Resorts and Ports: European Seaside Towns since 1700

Resorts and Ports: European Seaside Towns since 1700

by Peter Borsay, John K. Walton

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Histories of seaports and coastal resorts have usually been kept in separate compartments. This book brings them together and looks at how resort development affected historic ports during the rise and development of the seaside holiday in Europe from the 18th century to the 20th, and what the attributes of ports (fishing, harbour crafts, the whiff of the exotic, fishermen’s homes and families) contributed to the attractions of resorts. Case-studies drawn from across Europe, from Wales and the Netherlands to Norway, Latvia and Spain, bring original perspectives to bear on these histories and relationships, and consider their influence on seaside heritage and regeneration at a time when coastal settlements are increasingly using their past to secure their future. The book will interest academics in tourism studies, history, geography and cultural studies, as well as provide essential information and analysis for policy-makers in coastal regeneration.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845412005
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 10/14/2011
Series: Tourism and Cultural Change , #29
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 10 MB

About the Author

Peter Borsay is a Professor in the Department of History and Welsh History at Aberystwyth University and has published widely in the areas of British urban and leisure history since the 18th century, including the history of spas and seaside resorts.

John K. Walton is an IKERBASQUE Research Professor in the Department of Contemporary History, University of the Basque Country UPV/ EHU, Bilbao. He has published extensively and internationally on tourism and identity, especially with regard to coastal towns, and edits the Journal of Tourism History.

Read an Excerpt

Resorts and Ports

European Seaside Towns since 1700

By Peter Borsay, John K. Walton

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2011 Peter Borsay, John K. Walton and the authors of individual chapters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84541-200-5


Introduction: The Resort–Port Relationship


The Specialisation Hypothesis

When, in 1943, John Betjeman compiled his volume on English Cities and Small Towns in the Collins Britain in Pictures series, he devoted separate sections to 'Ports' and 'Spas and Watering Places'. To reinforce the distinction, he declared,

After the visit of George III to Weymouth in the eighteenth century, watering places sprang up on the coast, and they must not be confused with the sea ports, where the sea is chastened by harbour bars and docks. In watering places, everything is a preparation for playing on the edge of the sea and for looking at it.

He was, excusably, wrong about both timing and causation, but historians have tended to embrace this separation of functions, with resorts and ports generating discrete historiographies. Underpinning such an approach has been the notion that industrialisation and rapid urbanisation brought about a greater specialisation of urban function, since towns were defined not so much by their position in a regionally defined hierarchy as by their economic role. As Penelope Corfield has argued of the eighteenth century,

A new and more specialized terminology began to be adopted. Towns were now talked of in terms of their leading economic functions. As well as traditional concepts of market towns and ports, other places became identified as dockyard towns, manufacturing towns, spas, holiday resorts ...

In practice, seaports and coastal resorts grew side by side from the eighteenth century onwards, responding to the same sets of processes, of consumption as well as production, of the spread of rising living standards and aspirations, of the fashion cycle, of globalisation and increasing mobility. The emergence of seaside resorts formed an integral part of the industrialisation process rather than constituting a subsequent consequence of this long and complex sequence of developments. This is worth emphasis because it has not always been understood, and it should also be stressed that these were not geographically isolated developments but often shared the same locations or adjacent ones. It is widely recognised that resorts were not necessarily, or even usually, built on virgin sites and that many had developed out of fishing settlements and ports, but such economic roles are usually described as 'decayed' and 'moribund'. Some historians have acknowledged that it was not necessarily so easy to distinguish a resort from a port, since both functions could continue to operate in tandem, and that the reality on the ground was far messier than the specialisation hypothesis would suggest. P. J. Waller, for example, has argued that 'seaside towns were not homogenous types ... they often combined holiday facilities with other pursuits, usually shipping and fishing', and that 'the history of pleasure resorts ... is more complicated than a story of property tycoons and corporations sniffing ozone and cashing in on an inevitable boom. One factor is evidently the potential for alternative business. A certain level of port traffic would not upset the holiday trade'. In fact, a large number of railway connections to emergent resorts were built with the primary intention of developing freight traffic to commercial harbours, and the resorts, with their fluctuating, unreliable and inconvenient seasonal traffic, were the secondary beneficiaries of such initiatives.

Contemporary guidebooks – which might be inclined to hide the presence of intrusive aspects of trade and commerce from potential visitors – could not conceal the obvious fact that conventional business activity mixed freely with the business of pleasure in some maritime settlements. Baedeker in 1894 pronounced Folkestone on the Kent coast 'a cheerful and thriving seaport and watering-place' and Dover, with its 'large outer tidal basin and two spacious docks' to accommodate the continental mail packets, 'a favourite bathing-place and winter-resort'; on the east coast, Lowestoft was 'a fashionable sea-bathing resort' and 'important fishing-station', and Yarmouth 'the most important town and port on the E. Anglian coast ... is also a very popular watering-place and in the summer is flooded almost daily with excursionists'. An annual guide to Seaside Watering Places for the season 1900–1901 was typical in including among its entries the major fishing or shipping ports of Southampton, Swansea, Brixham, Falmouth, Plymouth and Grimsby, as well as many minor ones. Clearly, resorts and ports were not mutually exclusive categories of settlement. This is not to say that in any particular location these functions were equally balanced or that, over time, one did not come to dominate and maybe drive out the other. Many small ports and fishing villages gradually completed a long-term transition, evolving into resorts during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but without necessarily losing older activities altogether. The two roles could co-exist over a considerable period of time so that any simple story of one automatically displacing the other, as the forces of specialisation kicked in, is difficult to sustain. Instead, a more nuanced and complicated account needs to be developed of how resort and port interacted with each other. The studies in this volume explore this relationship and the various transitions under way through a set of detailed case studies ranging across Britain and Europe. The term 'port' is defined broadly, embracing commercial, military, manufacturing and transport activity associated with maritime business, whereas coastal 'resorts' include a range of health and leisure functions, including pleasure boating, as well as those directly related to bathing beaches. There remains an extensive middle ground of retailing, services and infrastructural provision and maintenance which might serve port, resort and (for example) retirement functions to varying and changing degrees, with definitions being complicated by the prevalence of multiple occupations, casual, part-time and 'informal' employment, and seasonal migration in both resort and port economies. The following introduction sets out an agenda for investigating the resort–port relationship. It begins by reviewing the current historiography before examining the extent to which resorts continued to function as working ports and industrial and service centres and how far this relationship was one of conflict or co-existence. There then follows an exploration of the critical role of imagery in shaping visitor perceptions of the compatibility, or otherwise, of resort and port. How this marriage has fared over the long term is then briefly reviewed before a conclusion introduces the detailed studies contained in this volume and outlines some of the common themes that emerge among them.


Historical surveys of ports and resorts across countries or continents have not been common, and the overall balance of studies tilts strongly towards the ports. This is not surprising since coverage at this level of generalisation has understandably highlighted the major port cities for which resort functions, where they existed, remained peripheral in every sense. A recent collection of papers on 'Western European port-cities' between 1650 and 1939, for example, hardly mentions coastal resort activity, apart from a few brief and isolated comments on sea-bathing at Portsmouth and Southsea, while O'Flanagan's ambitious survey of the port cities of Atlantic Iberia over four centuries similarly neglects coastal resort developments in (for example) Santander and San Sebastián, which come towards the end of his period, in 'second-tier' seaports, and after the themes that most interest him begin to wane from the late eighteenth century. Studies of Liverpool as a city and seaport economy tend to ignore its own satellite resorts and 'marine suburbs', whether it was New Brighton on the opposite bank of the Mersey, Parkgate and its neighbours on the Wirral Peninsula or Crosby, Waterloo, and Southport to the north of Bootle's dockland. The kinds of smaller ports in which resort functions became more prominent have tended to be studied at the regional or local level, as case studies or for their perceived intrinsic interest; and even then, as in recent studies 'in the round' and over long periods of the neighbouring Yorkshire resorts of Scarborough and Bridlington, the resort aspects of the urban economy have tended to be subordinated (understandably at times) to more conventional themes. Substantial towns where coastal resort functions have been grafted on alongside commercial port, fishing and other economic activities, including Ostend, Boulogne, Dieppe, San Sebastián, Santander, Málaga and various Baltic ports as well as the British examples cited above, have attracted a scattered but cumulatively impressive set of historical analyses without the 'port and resort' theme developing into anything resembling a full-scale historiography. There were other patterns as well. At Rimini, different kinds of industrial activity, in symbiosis with coastal tourism, proved more important to regional development than maritime activities, whereas at Bilbao the sheer intensity of commercial and industrial development displaced seaside tourism far down the Nervión estuary, beyond the city boundary, to Getxo and beyond. We do, however, have a few introductory surveys of patterns of coastal resort development in its own right across broad areas of Europe, although their coverage is tilted towards the western half of the continent, and the absence of great cities among the resorts makes them less visible in national and international urban hierarchies. But the working out of relationships between port and resort has mainly been a matter for local study, particularly in smaller settings. It is particularly important to escape from a prevailing set of assumptions that regards seaside tourism as simply an escape route from the decline of fishing and maritime trade as competition from the bigger ports intensified and the railways made their impact; as the case studies in this book demonstrate, the realities were much more complicated.

Co-existence or Competition?

Coastal resorts were, then, often to be found in symbiosis with fishing and commercial ports, even with associated manufacturing and import processing industries, and each function could benefit from the presence of the other, although the more exclusive resort interests were sometimes reluctant to recognise this. Naval and international passenger ports might provide distinctive assets too: the Royal Navy offering a military spectacle to holidaymakers at Southsea or on the Isle of Wight, or majestic transatlantic passenger liners passing New Brighton on their way to and from the Liverpool docks. In other cases, the functions were also at arm's length: Grimsby's deep-sea fishing and commercial docks were a short train or tram ride from the popular resort of Cleethorpes in Victorian times and thereafter, and interested parties had to make a special effort to visit them, although they were certainly recognised as an additional attraction. At Hastings, on the other hand, the fishing boats were drawn up on the eastern beach in front of the Old Town, and the business of fishing, with the distinctive architecture of the Net Stores, was an attraction for holidaymakers. This did not prevent twentieth-century local government from pushing it steadily further away from the 'polite' and controlled part of the resort and seeking to demolish large areas of the quaint and attractive fishing quarter, giving rise to a conflict which was reprised on many parts of the British coastline in the mid-twentieth century, with varying outcomes.

The advent of holidaymakers also provided additional options for local fishermen, who could not only supply locally caught fish to new local markets but also make money out of fishing trips and what Sidmouth fishermen in the early twentieth century, as described by Stephen Reynolds, called 'frights': pleasure boating trips for individuals or parties. This offered new flexibility to complex but fragile family economies during the summer. It also brought holidaymakers into direct contact with these objects of the 'tourist gaze', while helping to generate a series of jocular allusions in cartoon and story, in the humorous magazine Punch and elsewhere, to the resultant possibilities for hilarious mutual misunderstanding.

Maritime trading and fishing were the most obvious roles that coexisted or competed with pleasure and health in the resort economy. But they were by no means the only ones. Coastal and estuarine locations, particularly ports, were magnets to industry. The logistics and expense of moving bulky raw materials and finished products over land – particularly before the introduction of the railways and motorised vehicles – made access to water-based transport highly advantageous. Manufacturing industries utilising coal, metal ores, clay and sand – such as iron and copper smelting, earthenware production or glass making – were frequently located in or near ports. Such was also the case for coal-based industries focused on processing human consumables such as salt, tobacco and sugar. Exposed cliff faces made coastlines attractive sites for quarrying and mining, while the surge in demand in the late eighteenth century for lime for agricultural and building purposes meant that the margins of sea and estuary were often lined with kilns – some on a small scale, others generating impressive industrial plants where limestone could be burnt with coal or culm to produce quicklime. Add to this shipbuilding and refitting, milling and the processing of fish products, and it was rarely possible for the world of the resort to be entirely isolated from that of industry.

Along some coastlines, where industrialisation was proceeding dramatically, such as in parts of north-eastern England and southern Wales, the proximity of the two worlds was hard to ignore even in the guidebooks, which generally blotted out any reference to factors which might detract from the appeal of a resort. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a coastal resort guide reported that Swansea

has long become the chief seat of the copper smelting trade in Great Britain ... In addition to the great copper works there are extensive silver, steel, iron, tin, zinc, alkali and patent fuel works; breweries, tanneries, flour-mills, rope, timber, and ship-repairing yards. ... The climate is mostly healthy and agreeable ... but it is more or less spoilt by the smoke and noxious effluvia which, in some states of the wind, are brought down from the copper and chemical works of the neighbourhood. Nevertheless, the annual death-rate is comparatively low. There are magnificent sands and every advantage for sea-bathing.

Further west, at Burry Port, 'comfortable lodgings may be found ... within a few minutes walks of the sands ... there are copper and white-lead works, and a fine harbour, where a good shipping trade is done, the chief export being coal. ... The bathing is delightful, but there is no accommodation'. The case of Swansea will be examined in detail later in this volume, but extensive as the impact of industrialisation was on the town, the combination of resort and industry was not unique. At the end of the eighteenth century, the small port of Instow, located at the confluence of the rivers Taw and Torridge, emerged as a modest sea-bathing resort for the middle class of north Devon. Within the settlement itself, any industrial activity probably retreated (though 'a massive fortress-like limekiln' survives), but immediately opposite, across the Torridge, lay the shipbuilding yards of Appledore – one of a number of such premises stretching along the Taw towards Bideford – while the estuary as a whole was pitted with limekilns, and potteries operated at Barnstaple, Bideford and Fremington, using clay mined at the last of these.

Specialised industrial processes were supplemented at all resorts by a range of more general manufacturing and craft businesses – the building trades, food processing, brewing, blacksmiths, furniture making and the like – without which it was impossible for any town to operate. In the 1820s, it has been calculated that 33% of Brighton's workforce was employed in producing food, clothing and other manufactures, and another 11% was employed in the building trades. A further 42% was engaged in providing non-accommodation services. Many of these would of course provide for the needs of visitors as well as residents. Some resorts were also regional centres, catering not only to holidaymakers but also to shoppers, entertainment seekers and the like from surrounding villages and nearby urban networks, as with Blackpool and the Fylde of Lancashire. As such, regionally orientated consumer and professional services – including educational facilities – could represent an important strand in their economies. In 1833, for example, Brighton was said to have about 90 schools for 'young ladies and gentlemen', some of whom would come from more distant parts, as well as over 50 teachers of particular skills such as music, languages and writing. At Aberystwyth, the worlds of leisure and education became inextricably intertwined when the entrepreneur who was building the spectacular sea-front Castle Hotel, Thomas Savin, went bankrupt in 1866. The University College of Wales, seeking a site on which to establish itself, grasped the opportunity provided by a knock-down price and an impressive location and took over the building project. Work continued on the site during the rest of the century, the university absorbed further property along the promenade to provide student halls, and the Alexandra Halls (for women) were constructed in 1896–1898 at the northern end of the promenade; meanwhile, the Cambrian Hotel opposite the pier failed and was converted into a Calvinistic Methodist theological college from 1906. The fusion of higher education and resort location was to prove prophetic of a trend that was to bear considerable fruit in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, particularly in Britain, as seaside towns sought pathways to regeneration.


Excerpted from Resorts and Ports by Peter Borsay, John K. Walton. Copyright © 2011 Peter Borsay, John K. Walton and the authors of individual chapters. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
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Table of Contents

1. Peter Borsay and John K. Walton: Introduction: the Resort-Port Relationship

2. Allan Brodie: Towns of ‘Health and Mirth’: the First Seaside Resorts, 1730-1769

3. Jan Hein Furnée: A Dutch idyll? Scheveningen as a Seaside Resort, Fishing Village, and Port, c. 1700-1900

4. David Hussey: ‘From the Temple of Hygeia to the Sordid Devotees of Pluto’. The Hotwell and Bristol: Resort and Port in the Eighteenth Century.

5. Fred Gray: Three Views of Brighton as a Resort

6. Peter Borsay: From Port to Resort: Tenby and Narratives of Transition, 1760-1914

7. Louise Miskell: A Town Divided? Sea-bathing, Dock-building, and Oyster-fishing in Nineteenth-century Swansea

8. John K. Walton: Port and Resort: Symbiosis and Conflict in ‘Old Whitby’, England, since 1880

9. Berit Eide Johnsen: Recycled Maritime Culture and Landscape: Various Aspects of Nineteenth-century Shipping and Fishing Industries to Twentieth-century Tourism in Southern Norway

10. Guy Saupin: Gijón: From Asturian Regional Port and Industrial City, to Touristic and Cultural Centre for the European Atlantic Arc, from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

11. Simo Laakkonen and Karina Vasilevska: From a Baltic Village to a Leading Health resort: Reminiscences of the Social History of Jurmala, Latvia

12. Jason Wood: From Port to Resort: Art, Heritage, and Identity in the Regeneration of Margate

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