View of a village in picturesque hilly countryside.

Grasmere, the picturesque village loved by William Wordsworth. © Historic England, image reference, photographer credit Bob Skingle, image reference DP056058.
Grasmere, the picturesque village loved by William Wordsworth. © Historic England, image reference, photographer credit Bob Skingle, image reference DP056058.

Tourism Research in Historic England

Heritage is a key part of England’s tourism industry, whether it is Buckingham Palace, the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth or a picturesque village of thatched cottages beside a slow-moving stream. At a time when some traditional businesses are contracting, our cultural and creative industries are showing robust growth, an achievement to be celebrated and built on.

Growing awareness of tourism heritage

Historic England, and its predecessor organisations English Heritage and ultimately the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (RCHME), have been in the tourism business since 1908, albeit perhaps sometimes indirectly. In recent years, Historic England has become more directly involved, partly due to changing ideas about what makes up our heritage.

A century ago, this was restricted to studying buildings predating the early 18th century, and therefore the entire history of our leisure and tourism industry and its heritage lay beyond the scope of its research.

Fast forward to the present day and we are now much more conscious of the serious business of fun, and the legacy that it has left behind.

It was in this context that English Heritage undertook a study of the evolution of the seaside resort, culminating in the publication of England’s Seaside Resorts in 2007, as well as books on Margate (2007), Weymouth (2008) and Blackpool (2013), and a book celebrating the wealth of our photographic archive in 2005.

A seaside beach scene with holidaymakers and amenities.
The beach at Weymouth on a sunny day. © Historic England, photographer credit James O Davies, image reference DP054532.

In 2018, a study on The Seafront was published, concentrating on the area between the end of the pier and the first line of buildings. This holistic study spans history, architecture, heritage, geography and engineering to try to understand and celebrate this complex space for the first time. Alongside, and stemming from work on the seaside, Allan Brodie has been exploring other aspects of tourism, including England’s rich spa heritage. The culmination of his work was the publication in 2019, of Tourism and the Changing Face of the British Isles.

Research with real impact

This research is not simply an end in itself; by celebrating and explaining the seaside resort and tourism heritage, it aims to influence decision-making, nationally and locally.

Raising the profile of this heritage has undoubtedly contributed to a greater willingness to recognise the problems facing seaside towns and the wealth of opportunities that they offer.

Coinciding with the publication of England’s Seaside Resorts and an advice document Regeneration in Historic Coastal Towns in 2007, the government announced a three-year Sea Change fund of £45 million to be spent on cultural and heritage projects to stimulate regeneration in seaside resorts. And during the subsequent decade, other streams of funding have been earmarked for seaside resorts and earlier this year the House of Lords published a report on The Future of Seaside Towns.

Studies of individual resorts have also had direct local impacts. The first of these in Margate in 2007 contributed to a strategy of promoting arts- and culture-based regeneration in the town to coincide with the creation of the Turner Contemporary Gallery.

A seafront art gallery.
The Turner Contemporary Gallery at Margate, a popular destination beside the harbour. © Historic England, photographer credit Peter Williams, image reference DP139572.

Weymouth in 2008 was a response to the forthcoming Olympics, as it was to host the sailing events, and the research work on Blackpool was an attempt to highlight its rich heritage at a time when the town, one of England’s most deprived, was in the midst of major regeneration initiatives.

In 2005-6, the project on Margate brought together members of English Heritage’s research teams, regional planning staff and members of the local authority to work to understand the town, its issues and how to direct money and effort towards regenerating the town.

This project was one of the inspirations for Historic England’s Heritage Action Zone initiative launched in March 2017 and therefore it is fitting that two of the first ten Heritage Action Zones were at seaside resorts, Weston-super-Mare and Ramsgate.  Concerted research has taken place at both, yielding improved heritage protection by reorganising conservation areas, establishing new listings and feeding into decisions about targeting funding. Another outcome of both these projects are Informed Conservation volumes, the book on Weston having been published in 2019, with the work on Ramsgate to follow next year.

Making a difference

Historic England’s research is of the highest quality, regarded with great esteem, nationally and internationally. However, what is equally important is that it makes a difference to the places that it is studying, describing and celebrating.

Its work on England’s seaside resorts has also contributed to enriching the Historic England Archive and will therefore also continue to serve as a celebration of England’s rich tourism heritage over the coming century.

About the author

Allan Brodie FSA

Senior Investigator at Historic England

Allan investigates buildings ranging from Roman forts through medieval churches and Georgian prisons to Art Deco airport terminals. He is a leading historian of tourism in Britain and has published many books and papers on the subject.

Further information

Seaside Holidays in the Past

Published 31 January 2000

This photopack allowS you to find out what Victorians wore on the beach, how developments in transport reflected great social changes and much more.

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Margate's Seaside Heritage

Published 15 October 2007

Examines Margate’s seaside heritage and looks at its development as a destination for holiday-makers. By examining Margate’s historic identity the book proposes that Margate will be able to successfully renew itself to face future challenges.

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Weymouth's Seaside Heritage

Published 15 September 2008

Describes the colourful story of Weymouth’s seaside history and the buildings and open spaces that survive to illustrate this story. Also demonstrates how the historic environment can play an important part in the future development of the town.

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The English Seaside

Published 15 March 2013

Peter Williams' evocative photographs in this fully revised edition of his acclaimed book will make you want to rediscover what a fantastic place the seaside is - full of character, charm and 'Englishness'.

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Blackpool's Seaside Heritage

Published 3 March 2014

This book celebrates Blackpool's rich heritage and examines how its colourful past is playing a key part in guaranteeing that it has a bright future.

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British Seaside Piers

Published 24 July 2014

The only guide available to all extant British piers, including a gazetteer covering all 58 piers.

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The Seafront

Published 15 November 2018

Looks at the seafront chronologically, geographically and architecturally.

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Tourism and the Changing Face of the British Isles

Published 15 April 2019

A comprehensive history of tourism from its origins to the present day.

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