As we approach summer and people start thinking about holidays I thought I’d take a look at the traditional seaside holiday in Britain, particularly the era of my childhood – the 1950s and 60s.
I’ll start by filling in a bit of background.
Although rich people were taking breaks by the sea from the 1700s, and entering the water using ‘bathing machines’, the working population still worked a six day week with no paid holidays and had no access to transport for long journeys. This changed with the coming of the railways and in 1871. The Bank Holidays Act declared that certain days throughout the year were official holidays (when banks and offices closed). The speed of railway transport meant that people could then travel more easily to the seaside. Coastal towns like: Blackpool, Scarborough, Llandudno and Brighton quickly grew into popular holiday resorts. In the UK, the Holidays with Pay Act 1938 gave workers whose minimum rates of wages were fixed by trade boards, the right to one weeks’ holiday per year.
I never heard of anyone going abroad on holiday when I was a child. I lived in a farming area so most of the families we knew couldn’t leave the farm for a holiday. Every year in the summer our village ran two day trips to the seaside for mums and children. One was just known as the village trip, I have no idea who organised it. Perhaps a group of parents got together. The other was the Sunday School trip. A coach would be hired and we would all pile onto it outside the village post office armed with picnics, buckets and spades, swimsuits etc. We sang songs on the coach and had a brilliant day out even if it rained. If it was too wet for the beach there was always the funfair and the shops in the town where we could spend the little bit of pocket we’d been given. We thought Woolworth’s was heaven!
Our family holidays were always taken by the coast. Devon and Cornwall were our nearest coastal destinations outside Wales. We have some great beaches in south west Wales too which are nearer to where we lived. We used to go to those for family days out on fine Saturdays in summer. The annual two week summer holiday always saw us going over the border to England.
Traffic jams were a big part of holiday travel at that time. There were no motorways or dual carriageways, towns didn’t have by-passes and had very few roundabouts and traffic lights. Now you can travel across the country sweeping past large and small towns on a motorway, ring road or by-pass. Not then. It was such a pain that we often set off for a holiday at night, arriving at our destination early in the morning. We children thought that was so exciting.
Back then, everyone took picnics to the beach. Sandwiches and flasks were the norm. Deck chairs were available for hire but most people sat on rugs or towels. We knew nothing about long term sun damage. If you got burned your mum would apply calamine lotion to the burnt skin at bedtime.
At some point in the day there would be a visit to the ice-cream van. What a treat! Homes didn’t have freezers then and neither did the shops around us. When we were small ice-cream was only associated with day trips and holidays. I loved 99’s – and still do!
Credit to Wikipedia, Google Images and woolworthsmuseum.co.uk.
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