Naughty but Nice

By Leanne Cloudsdale


Cleethorpes, Whitby, Holkham, Brighton – same format, different vibe. The sea meets the sand at all of them, but the characters of each are poles apart. This is what makes the good old British seaside so iconic. Whether you’re walking wistfully along the dunes in search of solace or striding towards the amusements with a bag of shrapnel for the fruit machines, these coastal corners are loved by almost everyone, regardless of socio-economic status.

The seaside ‘concept’ was developed in the 1700s, when doctors started prescribing immersion in seawater as a cure for gruesome ills. Scarborough (or Scarbados as us Hull-folk prefer to call it) was one of the first official ‘resorts’ in the U.K. – mainly thanks to the perceived health ‘benefits’ of acidic water that apparently flowed down from its cliffs. One splosh in that PH-balanced aqua and your gout was gone.

This kind of bonkers seaside carry-on dragged out for a bit: a few hundred years to be precise. And long before our coastline was awash with waffles and budgie smugglers, bathing machines were all the rage. Yep, read that one again – bathing machines! A quick Google image search should help steer you, but as a guide, it was a hefty human-sized wooden box on top of load-bearing support poles that were hauled out into the sea on horseback. All so some poor broad could launch herself into the surf without so much as a flash of ankle. FFS. Thankfully, someone invented beach huts in the 1890s and then things really started hotting up on Blighty’s blighted shores. Initially for posh folk, their installation meant breeches could now be changed in private on terra firma.

Fast forward to the post-war period and seaside stuff really started to take off. With powdered egg and rations in the past, Brits flocked to the coast in their thousands, desperate for a whizz on the waltzers or a punt at crazy golf. What the snooty Victorians had started was soon democratised by working class grandads with knotted hankies on their head and snotty-nosed kids having a ride on a stinking donkey. The jolly old Punch & Judy shows were gradually
phased out in favour of candy floss, kiss-me-quick hats and smutty postcards.

Documenting the modern rise of Costa del Blackpool (and others) was Martin Parr, whose photographs capture the glorious – and the grotesque – human aspect of our beloved seaside culture. The most famous ones were taken between 1983-1985 on the concrete promenades of New Brighton, when Great Britain wasn’t so great. His pictures proved that the Liverpudlians and other locals didn’t let a crumbling economy stop them from having a bloody good time.
Women wearing bikinis, with bubble perms and stilettos lay soaking up the rays amongst the litter. Sticky-faced toddlers with loaded nappies suck on sticks of rock while dad looks on, Benson & Hedges smoke rising. It’s a beautiful scene. Resplendent and resilient – he shows how decay doesn’t stop play

When it comes to fuelling up, fish & chips is a great leveller. Whether you’re hobbling barefoot on a shingle beach at Hove with a copy of Monocle in your tote – or parked up in the rain with steamy windows on the front at Bournemouth beach, it’s the fodder our seaside towns were made for. Class contradictions are erased when there’s the chance of a hot chip butty on the cards. Trusted, timeless, tasty: even the seagulls swoop in for a bite.

You might be there for the waves, the sandcastles, or a Bank holiday scooter rally – we all make the pilgrimage for different reasons. Memories of childhood holidays, parental whinging behind the windbreak, sand in your egg mayo sarnie and the heartbreak of a dropped ice cream cone. Happy times, hopeless weather. It’s all part and parcel of the British seaside.