When you think of a typical British summer holiday you think of the seaside. Fish and chips on the beach, ice cream from old-fashioned ice cream vans and the amusements – maybe even a bit of sunshine. But where does the tradition of the British seaside holiday come from, and how has it influenced our perception of the summer holiday?
It all goes back to the 18th century, when a physician, Richard Russell, began to recommend salt water as a cure for his rich and aristocratic patients. Unfortunately though, the high price of travel meant that trips to the seaside were out of reach for the average working class family.
A holiday atmosphere
By the second half of the 19th century, the lower middle class received one week of holiday per year, usually coinciding with August bank holidays. Due to the growth of the rail networks and the lower cost of train fares, the seaside was now accessible to a far wider range of people. Thousands flocked to the seaside towns of Brighton, Weston-super-Mare and Bournemouth to experience the fresh air and holiday atmosphere so lacking in the cities.
Entertainemt for all
Entertainment was diverse! It ranged from the puppet show Punch and Judy to donkey rides along the beach. There were even ‘bathing machines’ for the ladies. These wooden shelters on wheels were pulled into the sea by horses or donkeys, and once inside, the women could change into their bathing suits hidden from view, thus retaining their modesty.
The package holiday
The seaside holiday continued to grow in popularity up until the 1970s, when expendable incomes rose and the cost of package holidays abroad fell. Why risk the unpredictable British summer and end up sitting on the beach in the rain for a week, when you could travel to sunny Spain relatively cheaply? Low cost airlines, good exchange rates and easily accessible exotic destinations conspired to make the British seaside holiday a rarity.
A return to the good old days?
However, the seaside holiday is making a comeback. With fewer people able to afford holidays abroad because of the recession, trips to the coast are regaining popularity. Many people hope that British seaside towns will soon see a return to their former glory.