#MyrtleMondays: Fun at the Victorian Seaside, Caught on Film!

Memorial Day, although a solemn holiday of remembrance since its post-Civil War origins (read more about the observance and its history at History.com), has long been considered the unofficial kickoff of the summer holidays in America. And though we’re all hopefully still staying safely away from crowded beaches this year, spending a sunny (or chilly) summer day at the seaside was just as popular in the Victorian age. In fact, thanks to the railroads and the development of the modern workweek (and the modern middle class), you could say the Victorian English invented the modern seaside vacation!

image by Jenn at Centuries Sewing | Doll costume made by ecb

The second Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, How to Get Away with Myrtle (October 6), takes place in an English seaside holiday town in 1893, and today I’d like to share some wonderful early films that capture all the fun of this enduring pastime.

Motion pictures weren’t quite available yet in 1893, but they were coming—and swiftly. These films span the earliest days of the movie industry, and cover all the amenities a holidaymaker could ask for, then and now: promenading on the pier, taking a paddle steamer out to sea, frolicking on the beach, and enjoying musical entertainments. Technology and fashion might advance a bit, but fun stays the same. (Their notion of sun protection was far ahead of ours, however!)

A fashion magazine’s idealized image of the beach in the 1880s

So fix yourself a glass of lemonade or an ice cream soda, kick back, and enjoy these first viral videos of families enjoying the beach! (While you stay well away from any viral beach activities.)

First up, the earliest piece is by the Lumiere Brothers, pioneers of French filmmaking, and features the arrival of a train at the French seaside village of La Ciotat in 1895.  From the oncoming locomotive to the bustling platform and the travelling clothes (and bundles! What do they all have in those bundles?!) of the waiting passengers, this colorized version brings this everyday event vividly to life, 124 years later.

Next up is a lovely afternoon (or a couple) at Blackpool, a resort town in northwest England. By the time this film was shot in 1904, Blackpool was already famous for its Tower, completed ten years earlier: a metal monument inspired by the Eiffel Tower in France. It still stands today, and was—and remains—a major attraction. You can catch a glimpse of it—and much more—in this film featuring the Blackpool Pier (ambient sound effects and music have been added). I keep thinking how cold everyone looks!

Finally, we have some great footage from 1900 of the paddle steamer Brighton Queen pulling into a jetty in Sussex to allow the passengers to disembark. These steam-powered vessels carried holidaymakers from larger towns with railway termini to smaller seaside villages where the trains didn’t run. Such a ship plays a pivotal role in How to Get Away with Myrtle

Living in the landlocked Midwest, it will be some time before I see a beach again, but Myrtle’s seaside holiday begins on October 6.

Cover artist Brett Helquist perfectly captured the spirit of 19th century travel posters

Happy Summer, everyone! Stay safe!


ps: For more information on the doll ensemble shown above, click here.