Every year when the weather warms up, British holidaymakers adjourn to the seaside – whether it’s to sleep on sun loungers in Benidorm or eat fish and chips in the Scottish Borders. But why the seaside, and why at the same time of year, every year? There are deep-rooted forces behind the custom, dictated by 17th century Britons who believed that paddling in the sea was good for their health, and who built the custom into a national tradition.

Health excursions
In the 1660s, a Yorkshirewoman named Elizabeth Farrow believed that a stream pouring down a cliff into the sea at Scarborough’s south bay had special healing powers. When a local doctor agreed that the local seawater could also cure certain ailments including “Hypochondriack Melancholy and Windness”, Scarborough became popular as the country’s first spa retreat. It was not long before other British seaside and inland towns where spring water was available made their spa associations known. Bath, Buxton, Malevern and Hampstead were all soon teeming with visitors who came to spend a week and “take the waters”.

July Wakes

This marked an important shift in people’s mindsets in that the seaside was a place to relax and rejuvenate the body. Formal holidays were still only a reserve of the rich, however, and it was only after the industrial revolution when people started to work in factories, that the concept of a traditional summer holiday came into being. Although wakes were originally church festivals, they soon became connected to each town when the factories would close for Wakes Week and hold fairs and other celebrations.

Day trips and Bank holidays

When the railways were completed in the 1840s, tourists were able to travel the country with greater ease, but workers in the Victoria era were only given a single day’s paid leave on the 25th December, meaning that travelling to the seaside wasn’t on the cards for many people. When the first Bank holiday was sanctioned in August 1871, however, 360,000 Londoners headed to the coast and seaside holidays were cemented in the national consciousness (along with beach picnics, long walks on the sand and donkey rides!).

Nowadays British holiday resorts have reserved their 18th and 19th century charm, while it’s destinations in places like Majorca and Tenerife that attract new visitors. Nevertheless, it’s amazing to think that the custom of visiting the seaside in summer started for “health” reasons and somehow became a national institution. Continue reading about the history of British summer holidays here.

Photo Credits: simplonpc, communityraillancashire, downloads bbc