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

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Family holidays

I have talked about holidays and day trips before but a reader suggested it would be worth revisiting – thanks Tom!

We were lucky as our dad had an annual holiday entitlement so we took a two week summer holiday every year. Most of the children in my school lived on farms – and farms can’t be left for two weeks! In addition, our mum and dad both came from different parts of Wales so we often had weekends away visiting relatives.

First, the summer holiday. What an adventure! Weeks of preparation by my mum – I remember having to wear only our older, scruffier clothes so that all our decent stuff could be taken away clean. Remember that family laundry was not a simple matter of pressing buttons on washers and driers.

In the 50’s, there were no motorways, by-passes, ring-roads or dual carriageways. Town centres had major routes running right through them and congestion was normal. With hardly any traffic lights, it was common to see a policeman standing at a major junction on what was called ‘point duty’. Because of the nightmare traffic jams we often set off in the evening and travelled through the night. How exciting!!!!


We holidayed in Devon and Cornwall several times when I was very young. There was no Severn Bridge then and we had to catch a little car ferry to cross over the river. One year, when I was about twelve, we went to Scotland. We stayed in a boarding house and in those days you left the house after breakfast and had no access back into the premises until late afternoon. That would have been alright if it hadn’t rained the whole fortnight! The nearby beach had a black flag flying every day to keep people away in the bad weather. There was a swimming pool in the town – a luxury! Our nearest indoor pool at home was over an hour’s drive away. We went to that pool every day and Mum and Dad taught us to swim.

Visiting my dad’s parents further north in Wales was always great fun. We loved the cottage they lived in with its thick stone walls, tiny staircase with a door at the bottom and the toilet at the bottom of the garden. The bed I always shared with my sister had a feather mattress and I can still remember the feeling of sinking into it on the first night when it was freshly plumped up.

One thing which has probably changed little over the years is how children play on a beach. Away from the X-boxes, TVs and mobile phones, children still love nothing more than digging in sand and playing ball or chasing games. Our buckets and spades were metal not plastic but the play was just the same.


Yes, we did at one time have knitted swimsuits, much like the one in the photo, except ours were stripey.

I’ll finish with one of the joys of summer holidays – ice-cream! Our village shop had no freezer when I was little so ice-cream was a treat on high days and holidays. You only had the choice of a wafer, cornet, orange iced lolly or choc-ice and from the vans you could get soft ice-cream in a cone with a Cadbury’s chocolate flake. 99s are still a favourite of mine.

Wall's 1950s UK ice-cream

1950s UK Wall's Ice Cream Magazine Advert

1950s UK Wall’s Ice Cream Magazine Advert


Holidays and Travel Part 2

Two of my daughters and their three small children have been staying here this summer and have now returned home. This means I have time to get back to other things like writing this blog. Thinking about all the travelling done by our family when we visit each other has prompted me to revisit holidays and travel in the 50s and 60s.

As well as our annual family holiday and weekend visits to grandparents, we children had two other exciting days out to look forward to each year. One was the village outing and the other was the Sunday School trip. Both were arranged in a similar way and the same people went on the two trips – apart from the fact that the vicar only joined us on the Sunday School outing, not the village one.

A coach was booked and would be ready and waiting outside the village shop at 8am. Our local coach firm was Thomas Bros who also ran the school bus service.

   The photograph is not a Thomas Bros one but our coaches looked like this.

We always went to either Porthcawl or Barry Island. Or perhaps they are the two I liked best as they had permanent funfairs as well as beaches! All food for the whole day was packed up and taken with us, including flasks of drinks. The most we ever bought to eat whilst there was an ice-cream. There were not as many food outlets in those days and people didn’t have the money to buy cafe food all day for a whole family.

         Barry Island beach and fair.


Porthcawl beach and the funfair which was called Coney Beach.

So, a coach containing a whole village of mums and children and laden with bags of beachwear and food would set off for a day at the seaside. It was almost unbearably exciting. I’m sure it was terribly hard work for my mum! We sang songs on coaches and in cars in those days. These were not songs from the radio but songs which just seemed to be sung when travelling – many of them Welsh. Oes Gafr Eto? was one of my favourites. Crawshay Bailey was another one and I recently found out that the character in the song was a real person! He was was an English industrialist who became one of the great iron-masters of Wales in Victorian times.

At some point in the day we would walk into the town from the beach and funfair area. As we lived way out in the countryside, this was every bit as exciting as the sand and the rides. We would go to Woollies (F W Woolworth) and be in seventh heaven choosing pick and mix, cheap jewellery or toys to spend our pocket money on.

This is a 1950s Woollies – not necessarily one I’ve been in.

Advertisements for pic'n'mix sweets at Woolworths in 1938 - featuring Milady Toffees and QQQ Liquorice Allsorts I only ever saw Milady toffees in Woolworth’s.

As we sang and dozed our way back in the coach we were happy, sometimes sunburned – nobody knew much about sun protection then – and tired. It was always a Saturday. My dad would have had a whole day uninterrupted in his beloved garden.

This photograph is not a Thomas Bros one but our coaches looked like this.