We do like to be beside the seaside

DECEMBER 14th 2018

A warm and sunny talk on seaside resorts was just what the Ferring History Group needed on a perishing cold night when it gathered for its annual Christmas beano on December 14th.

The guest speaker in Ferring’s village hall was the renowned lecturer Ian Gledhill who entertained his audience of history enthusiasts with a talk entitled “Oh, We Do like To Be Beside the Seaside.” As befitting the Ferring venue, it had a pronounced Sussex focus.

Ian, a professional actor and talented speaker with a repertoire of over 40 talks including the magic of panto, Art Deco and British musical theatre, is an expert on the growth of Brighton as a seaside resort.

As he explained, the turning of Brighthelmstone from an unremarkable fishing village into a popular resort with famous piers owes much to the Prince Regent. One of Ian’s many striking illustrations depicted the lecherous Regent as a winged cupid wearing little more than a Garter Star and sash and kneeling lasciviously over a naked nymph, the personification of Brighton. (The 1944 painting by Rex Whistler is called “HRH the Prince Regent Awakening the Spirit of Brighton” and hangs in the Royal Pavilion.)

But, as Ian noted, it was Dr. Richard Russell who championed the medical properties of sea water and effectively founded Brighton as a bathing resort. The Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent) loved to be dunked in the bracing Channel waters by his favourite dipper, Martha Gunn who spent an extraordinary 70 years in the dipping business and died in 1815 at the age of 88.

Ian went on to delight his Ferring audience with seaside sagas from Hastings, Worthing, Littlehampton and Bognor. He admitted to a soft spot for Worthing Pier which has certainly been in the wars over the years. Erected in 1862, it was wrecked in a violent storm in 1913 and all but burnt down in 1933. It was then cut in half in 1940.

If the Ferring audience had wondered how the great British beach hut came to be, Ian had a novel explanation. Apparently, when bathing machines came to the end of their days they were hauled to the top of the beach and with their wheels knocked off became the huts we know and love.

Ian may have concentrated on Sussex but this was no parochial talk. He introduced his listeners to other British piers and found time to mention the Blackpool Tower, inspired by its big brother in Paris and opened in 1894. He even squeezed in a mention (and a spectacular photograph) of the bathing machine built for Spain’s King Alfonso XIII at San Sebastian in 1908. An outlandish kiosk, it ran into the sea on railway lines.

A delightful evening included a slap-up buffet (the trestle tables were fairly groaning with fare); a raffle with some lovely prizes appropriate to the season and a Sussex quiz with such questions as “Which British sovereign said ‘Bugger Bognor?’” and “Where would you go from Ferring, in the late 1780s, to see a public hanging?” (Answers: George V and Horsham.) You can’t go wrong with attractions like that and a talk by Ian Gledhill.