Aerial view of an open-air swimming pool set within an oval building
The Open-Air Swimming Baths and Victoria Pier, Blackpool, Lancashire, 12 September 1929. © Historic England Archive, Aerofilms Collection EPW029209
The Open-Air Swimming Baths and Victoria Pier, Blackpool, Lancashire, 12 September 1929. © Historic England Archive, Aerofilms Collection EPW029209

'England’s Seaside Heritage From the Air’: Historic England Publishes New Book of English Seaside Photographs

A new Historic England book, published today, illustrates England’s rich seaside heritage as few holidaymakers ever see it – from the air.

'England’s Seaside Heritage from the Air', written by Historic England’s tourism history expert Allan Brodie, features over 150 aerial photographs of England’s best-loved seaside resorts.

The images were taken between the 1920s and the 1950s, when England’s coastal destinations were nearing the peak of their popularity. The images form part of the Aerofilms Collection, held by the Historic England Archive.

The book tells the story of how England’s seaside resorts developed both as places of leisure and as working towns. Initially places where a few wealthy people bathed in the sea to improve their health, increasingly they became a magnet for the whole population.

The new book particularly shines a light on England’s seaside towns during the interwar period, when resorts expanded rapidly and created new outdoor pools and entertainment facilities for millions of holidaymakers.

Various images of Blackpool, Lancashire tell the story of the Pleasure Beach, Britain’s first amusement park, Blackpool Tower, the Winter Gardens and a now-lost open-air swimming pool, almost five times as large as an Olympic Swimming pool.

A photograph from 1932 of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, shows Glentworth Bay, which had recently been enclosed to create a tidal pool for swimming. Nearby at Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, an octagonal paddling pool was built on the beach by a local couple in 1921, as a gesture of thanks for the safe return of their five sons from the First World War.

While writing this book, locked down and unable to visit the seaside, it was a pleasure to wander along England’s coast via the thousands of images in the collection. The photographs in the book hopefully capture the joys of our coastal resorts, including some fascinating features that alas no longer survive, as well as passing moments in the story of our seaside holidays.
Allan Brodie, Author and Senior Architectural Investigator Historic England

The images also offer insights into the relationship between transport and resort development. The train was still the dominant means of going to the seaside in the interwar years, and the images illustrate how railway lines and stations shaped the fabric of many seaside resorts. A photograph of Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, for example, shows the Tendring Hundred Railway having a big impact on a small resort.

Piers are places to walk and have fun, but in the mid-20th century they were also delivering visitors to resorts. An image of Clacton-on-Sea, Essex shows paddle steamers moored at the end of the pier. Meanwhile the elegant wing-shaped Ramsgate Aerodrome Pavilion also reveals that some visitors travelled by air to England’s seaside. After the Second World War, affordable, international air travel would lead more holidaymakers to travel abroad, which would contribute to the decline of domestic seaside resorts.

These aerial photographs also capture images of events as well as places. In one image dating from June 1927, crowds are gathered at Southport, Lancashire to witness a rare, total eclipse of the sun.

The Aerofilms Collection in the Historic England Archive includes over a million urban, suburban, rural, coastal and industrial aerial photographs of Britain. It was created by Aerofilms Ltd, a pioneering aerial survey company set up in 1919 by First World War veterans, including Claude Grahame-White. The Aerofilms Collection was acquired by Historic England and other national partners in 2007, and a tenth of the Collection was digitised in a project called Britain from Above, which ran from 2010-2014 and can be seen online.