It’s that time of year; exams are over, sports day is coming up and the summer holidays are looming. As we think about dusting off the suitcases, buying the sun cream and finding the passports, we thought this would be a good opportunity to look at the history of holidays. And our next article will focus on that great staple – the traditional British seaside holiday…
What did the Romans ever do for us?
Whilst tourism in the modern sense started in Britain in the eighteenth century, the tradition of enjoying a summer holiday began with the Romans – they had been there and got the T-shirt! As the foundation of the Roman Empire and extension of Roman control over so much of the world brought peace (which, in turn, created the concept of leisure), it also enabled Romans to travel safely outside their own region – and for reasons other than conquest. In fact, Ancient Rome gave us the tour guide and the guide book as well as the roads and infrastructure to enable access to holiday destinations.
First proclaimed by the Emperor Augustus in 18 BC the feriae Augusti originally lasted for all or most of August. It was a time when everyone felt they could relax after the hard work of the harvest.
Pilgrimages, progresses and The Grand Tour
Holidays have always been associated with those wealthy enough to be able to take time off from needing to work and earn – travel before trains was slow and took considerable time. The exception to the rule was the pilgrimage – think Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In Tudor times the monarch would embark on Summer Progresses – a means of showing themselves to their people and reinforcing their reign. Progresses would last for months – and packing would have been quite a job since they took everything with them from place to place – rugs, silverware and beds – this really was packing everything including the kitchen sink!
And then in the eighteenth century the concept of The Grand Tour became popular amongst the aristocracy – and the idea of sightseeing was born.
Tourism and Thomas Cook’s Tours
With the industrial revolution came the birth of steam – and development of mass transport. The granting of the now-traditional August Bank Holiday also gave ordinary people the chance to travel to the seaside. This was the era of the package holiday – although most itineraries were British-based.
Donkey rides, sandcastle building, Punch and Judy were all features of the Victorian seaside holiday. Piers were build in famous resorts – Weston-Super-Mare, Blackpool, Brighton, Southend-on-Sea – and fish and chips was the meal of choice – perhaps with a stick of rock or ice cream afterwards.
The Holiday Resort
Resorts developed as they sought to attract holidaymakers, offering new and novel experiences such as theatre and music halls, aquariums and zoos.
The twentieth century saw the development of the holiday park. The first was opened in 1906 in Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk by John Fletcher-Dodd; but the name that is synonymous with the holiday park was Butlins. The first Butlins resort opened in Skegness in 1936 after Billy Butlin, a travelling showman had the idea of offering accommodation to people visiting his fairgrounds. Holiday parks offered people a self-contained holiday with entertainment and activities laid on, so that the holidaymakers never had to leave the park.
And so, onto today, to the package holiday, cheap air travel and ability to reach exotic destinations in a short space of time. It’s easy to overlook the lovely seaside spots we have on our own doorstep; our next article will focus on British seaside holidays, so watch this space.