Do the ladies on the left of this first photograph epitomise the joy of a day on an English beach to you – wrapped in their coats, snuggled down in the shelter of their deckchairs against the chill of the cold wind on an average British summer’s day, enduring their day out with grim determination? Surely not!
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a lovely long hot summer this year, when we unfold our deckchairs and luxuriate in the warmth of a perfect summer’s day, as seen in the other images in this seasonal selection from The Francis Frith Collection. A knotted handkerchief on your head to complete your enjoyment is optional!
Deckchairs and beach tents were available for hire, and the donkeys are saddled to take different age groups in this view of the sands at Filey in 1901. The harp and the clown-like costumes of some of the people seen in this view show that a Pierrot seaside concert party is touting for customers. Pierrot beach entertainers were in vogue right up to the Second World War.
Family fun on the sands at Margate in 1906. Its golden sands have always been one of Margate’s main attractions and have given the resort an advantage over the more common shingle beaches of South-East England. Families on holiday in Edwardian Margate appeared to spend far more time relaxing on the sands than present day visitors. These were the days of the fortnight by the sea - bucket and spade holidays with simple activities.
Like many of our popular seaside holiday resorts, Minehead on the north Somerset coast was a busy fishing community in earlier times. High on the slopes of North Hill above the town is its medieval parish church of St Michael. Its tall tower contains a rood loft with a window where a beacon light used to be kept burning at night to guide fishing boats home. The tower contains 10 bells and an old rhyme about their peal goes ‘Herring and bread, go the bells of Minehead’, a reminder that from the early 17th century until the late 18th century the town was an important herring fishing port.
The public has not yet abandoned Victorian modesty when it comes to bathing costumes, and not many people seem to be eager to swim in this view from 1925, but deck-chairs and buckets and spades are well established.
Don’t the girls in this view look just the thing with their skirts spread out around them on the grass, and their parasols to keep cool!
Aldershot’s bathing pool was reputedly the largest and finest open-air bathing pool in the country in its heyday. It covered ten acres, and contained well over one million gallons of water. Situated in the Aldershot Park estate (bought by the council in 1920 for £21,000), it was originally a lake; it was drained, and dressing rooms and lawns were added, costing £20,000. In 1948 the modern pentathlon of the XIV Olympiad was hosted here.
Franklin Spencer was the Punch and Judy man – the Professor – at the Suffolk resort of Lowestoft when this photograph of the busy beach was taken in 1952. His Punch voice (produced by a device held in his mouth called a swazzle) was amplified by means of the loudspeaker to the right of the stage.
An Anglo-Saxon port and later a Cinque Port, Hastings has a long history; its first castle, a timber affair, was built by William the Conqueror in 1066. The town declined in later centuries though, and its fortunes only really revived in the19th century, when it became a seaside resort. It acquired a pier in 1872. Much of its pier was destroyed in a devastating fire in 2010, but it was rebuilt in dramatic modern style and was named the National Piers Society’s Pier Of The Year for 2017.
Weymouth on the Dorset coast was one of the earliest seaside holiday resorts on England’s south coast, thanks to the royal patronage of George III in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, who came here to sea-bathe on the recommendation of his doctors. Weymouth’s loyal citizens employed a brass band, discreetly hidden in a nearby bathing machine, to play ‘God Save the King’ as His Majesty plunged into the waves. Fashionable Georgian society flocked to Weymouth in the king’s wake, and many of the buildings along the Parade date from this period. Weymouth is still a delightful and popular seaside resort nowadays, and in the summer the beach is thronged with children enjoying the traditional attractions such as donkey rides, swinging boats and a Punch and Judy show.
This view shows the busy beach at Shanklin on the Isle of Wight around 1950. It was Queen Victoria who made the Isle of Wight a fashionable holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of her subjects. In her childhood she had spent several holidays on the Island and formed a fondness for it. After her marriage to Prince Albert she bought Osborne House on the Island, using it as her favoured winter retreat until the very end of her life. The consequences of that royal patronage changed the Island for ever. Fishing villages became residential towns and important resorts, the population soared and towns enjoyed a housing boom as residences and hotels were built to cater for the increased demand for homes.
A 19th-century guidebook described Redcar thus: “The resort of Redcar on the north east coast of England dates from 1842, since when it has progressed at quite an extraordinary rate, and it certainly owes much to its magnificent sweep of sands. They are ten miles in length and a mile broad at low water, and they have been characterised as ‘smooth as velvet, yet so firm that neither horse not man leave their imprint on them as they tread the strand’.” This
Atmospheric view from around 1955 shows how busy are beach resorts used to be, before we were tempted abroad to vacation in more exotic holiday destinations.
In 1953 devastating floods cost many Canvey Islanders their homes, and lives were lost. A raised sea wall now protects the land behind from encroachment by the sea, but is being used as a backrest by some of the holidaymakers.
We hope you've enjoyed this selection of photographs from The Francis Frith Collection, and that you fit in a few hours of deckchair relaxation this summer. A knotted handkerchief on your head to complete your enjoyment is of course entirely optional!
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