I do like to be beside the seaside

This is a transcript of episode 8 of our podcast series A History of England in 100 Places. Join Emma Barnett and category judge Dr Bettany Hughes as we continue our journey through the history of travel and tourism in England.

A History of England in 100 Places is sponsored by Ecclesiastical

Subscribe on iTunes

 

Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast, sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

Emma Barnett:
Welcome to Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places. I’m Emma Barnett and in this series we’ll be exploring the amazing places that have helped make England the country it is today. You have been nominating the places you think should on this list and today we will explore three more of our Travel & Tourism top ten as selected by our expert judge for this category historian Dr Bettany Hughes.

There is still time to get your nominations in for the remaining category so visit historicengland.org.uk/100places to tell us about the places you think should be recognised. Our panel of expert judges including Bettany Hughes, George Clarke, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Monica Ali are revealing the 100 locations they have selected from your nominations to tell the story of England, and in these programs we’re finding out why.
Last time we talked about the importance of the Lake District and fell-walking in the story of England but today we will explore the dawn of the British staycation and find out how people who were less well-off started to be able to enjoy holidays. We’ll hear how this was made possible by innovations in travel and the development of the tourist industry. We have three locations left to reveal in our travel and tourism category and here to explain why they made our list is the judge that picked them from your nominations, Hhistorian and author Dr Bettany Hughes joins me in the studio. Hello, Bettany.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Hello there!

Emma Barnett:
Also here to steer us through the story of England is Dr Su Barton, research fellow at De Montfort University, Leicester. Hello to you!

Dr Su Barton:
Hello!

Emma Barnett:
Bettany, straight in at our eighth Travel & Tourism location. This structure is nearly 150 years old, it’s the only accessible Grade I listed pier in England and the poet and writer, John Betjeman, described it as the most beautiful pier in England - where am I talking about?

Dr Bettany Hughes:
You’re talking about Clevedon Pier on the beach at Clevedon. It’s so gorgeous, we nearly lost it - it nearly collapsed in - well it did collapse in 1970 and the local community loved it so much they got together and refurbished it.

I don’t know about you two but I think piers are just one of the most brilliant bits of the British-built heritage because they are these wonderful fantasy worlds where you step away from your real life, you kind of walk a couple of hundred yards and there you are in a kind of entertainment utopia so a pier had to be on the list so I was so delighted that people had nominated this.

I do have a confession that not a lot of people know that actually my parents were actors and my dad was an end-of-the-pier entertainer. So I spent my childhood sitting at the end of Bournemouth Pier watching kind of George & Mildred revamps and in dressing rooms and it was, I just considered it so glamorous so I’m afraid this was a very nostalgic choice for me.

Emma Barnett:
So your dad didn’t make it to Somerset then?

Dr Bettany Hughes:
I’ll go and ask him after we’ve met but I don’t remember Somerset. I definitely remember Bournemouth - the glamour and the glitz of Bournemouth.

Emma Barnett:
How wonderful, I’m sure you ate lots of lovely things on the pier as well, lots of chips, lots of fish, lots of fresh whatever and candy floss in later years I’m sure. Let’s talk about this particular pier though, its Victorian, Su. Tell us anything about this that you feel makes it special.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
I think the reason a pier is special, and particularly this one, is that they are important in the history of seaside entertainment and often seen as places of leisure and pleasure with shows at the end of the pier and amusement arcades and some of them even have a fair at the end but they are actually there for a practical purpose initially; that before railways were available to all the different seaside resorts people could travel to the resorts using a steam boat or, before that, a sailing ship and the piers were important places for people to actually get off the boat since you couldn’t actually drag a ship onto the sand - it would run aground - so they could come at different times of the day without being so dependent on the tide. You could moor at the end of the pier and people could get off the boat, get to the seaside and it was an easier way of travelling for them.

Emma Barnett:
Well that’s really interesting to bring up around this particular pier, isn’t it, because it was built in 1869 at a time when the Industrial Revolution had left many people more well-off so tourism and outdoor pursuits were enjoying a boost from people with some spare cash in their pockets. The engineers, John William Grover and Richard Ward, were chosen to build this pier so that you could hop off the train and directly take the paddle steamer to south Wales. So it’s interesting in the sense of transport coming together, it is all quite innovative, isn’t it Bettany? Really making use of how people were moving at that time.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
I think that’s right, there’s a real kind of joined-up idea about the need for people to connect and to have transport that serviced that. Again, it’s something that we think – we’re so sort of arrogant I think in the 21st century, we always imagine that we are having these ideas for the first time. I mean actually I know from my Greek and Roman history that they got there thousands of years beforehand, but they definitely got there centuries beforehand, so yes it was really keeping the country moving.

Emma Barnett:
And it’s shocking to think how close this Pier came to being demolished, Su!

Dr Bettany Hughes:
That would have been dreadful! So many of our piers are under threat - you only have to go to Brighton and see the skeleton that remains of one of the piers there which is gradually falling to pieces in front of people’s eyes, it’s terribly sad.

Emma Barnett:
Well various trusts and funders worked tirelessly to pay for the reopening of the promenade in 1989. It cost two million pounds to restore the pier head which was finished in 1998 and it was Grade I listed in 2001 so it’s quite recently that we’are talking about this pier, Bettany, being able to even make it to your list that people can go and visit it.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Well yes, exactly, that is what I think all these jobs to preserve these monuments take such a lot of time and such a lot of unpaid, unthanked heroic effort often from local women and men. There’s a brilliant scheme called the Angel Awards that Andrew Lloyd Webber supports which celebrates people who often spend 20, 30, 40 years trying to save something and Cleveland Pier is a prime example of that so these things really matter.

We now know we are creatures of memory - that we cannot have a future idea unless we access a memory of the past and these beautiful things that were built with kind of the wit and will and wisdom of the men and women of the past are just triggers for that memory so I think… Obviously we can’t preserve everything, obviously we can’t, but something which has an innate value like that it’s great that people campaigned to get it saved.

Emma Barnett:
And Su, by the middle of the 19th century a great number of people were able to enjoy the combination of passenger trains and popular seaside attractions. They could pay to join cheap trips organised by people like Thomas Cook.

Dr Su Barton:
I think what’s important about the railways is that it made places that were distant accessible in a short amount of time. From the very, very first time that railways opened within days of a new line coming into use somebody would organise an excursion and there were excursions even before Cook. There had been trips by mechanics institutes who had gone to exhibitions in neighbouring towns throughout the north of England and it gave people an opportunity almost to show why ordinary people should be part of the democratic process. It gave them a chance to show they could behave themselves, that they weren’t a threat. Large numbers of ordinary people could travel around without causing problems.

Emma Barnett:
And it’s ordinary people isn’t it, you know it’s working class people also getting this opportunity to promenade and eat fatty food and go and watch entertainment and take the water in the breath.

Dr Su Barton:
And have best clothes to go out in, a reason to save up – something that would give you something to look forward to so the psychological aspects of it as well. You could save up in savings clubs to go on these trips or to be able to take a day off work without coming home destitute - it’s all sorts of other things which were so important culturally.

Emma Barnett:
Well that leads us on to our penultimate location actually the seaside resort of Margate. Bettany you have picked the recently refurbished and relaunched Dreamland resort in Margate on the Kent Coast. It’s Britain’s oldest-surviving amusement park and it’s home to the oldest operating rollercoaster which has recently been lovingly and beautifully restored. We took a trip to Dreamland.

Rebecca Ellis:
I’m Rebecca Ellis and I’m Events and Programing Director here at Dreamland in Margate. We’re currently sitting outside by the main entrance to the Dreamland Amusement Park. We’re right next to the scenic railway which is our reason for being. You can hear in the background actually, the scenic railway going around at the moment on one of our kind of test runs.

Margate has been or is hailed as the UK’s first seaside resort and that’s due to its proximity to London. It’s still, I think, the closest railway station to the beach in the UK and people used to travel here for their health so they would come here to take the salt waters, they would swim in the tidal pools, they would get in their bathing huts and they would go out into the sea so very much a kind of rest and relaxation place. It was in the late 1800s that the famous Victorian circus impresario, Lord George Sanger (he was a self-pronounced ‘lord’, he gave himself the title) came to Margate and started what was the zoological gardens and George Sanger’s Hall by the Sea; and this was really his site to retire some of his animals and also for it to be a breeding ground for new animal performers that would be going out in his circus so a really prolific character in and around Margate so when the circus would roll into town they had these incredible carriages that would house some of the entertainers and the animals that would parade through the streets and there are some wonderful images on the South East Archives of seaside photography of elephants swimming in the sea and lions having a free rein of the park and kind of wandering around and there are remnants of the menagerie cages that were built by Sanger up around the top end of the park that they would be in during the day.

I’ve seen a video of an automated electric chair attraction that used to be at Dreamland free to the scenic railway that we are sitting in front of now which is a marvel of engineering being a wooden rollercoaster from the 1920s. The benches that we’re sitting on are actually made out of the scenic railway wood so the old scenic railway as it’s completely been rebuilt so there are elements of our history in and around every component of the park.

So today with Dreamland we are a modern amusement park. As you can see around us we’ve got beautifully restored vintage rides once again scenic railway doing it’s second lap. We have a fantastic heritage to the site itself. It has a rich history of delivering all sorts of weird and wonderful events from circus to film shoots to traditional forms of seaside entertainment.

The scenic railway was the brainchild of Sir Henry Iles and he was the man who took what was Lord George Sanger’s site in the Hall by the Sea into being Dreamland; and he visited Coney Island and there was an area of Coney Island that was called Dreamland and he saw the Cyclone which is their wooden rollercoaster and he thought, I know I am going to bring that back to Margate and I’m going to create Dreamland. It means a huge amount to the local community. It’s a site that has really warm memories. Local people used to work here or they knew someone who worked here or they had their first kiss here or they came here as a child, they came here for their birthday; they came here when they were visiting their grandparents. It’s a really evocative space and people feel quite passionate about it. I think it is also important nationally because it says something about the great British seaside and when the great British seaside’s had such a rough ride for so many years it is because of people going on holiday abroad for better weather. I think it is good to champion that and say we’re still here; you can still have an amazing day out on the British coast.

Emma Barnett:
A fantastic choice for our ninth location but the age of the music hall and amusement park brought so many wonderful buildings and locations to all parts of the UK. Why did you go for this one in particular? What is so surprising about it? You can let us know of course by getting in touch with the hashtag #100Places. Bettany, is it very special to you?

Dr Bettany Hughes:
It is. I think it is a very romantic place in a kind of old sense of the world. It’s a place where you can tell stories about yourself and just enjoy time with people. I love the fact it has been so lovingly restored as well. We’ve just been talking about the devastation of the West Pier in Brighton being lost and so often these places are just allowed to milder away but the fact that people recognise that this is still a kind of driving part of what it is to be human, to want to just go mad and enjoy yourself and in particular on these beautiful vintage rides. I just love it, it’s so eccentric. People can’t believe that money has been spent in the 21st century renovating it when I talk about this abroad and I love the fact that it’s just there.

Emma Barnett:
And there is a special place that you wanted to give a mention to.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
There is again it is so terrible how about my not being able to make decisions but Dreamland was started by Lord George Sanger who was the great circus showman and again, I’m being very personal in this podcast, I have a personal connection to the circus in that I married a man who runs circuses so…

Emma Barnett:
Of course you did!

Dr Bettany Hughes:
So I married a man who lived on a double-decker bus and the godparents of our children are all strongmen without noses because their noses were cut off by chainsaws - it’s a very long story. So I love the circus. It’s a very British thing. We forget that. People always say that it is something that came from the Roman world, the Circus Maximus. It was invented in Britain 250 years ago by a cavalry showman who was a brilliant trick-rider and he worked out that if he could develop the circus ring to the exact dimensions it is today he could perform extraordinary tricks on the backs of horses and circus was one of Britain’s greatest gifts to the world so I love the fact a circus showman was involved in Dreamland and so I just had to give an honourable mention to the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth. My goodness, it has seen some incredible sights: Lillie Langtry sang there, Little Tich performed there, Lloyd George held political rallies there and it’s still standing so Hippodrome Circus - this is my special shoutout to you.

Emma Barnett:
And it’s even been suggested that Houdini and Charlie Chaplin performed there.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Yes, Houdini! Charlie Chaplin - it has been much debated and it is looking much more likely that he was; and I think Houdini was definitely there so it’s the big time in Great Yarmouth.

Emma Barnett:
The idea of then of these arcades, these amusement parks, these places for entertainment - it is a very special point of our history, isn’t it?

Dr Su Barton:
It is because it’s providing leisure complexes – it sounds quite a modern idea that you should have everything in one place but that’s what was going on. At the Hall by the Sea that Sanger created there was a ballroom, a menagerie, roller-skating rinks, theatres and obviously bars and beer available. People could go there and spend the whole day. You wouldn’t want your trip to the seaside, your one day perhaps a year that you got away, ruined if it was cold and wet so it provided a place that you could go indoors and you would still have a great time on your trip.

Emma Barnett:
Well the time has come for the tenth and final location to play a part in shaping travel and tourism in England. Bettany please will you do the honours - tell us what you have chosen?

Dr Bettany Hughes:
It had to be a hotel, I know that might be a bit obvious but don’t we all love ending up in a gorgeous hotel if we can and this is the Grand Hotel in Scarborough.

Emma Barnett:
And we’re talking North Yorkshire.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
Yes North Yorkshire, exactly. It’s a remarkable building. You sort of look at it and think, I know what that is, it’s one of those great big Victorian hotels that were thrown up and actually it was an incredible design because the whole building was designed to incarnate the idea of time so you’ve got four towers representing the seasons, twelve floors representing the twelve months of the year, 52 chimneys symbolising the weeks and originally there were 365 bedrooms. So the thought that went into it is just crazy so I think you can go there and you can sort of live in many times even though actually there aren’t 365 bedrooms because I think they‘ve knocked a few together to make them a bit bigger now.

Emma Barnett:
Su, what do you make of this choice?

Dr Su Barton:
Scarborough was the oldest resort because it was a spa first. We had Bath in the south then Scarborough had springs, sea bathing was to do with health and associated with the spa. Well this description makes it sound like the hotel was a symbolic almanac with all these reminders of the seasons and the calendar and also the place is just so imposing even now on top of the cliff at Scarborough and other things have grown up around it as well. There’s the promenade, the funicular railway outside that takes you up the cliff - a cliff railway so that you don’t have to walk up and down because it’s quite a steep climb up to the hotel.

Emma Barnett:
It’s interesting; it was built between 1863 and 1867 - at the time a luxurious place for well-heeled visitors to stay. Apart from being an absolutely beautiful Grade II star listed building, it is a place full of history and culture. At the time of construction - largest hotel in Europe and one of the first to be purpose-built for holiday-makers - again something people don’t necessarily think about, Bettany - the idea of purpose-built hotels.

Dr Bettany Hughes:
No, I think that’s right. I think we sort of somehow imagine that that’s been going on since time immemorial but it hasn’t really. They were much more, as we have talked about in previous episodes, they were kind of inns or hostels that you happened to stay in on your journey but the idea that you had a particular place that was beautiful and exceptional and you would travel there and stay there for two weeks - this was a very new idea in the 19th century.

Emma Barnett:
Well we started this category with a spa town and we have ended it with another but this one has a sandy beach and donkey rides. Scarborough was a seafaring town until the 1880s when it was decided to halt improvements to the harbour and instead focus upon improving sanitation and public amenities. At the time Scarborough was a popular destination for affluent visitors. Even after public facilities were improved Scarborough continued to be perceived as upmarket in contrast to other seaside towns. There were no music halls and lodging houses. Instead, visitors could paddle in the sea, explore the castle, its gardens and the seaside amusements and stay in luxury accommodation.

An engineer and borough surveyor named Harry Smith developed pleasure gardens, a bowling green, landscaped Italian gardens and a sea-bathing pool. Marine Drive was then built to link the two ends of Scarborough making the seaside town the jewel of England’s north east coast. The Grand Hotel was built between 1863 and 1867 and at the time was a very luxurious place for well-heeled visitors to stay.

Of course, by having a hotel on the list this idea of the growth of seaside resorts for people perhaps we could look at also Blackpool?

Dr Su Barton:   
Blackpool is a really exciting place. I know a lot of people really think it’s a bit downmarket or a bit loud and brash or a noisy place according to your own taste. Others might think it’s a really exciting place, full of amusements.

Emma Barnett:
It’s one of my favourite places in the world - the illuminations!

Dr Su Barton: 
Theatres, and yes the illuminations and the fair. So there‘s so much there and it must arouse many different feelings in different people but really Blackpool is a special place because of its history for working class tourism. It’s the first resort which was designed and put together really to attract people who were working people. The people from the north west of England around the Lancashire cotton industry and the Yorkshire woollen industries, those textile firms where people were somehow able to maintain their traditional ‘wakes weeks’ which had traditionally been church holidays but they still managed to keep those days free even after they‘d moved into the factory system. They devised savings schemes where they put money by every week. Somebody at work would come around and collect their money and it would be put away and then when the factory closed for the wakes week they would get a payment from the money that they’d saved up so they had enough to go away.

Emma Barnett:
Well thank you very much to both of you. This really is a place steeped in heritage and stories and it is fantastic that it is still part of holiday-making in Scarborough today.

That is it for our Travel & Tourism category. What an incredible set of stories. To recap we started with the Roman Baths in Bath, the Fosse Way and The Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham. We heard about the Manor House at Scrooby in Nottinghamshire, and Skerne Railway Bridge in Darlington.  We’ve explored outdoor pursuits in Helvellyn in Cumbria and Caister-on-Sea in Norfolk and concluded our top ten with Clevedon Pier in Somerset, Dreamland in Margate, Kent and The Grand Hotel in Scarborough. Thank you very much for joining us Dr Bettany Hughes and for explaining why you shortlisted these ten places from all the nominations received. It was a tall order and thank you very much to Dr Su Barton exploring the role of these locations in our history for us and in our modern lives.

Next time, we'll explore the homes and gardens that tell our nation's story. You can still nominate in another category so have your say. You could do that while there is still time. Just go to historicengland.org.uk/100places to nominate a place and make your contribution to our history of England in a hundred places.

Voiceover:
This is a Historic England podcast, sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance Group. When it feels irreplaceable, trust Ecclesiastical.

The National Heritage List for England

Historic England manages the National Heritage List for England.

Add your knowledge to the List

Was this page helpful?