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seaside holidays

seaside holidays were an English invention of the mid-18th cent. Orthodox medicine adopted sea-bathing and advocated formal therapeutic bathing regimes, for patients suffering from a variety of diseases. At Scarborough, by the 1730s, visitors to the spa were combining sea-bathing with other treatments, and a sojourn at Bath was increasingly followed in the late 18th cent. by a visit to Weymouth. Dr Russell, the great proponent of sea-bathing, based himself at Brighton, which from the mid-18th cent. became the most fashionable of the emerging genre of seaside resorts. Royal patronage from the prince of Wales, the future George IV, made Brighton fashionable and attracted pleasure-seekers as well as those seeking cures. Other resorts, especially in Kent and Sussex, followed suit. Brighton already had over 40,000 inhabitants at the 1841 census, and the railways opened out new markets. The middle-class family holiday, with bathing and sandcastles for the children and ‘nigger minstrels’ and German bands for their elders, became a mid-Victorian institution, as did the seaside pier. The railways also made cheap trips to the seaside for the working classes possible, and the Lancashire cotton towns pioneered the working-class seaside holiday from the 1870s, flocking to Blackpool in particular, as the traditional wakes holidays were transformed and fairgrounds migrated to the coast. By 1914 the British seaside resort network was well established, catering for all classes and all tastes, with huge pleasure palaces and sophisticated fairground technology at the popular resorts. The inter-war years saw a greater concentration on fresh air and a freer approach to bathing, by this time recreational rather than therapeutic. British seaside resorts reached their peak of popularity in the 1950s, after the introduction of paid holidays. But when cheap travel to new Mediterranean resorts became available, in conjunction with the popularization of sunbathing, British resorts struggled to compete. By the 1970s many smaller places were in terminal decline, and the British seaside holiday, threatened by pollution and new holiday fashions, is currently an endangered species.

John K. Walton

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