A summer holiday on Essex’s ‘Sunshine Coast’

Where are you planning your summer holiday this year? Essex is possibly not the first place you would think of, but in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Essex’s ‘Sunshine Coast’ was one of the destinations of choice for the discerning British holiday maker.

The historians of the Victoria County History of Essex have been hard at work over the last few years researching the pasts of Clacton, Walton and Frinton, and their research has now been published as volume 11 in the Victoria County History of Essex series.

I/Mb 387/1/4 Print of Walton-on-the-Naze as a seaside village, 1829, just as it was starting to be developed a seaside resort

From the 1820s, Walton and later Clacton and Frinton were promoted as high-class residential and holiday resorts. After a slow start, hampered by poor communications and low demand, growth was stimulated by steam ship companies which landed visitors on newly built piers in Walton and Clacton and by the railways that reached Walton in 1867, Clacton in 1882 and Frinton in 1888.

I/Mb 387/1/13 Photograph showing new resort bulidings at Walton-on-the-Naze constructed c.1860, juxtaposed with the surrounding rural landscape with cows grazing on the cliff tops. Photograph by T. E. Freshwater

 

I/Mp 86/1/3 Clacton Pier – a key element in the growth of Clactonas a seaside resort, since it enabled steamship to bring visitors to the town

However, the working-class excursionists newly attracted to Clacton, and to a lesser extent Walton, then irrevocably changed the social tone of both resorts. By the 1920s and 1930s Clacton had become a highly commercialized holiday destination and its pier’s funfair-style facilities rivalled those of any other British resort.

   I/Mb 86/1/29 Postcard of the bandstand, Clacton-on-Sea, c.1910

Nearby Jaywick was established as a cheap and cheerful plotland development and Butlins opened its popular Clacton holiday camp in 1938. While Walton remained popular with families, Frinton continued as a ‘select’ resort, with building development and commerce strictly controlled to protect its exclusive character. 

After 1945 camping and caravanning increased in popularity, but from the later 1960s the growth of overseas holidays led to a steep decline in the domestic tourism economy. The coast remained popular for retirement and subsequent diversification has led to large dormitory-style housing developments, light industry and shopping centres.

The volume which tells this story is part of a grand tradition: the distinctive big red volumes of the Victoria County Histories have graced the shelves of archives and libraries across England since 1900. Founded in 1899 and dedicated to QueenVictoria, the Histories aim to produce ‘an encyclopaedic record of England’s places and people from earliest times to the present day’. The Histories are still being written by historians working in counties right acrossEngland, and the Essex Record Office is home to the Essex VCH Trust.

Volumes of the Victoria County of History in the ERO Searchroom

Volume 11 of the Victoria County History of Essex, Clacton, Walton and Frinton: North-East Essex Seaside Resorts, will be available in the ERO Searchroom shortly, and can be ordered from Boydell & Brewer Ltd here.

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