The British seaside holiday…

...and breezy Brighton's role in it

The Indian summer was well and truly over and on a dreary Wednesday evening the wind was whipping up the dead leaves into whirlpools on the pavements. What better escape than to attend the first Regency Society talk of the season on the (unseasonal) subject of The British seaside holiday? It was ably delivered by lecturer, tour guide and Regency Society committee member Jackie Marsh-Hobbs, who stood in at the 11th hour for a speaker who was unable to attend. She informed and entertained the expectant audience admirably and with humour.

Her talk covered all aspects of that very British institution – dear to the hearts of Brighton residents – the seaside holiday: piers and pools, dipping and deckchairs, beach huts and bandstands, shelters and swimsuits, bathing machines and bath chairs, exclusivity and entertainment, caravans and cliff railways, souvenirs and seawater, hotels and hokey pokey (ice cream to you and me).

Jackie delighted us with images of boat trips and Butlins, Blackpool and… Brighton.  We were shown exquisite aquatints by William Daniell, paintings of the Brighton Chain Pier by both Turner and Constable, Donald McGill postcards and railway posters of the 1930s exhorting us to visit unbelievably sunny-looking coastal resorts, plus images of Antony Gormley’s installation Another Place at Crosby.

We were saddened to be reminded of the loss of great structures such as Brighton’s Daddy Longlegs, the exotic Indian-style, monumental oriental Clifton Baths at Gravesend (designed by our own Amon Henry Wilds) and The Leith Trinity Chain Pier (designed by our own Captain Samuel Brown).

And there was much more. In the 19th century, the harbour wall in Margate was (perversely) called a pier and their pier a jetty;  there are 30,000 remaining beach huts around our coastline (a handful of which in Bournemouth are now listed);  the first lettered seaside rock came from Blackpool;  Brighton Swimming Club was founded in 1860 and was the first of its kind in England;  Brighton can lay claim to having the first seaside aquarium in the UK; but  Scarborough beat Brighton’s claim to have invented sea water cures, with Elizabeth Farrow and Dr Wittie advocating spa water cures and sea dipping respectively, predating our own Dr Richard Russell; and  coral and crushed woodlice formed part of the tasty recipe added to the seawater drunk by the gullible followers of the said Dr Russell.

Most of the audience chuckled over (though some reminisced about) those sartorially inelegant knitted bathers prevalent after the Second World War… and then it was out into the bracing Brighton air again.

With thanks to member Alison Minns

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