Francis Frith, 'Hastings from the beach – low water', The Gossiping Photographer at Hastings, 1864
Governesses watch their young charges while men in shirt-sleeves laze in this photograph of a Victorian vacation to the seaside. Seaside visits and sea bathing had been something of a craze among the aristocracy in the early 19th century, but with the arrival of affordable steamboat and train travel, the apparent benefits of fresh sea air became available to all but the most impoverished urban dwellers.
Seaside lodgings, too, were increasingly affordable. Frith notes:
We came down from London Bridge in two hours and a half … cheap enough. You face the sea in your drawing-room at St Leonards, and occupy your five bed-rooms at six guineas a week … whilst Jones has fine open quarters looking landwise for ten shillings a week.
Towns such as Hastings, Margate and Brighton became particularly popular places to stay during the summer months, marking the first concentrated demonstration of the growth of a British leisure class.
Who was Francis Frith?
Francis Frith (1822-98) was one of the founding fathers of British popular photography. He made his name with a series of photographic exhibitions, based on his trips to Egypt and the Holy Land in the 1850s. He later established a family publishing firm that supplied topographical views of Britain and Europe to a developing tourist market. The firm lasted till 1960.
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