Taking a trip down memory lane…July 24, 2012 About my museum job, Blogs
“We were lucky to have a holiday every year. We used to go to Ramsgate every year. I think we were privileged really.” Rose Gower, born in London in 1925
They say travel can broaden your mind. However, with the current squeeze on many people’s finances, Londoners, who have come to see a holiday abroad as an affordable part of everyday life, are now choosing the ‘staycation’ and holidaying in the UK instead.
As the school holidays are about to start, I began thinking about where to take my family on holiday this year, and it looks like it will be somewhere closer to home. With that in mind, I sought inspiration from some of the holiday memories held within the Museum of London’s oral history archive. Hopefully the sun will shine and it won’t turn out to be like the holiday described by Betty Phillips, born in London, 1923.
“We had a holiday in Blackpool. It was a howling gale and we used to sit in the café and watch the people holding onto lampposts, wearing a pac-a-mac and being blown along.”
Less than a century ago, holidays were still a luxury, enjoyed mainly by the upper and middle classes and for many Londoners, the only way to have a country break was to work. Leslie Ho, born in Limehouse in 1919, remembers his childhood experience of hop picking…listen to Leslie Ho audio file.
The traditional British seaside destinations favored by Londoners include South End, Margate, Ramsgate or Brighton, as we can see from these images from the Museum’s collections, taken by photographer Bob Collins.
At these seaside towns, generations of Londoners have taken to building sandcastles, going on donkey rides, paddling in the sea, collecting seashells and watching Punch and Judy shows. As Queenie Mortimer, born in London in 1925 describes:
“I saw my very first Punch and Judy show. It was a lovely day….there was this brightness at the end, and it was Punch and Judy. And the one and only time that I have ever seen the dog Toby, and his ruff that was always part of Punch and Judy…To this day, I still love a Punch and Judy show, and I think most grown-ups do.”
Many also went to the seaside to seek the sun, and from the 1930’s getting a tan became desirable. Pat Nelson, born in Greenwich 1932, recalls trying to get a sun tan whilst on holiday in Weymouth…listen to Pat Nelson audio file.
If you didn’t want to travel to the coast, there was even a beach in London which opened in 1934. The Tower of London Children’s Beach, or Tower Beach, was created by transporting more than 1,500 tons of sand to the Thames’ north foreshore near Tower Bridge. It was very popular, attracting hundreds of thousands of people, even though the river’s tide meant that the beach was only open for a couple of hours a day. The beach finally closed in 1971 due to pollution in the river.
Then there was always camping. In a recent rare break in the rain during monsoon June, my young children persuaded us to put up our family tent in the back garden for a spot of urban camping under the stars…and street lights. I have to add, this was more like “glamping”, a phrase recently coined by a trend for luxury camping in things called yurts, tipis or safari tents. We had a great time at the bottom of the garden, with our comfortable air beds and cosy sleeping bags and of course our own bathroom indoors, even the cat joined in. However compared to the rigors of Girl Guide camping as described by Diane Parnell born in Highbury in 1940, we were amateurs…listen to Diane Parnell audio file.
The call of the wild and the great outdoors began in the early decades of the 20th century and created a movement of people seeking escapes to the countryside, adventure and freedom. In the 1930’s more and more people were also taking rambling holidays in the countryside. The Youth Hostels Association founded in 1930, had 80,000 members by 1939. Stella Emmanuel, born in Ealing in 1928 recalls her experiences…listen to Stella Emmanuel audio file.
Another classic feature of British holidays is the holiday camp, which came into prominence after Billy Butlin opened his first camp in 1936. Ernest Mark, born in Sierra Leone in 1902, shares his memories of going to holiday camps…listen to Ernest Mark audio file.
There are many more interviewees in the Museum’s Oral History Collection, who recall the special places that they visited for their precious holiday weeks, such as quirky English guest houses with lumpy beds, or relaxing days spent in posh hotels. However with so much variety to choose from, these vivid memories of holidaying in the UK have definitely inspired ideas for a great family holiday!
By Sarah Gudgin, Museum of London Curator of Oral History and Contemporary Collecting.