Northumberland’s seaside past brought to life in new exhibition

Northumberland’s beaches attract plentiful praise and national recognition for their quality and are valued as one of the county’s great natural assets nowadays.

But this is nothing new, as an exhibition which opens tomorrow shows. From the middle of the 19th century, the beaches have attracted a steady stream of visitors.

‘Beside The Seaside: 150 Years of Northumbrian Beach Holidays’ will run throughout the summer until August 30 at the Bailiffgate Museum & Gallery in Alnwick.

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“The exhibition explores how the notion of taking a trip to the seaside has become recognised as a quintessential aspect of British culture,” said Mick Grant, one of a team of museum volunteers who have planned the exhibition. “The seaside holiday has long been perceived as a much-loved British tradition.

“Once only affordable to those in high society, the establishment of rail networks and the introduction of Bank Holidays in the 19th and early 20th century allowed the ordinary British worker to take advantage of recreational opportunities that had previously been inaccessible.”

Picture of Alnmouth from Beside The Seaside exhibiton at the Bailiffgate Museum & Gallery in Alnwick

On display is a collection of cameras, family photographs and postcards – many from the collection of local historian John Yearnshire – showcasing how families from different social classes have enjoyed Northumbrian seaside locations from the Victorian era to the present day. Exhibition visitors play traditional seaside games such as pin the tail on the donkey and Aunt Sally, and have the chance to dress up in traditional beach attire.

Also on show are seaside paintings from internationally recognised and Alnwick-born artist Stella Vine. The exhibition has a particular focus on Alnmouth, with an 1889 tourism guide revealing that there were more than 100 houses available as holiday accommodation, either offering rooms or the entire home.

A letter to a local newspaper in the same year, echoes concerns felt today. It said: “During the last few years, many of the houses in Alnmouth have exchanged hands and have been bought by visitors for their own use during the summer and stand empty though the winter, which has been the means of turning families out of a suitable house. Others have been compelled to leave the village altogether.”

Mining families from collieries like Shilbottle near Alnwick would spend the best part of the summer camping in the dunes at Alnmouth, with pitmen working their shifts and joining their wives and children at weekends world where the sun always seemed to shine, in the days before jet holidays to foreign resorts. “We hope the exhibition triggers memories of seaside holidays and visits,” Mr Grant added.

As part of the exhibition, author, historian and TV and radio expert Dr Kathryn Ferry, who has written several books on seaside culture, will be celebrating the British seaside with her talk Deckchairs, Piers and Souvenirs on April 28. Dr Ferry will take a whistle-stop tour through three centuries of seaside history using material from her latest book ‘Seaside 100: The History of the British Seaside in 100 Objects’.

Covering buildings, piers, transport, souvenirs, foods and fashions Dr Ferry will explore how the layering of all these different elements has created the distinctive landscapes of our coastal resorts including those in Northumberland.