How the Victorians invented the “staycation”
The holidays feel like a big tonic after such a tough year. Although international travel is possible, it is not exactly easy, which is why many choose to stay closer to home, opting for a “stay”.
This year, holidaymakers discover the treasures of the British coast and the rugged beauty of its landscapes.
Domestic tourism as we know it began in the 19th century when the idea of vacations was starting to become popular.
The expansion of railways and changing working practices meant that people had more free time to spend on commuting. International travel was getting easier but not accessible to everyone, so the Victorians chose to spend this new ‘free’ time in the UK.
This has given rise to the creation of new popular holiday destinations, mainly on the British coast. Britain’s major seaside towns, from Bournemouth to Brighton, have drawn people in with promises of fun, sea and clean air – many things that continue to draw people in today.
The big summer holidays as we know them designed by the victorians. The 19th century saw the Industrial Revolution and the rise of industrial capitalism, where factories flourished and work structures were defined and delineated more clearly and rigorously.
This has led to the emergence of administrative professions, such as clerks, and a emerging middle class.
There was more structured working time, including shift work in factories and holidays on Sundays.
As a result, working class people had free time to use, and in the 1890s some skilled workers had Saturday half days, leading to the birth of the ‘weekend‘- although this was not formalized until much later in the 20th century.
In 1871 the Public Holidays Act was successful. This designated certain days as public holidays on which banks closed, although over the years more and more businesses began to observe these days off.
Prior to 1830, banks only closed on the 40 holy days of the year, but in 1834 it was only four days, including Christmas Day. From 1871, any day could be declared a public holiday, not just statutory holidays.
These new leisure hours were used to explore the surrounding countryside and the seaside like towns increased at exponential rates. The working class took day trips and the wealthy stayed in hotels along the coast, many of which still exist today.
Travel was previously only accessible to the wealthy, but an expanding rail network meant that traveling through Britain was easier, faster, cheaper and more accessible than ever.
The railroad boom started in the 1840s, and by 1850, 6,000 miles of track had been laid and 18,000 by 1880. This meant that small towns were connected, as well as large towns.
The rise of mass-printed literature has been accompanied by the rise of the railway – a mainstay of the British station WH Smith was created to sell cheap books to train passengers, a whole new audience, as it used to be too bumpy to read in a car or cart.
That a greater variety of people can access the margins of the country than ever before has caused a lot of anxiety among the upper classes.
Poet William Wordsworth famous protest the expansion of rail in the Lake District, the site which inspired some of his most famous poems, as he believed its beauty would be marred and the poor lacked the capacity to appreciate its sublimity.
There were also concerns that the railroad and invading tourists would spoil seemingly untouched regions. Protesters in Cornwall believed tourism would dilute the country’s unique identity, language, history and culture. It’s no different from concerns about tourists buying vacation homes in Wales and Cornwall today.
Tourism is born
An emerging tourism industry meant emerging tourist boards keen to promote UK travel rather than increasingly accessible overseas travel. In 1870, the great eastern railroad was running commercials for ‘A Day at the Seaside’.
Places in the UK were sold as being somewhat exotic or foreign – Cornwall was called “the Cornish coast” and maps of Cornwall were turned over and displayed next to maps of Italy to show their similarities.
As a result, sunny seaside resorts have been developed by investors – Bournemouth, Brighton, Weston-super-Mare and Blackpool, to name a few.
Their influence can still be seen in the intricately crafted piers, boardwalks and pavilions of these seaside towns, which have seen a surge in popularity during the Covid pandemic.
As seaside getaways have become popular, there are many things we partner with british summer holidays were created, including deckchairs, ice cream, donkey rides, Punch and Judy shows, rock and arcade games.
Ice cream became very popular in the 19th century and was a welcome treat on summer beaches, like the Victorians fitted coolers (mostly deep wells) to store ice and keep it cool.
Queen Victoria had her favorite clear ice cream imported from Massachusetts, United States. Many popular ice cream flavors may seem unknown to us today, such as cucumber.
The tourism that emerged, however, was not always sun and sunbeds – one of the first Thomas Cook vacation packages in the 19th century was a train journey to Bodmin prison where passengers could look out the window to watch hangings from the comfort of their cars.
While a day to see drapes or a scoop of cucumber ice cream may not quite be on the streets of modern holidaymakers, many of the things the Victorians popularized remain an important part of British vacations today. ‘hui.
So while enjoying a piece of stone or a game on the pier, think about the Victorian pioneers who made possible some of the best parts of your well-deserved vacation.
By Joan Passey, Associate Lecturer in Victorian Literature and Culture, University of Bristol
Click on here to read the original article on The Conversation
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