6th August: Seaside Holidays

I’ve written about 'Wakes Weeks' before, when every worker from particular mill or factory used go to the seaside with their families, so that factories could be cleaned and boilers maintained in their absence. Wakes Weeks really took hold in the north of England from the 1870s onwards, but people were going to the seaside before that surely?

So what of the origins of the seaside holiday? I’ve just come back from two weeks in one of the earliest seaside resorts in Britain – Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, which is where my family live.

The first bathing machine in Britain was registered in Scarborough in 1735, which is much earlier than I thought.  Early in the eighteenth century, it became fashionable to go to the seaside to take a ‘salt water cure’ in the same way as people went to spa towns such as Bath.  In 1736 the Rev William Clarke of Buxted wrote a letter from Brighton of his daily practices of 'sunning himself upon the beach', 'bathing in the sea' and 'riding out for air'. A little sea bathing was supposed to be a cure for everything from hypochondria to deafness!

Scarborough had the advantage of being a spa town as well as a seaside one. A spring of iron rich water had been discovered in the seventeenth century and from the 1650s onwards ‘people of good fashion’ flocked there for the spring’s supposedly restorative properties. Daniel Defoe visited in 1727 and found ‘much good company’.

By the late eighteenth century a little sea bathing was regarded as a fashionable thing to do and also slightly racy.  In 1789 even the King, George III, went bathing in the sea at Weymouth – naked – bare naked!! What a horrible thought.

Brighton initially had two beaches, one for ladies and one for gentlemen. You went into a wooden bathing machine divested yourself of your clothes, put on a bathing dress and were then wheeled down into the water.  Imagine the squeals of excitement!  If you were very modest there were private indoor bathing establishments where you could dip yourself in seawater brought to you in a tin bath.  Later there was mixed bathing and later still the beach was adorned by fine specimens like these……

The clean sea air meant that many people from the newly industrial towns of the north headed for the seaside ever summer. Among them were the family that employed Anne Bronte and she spent many summers in Scarborough. In 1849 she returned alone in the hope that a visit to the seaside would aid her frail health, but she died a few days after her arrival and her single surviving sister Charlotte made the decision to 'lay the flower where it has fallen'. 

It was of course the railways that really democratized sea bathing and led to the grand seaside towns that we recognize today. Both Brighton and Scarborough quadrupled their population during the nineteenth century.  And then we got all the things that we still associate with the seaside; piers and pier shows, Punch and Judy, donkey rides on the beach. The seaside became a place to let your hair down and pull your skirts up.

There are still donkey rides on the beach at Scarborough. The donkeys live in a field on the edge of town and every morning in the summer they are led down to the beach, adorned in their pretty flowered hats and gaily decorated reins.  One day a few years ago, someone left the gate open and their owner was terribly distressed to find they had escaped. He need not have worried, the donkeys had simply taken themselves down to the beach and were there waiting for him. How lovely.

What do you eat at the seaside? Fish and chips of course! This is slightly healthier than the batter coated fish you are likely to find at the seaside - much as I love it.

Fried Pouting with saffron and red pepper sauce.

Pouting is a slim white fish a bit like whiting and pollack, also lesser know members of the cod family. It's incredibly cheap and very sustainable, but it needs a few tweaks to make it interesting.

I fried my pouting fillets in sunflower oil after coating them in a mixture of three seasoned flours; plain white, cornflour and maize flour. Thank you 'Bocca'.

I served them with a red pepper and saffron sauce adapted from a Rick Stein recipe.

300ml fish stock, I used a good quality cube.

3 tablespoons vermouth
A pinch of saffron.
A red pepper
olive oil
red wine vinegar
A little minced chilli
An anchovy fillet or a squeeze of anchovy from a tube...

Put the first three ingredients in a pan and simmer until reduced to 100ml. Roast the red pepper and skin it, (or use a ready roasted one from a jar). Make a dressing with 40ml olive oil and 10ml of red wine vinegar. I added an anchovy fillet and a tiny pinch of minced chilli. Soak the pepper in the dressing. Before serving, add the pepper and dressing to the vermouth mixture and bring back to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then blitz until smooth. Cool and serve with the hot fish and a green vegetable.


Gerry Snape said...

Looking at those Brighton specimens reminded me of my father's swim suit...knitted and full body...as he raced down the beach at Ballyferris...but more so as he shivered up again with the knit dragging downwards! not a good view!!

Liz Woods said...

My first swimsuit a hand-me-down from a cousin was also knitted, I remember with horror how scratchy it was and the pure delight of my first cotton one..

Toffeeapple said...

You meant 300ml of fish stock I take it? I hope so anyway. The sauce looks rather exciting, I love anything with those bottled roast peppers in, even sandwiches.
Scarborough is a delightful place to be, I enjoy it enormously. The picture of the men on the beach made me laugh as they still had their stove-pipe hats on. My first swimsuit was ruched with shirring elastic and very uncomfortable. Thank you for stirring my memories of visits to Barry Island.

Liz Woods said...

THANK YOU!!!!! Gosh I thought I'd checked it so many times. I totally agree about the roasted peppers in a jar, there's always a bottle in my fridge Lidls are the best I find...