The Traditional British Seaside Holiday

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!

A coach belonging to our local bus company.
A Woolworth’s toy counter.

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.

A P.C. on ‘point duty in a town centre before the days of roundabouts and traffic lights.

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.

I make every effort to avoid infringing copyright. If, however, anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

12 thoughts on “The Traditional British Seaside Holiday

  1. A brilliant round up. I remember the sand in the sandwiches… and the stubbed toes from wandering around and not looking down! Donkey rides on the beach at New Brighton and not being able to steer them because they always went the same way…. very frustrating for a budding jockey:-) Such simple pleasures and such fun too.

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  2. Hi, I Enjoyed your post of your childhood seaside memories, funny as a kid I never wondered how people in other counties spent their holidays or summer days. It’s very interesting to read about. I can say there was nothing like the toy counters at wonderful Woolworth’s here in the States! I have great memories of going there in the summer months, and high bouncer balls, and much more! And I would have loved one of those 99 cent cones they remind me of the ones we had here at the Dairly Queen and at 5 cents! Great post! Bob

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  3. Our summer holidays were mostly spent at resorts in Somerset, Devon and Dorset. The exceptions being Weymouth and Plymouth, once each.
    We usually stayed at a boarding house where, apart from our room, they provided breakfast, lunch and tea. Some of these were run by women who were a Mrs but appeared to have no husband and I’ve often wondered since whether they were war widows who ran a boarding house to support themselves.

    Penny arcades were a favourite for my brother and I, especially when it was raining, and the wonderful aroma of fish and chips was omnipresent along the seafront. Punch and Judy shows and donkey rides were also much in evidence. And sunburned bodies lathered with Calamine lotion.

    Happy days.

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  4. Hi Meryl. All best to all. Yet another absolutely delightful summary. I have to confess that, often as not , I feel quite emotional on reading them as they frequently highlight something that, in turn, triggers an otherwise lost memory. On this occasion it was the memory of Dad popping into a Gents toilet whilst we were on holiday in Morecambe, turning right instead of left as he came out with the result that we lost him for two hours!!!
    But you never mentioned the Pak a Mac what a questionable delight they were ! Water running off the bottom and wetting you legs through .
    I’m away on holiday ( what else ) at the moment , but back soon. Will be in touch, promise.
    John

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  5. Oh God, I remember the squabbles in the car between me and my (older) sister and the rows between my mum and dad, during the drive to our holiday destinations (usually Dorset) and the interminable traffic jams, when going on holiday. Wasps settling on jam sandwiches during a picnic or on the beach – making me scream and my sister shout at me. My mother’s awful sardine and vinegar sandwiches getting very hot in a duffle bag in the boot of the car, with thermos flasks of tea. And yes – the calamine lotion (which I still use, but not for sunburn as I’m never that long in the sun these days!) Ice cream vans were mostly when I went to visit my grandparents, but at the seaside it was usually from kiosks. Do you remember all the plastic rubbish that was sold at those kiosks? PVC LiLo, plastic windmills (on a stick), buckets and spades, etc. I was addicted to candy floss – always on holiday. I’ve a photo of me and my sister eating some, and I’ve a towel on my lap as I was – as my mum always put it – a ‘mucky pup’! Thanks for the memories, Meryl. The seaside was always, quite literally, my ‘happy place’.

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