Last week the Blackpool Museum Project visited Scarborough for the Seaside Heritage Network’s Beside the Seaside conference. The event brought together museums and academics from around the coast, including from across the Irish Sea. There were lots of fantastic speakers, and it was really interesting to compare Blackpool and other British seaside resorts.

The Spa is Scarborough…

The conference was held in Scarborough Spa. Keith Johnston from the Scarborough Historical and Archaeological Society gave a presentation on the site. He explained how the presence of spa waters, discovered in the 17th century, had driven early visitors to the town, and helped turn Scarborough into a seaside destination. Like many other venues such as Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, the Spa grew and changed over time to reflect the interests of holidaymakers. This ensured it remained profitable and at the heart of resort life. To the point where it was often remarked that ‘The Spa is Scarborough, and Scarborough is the Spa’.

Looking back towards Scarborough town from the Spa.

Looking back towards Scarborough town from the Spa.

Blackpool will never be as bad as Douglas…

Katie King from Manx National Heritage gave a fascinating and often hilarious presentation entitled ‘One of our badgers is missing‘. This explored how the Isle of Man grew its early tourism industry during the Victorian and Edwardian era. Shockingly in the late 1800s Douglas developed a reputation for sin, iniquity and loose women. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, caused its tourism industry to boom! According to Katie, rival resorts such as Blackpool and Morecambe started claiming in that ‘We will never be as bad as Douglas’ in their advertising campaigns. We haven’t come across a ‘Not as bad as Douglas’ poster in our archive yet, but we will be keeping our eyes open for one!

A Postcard from Blackpool

Katina Bill from Kirklees Museums talked on the history of Bamforth and Co. most famous for their saucy seaside postcards. She covered a range of postcard topics and artists, and her talk explored the war between postcard artists and censors about the difference between ‘the obscene and the merely vulgar’. A highlight of Katina’s talk was seeing a Bamforth and Co. sketch which was submitted for approval by Blackpool’s Censorship board. The illustration depicted a buxom woman with a deeply plunging neckline. It had received approval however a hand written annotation beside the illustration read ‘Moderate please’.

Katina Bell of Kirklees Museums with some examples of Bamforth & Co's saucy seaside postcards.

Katina Bell of Kirklees Museums with some examples of Bamforth & Co’s saucy seaside postcards.

Dr James Taylor continued the look at comic postcards with his talk on the forgotten artists behind the pictures. In particular he looked at the works of Frederick George, Lewin, Hilda Cowhan and Reg Maurice. His presentation was very interesting and helped give us a better understanding of how the artists behind the postcards came to create their own distinct styles.

Building the British Seaside

Dr Anya Chapman from the National Piers Society gave a whistle-stop tour around the country’s seaside pleasure piers. She talked about how the pier became a seaside icon, and showcased some fantastic piers from all around the coast. Dr Chapman is a member of the Blackpool Museum Project’s academic panel. We really appreciate her insight and expertise on both the Blackpool seafront, and the nation’s seafronts.

The original 1930s Butlin's Skegness main building. Copyright Butlin's/Mercury Press

The original 1930s Butlin’s Skegness main building. Copyright Butlin’s/Mercury Press

Dr Kathryn Ferry celebrated the striking Modernist holiday camps created in the 1930s by Billy Butlin. He designed the camps as all-inclusive middle class holiday resorts, giving holidaymakers the freedom to relax, take part in activities, or even just have a hot bath every day! The luxuries on offer to Butlin’s guests were remarkable, as was Butlin’s love of Modernist architecture, including the use of neon. The parallels with Blackpool’s Illuminations and Joseph Emberton’s 1937 Casino at the Pleasure Beach are clear, and demonstrate how cutting edge Blackpool’s attractions were for the 1930s holidaymaker.

Joseph Emberton's Modernist casino building at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Photograph by Ted Lightbown.

Joseph Emberton’s Modernist casino building at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Photograph by Ted Lightbown.

The Future of Seaside Heritage

The keynote speaker at the conference was Samantha Richardson, director of the National Coastal Tourism Academy. Sam’s talk was on Connecting the Past with the Future. She gave an excellent talk on how Britain’s seaside heritage is key in continuing to attract visitors to the coast. Her talk also explored what seaside towns can do to capitalise on this. Sam was very excited to hear more about the Museum Project, and was very positive about the way Blackpool is celebrating its heritage.

Sam also provided some great advice on how to target potential holidaymakers, and showcased an exciting new immersive digital platform. The Coastal Pass enables visitors to plan a coastal visit before setting off on their adventure. We are keen to trial something similar as the Museum draws closer to opening.

Overall the day was a great celebration of the Great British Seaside, and it provided plenty of food for thought. We look forward to our next gathering, and will continue to share the Network’s work with you.