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How has the character of the seaside holiday changed?

The image many have today of the seaside is of a "cheap and cheerful" holiday destination and decidedly low status at that. This was not always so and the changing nature of the seaside holiday resort has been shaped by and has reflected developments in wider society since its earliest times in the 18th century as a preserve of the rich to its transformation as a mass tourism phenomenon and more recently, its decline in the face of competition from foreign holidays. The character of the seaside is a product of the relations between classes, culture, working conditions, patterns in leisure and technological advances and the changes in them over time. It should be pointed out that that none of these factors should be taken in isolation but have all worked together to determine the development of seaside resorts, the activities offered by them and the clientele which they attracted.

The first resorts originated in the 18th century and were frequented by the upper and middle classes with money and leisure time. The emphasis from these early days and well into the 20th century was on the health giving nature of a stay by the sea. These early resorts offered the benefits of bathing in what was regarded as the curative waters of the sea, and natural attractions such as the sea air, also regarded as having healthy properties. Sea bathing was not seen as a recreational activity; (Brunton, no date, p.170) rather it was seen as therapeutic and involved immersion in the water rather than swimming in it. In the next century, as the seaside's popularity grew, swimming was seen to be something which could be enjoyed for its own sake.

Still, it is a measure of the distance travelled in living standards, spending power and leisure time that working people have gone from scrimping and saving for their annual trip to the seaside to travelling to resorts in Spain, Portugal and Greece. The status to be gained and expressed by ones choice of holiday destination is a constant in the history of seaside holidays. The British seaside holiday has lost much of the status which it once had as have the once more glamorous foreign resorts.

The story of the seaside holiday is a reflection of the social history of the country. Class, technological advances, dress, the changing patterns in work and leisure and the rise in living standards have all influenced the nature of the seaside holiday and have in turn been reflected by it. What is the future for this institution? Perhaps the answer lies in Chant's observation (Chant, no date, p.167) "There are signs that the beach and the sea are becoming less than integral to the seaside holiday". The strength of the seaside holiday in the past has been its ability to enhance the seaside's natural attractions with man made ones widening its appeal and emphasizing the fun element of the seaside experience and to adapt to changing conditions and tastes. Or, it could be that the decline of the British seaside resort is another chapter in the social history of the country of which it has been an integral part.

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