As the fashionable ‘water cure’ of spas such as Bath and Tunbridge Wells moved coastwards in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so a number of obscure fishing villages reinvented themselves as seaside resorts. Kent was an obvious beneficiary of this trend, with Gravesend in the Medway area and no fewer than seven resorts along the East coast gaining traction across the period: visitors were drawn in large numbers to Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Margate in Thanet, and to Folkestone and Dover in Sheppey. While Whitstable, Hythe and Herne Bay never offered serious competition to the Sussex resorts of Brighton and Eastbourne, they too attracted a number of summer visitors.
Women of all ages benefited from the greater freedom and healthier lifestyle of the seaside holiday. Princess Victoria spent three months in Broadstairs in 1829 and stayed in Ramsgate in 1835. Another teenage girl, Emily Shore, kept a journal of her visit to Thanet in the summer of 1831. Like Anna Maria Hussey, who holidayed in Dover in 1836, Emily made the trip by steamboat.
The bye-laws in these resorts were notoriously confusing, and not everyone adhered to them, as Israel Zangwill noticed in 1893:
At Folkestone, where the machine-people are dreadfully set against ladies and gentlemen using the same water, promiscuous bathing flourishes more nakedly than anywhere on the Continent; and the gentlemen have neither tents nor costumes. In Margate the machines are of either sex, and the gentlemen are clad in coloured pocket-handkerchiefs. At Birchington, I bathed from a boat which was besieged by a bevy of wandering water-nymphs, begging me to let them dive from it.
The more restrained Broadstairs on the other hand, had 'a jolly old waterman, who paddles about apparently to pick up exhausted bathers. One morning as I was swimming past his boat he warned me back. “Any danger?” I asked. “Ladies,” he replied, ambiguously enough. It thus transpired that his function is to preserve a scientific frontier between the sexes.'
By the early decades of the 20th century visitors would be able to enjoy a body of holiday fiction set in the resort they were visiting: Maggie of Margate: a Seaside Sensation, The Passenger to 'Folkestone, The Beauty of Broadstairs and A Girl of Thanet, to name but a few.
Dicks, John. The Beauty of Broadstairs. Bow Bells Novelettes. Seaside number (82). Vol iv. August 1880. 113-28.
Fletcher, J. S. The Passenger to Folkestone. London: Herbert Jenkins .
Oulton, Carolyn W. de la L. Down from London: Seaside Reading in the Railway Age. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2022.
Reed, Marcus. A Girl of Thanet. London: Andrew Melrose .
Wodnil, Gabrielle. Maggie of Margate: a Seaside Sensation. London: Stanley Paul & Co., 1912.
Zangwill, Israel. 'Without Prejudice’ VI. Pall Mall Magazine: 1 (May-Oct 1893) 901-08.