eet Haven” a river that wound its way through the marshes to the sea. The fl at land and marshes provided a haven for smugglers and in 1824 a coastguard station was established on a spit at the entrance. Today the sea has receded and the additional ridges of sand dunes are now a nature reserve. Skegness itself was originally further out to sea and the church was threatened by rising sea levels in the 14th century. A new church, St Clements’s, was built out of rubble and brick further inland in the 16th century and is the oldest building in the town. A new larger church, St. Mathew’s, was built to accommodate the growth of the town in the 1870s.
Skegness remained a small fi shing village until 1872 when the coast railway was diverted there under pressure by the Earl of Scarborough who hoped to capitalize on the development of the new town. The only old buildings left are a line of fi shermen’s cottages on the north side of the town. A large promenade was built and a pier added in 1881. Skegness’s most imposing feature, the Clock Tower, was erected in 1898 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897. Many towns in Britain commemorated this event in this way.
The visitors coming to Skegness were mainly the factory workers from the manufacturing part of the Midlands, including Derby, Sheffi eld and Nottingham, or miners from the adjacent coalfi elds. Consequently, the town is not so richly endowed as Brighton. Many arrived during the “Trips week”, mainly staying in cheap guest houses and B&Bs. In the days when coalmining was the principal occupation, the Derbyshire Miners Union established a holiday camp and rest home just to the north of the town so miners had a chance to clear their lungs.
Skegness was a place chosen to be the fi rst holiday camp in Britain in 1936. William “Billy” Butlin went with his parents to the seaside staying in guest houses where they were thrown out by the landlady after breakfast and not allowed back before the evening meal. His memories of being bored with nothing to do, especially when it was raining, gave him the idea for a complete holiday experience in a camp of attractive chalets and non stop organized activities for children and adults, including funfairs, dances and of course “Bingo”, which became a national pastime. Although interrupted by the Second World War the model became very successful and Billy Butlin then built other camps all over the country. Although these camps became less popular in the 1980s, due to the availability of cheap holidays to Spain, some like the one at Skegness, still remain in a modernised form and are very popular with families. The need to entertain young children has led to a rise in this type of holiday with other centres being set up around the world.
Today, the traditional donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows of the seaside resort are less common, the former due to concerns about the welfare of the donkeys, and the latter because children have moved on to electronic games. However, particularly in the days of recession, the funfairs, Bingo games and candy floss machines continue to attract large numbers of people who can forget the problems of life for a day, or week, at the seaside.
B & Bs
– Bed and Breakfast. Normally a converted house. Some off ered an evening meal and were called Guest Houses but guests were expected to vacate the house after breakfast and not return until the evening. In the past not many landladies were very sympathetic to their guests.
– A wheeled, covered cart. The person would enter and change into a full length bathing costume. The cart would then be rolled into the sea and the person would enter the sea, in some privacy, from steps at the back. Bingo – an ancient game in many forms. In Britain, players have a card with 28 squares with 15 random numbers printed on it. A caller then calls the numbers taken at random and if it is the same as a number on the card the player marks it off . The fi rst person to have all their numbers called is the winner and traditionally shouts out “Bingo!”
Ozone – is technically a molecule of three atoms of oxygen that accumulates in the ozone layer within the atmosphere and prevents harmful radiation reaching the ground. When concentrated at the Earth’s surface, it is a poisonous gas for life. When made in the laboratory is gives of a pungent smell, like rotting seaweed. It was thought in the 19th century that the smell of rotting seaweed was ozone, which because of the extra oxygen would be good for you, especially for visitors from the industrial towns who often had breathing problems.
Punch and Judy – A puppet show based on Italian “Commedia dell’arte” introduced into Britain in the late 17th century. The characters feature Mr. Punch, a brightly dressed hunchback fi gure, his wife Judy, a policeman and a host of other characters. The stories are not fi xed, but often involves Mr. Punch behaving outrageously, struggling with his wife Judy and the Baby, and then triumphing in various encounters with the forces of law and order, the story is interspersed with jokes and songs.
Sunday School – When the parents went to church on Sunday the children would attend a school concentrating on religious activities and reading the stories from the Bible. They also organised activities for the children.
The Wash – a large natural embayment draining into the North Sea, at the seaward edge of the low lying Fens, similar in aspect to the Zatoka Gdańska.