Down memory lane: The Great British love affair with the seaside

Today we are looking back at Britain’s beautiful beaches through the decades.

There’s nothing more quintessentially British than a trip to the rainy seaside.

You can keep your Cote d’Azur and Cancun, we’re very happy with Broadstairs, Blackpool and Bognor, thank you very much.

A tepid paddle, then a strenuous clamber over some jagged stones to get your hands on a dripping and soggy Mr Whippy might not sound appealing to some – but most of us Brits wouldn’t have it any other way.

Faded seaside glamour isn’t lost on us and we’re now jostling for an Instagram shot of Scarborough’s brightly coloured beach huts, or Margate’s lovingly restored Dreamland.

With millions of pounds of investment drawing us back to the British coast, it seems the allure of a stick of rock covered in sand is stronger than ever. And, with August fast approaching, what better time to have a nose through our seaside snaps of yesteryear?

1900s: When suntans were considered gauche

Edwardian sunbathers on the cliffs at Folkestone

People enjoying the sun on the cliffs near the seaside at Folkestone in Kent

No one liked a seaside resort more than the Victorians. From Blackpool to Southend, they built up their ‘pleasure palaces’, but even with a change of monarch, the love affair endured. Kent’s coast remains ever-popular with day trippers and holidaymakers – and these Edwardian women were early fans.

1910s: When baring flesh was a no-no

Holidaymakers sit by their beach hut in Margate

A couple chat while seated on a sea bathing hut in Margate

Back in 1911, these two Margate holidaymakers had to wait for their beach hut to be towed to the sea, so they wouldn’t suffer the indignity of being spotted on the beach in their swimming costumes.

1920s: When beauty contests caused controversy

Beauty contest contestants on the beach at Folkestone

Miss Fidge (Italy), Violet Pout (England) and Berthy Egli (Spain) at the Pier Hippodrome in Folkestone, Kent

Local businessman Robert Forsyth set up the Folkestone Beauty Competition in 1908 in an attempt to breathe new life into the ailing pier, and it’s a contest that still happens to this day. Unsurprisingly, it was derided by the Suffragette movement at the time.

In 1921, Miss Fidge from Italy, Violet Pout from England and Berthy Egli from Spain participated in Folkestone’s first international beauty competition, adding a little continental flavour to proceedings. A swimsuit round wasn’t introduced until the 1950s.

1930s: When everyone joined forces

Wartime holidaymakers help the ARP

Holidaymakers and locals help fill sandbags in Devon

Even the outbreak of World War II couldn’t keep Brits away from the beach. Here they are on the sand at Torquay in Devon, helping evacuees, local residents and the ARP (Air Raid Precaution) fill sandbags. In fact, the war barely interrupted the growth of the British seaside holiday, and its ascent continued into the 1940s.

1940s: When all ages relaxed

Older holidaymakers sunbathing on Bournemouth beach

A couple sunbathing in Bournemouth

The appeal of the British coast wasn’t exclusive to any class or age, as demonstrated by these two senior sunbathers enjoying a spot of relaxation on Bournemouth beach.

1950s: When stars flooded the sands

Tommy Steele's cardboard cutout on the beach at Morecambe

Tommy Steele’s cardboard cut-out on the beach at Morecambe

Seaside resorts and holiday camps were brimming with entertainment, and stars such as Britain’s first teen idol Tommy Steele took part in the summer season shows,. Seen here getting a close up with Steele’s cardboard cut-out are Audrey Cruddas (left) and Frieda Salmon.

1960s: When Brits spurned the seaside

Windmill girls riding white donkeys across the beach

Denise (left) and Iris ride donkeys on Weston-Super-Mare beach

Windmill girls Denise Warren (left) and Iris Chapple each sit on a donkey on Weston-Super-Mare beach in 1961. The 1960s actually saw seaside trips begin to fall out of favour with British tourists, as rising wages increased the popularity of overseas package holidays.

1970s: When only ice-cream could keep us on staycation

Holidaymakers queue up to buy ice cream on a hot summer's day at Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

People waiting in line for an ice cream on the Isle of Wight

The decline of the British seaside continued into the 1970s, as sunny Spain proved too tempting for many families. However, these holidaymakers at Cowes on the Isle of Wight couldn’t wait to get their hands on an ice cream to help them cool off.

1980s: When wild animals took over

Circus elephant Sharon make friends with holidaymakers Graham and Janet Stead, of Stapleford, Notts, on the beach at Great Yarmouth.

An elephant on the beach at Great Yarmouth

We’re used to seeing donkeys, seagulls – even Punch & Judy – on British beaches, but circus elephant Sharon proved quite the spectacle on the sand at Great Yarmouth. Here she is befriending holidaymakers Graham and Janet Stead.

1990s: When lad culture kicked in

Hundreds of sun worshippers flocked to the south bay at Scarbrough, North Yorkshire.

Hoards of holidaymakers on the beach in Scarborough

Those who couldn’t afford a week in Magaluf sought solace on the British coast – and brought lad culture with them, too. Cue boozing, bottom baring and bronzing. The seaside towns made room for their new audience, making a packet from the stag and hen dos drawn to a little fun in the sun.

What memories do you have of trips to the seaside?

The following two tabs change content below.

The Press Association

News from the Press Association - the national news agency for the UK and Ireland

Leave a Comment!

Not a member?

You need to be a member to interact with Silversurfers. Joining is free and simple to do. Click the button below to join today!

Click here if you have forgotten your password

Community Terms & Conditions

Content standards

These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.

You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.

Contributions must:

be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.

Contributions must not:

contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.

Nurturing a safe environment

Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.

We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!