New project aims to celebrate and revive the traditional Essex coastal holiday
PUBLISHED: 19:40 08 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:22 09 June 2020
In their heyday, our coastal resorts attracted thousands of holidaymakers every summer and now a celebration of this rich heritage, through the Resorting to the Coast project, aims to boost tourism today. Juliana Vandegrift explains more
'On a Saturday morning the boys used to be down at the railway station with their barrows, sugar boxes with a pair of wheels screwed on, and the trains used to come rolling in full of people.
They would call you over and ask: "Where's the Claremont Hotel?" and we used to take them there and they used to give you a tanner or maybe a shilling sometimes. On Saturdays we used to love that.'
So, reflects Clacton resident, Clifford 'Pip' Page (aged 96) on his early years growing up in Clacton on Sea when it seemed the prime role of the town was to provide summer holidays for visitors who came as daytrippers, or for a week or fortnight's holiday.
Few visitors had the luxury of a car and so Pip and other local schoolboys who acted as barrow boys were kept busy, especially on Saturdays which was 'change over' day.
Janet Rice, 77, from Harwich and Dovercourt, also recalls her brother and his friends who, with their soapbox carts, 'waited where the coaches used to come in.
The families were only too delighted to give them a few pence to load the suitcases on and walk them down to the holiday camp.' Janet adds: 'My brother used to save up for a Railway Runabout ticket for his school holiday as he was a dedicated train spotter.'
Tendring's coastal resorts played a key role in the establishment of the nostalgic British seaside holiday which grew in popularity from the late Victorian era when visitors would flock there by rail, coach or even paddle steamers from Tower Pier, London.
Clacton on Sea was pivotal to the area's development and at one time was the major resort with a wonderland of buildings and follies. Posters enticed tourists with the promise of, 'Golden Sands and Champagne Air'.
Since the Victorian era and the construction of the piers at Clacton, Harwich and Walton, the Essex coastal resorts have offered much to keep the holidaymakers entertained.
Troupes of performers such as the Pierrot troupes, dressed in their iconic black and white costumes, and the Ramblas would head to the area, performing on Clacton Pier and the beach to audiences seated on deck chairs.
Pleasure boats operated off Clacton Pier too — like The Viking Saga which was built by Wallasea boat yard in Essex in 1947 for Victory Pleasure Boat Ltd run by Eric Albert and Sonny Cardy. In the 1960s, it was skippered by Dick Harman (1925-2012) who would chart up to ten half-hour trips a day.
He recalls: 'With The Viking I could go from Maldon to Ipswich and anywhere in between as long as it was not more than three miles from the shore.
I used to do children's trips with the schools and land them on Mersea Island. The seagulls used to nest there then. I used to point out the different shells on the beach and the birds' nests, and the children loved that.'
After World War II, Butlin's and Warner's holiday camps came into their own. In 1938, Billy Butlin opened his second holiday camp at Clacton, which was visited by thousands during its lifetime until its closure in 1983.
At Harwich and Dovercourt, Jean Fletcher, 92, remembers many an evening spent at the Alexandra Hotel which, she recalls, 'used to be great, especially during the war because there was the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
'They all used to be stationed round about here and they used to come down on the weekends and we used to have terrific bands. Downstairs they used to have a big dance hall and there was a great big balcony. We used to sit up there and watch the people dance and if you got lucky you got asked to dance. I'm glad I'm this age now because I saw the best of Dovercourt and Harwich.'
There was more dancing at Jaywick Sands too, where Edna Randall first visited as a teen in 1942 for a family holiday.
'There was a club or casino where I went dancing,' she says. 'The Army was based there, soldiers of the Canadian Army camped outside Jaywick. I went with friends of the family. I can see the club where we went dancing in my mind's eye, it was called the Oasis.'
The fortunes of the Essex Sunshine Coast have certainly waxed and waned over the years, yet the appeal of the sandy beaches, sheltered seas, promenades and piers remains today with tourism worth an estimated £372million to the Tendring economy and generating around 8,000 jobs (around 16% of the total in the district).
In efforts to capitalise on the area's rich heritage and boost the fortunes of the coastal towns, the Resorting to the Coast project got underway in 2017 after Essex County Council, in partnership with Tendring District Council, was awarded over £316,000 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Local heritage societies including Clacton & District Local History Society, Clacton Museum, Friends of Jaywick Martello Tower, Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust, The Harwich Society and Walton Community Forum were also key partners.
The project has amassed a growing archive of oral histories, archive images, film and memorabilia which, when complete, will be held at the Essex Record Office in Chelmsford and local museum archives across Tendring. The material is gradually being shared on the project's website too, at tendringcoastalheritage.org.uk.
The project is due to conclude this month and as a grand finale a free, family-friendly Seaside Revival Day will take over Clacton's West Greensward on Sunday, May 26. This retro event promises 'a bucket load of good old-fashioned fun' for all those looking to relive the great British seaside experience.
With Punch & Judy, Cockney sing-a-longs, a singing Pierrot troupe, comedy escapologists, seaside spectaculars from Princes Theatre Youth Group and the West Cliff Youth Theatre, puppetry and magic shows, Mad About Theatre and The Great Theatre of Lemmings' Marvellous Museum of Coastal Curiosities, visitors can expect to enjoy a treasure trove of seaside fun and novelties from the past.
Children can enjoy free workshops for clowning, puppetry skills and arts and crafts, while the Heritage Discovery Tent will feature local history taster talks over a cuppa, and the Blackwater Free Fayre will bring storytelling, swing boats and cork shooters!
Those who remember the pleasure boats will even have the opportunity to float back in time by buying a ticket to ride on The Viking Saga.