On July 25th, 2016 we learned about

The Brits who decided to brave, and eventually enjoy, a day at the beach

Going to the beach was once terrible. It wasn’t due to the sand being of lower quality, an overabundance of crabs, or consistently bad weather. It was just that people didn’t feel terribly safe at the edge of the ocean, much less find sitting by the waves relaxing. Too many fables and histories warned of sea monsters, flooding, invaders or even mariners inadvertently importing disease. For Europeans, and more specifically, Brits, the concept of a day at the beach was nearly consciously invented in the 18th century, partly because people were feeling that life inland was somehow becoming less healthy than a bout with potential sea monsters.

Rest and recuperation

As the Industrial Revolution was just warming up in Europe, members of the upper class were feeling a little intimidated and precious about themselves. Beyond that, the rise of sooty factories was making conditions in urban areas considerably less healthy, prompting people to look for places to “restore” themselves. A relatively speedy ride on a steam train was a way to get to a beach to soak up the sea air and hopefully cure the depression, leprosy, hysteria, or whatever other malady afflicted someone. Swimming was limited and mostly suggested as a “cold plunge,” partly due to the cumbersome bathing costumes of the day.

Without anyone being gobbled up by sea serpents, word started to get around that beaches could be rather pleasant places. By 1840, beaches were being attended by a wider range of people, motivated to take a break from their lives in the city and sit by the water for the basic pleasure of it. This shift in attendance also started to reshape some of the communities on the shore, who found reason to cater to tourists for the first time, rather than just maritime logistics associated with travel or fishing.

Center of recreation

Naturally, people’s image of what a beach means has since changed as well. We might still go to the shore to escape our daily routines, but the beach itself is more of a stage for the interests we bring with us, rather than a wholly realized place on its own. There are still beaches that are dominated by a more feral ecosystem, but many humans look at the beach more as a big blank slate to play or rest on. That said, it’s hard to replace the feeling and sound of the waves coming in, especially now that we’ve collectively chosen to stop being scared of them.

Source: Inventing the Beach: The Unnatural History of a Natural Place by Daniela Blei, Smithsonian

First person view of a hand holding up a bat sticker in front of a lake

Bring a bat (sticker) wherever you go

2 New Things sticker shop