Northumberland’s beaches attract much praise and national recognition for their quality and are now considered one of the county’s great natural assets.
But that’s nothing new, as an exhibition opening tomorrow shows. Since the middle of the 19th century, the beaches have attracted a constant flow of visitors.
‘Beside The Seaside: 150 Years of Northumbrian Beach Holidays’ will run through the summer until August 30 at the Bailiffgate Museum & Gallery in Alnwick.
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“The exhibition explores how the idea of taking a trip to the seaside has become a central aspect of British culture,” said Mick Grant, a member of the museum’s volunteer team who planned the exhibition. “Holidays by the sea have long been seen as a much-loved British tradition.
“Once only affordable to members of high society, the establishment of railway networks and the introduction of public holidays in the 19th and early 20th century enabled the ordinary British worker to enjoy leisure opportunities that had previously been inaccessible.”
A collection of cameras, family photographs and postcards, many from the collection of local historian John Yearnshire, show how families of different social classes enjoyed Victorian-era Northumbrian seaside resorts nowadays. Visitors to the exhibit play traditional seaside games such as Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Aunt Sally, and have the chance to dress up in traditional beach attire.
Also on display are seaside paintings by internationally renowned Alnwick-born artist Stella Vine. The exhibit focuses particularly on Alnmouth, with an 1889 tourist guide revealing that there were over 100 houses available as holiday accommodation, offering rooms or the whole house.
A letter to a local newspaper the same year echoes concerns felt today. It said: ‘In recent years many houses in Alnmouth have changed hands and have been bought by visitors for their own use during the summer and lie empty during the winter, allowing families to come out of a decent home. Others were forced to leave the village completely.
Coal mining families like Shilbottle near Alnwick spent most of the summer camping in the Alnmouth Dunes, with men working their shifts and joining their wives and children on weekends in the world where the sun always seemed to shine, in the days before jet vacations at foreign resorts. “We hope the exhibit will trigger memories of vacations and visits to the sea,” Mr. Grant added.
As part of the exhibition, author, historian and television and radio expert Dr Kathryn Ferry, who has written several books on seaside culture, will celebrate the British seaside with her talk Deckchairs, Piers and Memories on April 28. Dr Ferry will take a whirlwind tour through three centuries of seaside history using material from his latest book ‘Seaside 100: The History of the British Seaside in 100 Objects’.
Covering buildings, piers, transport, souvenirs, food and fashion, Dr Ferry will explore how the layering of all these different elements has created the distinctive landscapes of our seaside resorts, including those in Northumberland.