Last resort

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Oh they did like to be beside the seaside. Dressed in their hats, frocks and cardies, suits and ties, crammed tightly together and watching the water, as if expecting Ken Dodd to emerge from the frigid Irish Sea, these Blackpool holidaymakers in July 1956 were carrying on a long tradition.

The seaside has been the destination for fun-seeking pilgrims since the Greeks and Romans who, we can safely assume, got their kicks in ways other than slurping down oysters, being knocked sideways by deckchairs in transit and queuing for ice cream.

It was the 18th-century British who redefined sea-bathing as physical therapy. Eschewing the staid and safe spas of Harrogate and Bath, aristocrats took to flinging themselves into the icy waters of Brighton and Scarborough in the name of health. And no frilly, silly bathing costumes for them, either. They did it naked, men and women together.

Of course, the Victorians put a stop to all that nonsense, encasing themselves from neck to knee and shielding themselves from the sun with parasols. It wasn't until the 1920s that tanned skin became synonymous with beauty and an attractive lifestyle, rather than the brand of the agricultural worker.

Seaside resorts as we know them have been popular since the middle of the 19th century, when railways lines were laid to transport people from the cities to the coast. In 1867, Blackpool, the greatest resort of them all, opened its central pier, featuring "open-air dancing for the working classes". By 1900, it was being visited by 3 million holidaymakers a year. And there's no sign of the town losing its allure: today, it's the holiday destination of 16 million a year.

Turn to page 30 for Ted Wragg's Teaching Tips on the Big Picture

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