5 things to expect at the Victorian seaside
Dr Kathryn Ferry explores the sights and sounds of the Victorian seaside – from bathing machines to beach entertainment
Deckchairs came in in the Victorian era – an iconic symbol of the seaside, they were first introduced to beaches in Margate. They were camp furniture for the Indian army and then they transferred to the decks of ships and ended up on Margate beach. They were so comfortable.
You can't sit up straight in a deck chair, and were so perfect for relaxing in that they were adopted across the country.
Currant buns and lemonade
The Victorian beach was like a kind of marketplace. It was such a busy, noisy, clamorous place. There were lots of traders there selling things, and I think that's something that we don't associate with the beach now. We want to lie back and glory in the sunshine and bask there, and have our own little family groups.
But the Victorians were being interrupted all the time by people trying to sell them current buns and lemonade and fruit and seafood, and things like that. So that is an area where it's quite different.
You might have phrenologists wanting to read your head bumps on the beach. There were quack doctors selling the latest marvellous medicines. And there were entertainers – people singing, people doing comedic performances, minstrels, so that element was very, very noisy. And something that people complained about.
- Read more | A two-minute history of Punch and Judy
Children were still making sandcastles. Tin buckets were mass-produced for the first time in the Victorian era, and little wooden spades. Georgian children had been using little wooden spades to dig up their gardens – admittedly very wealthy Georgian children – but the Victorians had that kind of bucket and spade for sale in souvenir shops. And that's where that kind of started from.
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Another thing that you wouldn't see at the beach today was the bathing machine, a wheeled changing cabin which people used to get from the sand into the sea.
Those still survive in their successors, the beach huts, but the idea that you might have to go in one of these horse-drawn bathing machines to be pulled into the water is obviously something that we've done away with.
This article was excerpted from a podcast interview with Dr Kathryn Ferry. Learn more in the full podcast episode on British seaside holidays
Dr Kathryn Ferry is a historian specialising in architecture, design and seaside culture
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