Victorian Era Pleasure Piers And The Working Class Holiday

Victorian Era Pleasure Piers flourished along with the working class holiday starting in the 1840s. Seaside resorts were sprouting out of small fishing villages and coastal towns. By 1914, one hundred pleasure piers spotted Britain’s coastline.

The trip to a Pleasure Pier was a grand adventure. They were colorful, bustling places teeming with thrilling new forms of entertainment. Pleasure Piers were largely family friendly, affordable affairs where people could enjoy unbuttoned fun while eating finger food straight out of paper wrappers.

A wide variety of attractions became necessary as seaside resorts and their pleasure piers competed for holiday makers. With the rapid expansion of inventions, one craze gave way to another. Among them:

-Punch and Judy shows, minstrels, acrobats and carousels.

-Promenades where ladies could flaunt new outfits and flirt with parasols.

– Ice cream was an old treat that was finally affordable to the new working class.

-Traveling photographers delighted the crowds.

-Mutoscopes and What The Butler Saw Machines gave way to cinema.

Bathing machines were still popular for those who wanted to take a dip in the ocean.

-Although surfing did not take off in Britain until later, the Hawaiian princes made a splash on their surfboards In Bridlington, 1890.

Eventually electricity brought exciting new forms of entertainment to Pleasure Piers and Boardwalks. The new lighting made nighttime entertainment flourish.

Seaside Resorts Prior To Pleasure Piers

Prior to the 19th century seaside resorts were generally limited to the upper class. It was widely believed that swimming in the sea could reverse maladies and even cure diseases. Many wealthy people made the difficult trek to the coast to take the “cure.”

Seaside resorts were also the luxurious escape for the rich and famous as well as the royals. Even Queen Victoria had her private seaside hideaway on the Isle of Wight.

The Birth Of The Working Class Holiday

All of this started to change by the 1840s. The First Industrial Revolution transitioned into the Second Industrial Revolution. Income of the average working person grew steadily along with the standard of living.

Also with the Industrial Revolution came improvements in transportation that allowed people greater mobility. With expansion of steam-powered railways, boats and ships, the Working Class Holiday became a reality.

As railway networks expanded and added new lines to seaport villages, excursions to the coast became easier. People of all classes swarmed the seaside resorts. Towns blossomed as they grew to meet the needs of vacationers. The Victorian Era Pleasure Piers were a natural result of their times.

Division Of The Classes Even On Pleasure Piers

In America, boardwalks ran along the ocean and everyone had access to them. In Britain a range of fees for various privileges existed on some Pleasure Piers and boardwalks. Sometimes it cost just to enter the turn-style at the foot of the pier. There were fees for sitting down and entering dance halls. Some piers even charged people to walk along the promenade.

Some Pleasure Piers were more accessible to the masses than others. The Central pier at Blackpool became known as “the people’s pier.”

From Pleasure Piers To Promenades And Seaside Swindles

The enormous influx of this new breed of tourists with discretionary income and a bottomless hunger for fun inspired entrepreneurs. Consortiums of investors built hotels, pleasure piers, people’s palaces, dance halls, promenades, winter gardens, and lagoons with Venetian gondolas, zoos and Aquaria.

The limited liability act of 1855 triggered a boom in the formation of many entertainment-based companies. Along with it came a wave of “small-share ownership.” According to Lynn Pearson in Sun, Sea, Sand and Finance, 263 joint stock companies, clearly identifiable as resort-based entertainment enterprises were registered between 1870 and 1914.

Principal shareholders actively sought small investments from large numbers of working-class people. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. While many of these companies dissolved, the facilities remained open. “It seems likely that few investors ever saw much return on their seaside shareholdings.”

The Victorian Era brought us seaside entertainment and Pleasure Piers, many of which are still enjoyed today. The Era also brought us colorful investor scams that are still in use today.  Successful businessmen continue to use the Victorian Era investment mechanisms to build giant towers, golf courses, and other pleasure places. They bankrupt their companies, and resurface under new names. Small investors and sometimes the small contractors go unpaid, while the successful businessmen still own the assets under a different name. It seems that what was old is new again.

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