Val's August blog: seaside memories

August: lazy days full of sunshine, family holidays, exploring unfettered by time - or a month of inclement weather where we scramble to find entertainment for another wet afternoon.  We may groan - discussing the weather is a national pastime - but our impressive coastline is perfect to enjoy at all times ... just don’t forget to pack a mac, umbrella, and jumper along with your sun cream. 

The films chosen for this month capture what life was like along the Yorkshire and North East coast from 100 years ago to more recent times. The holiday fun, buckets and spades, the British passion for building sandcastles and dams, ice creams, the seaside towns depending that elusive sun for visitors are all here.

In Yorkshire and in the North East,  we are blessed with having a coastline rich in natural beauty so before looking at beach holidays,  I wanted to share with you some spectacular scenery of ‘climmers’ harvesting eggs on the precarious cliffs at Bempton.  Filmed in 1908, this film shows a group of men, known as ‘climmers’, who collect eggs from bird nests on the unscalable cliffs at Flamborough. The Egg Harvest (1908) features the warning sign ‘Do not attempt this at home’.  

We see the sheer courage of these men, who to supplement their income abseil down the cliff to collects eggs from birds’ nests. They carefully place the eggs in sacks hanging around the waist, while swinging and bouncing off the cliff face, and then are hauled to safety by four men on top of the cliff. Simply jaw dropping.  

More down to earth, but equally as enterprising, is Caravanning in Ulroam Sands (1948). Earlier, I spoke of building sandcastles but this film opens with a much more enterprising man building a caravan in his back garden from start to finish. Impressively the caravan is then calmly and successfully attached to the back of a car and towed off to Ulrome Sands.  Thanks Dad.  We next see the family enjoying a leisurely time swimming in the sea, sunbathing and having a thoroughly good time - a nostalgic look back at the simple pleasures of a family enjoying their time together.

When I was younger we always went to the coast as a family and I have three strong memories. One was of building deckchair shelters when it inevitably started to rain and we refused to leave our hard fought for spot on the beach. We would sit huddled together singing the Sound of Music.

Secondly I have a delightful image of my grandfather sitting in a deckchair fully suited, brogues and all, but with a shiny suntanned head, surrounded by all the paraphernalia of beach visits.

Lastly, recalling how my sisters were never able to pass their favourite donkeys without demanding a ride. Consequently the family album is full of pictures of them clinging on to the saddle. In Rachel Discovers the Sea (1937) you see very similar memories as we encounter a Rotherham family’s holiday to Whitby and Filey.

The film includes footage of the Chislett family on the beach, playing in the water, and taking donkey rides along the seaside. The adults initially are dressed in smart clothes rather than beachwear, just like my grandfather, but then things relax and we see paddling in some very interesting swimwear. Don’t you just love the sunglasses at the time sequence of 4.40 minutes?  British beach life at its best,  it is all here, floating on lilos, donkey rides, small boats sailing around in a large dug out pool, tears when the sandcastle is smashed, play fighting, cricket on the beautiful wide sandy beaches and fun fun fun.

Still by the seaside, Whitley Bay (1950) is an amateur documentary takes of a day in the life of the seaside town of Whitley Bay in the early 1950s.  The footage includes scenes inside the Spanish City pleasure park and funfair, again the quintessential Punch and Judy show on Whitley Sands, Table Rock's Bathing Pool, the open air pools on the Southern Promenade and views of St Mary's Island.

And watch Redcar for Holidays (1935) for the variety of leisure activities and entertainment found at the seaside resort of Redcar. Produced by Middlesbrough dentist and amateur filmmaker Tom H. Brown in 1935, the film captures seaside attractions such as ‘head-through-the-hole’ beach photography, the Society Palmist shop front, Fleet’s Punch and Judy Show, Victorian swings and ventriloquists. We also see a high angle shot of an elaborate architectural sandcastle on the beach.

Very impressive, but best of all are the scenes of a swimwear fashion show at Redcar’s outdoor pool which also provides a fascinating insight into changing styles from 1882 to 1935. I was surprised how modern and risqué some of the costumes looked and this illustrates the changing status of women through clothing, albeit via the beauty contest.

The last film is from the Ibberson Collection and documents, mostly in colour, the family at different seafronts and beaches including Filey and Whitby. Yorkshire Beaches (1945)  poignantly  filmed at the end of the Second World War is a portrayal of a family really enjoying the refreshing sea air, gloriously running together along the water’s edge, playing ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ laughing as they fall into the water, jumping over waves and collecting water in buckets. And what about those changing huts, why did we get rid of those photogenic and highly useful objects?

So if it is raining today, what could be better than to look at films of other people enjoying themselves. I would also like to draw to your attention  to the extraordinary collection of coastal films which we'll be presenting in venues up and down the Yorkshire and North East coast in the coming weeks as part of Moving North: Coastal.  These films show the diversity of our coastal towns and villages, the summer tourism and the working lives in small coastal communities. Check out our News pages for full information.

Val