Collection of the week: The Great British Seaside
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Collections Crossover: The Great British Seaside

Dig out your bucket and spade, pack the picnic basket, slap on the factor 30 but don't forget the cagoules. School is almost out and it's time for the Great British Seaside Holiday. While opportunities to travel abroad remain erratic, it seems most of the population have opted to holiday in the UK this summer. And why not? It's a tradition stretching back over 200 years to when royalty and aristocrats began to favour the clean sea air and health-giving, bracing waters of coastal settlements such as Brighton and Weymouth. The coming of the railways in the nineteenth century triggered a spurt in the development of resorts around Britain's coast from Blackpool to Bognor and, until the advent of cheap air travel in the 1970s, a holiday on home territory was the norm for most families.

The seaside theme threads its way in and out of our library courtesy of various contributor collections. It's a naturally inspiring place for photographers to capture the British at its most relaxed and uninhibited and the archives of John Gay for Historic England and Shirley Baker are just two to find humour and informality on British beaches.

Photographs taken as a souvenir of day trips and holidays form a large part of our seaside selection. The Grenville Collins Postcard Collection includes a number of 'Sunny Snaps' walking photographs, candid pictures taken by photographers around seaside towns in the hope of selling a photographic memento of summer away days. Today, they offer us an informal and evocative glimpse of couples, families and friends at leisure and are an excellent visual record of fashions worn by ordinary people at the time. Also included in this selection are some glorious, meticulously restored photographs from the John Maclellan Collection of holidaymakers in the 1920s and '30s.

There are of course the obligatory charabanc photographs, of those open-topped mini-bus vehicles of yore, crammed with excursionists, not to mention studio photographs with fake seaside backdrops or deckchairs and sand as props. In addition, it seems to have been a jolly tradition for the residents of guest houses to pose together for a group photograph. You can enjoy a selection of these seaside quirks here.

Offering a revolution in holidays from the 1930s was Billy Butlin with his Butlin's holiday camps, whose kitsch and fantastical interiors and exteriors are captured by the John Hinde Postcard Collection. And on the subject of postcards, don't forget one of our newest contributor collections, the Donald McGill archive, offering the very best in kiss-me-kwik, classic British seaside humour.

Finally, if you're still undecided, why not browse our selection of posters, advertisements and brochures, many drawn from the Thomas Cook Archive, to choose your next destination?

Whatever your holiday plans this summer, keep safe and well, and don't forget to let us know if we can help with any picture research, seaside-related or not. You can email us at or call 020 8318 0034 and we'll be glad to help. Happy Holidays.

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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