A resource on seaside resorts

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The seaside resort: a British cultural export
John K. Walton, Department of Humanities, University of Central Lancashire
The seaside resort and beach holiday, in their various guises, played a central role in the development of
tourism as a great international industry, agent of economic and social transformation and depositor of
deepening environmental footprints across the globe. Just as factory industry, steam power, modern
means of transport and other innovations of the Industrial Revolution era trace their origins to
developments in Britain, and the emergence of sport as a global economic and cultural phenomenon has
its roots in the transformation of (especially) association football and golf into growing local, national and
international businesses from the late nineteenth century, so modern tourism is another familiar set of
phenomena that, for better and worse, the British gave to the world. The tentacles of the global tourist
industry now embrace phenomena like sport and nostalgia for industrial pasts, but the seaside resort
remains at the core of its imagery, both contemporary and historical. It also makes use of sport,
nostalgia and other colours from the broader tourism palette to broaden its own appeal. The nostalgia
dimension is fitting, given that it all began in Britain, in that eighteenth century that also saw the origins
of the more conventional Industrial Revolution, although, as with so many other innovations the British
gave to the world, the Romans had already been there nearly two millennia earlier. Even as the rise of
the Atlantic economy and of Britain's pretensions to dominate seaborne trade helped to usher in the
heyday of the British Empire, so the British seaside grew in parallel and spread across the globe,
impelled in part by demand from expatriate Britons but increasingly gathering a momentum of its own
as, like football, it adapted to new cultures and mutated in line with their expectations and preferences.
Seabathing, on a scale that was capable of attracting business investment, transforming old towns and
creating new ones, emerged as part of the growing fashionable concern for the pursuit of health and
attractiveness among the broadening and highly competitive upper strata of eighteenthcentury English
society. It began as an extension of the older health regime of the spa, promoted by entrepreneurial
medical men, and building on popular seabathing traditions, shared with much of coastal Catholic
Europe, that saw the sea as having prophylactic powers at the August spring tides. The first local
adaptations of seabathing from popular to polite and commercial culture come from Whitby and
Scarborough, in North Yorkshire, shortly before 1720, and accessibility to the enormous London market
and its Bath offshoot soon prompted developments in southeastern England, especially at Margate,
Brighton and Weymouth. The trappings of luxury and commercial pleasure, already in evidence at the
more sophisticated spas, were readily transferred to this summer setting, and at Brighton royal
patronage from the future George IV made the developing resort an epitome of frivolity and dissolute
hedonism by the late eighteenth century. By this time the romantic revaluation of seaside as well as
mountain scenery was making the sublime shoreline an attractive object of contemplation and artistic
composition, with its own fashionable vocabulary of stereotyped wonder, which was already the object of
Jane Austen's satire in her unfinished Sanditon.
Under these auspices the seaside resort became, on one rather loaded definition, the fastestgrowing
kind of British town in the first half of the nineteenth century, a peak period for urban development
generally, especially among industrial towns and, of course, the seaside resort fell into this latter
category, with health and pleasure as its products. Symbolically, between 1821 and 1831 the
fastestgrowing towns in Britain were Bradford and Brighton. Fittingly, too, the railways (another classic
British invention) helped to boost growth from the 1840s onwards, giving easier, cheaper, faster access
to the coast for middlingclass families and workingclass trippers, and making it possible for Blackpool
to become the world's first workingclass seaside resort in the late nineteenth century. By the early
twentieth century every English and Welsh coastline was studded with resorts of different sizes, and
every possible market could find a congenial holiday home in one or other of well over 100 substantial
coastal resorts, the largest of which had well over 50,000 yearround residents. For most of the twentieth
century expansion continued, despite the two world wars, though it was expressed more through the
expansion of existing resorts and the emergence of new scattered carbased coastal settlements than
by the founding of new urban nuclei. It was not until the 1970s that competition from new kinds of
holiday destination, together with changing tastes and expectations, began to damage what were by this

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As in the case of British manufacturing industry, the challenge to the British seaside in the late
twentieth century owed much to the successful export of the idea of seabathing for health and pleasure
to other parts of the world, the growing attractiveness of what were often newer and more attractive
overseas holiday environments to British tastes, and their increasing accessibility through transport and
organisational innovations.…read more

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British in their
turn.…read more

Comments

Just_Georgia

Its really easy to highlight and categorize into pos and neg or social environmental and economic factors

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