Victorian Homes

A Victorian seaside holiday – just like Jane Austen’s Sanditon


As the weather starts to improve, thoughts will no doubt turn towards nights away and perhaps a trip to the seaside. We do love to be by the seaside after all!

But did you know that many of the British seaside resorts we love today were actually born in the Victorian era?

Their creation was driven by the arrival of the steam railway in the 1840s and, in a fast-changing Victorian world, it was boosted by doctors who were keen to prescribe rest and relaxation on the coast as an antidote to most common ailments. The bracing sea air and taking of the waters was good for you, they agreed.

The middle classes and landed gentry were quick to heed the advice and head off to these new and exciting resorts, just like in ITV’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished seaside saga, Sanditon. It’s the story of Charlotte Heywood who leaves her small, sheltered home to stay with friends in an up-and-coming Victorian seaside town.

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The Royals set the seaside trend

As early as the 1700s, King George III’s physician recommended he take a break on the coast so he headed for Weymouth in Dorset. His royal patronage ensured the resort flourished – and it still does today.

His son, the Prince Regent who later became George IV, headed for Brighton and built the grand Royal Pavilion.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert enjoyed holidaying in Osborne House, their own private residence built on the Isle of Wight. They wanted a home removed from the stresses of court life so they commissioned Thomas Cubitt, the London architect whose company built the main facade of Buckingham Palace in 1847, to build their dream home near East Cowes on the island.

According to Albert, the views of The Solent from Osbourne reminded him of the Bay of Naples.

Queen Victoria actually died at Osborne House on 22 January 1901 and following her death, King Edward VII, presented the house to the state on the day of his coronation.


From sleepy fishing village to busy resort

Many of these newly transformed Victorian seaside resorts had previously been quaint fishing villages boasting no more than a few dozen cottages, a hostelry and a general store for provisions.

But they had “potential” and were developed with all manner of creature comforts for the new tourism trade. The railway brought in free-spending Victorian tourists by the train load. Rail fares were getting cheaper and, because of growing competition, guest house and hotel prices fell, meaning the less well off could suddenly afford a modest break on the coast.

Travel agent Thomas Cook and Son began organising rail excursions in 1841 and hastened yet more tourists to the coast.

Thanks to the huge piers erected at many resorts, ship loads of visitors could be brought in too.


Where did the Victorians go on holiday?

The Victorians had plenty of seaside resort destinations to choose from. To the north there was Blackpool or Morcambe. In Wales you might head for Rhyl, Llandudno or, further south, Tenby.

Yorkshire boasted the twin delights of Whitby and Scarborough and further down the east coast came Skegness and Great Yarmouth.

On the south coast, a Victorian holiday maker could consider Margate, Brighton or Eastbourne.

And at each of these destinations you would find cheap boarding house accommodation, fish and chips, ice cream, rock and that all-important rejuvenating sea air.

As well as a dip in the invigorating sea, entertainment included a pony ride along the beach, Punch and Judy shows for the children, crabbing from the quayside, the brass band on the pier and a tea time stroll along the prom.

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