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Victorian Seaside Holidays

The modern holiday started in Britain in the nineteenth century. The Industrial Revolution produced the first working steam train in 1804, leading the way by the mid-1800s for a railway system providing a cheaper, faster, and more comfortable mode of transport than ever before. It connected towns and villages to the seaside and a day ticket was within the budget of the average working-class family.

In Suffolk, Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds were connected by rail to seaside towns including Felixstowe, Aldeburgh, and Lowestoft. Zoom in and out of Cruchley’s map below to explore which stations the train stopped at in 1854.

A day out at the seaside became an attractive outing in the Victorian period and newspapers advertised excursion trains many of which were run by the Great Eastern Railway.

‘Great Eastern Railway A Day at the Seaside on Thursday 14th July 1870’
Tuesday 5th July 1870, Bury and Norwich Post Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

In 1871, the Bank Holiday Act was passed giving people four new days off, when not only were the banks closed but also all factories and retail shops. This provided many people with the opportunity to take trips to the seaside, sporting events, concerts, and other cultural activities.

While the working classes bought day tickets, the wealthy would travel by train in first class to the seaside for a weeklong holiday and stay in posh hotels.

(IA) K681/1/158/653 Coloured postcard – Felix Hotel, Cliff top garden, and pathway, addressee Mrs Thornley of Ipswich c1900

People went on holiday to the seaside for various reasons. They were particularly attracted to the fresh sea air and believed breathing it was good for their health.

Promenades and piers were built to attract visitors offering a way for people to not only breathe in the sea air but also, and perhaps more importantly, be ‘seen’ by society promenading in their finest outfits.

(LA) 1300/72/36/10 Lowestoft, South Pier looking towards the Town 1860-1870

They relaxed on the beach, built sandcastles, rode on donkeys and goats, ate ice cream and fish and chips, and watched Punch and Judy puppet shows as well as music hall acts.

(IA) K681/1/158/249 Coloured postcard, pmk illegible. Children in goat drawn carts, addressee Miss E Hanslow of Ramsgate early 20th century

Victorians also went to the beach to go in the sea. At the time beaches were separated for men and women. Men would swim naked while women would paddle in large bathing costumes.

Women would pay to get changed into these suits in a wooden cart known as a bathing machine. The machine was rolled into the sea for them to get out and paddle discreetly.

Towards the end of the Victorian period, it became compulsory for men to wear bathing suits and by the Edwardian period bathing machines were replaced by tents and people swam directly from beaches.

Next – holidays and home leave during World War One