Every year my family has a camping meet up at Southwold, a small picturesque town on the Suffolk coast, with the fishing village Walberswick being just the other side of the River Blyth. It is the perfect location for a peaceful getaway; with stunning views and barely touched by modernity, little has changed since the first seaside tourists visited during the Victorian era.
In the mid-1800s, the growth of the railway transformed tourism. Before, only the elite could freely travel to distant places but now travel was available to anyone who could afford the tickets. The coastline was amongst the most popular destination for day trips and holidays. With the introduction of paid annual leave after WWII, the working class were able to go on holidays for the first time.
As many people were not able to afford hotels or guesthouses, camping was the solution. Camping has been a recreational activity for over 100 years, with Thomas Hiram Holding writing the first Camper’s Handbook in 1908. Today in the UK, over 1.2 million people use camping as their main holiday. The Isle of Man hosted one of the first campsites, opening in the late 1800s and within a few years over 600 people a week were visiting. Camping has grown in popularity, as an affordable holiday for all.
For me, visiting traditional seaside locations is the perfect way to forget about modern life. The scenery and attractions flowing with nostalgic charm bring the same delight to us now as they did to tourists over 50 years ago. The evenings are one of my favourite parts of the annual holiday, walking down the promenade with the sea on one side and the most charming beach huts on the other, and with the call of the town’s light house beaming in the distance. We reach our destination – the pier – strolling along its wooden planks with the waves crashing beneath our feet to watch the sun go down and then retreating back to the campsite.
It is these sights that make my holiday and what makes visits to remote seaside locations worth the travel, the same today as times gone by. I’m sure it will remain the same in decades to come.
I have a thing about beach huts; it’s a dream to hire one in the future, being unable to pass them without posing for a picture. A row of colourful decorated huts completes any beach, giving it that classic British seaside vintage touch.
In the 19th century men and women bathed on different beaches to keep their modesty and even then it was thought as inappropriate to have the public see you in your bathing suit, most stayed fully dressed and never entering the water. Mobile bathing machines were created, being huts on wheels, whereby you would change into your bather or strip completely at the top of the beach and then be wheeled down to the sea to take a dip. At first, this was a practice done only by the wealthy infirm, as doctors started to recommend a cold sea bath as a remedy to cure most aliments. This practice spread, with the ill taking their families with them and so being in need of accommodation and entertainment, giving birth to the modern concept of the seaside. For more than 150 years, bathing machines were how most experienced the sea.
By the start of the 20th century a change in morality made it acceptable to be seen in your bather and enter the sea, and for mixed sexes to be seen together, though changing in public was still frowned upon and could result in a fine. Councils started hiring tents for changing in (along with the first deckchair hires); the now old fashioned bathing machines started losing their wheels and became the first beach huts. During the inter war period, sunbathing became fashionable, with bathers showing more skin and initiating the need for more beach huts to be built along the coastline. WWII saw the end of the last bathing machine with the seafront being used for defence and not tourism, however once the war was over holiday makers came back in their millions, with beach huts seeing their greatest demand in the 1950s.
Piers are a raised structure over water; they were first build to handle cargo and passengers on and off of ships. By the early 19th century pleasure piers were built, the earliest being Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight in 1813. The British tidal range meant that the sea was often out of sight from dry land, so to enable seaside tourists to be able to see the sea at all times of day, piers were constructed. These walkways also offered entertainment from amusements, stalls, bandstands and theatres.
The pier became an extension of the promenade, permitting a social platform for holidaymakers to stroll, meet, admire the views and show off their finest wears over. Regardless of social status, all could enjoy this.
Lighthouses serve as a navigational aid for those at sea. One of the first was the Lighthouse of Alexandria in 280 BC. Traditional lighthouses as we now know them started from the 18th century; with the increase in international trade there became a need for stronger lighting. Their grand unmissable structures are a classic feature of our rugged coastline. However, as with many things these days, technology has made their keepers redundant; with GPS and automated systems, new lighthouses are more practical and less picturesque. 
Each seaside town has its own unique vintage heritage and character, while Southwold’s ‘ferry’ to Walberswick consisting of one man and his row boat, gives the essence that you truly have stepped back through time. It also boasts of a vintage arcade on the pier, traditional pubs, brewery, cottages, art deco cinema and the writing place of George Orwell (he lived there and signs of his sister’s old tea rooms still remain). There are many beach locations you can go to in order to leave modernity behind and appreciate the same wonders as our ancestors did.