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Down memory lane: The Great British love affair with the seaside

Looking back at Britain’s beautiful beaches through the decades. From the Isle of Wight to Scarborough

There’s nothing more quintessentially British than a trip to the rainy seaside.

You can keep your Cote d’Azur and Cancun, we’re very happy with Broadstairs, Blackpool and Bognor, thank you very much.

A tepid paddle, then a strenuous clamber over some jagged stones to get your hands on a dripping and soggy Mr Whippy might not sound appealing to some – but most of us Brits wouldn’t have it any other way.

Faded seaside glamour isn’t lost on us and we’re now jostling for an Instagram shot of Scarborough’s brightly coloured beach huts, or Margate’s lovingly restored Dreamland.

With millions of pounds of investment drawing us back to the British coast, it seems the allure of a stick of rock covered in sand is stronger than ever. And, with August fast approaching, what better time to have a nose through our seaside snaps of yesteryear?

1900s: When suntans were considered gauche

Edwardian sunbathers on the cliffs at Folkestone
People enjoying the sun on the cliffs near the seaside at Folkestone in Kent (PA)

No one liked a seaside resort more than the Victorians. From Blackpool to Southend, they built up their ‘pleasure palaces’, but even with a change of monarch, the love affair endured. Kent’s coast remains ever-popular with day trippers and holidaymakers – and these Edwardian women were early fans.

1910s: When baring flesh was a no-no

Holidaymakers sit by their beach hut in Margate
A couple chat while seated on a sea bathing hut in Margate (PA)

Back in 1911, these two Margate holidaymakers had to wait for their beach hut to be towed to the sea, so they wouldn’t suffer the indignity of being spotted on the beach in their swimming costumes.

1920s: When beauty contests caused controversy

Beauty contest contestants on the beach at Folkestone
Miss Fidge (Italy), Violet Pout (England) and Berthy Egli (Spain) at the Pier Hippodrome in Folkestone, Kent (PA)

Local businessman Robert Forsyth set up the Folkestone Beauty Competition in 1908 in an attempt to breathe new life into the ailing pier, and it’s a contest that still happens to this day. Unsurprisingly, it was derided by the Suffragette movement at the time.

In 1921, Miss Fidge from Italy, Violet Pout from England and Berthy Egli from Spain participated in Folkestone’s first international beauty competition, adding a little continental flavour to proceedings. A swimsuit round wasn’t introduced until the 1950s.

1930s: When everyone joined forces

Wartime holidaymakers help the ARP
Holidaymakers and locals help fill sandbags in Devon (PA)

Even the outbreak of World War II couldn’t keep Brits away from the beach. Here they are on the sand at Torquay in Devon, helping evacuees, local residents and the ARP (Air Raid Precaution) fill sandbags. In fact, the war barely interrupted the growth of the British seaside holiday, and its ascent continued into the 1940s.

1940s: When all ages relaxed

Older holidaymakers sunbathing on Bournemouth beach
A couple sunbathing in Bournemouth (PA)

The appeal of the British coast wasn’t exclusive to any class or age, as demonstrated by these two senior sunbathers enjoying a spot of relaxation on Bournemouth beach.

1950s: When stars flooded the sands

Tommy Steele's cardboard cutout on the beach at Morecambe
Tommy Steele’s cardboard cut-out on the beach at Morecambe (PA)

Seaside resorts and holiday camps were brimming with entertainment, and stars such as Britain’s first teen idol Tommy Steele took part in the summer season shows,. Seen here getting a close up with Steele’s cardboard cut-out are Audrey Cruddas (left) and Frieda Salmon.

1960s: When Brits spurned the seaside

Windmill girls riding white donkeys across the beach
Denise (left) and Iris ride donkeys on Weston-Super-Mare beach (PA)

Windmill girls Denise Warren (left) and Iris Chapple each sit on a donkey on Weston-Super-Mare beach in 1961. The 1960s actually saw seaside trips begin to fall out of favour with British tourists, as rising wages increased the popularity of overseas package holidays.

1970s: When only ice-cream could keep us on staycation

Holidaymakers queue up to buy ice cream on a hot summer's day at Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
People waiting in line for an ice cream on the Isle of Wight (PA)

The decline of the British seaside continued into the 1970s, as sunny Spain proved too tempting for many families. However, these holidaymakers at Cowes on the Isle of Wight couldn’t wait to get their hands on an ice cream to help them cool off.

1980s: When wild animals took over

Circus elephant Sharon make friends with holidaymakers Graham and Janet Stead, of Stapleford, Notts, on the beach at Great Yarmouth.
An elephant on the beach at Great Yarmouth (PA)

We’re used to seeing donkeys, seagulls – even Punch & Judy – on British beaches, but circus elephant Sharon proved quite the spectacle on the sand at Great Yarmouth. Here she is befriending holidaymakers Graham and Janet Stead.

1990s: When lad culture kicked in

Hundreds of sun worshippers flocked to the south bay at Scarbrough, North Yorkshire.
Hoards of holidaymakers on the beach in Scarborough (Paul Barker/PA)

Those who couldn’t afford a week in Magaluf sought solace on the British coast – and brought lad culture with them, too. Cue boozing, bottom baring and bronzing. The seaside towns made room for their new audience, making a packet from the stag and hen dos drawn to a little fun in the sun.

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