The History of the Seaside Holiday

Speaker: Felicity Austin

21 November 2017

A brief AGM was followed by a lighthearted and nostalgic look at the development of the Seaside Holiday by Felicity Austin. She was dressed in a replica Victorian bathing suit made of a thick woollen material with long pantaloons. She also entertained us with popular songs with which we were able to join in, a scene from a Punch and Judy show and a rummage through a suitcase containing bathing costumes from different periods.

The Seaside Holiday was really a Victorian invention, prior to that only the wealthy went to the sea, usually for their health. Men cavorted naked in the waves because bathing costumes had not been invented. These came in during Queen Victoria's reign, as did new laws to prevent nude bathing. Felicity read us a short extract from Queen Victoria’s diary describing her first visit to a bathing machine and dip in the sea.

The ability of ordinary working people to go to the seaside came with the railway, the pleasure steamer and the Bank Holiday. Piers were built so the steamers could bring in the holiday-makers - it was only later that they became entertainment centres in their own right. Fishing villages grew to become seaside resorts e.g. Skegness and Blackpool. Railway companies made the journey much quicker and more affordable. For example, in 1841 the London to Brighton rail fare was 3/6d and took 2 hours whereas the stagecoach had previously taken 9 hours and cost £1.00.00. The Blackpool Tower was built in 1894 with bars and a menagerie but the ballroom came later. By 1898 Cromer was allowing some mixed bathing but men must wear suitable costumes covering them from neck to knee.

By the 1920s, people’s seaside destination depended on which train lines went from their local station, the rules for bathing became simpler, people had knitted costumes and seaside entertainment was growing. Billy Butlin introduced dodgems to his holiday camps, and Wall’s produced ice cream. Seaside holidays ceased during the war and Butlin’s in Skegness became a naval training camp. In the post-war period workers started getting paid for one week’s holiday each year. By the 1950s more people owned their own car and were able to go further afield and the West Country became a popular holiday destination. By the late 1950s people were gradually starting to go to the continent. In 1968 75% of holidays were still taken in England, by 1999 it was down to 44% but there has been a slight resurgence in recent years.