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Britain > Introduction > Victorian Seaside

An escape from the smog and stresses of everyday city life

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Until the 1800’s, British seaside settlements were simply fishing ports and centres of trade, nothing more. However, in the mid 18th century Doctor Richard Russell began to promote the drinking of sea water as a cure for diseases such as gout and jaundice. Thus began the development of coastal settlements as sites of health and restoration, rivalling established health locations such as Bath Spa and Harrogate. The then explosive success of the industrial revolution resulted in the growth of these settlements from quiet health resorts to seaside holiday spots. With the increased wealth of Britain and the birth of the leisure industry these coastal villages and towns were soon to develop a whole new, frankly more fun side, to their character.  The development of the railway was key in allowing the upper classes fast access to much of the coastline helping establish the first Victorian Seaside resorts.
The wealthy businessmen of industrial Britain longed for a place to escape the smog of the factories and the frantic nature of city life. The relaxing seaside settlements and empty sandy beaches offered such a place. A chance to rest, be entertained and in true British fashion, get acquainted with the chilly coastal waters!
Seaside resorts rapidly grew and central to this growth was the entertainment industry. The Victorians loved to be entertained, be it street musicians, minstrel shows, or fair grounds.
Though traditionally piers were built to allow the embarkation of vessels that required deeper waters, the Victorians built them purely for pleasure! They built piers over the sea to allow dry strolls over the waves and closer access to the sea whatever the tide. The excitement of piers, stretching out into the waves, offered the opportunity to pack as much fun into a tight space as possible!
The iconic Punch and Judy shows entertained the children and the concept of donkey rides for the whole family bought much joy and no doubt some laughs too!
Soon the success of industrialised Britain meant middle and lower classes could also afford to holiday at such resorts. This led to a mass boom in seaside development. At these resorts the working classes relished the opportunity to enjoy the same benefits as their upper class counterparts did. Amusement parks, arcades and promenade strolls became accessible to all. The British seaside with its boarding houses, donkeys, piers and cream teas quickly became all the rage!
These resorts were also home to the original culture of celebrity spotting! But rather than trying to catch a glimpse of Posh and Becks in LA, the British working classes longed to spot a passing royal in a horse drawn carriage or a famous landowner digging into a Knickerbocker glory!
Previous coastal villages were now developed into holiday towns, with all their associated infrastructure; services, transport and housing.  The Victorian Seaside resorts as we know them had been born and even today manages to somehow encapsulate for all time something magical about that era.

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