The classic British seaside: sands, sea, boats and buckets. It doesn’t matter where it is or when it is. It can be a precious day snatched from the steam-filled clutches of a Victorian mill, or an escape from a Corona-driven lockdown. I have photographs of my Uncle Frank and Aunty Miriam sat on a beach during World War II watching bombers fly overhead. If the sun is even hinting at the possibility of coming out, then we British will head for the nearest coastline. We are lucky; for most of us they are far enough away to be a change, but near enough not to be a challenge.
This is an old print from a cast-aside album. The photographer may have wanted to capture his (or her) Auntie Vi or little Ernest. What they actually captured was a small work of art, and the very essence of the classic British seaside.
I spent a few weeks in Eastbourne in the early 1980s. My wife and my friends were all working, I was left to wander the streets and promenades, taking photographs. When it rained, I would go into the County Court and listen to trials. Strange times.
This is such a busy photograph: a summer day on the English coast ninety years or so ago. It looks as though it has been taken from a raised height – a pier or a tower or some such. The camera couldn’t quite cope with the wide-angle of the shot, and the edges blur into insignificance.
If we focus down into just one part of the image, it gets even busier. Kids playing, kids paddling, kids messing about – parents watching proprietorially. There is an entire world on view – between the blurred edges of time.
This is a classic British “snap” from the 1930s. Amongst our island nation, there is some compelling desire to take to the nearest small boat and explore our coastline. It doesn’t matter that the sea is grey, and the coastal wind is sharp enough to cut your jib on – we take to the water. Perhaps we go in search of neighbours.
Our Sepia Saturday image for this week features a lonely soul sat on the beach in Bridlington in 1922. My photograph moves forward nineteen years and switches coast from the East to the West coast of England. The print comes from one of the photograph albums of my Uncle, Frank Fieldhouse, and therefore we know precisely when and where the photograph was taken. It shows the sands at St Annes On Sea and it was taken in 1941. You might be tempted to think that it is the miserable dull weather that is responsible for the isolated souls who had taken to the beach, but it is – of course – the year. This was 1941 and World War II was at its height, and the Lancashire coastal area was coming under heaver attack from enemy bombing raids almost on a daily basis. It may seem strange, in these circumstances, that people would still visit the seaside and even sit on deckchairs to watch the sea go out (and the bombing raids come in!). These, however, were different times and different people: people whose measure of danger had taken on a whole new scale.
I couldn’t resist leaving the subject of “Alone on the Beach” without sharing a photograph that I took some 25 years after the St Annes photograph. This is a photograph I took in Ireland and it shows two nuns walking along a totally deserted beach. Different times, different people.
This is a scan of a tiny print from an equally tiny album of photographs taken in Wales in the early 1930s. This particular print is captioned “The Ventriloquist, Porthcawl : Whit Monday 1932“. “Tommy Porthcawl” – whose real name was Sydney Valentine – was famous for his sketches and ventriloquist act on Porthcawl beach in the early 1930s. According to an interview with his daughter in 2006, his fame extended further than the rocky sands of Porthcawl, and he had appeared on BBC Radio on a number of occasions. Ventriloquism on the radio always seems to be an easy option as far as I can see!