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Seaside Resorts

Historic England is continuing to understand and protect England’s rich and distinctive seaside heritage. Ranging from piers to pavilions and bathing pools to beach huts these colourful historic assets reflect almost 300 years of seaside holidays and are still welcoming millions of visitors each year.

Challenges facing seaside resorts

In 2007 English Heritage’s England's Seaside Resorts, described the architectural development of these distinctive settlements. Informed Conservation books then focussed on three popular English resorts facing major, but very different challenges.

  • Margate has been in economic decline for many years.
  • Weymouth faced the challenge of significant change, particularly in the years prior to hosting the 2012 Olympic sailing events.
  • Blackpool has felt a sharp drop in its visitor numbers during the late 20th century although some measure of recovery is apparent. However it still faces significant social issues and its central sea defences and seafront have recently been reconstructed.

View of Blackpool's sea defences from Blackpool Tower.
From the top of the Tower at Blackpool the new rippling sea defences are visible. Included in the scheme are stretches of seating and landscaped banks, which will prevent any high seas from flooding the town. © Historic England, Steve Cole, DP157253

In response a masterplan envisaged regenerating several key areas of Blackpool. One of those, the seafront, was transformed with a new public realm behind improved sea defences and the creation of a new tram system, though Blackpool’s historic trams still also grace the seafront.

Detail of Blackpool Comedy Carpet
A major feature of the new seafront at Blackpool is the Comedy Carpet in front of Blackpool Tower. This pavement commemorates the work of hundreds of comedians and comic writers. © Historic England, Peter Williams, DP140680

Seaside amusement parks

Research into our heritage of seaside amusement parks is designed to improve its protection through better understanding. Our recent research has enabled Historic England to publish an Introduction to Heritage Assets document to explain the history of this special type of heritage and why its protection is important to our popular culture.

England's seafront heritage

Work is also in progress on a project on the seafront of seaside resorts. During the past 250 years the seafront of the seaside resort has been transformed from a natural environment to a highly regulated man-made space.

Scarborough seafront
Scarborough's beach in the 18th century would have been home during the mornings to bathing machines taking brave bathers out into the cold North Sea. © Historic England, Steve Cole, DP146426

Once a relaxing place to promenade and look out to sea, it is now a busy thoroughfare of competing interests, the pursuits of holidaymaking co-existing with these towns’ everyday life and sometimes the local industries that predated tourism.  
The seafront may also serve as a town’s public park, a space for celebration and commemoration.

An archive photograph of Scarborough beach after the Second World War, from the Walter Scott Archive.
The Walter Scott Photographic Archive, which spans from the 1920s to the 1950s, contains a wealth of images of people enjoying the seaside, such as here at Scarborough. © Walter Scott Archive wsa01_01_05960

It has also been in the frontline of human conflict and serves as the frontline between man and the sea. The project will record this complex space and will culminate in a new book to celebrate its long, interesting history.

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