The British have a nostalgic love for the “traditional” seaside summer holiday, with its images of building sandcastles, donkey rides and ice cream, together with the stroll along the promenade and the sound of the brass band mentioned in the popular Edwardian musical hall song I do like to be beside the seaside. Most of these attributes associated with a seaside visit can be traced to the Victorian period, for it was in the 1860s and 1870s that the development of English and Welsh seaside resorts, including Blackpool, Llandudno and Brighton, began on a grand scale. The expansion of the railways by the latter half of the nineteenth century allowed speedy travel to the seaside. The 1871 Bank Holidays Act, introduced by the Liberal MP John Lubbock, provided working class with leisure time in which to take a day trip to the seaside. August bank holiday, one of the days officially designated by the Act, became a popular holiday from the mid-1870s onwards.
Victorian seaside attractions included not only a fashionable promenade on which to stroll, bands, entertainments such as Punch and Judy shows, but a pier without which no seaside town was complete. The importance of the pier is illustrated by Bournemouth, where a new pier was constructed in 1878 to meet the demands of growing visitor numbers. Designed by C.E.Birch, this new structure was 838 feet long and 35 feet wide. As the Bright’s Illustrated Guide to Bournemouth (1890) noted “A good pier has long been regarded as an essential to the seaside town… some with little pretension to elegance or comfort, mere promenades and landing stages, others of beautiful design and offering superior accommodation. In this latter class the pier of Bournemouth must be placed.”
Visitors’ guides produced to publicise resorts to the growing holiday market focused not just on the facilities and entertainments available, but on the natural merits of the area and the simple pleasures of strolling along the beach, bathing and building sandcastles. Bournemouth boasted of its “extensive shore consisting of a clean, dry sand…. The shore, without hesitation, we pronounce unsurpassed by any pleasure town on our coast….” where “merry groups of children” could be found “digging and delving, building castles of a wonderful design, and altogether enjoying themselves as only children can…”
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert shared with their subjects an appreciation of the seaside. The royal family spent their summer holidays at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, with access to a private beach. Indeed, the beach at Osborne Bay was reputedly one of the main reasons the royal couple purchased the house. “We drove down to the seashore and remained there for an hour playing with the children who were so happy”, Queen Victoria noted in her journal in 1846.
It is still possible to visit Queen Victoria’s beach at Osborne House. You can view Queen Victoria’s bathing machine and the area where the royal children learned to swim. And during August there are Victorian seaside activities, including a traditional Punch and Judy show, available on the beach: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/osborne/
And we wish everyone visiting the seaside a most glorious time…