Well we had been on holidays you know, we had a weeks holiday we’d been to Southport, and Blackpool and MorecambeMrs Yates (p.23)
From glorious sandy beaches to fish and chips and walks on the pier- just some of the things associated with the English seaside holiday that attracted the working-classes from all cities and counties in the nineteenth century. Thousands of working-class families would flock to the seaside every year due to its affordability and accessibility. Before the nineteenth century, seaside resorts were mainly reserved for the middle and upper classes, and even Queen Victoria had her own private seaside hideaway on the Isle of Wight.
The emergence of railways throughout Britain in the early nineteenth century meant that it was easier to travel to seaside resorts from urbanised cities such as Blackburn where Mrs Yates lived. The railway dominated Britain in the Victorian era: ‘£3 billion was spent on building the railways from 1845 to 1900. In 1870, 423 million passengers travelled on 16,000 miles of track, and by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign over 1100 million passengers were using trains.’ (The National Archives, 2021). Railway transport was also affordable for the working classes with tickets costing ‘much less than a day’s wage for a skilled workman’ (p.250). Popular seaside towns included Blackpool, Morecambe, and Southport; all the resorts Mrs Yates visited in her youth.
Mrs Yates informs Berger that she set off on her first holiday when she was fourteen, although she had been on day trips to the seaside previously with her family and friends. An average holiday would be from Monday to Friday as she recalls and would cost two shillings a night for a double bed in holiday lodgings. Mrs Yates excitedly reminisces how her family would prepare for a holiday: ‘Shall I tell you how we used to do?’ (p.23). This rhetorical question is wrapped in excitement as she recalls upon her youth. She describes how she and her family would prepare food such as bread, cakes and eggs the night before to take with them to their lodgings, and each child would claim their own egg by writing their name on them. They would also pack clothes, specifically their worn clothes, to prevent the sun from fading the colour of their better clothes that were mainly reserved for Sundays.
At the lodgings, the families would have to provide their own food for the staff to cook at a penny a head. They even had to shell the peas themselves if they wanted them for dinner, ‘You had to buy them in the shell. They wasn’t shelled then. And you went to the lodgings and shelled them and gave them, those had to be done.’ (p.25). No matter where they went the working classes always had to work for simple pleasures.
The seaside offered many benefits to working-class families such as an escape from the gloomy and polluted urbanised towns, and the sea air gave them a chance to breathe fresh air which was beneficial for their health. A holiday to the seaside was essential for mental nourishment according to historian John Walton: ‘The seaside appealed to the whole spectrum of popular attitudes to leisure, from the narrow dedication to the pursuit of physical, intellectual and moral health and improvement, to the more diffused desire to “have a spree” away from the depressing constraints of the working environment’ (p.249).
Aside from holidays and trips to the seaside the town of lower Darwen did not offer much recreational activity besides the local pub and the village Sunday school. The Sunday school, which was run by the mill owner’s daughter Miss Eccles would host parties alongside The Band of Hope meetings and Young People’s Society on Saturday nights. The most important day of the week was Sunday which Mrs Yates calls the ‘Sermons Day’. New clothes and shoes would be reserved for this special day: ‘if you got a new frock you had to make it last a year. You only put it on on Sunday, you see, and you’d get a new hat you wore it first time on the sermons.’ (p.5). It’s evident that Sunday was a day reserved for religion and recreation. No doubt the working classes looked forward to their Sunday celebrations.
The Eccles family ran nearly all the recreation activities in the village and they often opened up their grounds to the children after Sunday school, ‘you’d march up from the school and they’d give you coffee and bun and that sort of thing and we’d play in the grounds. It was the only thing we got to know. Looking forward to going to Eccleses. They had lovely grounds you know. Like a park’ (p.27). Residents of Lower Darwen would attend Sunday school throughout their adulthood even after marriage.
Nineteenth-century holidays offered a chance for working-class families to temporarily break away from the drudgery of their laborious lives. The little number of recreational activities that were on offer in lower Darwen suggests the need for villagers to travel further to find relaxation and enjoyment elsewhere. Making the seaside a popular destination that was easily accessible and affordable to the working-classes in lower Darwen.
‘Mrs Yates: Before My Time’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection.
The National Archives. . ‘Victorian Railways – The National Archives.’ [online] 2021. Available at: <https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/victorian-railways/#:~:text=In%20Victorian%20times%2C%20Britain’s%20railway%20network%20grew%20rapidly.&text=%C2%A33%20billion%20was%20spent,million%20passengers%20were%20using%20trains.> [Accessed 20 March 2021].
Walton, J. The Demand for Working-Class Seaside Holidays in Victorian England. The Economic History Review, [online]. 1981. Available at: <https://www.jstor.org/stable/2595245> [Accessed 20 March 2021].