That’s not the way to do it! Five things we miss about the British seaside

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This summer, thanks to the pandemic, thousands of families have ignored abroad, and headed off on a nostalgic jaunt to the British seaside. 

Whether it’s cockles in Clacton, sunning in Southend or pottering in Penzance, the traditional family holiday is enjoying a revival, torrential rain aside. But while parents and grandparents may look back fondly on nostalgic British breaks, some familiar aspects of the old-school seaside holiday are, sadly, dying out.

Online gaming has replaced jigsaws and stylish Airbnb has overtaken the old-fashioned landlady with her clanging breakfast gong. More regrettably, though, the long tradition of Punch and Judy is also declining, according to reports – and ironically, it’s mostly down to bad manners. 

The puppet-masters behind the performances have said that they can no longer deal with the threats and bad language from parents, as when asked to pay the requisite £2 to watch, many unleash a volley of abuse and ‘f-bombs’. Now, there are only a handful of the shows left each summer.

WEYMOUTH, UK - AUGUST 15TH 2017: A Punch and Judy show taking place on the beautiful Weymouth seafront in Dorset, UK, on 15th August 2017.
Punch and Judy in Weymouth. The Netflix of Victorian holidays. (Getty Images)

Punch and Judy dates back to 16th century Italy, and features the warring couple, Baby, Constable and The Crocodile, plus a string of sausages. 

Some campaigners have also argued that the show is scary for children, and glorifies domestic violence. Now, the only full time shows left are at Weymouth and Swanage in Dorset and Llandudno in Wales.

Joe Burns, 29, started doing professional Punch and Judy when he was just 12 and currently performs on Swanage Beach in Dorset, where a show has been held since 1904. He said it has been by far the worst ever this year for abuse.

 ”What we are doing is so important heritage-wise. But the amount of abuse is putting that heritage at risk and it just seems so much worse this year.

“There is a misconception that we are funded and subsidised to perform on the beach but in reality we are not. We have to pay to set up the show, for the licence and to rent the area beach.

“It is a children’s show and I don’t understand the mentality that makes people behave that way.”

He adds,”Years ago, every beach resort in the UK had a Punch and Judy. In the last 50 years we have lost hundreds of them.”

Punch and Judy’s decline isn’t the only change. Here’s five British seaside traditions that are on the wane – and while some may be a good thing (saucy postcards have had their day and we all want donkeys to have a happy life) others will be greatly missed. 

On the upside, we’ll always have buckets and spades. And it will always rain. 

The Edwardians knew how to do a British holiday properly. Large hats. (Getty Images)
The Edwardians knew how to do a British holiday properly. Large hats. (Getty Images)

1 Penny arcades

A young boy watches the sweeping arms of a Penny push/fall game in the amusement arcade at Weston-super-Mare's grand pier. Waiting for some coins to be caught in the log-jam and to fall into the prize tray below, the lad seems spellbound by the potential luck and possibilities although the odds are against him. Images of 1970s dancers, including John Travolta, strut their stuff at the disco. 2p pennies stack up until the moment when they topple over and spill out. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)
Penny Falls at Weston. Nobody ever made their fortune this way. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

The hugely popular penny arcades developed from travelling fairs in the early 19th century, Usually on promenades or piers, their heyday was the 1960s, when concert halls fell out of use, and were swiftly transformed into Aladdin’s caves of fruit machines and pinball – and by the 70s, electronic games such as Space Invaders. 

The rise of home gaming and changes to gambling laws meant the arcades were less appealing – and plenty of smaller resorts have seen closures. Over 56 amusement parks and arcades have closed since the start of the pandemic, and developers are increasingly taking over the old sites with activity centres such as trampolining and escape rooms. 

2 Postcards

A recently found rare postcard first published in 1962, two years before the Tokyo Olympic Games. The card is being posted to Andrew Hunt, the BOA's Chief Executive wishing Team GB all the luck in the world and a successful Olympic Games.
A Bamforths postcard from the early 1960s. Clean compared to most! (Photo by Anna Gowthorpe/PA Images via Getty Images)

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According to research by Beach Retreats, around 75 per cent of Brits sent postcards from holiday 30 years ago but now only 30 per cent bother. With email, instant messaging and Whatsapp, greetings that take three days to arrive seem unnecessary to most of us, and postcards have been downgraded to ‘nostalgia’ – hence the popularity of the ‘postcard from the past’ Twitter account, which reproduces old messages from holidaymakers. 

Postcards can still be purchased of course – but the olden days ‘sauce’ of Donald McGill, the most prolific ‘rude joke’ postcard artist of all time, whose images of blondes in skimpy nighties, battle-axe wives and dimwitted, sex-crazed men sold millions, is long gone – thankfully, some may say! 

3 Donkey rides

Two cute long earred donkeys stand waiting for customers at the sea-side.
“Seriously? He’s twelve stone at least.” (Getty Images)

Thirty years ago, 64 per cent of holiday makers enjoyed a donkey ride on Dobbin or Misty, but today less than 18 per cent wobble down the beach on a beast of burden. That’s largely down to animal rights campaigners, who realised that forcing elderly donkeys to carry large children (and adults) up and down the sands was more cruel than crucial to a seaside holiday. Legislation now bans riders over 8 stone. Though several beaches, including Blackpool, still offer donkey rides, fewer parents are keen to encourage rides, and recently the RSPCA was inundated with complaints over the donkeys at Weston-Super-Mare working in a heatwave. 

4 Seaside rock

HASTINGS, UNITED KINGDOM - 2020/09/04: Colourful seaside rock for sale at a beachside shop.
Hastings in East Sussex is one of the medieval Cinque Ports and a popular seaside resort. It has the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe. The town has large pier and the Pleasure Beach now open after being closed throughout Coronavirus lockdown, tourists have begun to return. (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Is rock a tooth-breaker that has no place in today’s world of treats? (Photo by Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Taking home a souvenir of seaside rock has fallen from 79 per cent to 38 per cent in the past three decades. Rock has also been hit by EU labelling regulations, dental campaigns and spiralling costs (“It’s too labour intensive. No machine can do one batch that says Brighton and then another that says Clacton,” said Roy Morgan of rock manufacturers Grosvenor Confectionery.) Now, souvenirs tend towards giant lollies, and plastic tubes of sweets that can be cheaply produced, and the old favourite is seen as a tooth-destroying throwback. It’s still available – but future generations may be less than impressed.

4 Piers

A view looking along Llandudno Pier on a busy summers day with the Wind Farm on the horizon beyond.
Some piers are thriving – others are crumbling. (Getty Images).

Piers used to be the absolute pinnacle of the seaside experience, with big name comedians and singers putting on summer shows, endless amusements and shops selling all the seaside accessories you could ever need, from crabbing nets to a comb with your name on it. 

Less than half of Britain’s Victorian piers remain, with iconic structures such as Brighton’s West Pier ravaged by fire and left to rot, and others battered by storms simply crumbling into the sea. The advent of TV, and home entertainment, means live shows are less of a draw, and simple, ‘tacky’ entertainments are less appealing. But plenty of piers still thrive, with a new generation drawn to their nostalgic charm, funfairs and architecture.

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