Lesson at a glance

Curriculum topics: Victorians

Affordable holidays for all

Where is your closest beach?

If you live in the UK then you are never very far from the coast – the furthest distance anyone needs to travel is 70 miles. Cars and trains have made it possible to have a day at the seaside no matter where you live.

Until the 19th century this would have been an impossibility! Road travel by horse and carriage was expensive and time consuming. During the 19th century ‘Railway Mania’ saw a burst of railway building. £3 billion was spent on building the railways from 1845 to 1900. Trains provided an exciting and speedy way for those living in towns and cities to get away even for just the day –to the seaside!


Look at document COPY 1/59 (261). This little cut-out game dates from 1882. It gives a sense of the bustle and the excitement of Victorian rail travel.

  • List all the different jobs you see people doing at the railway station.
  • When was the last time you visited a railway station? What was your experience like?

Look at document COPY 1/217 f14. These are just some of the destinations in the south and west of the UK that could be reached by train from London.

  • Have you ever visited any of these places before?
  • Which place do you like the sound of best?
  • These were popular holiday destinations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Can you find any modern pictures of these places? Do you think they would make good holiday destinations today?

How do you decide where to go on holiday? Maybe friends recommend somewhere nice or perhaps you always go to the same place because you know and like it?

Have you ever seen an advert for a holiday destination and thought ‘I must go there!’?

Sometimes you see adverts for holidays on TV or in magazines. In the 19th century holidays were advertised through posters. A lot of work went into the design of these posters so that people would be persuaded to part with their money and book a train ticket to the coast. Once there, they might be persuaded to spend their money on activities and refreshments and this in turn would benefit the local businesses.

Look at document COPY 1/221 (1). This poster was made by a railway company in 1904 to persuade people to travel to St Ives in Cornwall for a holiday.

  • Spend a couple of minutes looking at the poster. What sorts of words, memories, sounds and feelings come into your mind as you look at this poster?
  • How do you think the different people in the poster will spend their time in St Ives?
    The man who is standing?
    The lady sitting in deck chair?
    The children bathing in the sea?
  • Would this poster tempt you to visit St Ives?

For some people, packing to go on holiday is a boring chore but to others it is exciting. Who does the holiday packing at home? What would be on your packing list for a beach holiday?

Today we might expect to pack things like swimming costumes, sun cream, towels, buckets and spades, something to listen to or read, games, deckchairs, inflatables. People take so much to the beach! What did people take to the seaside in the 19th century?
Look at documents COPY 1/377 (227) and COPY 1/381.

  • Point to and talk about all the things you find interesting or surprising in these two photographs.
  • How did children have fun at the seaside in the 19th century?
  • Choose one of the photographs and think about all the different sounds you would hear if you were there.

Activity ideas

  • Look again at the Victorian train and passengers cut-out game you saw earlier. Can you design a modern day version of it? What jobs would people have in a railway station today?
  • Record a ‘seaside’ soundscape. What noises do you associate with the seaside? How could you recreate the sound of waves, seagulls, fairground rides?
  • Make ice lollies out of fruit juices.
  • Now you have all the ingredients for ‘a day at the seaside’ at home. Find a rug or towel and some cushions or a deck chair, fill a container or paddling pool with water and get your feet wet! Lie back with your ice lolly and listen to the sounds of the seaside.
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Lesson at a glance

Curriculum topics: Victorians