How UK seaside holidays have changed – from ‘Scarborough cure’ to Cornwall overtourism

It has become a national habit for people, including journalists – even those who travel – to regard British seaside holidays as outdated or worse. But it has a legacy as old as the Industrial Revolution, and our fun piers and palaces are still much busier than our cotton mills and coal mines. We are drawn to the edge of the earth by mysterious forces and deep inner urges. We are also drawn to it by connections, memories, places, old photographs, to each other.

As we enter mid-August – school vacation time, the peak of our short summer season – it’s a chance to flip through the diorama of days gone by and chart the ups and downs, ebbs and flows from our very special seaside.

It all started in Scarborough

Where did vacations by the sea really begin? Scarborough became the standard text, with many retellings of the story that Elizabeth Farrow, in 1626-1627, discovered a stream of acidic water flowing down the cliff and into the sea in the South Bay. She claimed that he “both opened up the body and also changed the stomach”. In the 1660s, a Dr. Witte published Scarborough Spa, which suggested that seawater was a “most sovereign remedy for hypochondriac melancholy and wind”. This is all very colorful, but is about drinking fresh water, not swimming in sea water.

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