A flight around England's seaside 1920-1953

By Historic England

The Historic England Archive's Aerofilms Collection has a host of fascinating photographs that record England's seaside resorts from the air. This selection follows a route around the coast from the north east to the north west, revealing some fascinating views during a golden age of seaside holiday-making.  

Francis Lewis Wills, Jerry Shaw and Claude Friese-Greene in a DH98 biplane (1919-07) by Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Aerofilms - a pioneering company

Advances in aircraft and photography technology during the First World War led to the founding of Britain's first commercial aerial photography company, Aerofilms Ltd.

Established in 1919, Aerofilms blazed the trail for a new industry.

This selection of images from the Historic England Archive's Aerofilms Collection takes you on a flight around the coast of England during the heyday of seaside holidays at home. They've been selected from 150 photographs that feature in Allan Brodie's 2021 publication England's Seaside Heritage from the Air.

Bamburgh Castle, Bamburgh, Northumberland (1950-11-25) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Bamburgh Castle, Bamburgh, Northumberland

25 November 1950

Bamburgh Castle is one of England's most spectacular castles. Built on a volcanic outcrop on the Northumberland coast, it forms a majestic backdrop to Bamburgh's glorious grassy dunes and sandy beach.

Read the List entry for Bamburgh Castle.

The castle and priory ruins, Tynemouth, North Tyneside (1927-10-18) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The Castle and Priory Ruins, Tynemouth, North Tyneside

18 October 1927

Dominating a point where the River Tyne meets the North Sea, this dramatic headland has a history spanning over 2,000 years.

It has been home to an Iron Age fort, an Anglo-Saxon monastery and an artillery castle. The army remained in residence here until 1956. It is now in the care of English Heritage.

Read the List entry for this amazing religious and military site.

The Spa and South Cliff Gardens, Scarborough, North Yorkshire (1948-06-23) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The Spa and South Cliff Gardens, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

23 June 1948

Health-giving spa water was discovered at Scarborough in the early 17th century. Together with sea bathing, Scarborough's offer made it one of the most popular seaside health resorts in the country.

Read the List entry for Scarborough Spa.

The Tendring Hundred Railway, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex (1920-06) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Walton-on-the-Naze and the Tendring Hundred Railway, Essex

June 1920

The arrival of the railways often had a major impact on seaside resorts. From the middle of the 19th century railway travel enabled greater numbers of people to enjoy the benefits of sea, sand and fresh air.

The railway arrived at the relatively remote Essex resort of Walton-on-the-Naze in 1867. However, compared to some seaside resorts, Walton didn't expand rapidly as a result.

Flooding at Jaywick, Essex (1953-02-02) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Damaged sea defences and flooding at Jaywick, Essex

2 February 1953

The North Sea Flood of 31 January-1 February 1953 battered the coasts of the Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland and England.

The seaside village of Jaywick was badly affected with the flooding causing thirty-five deaths.

Jaywick had been established in the early 20th century as an affordable holiday resort for working-class Londoners.

The Royal Eagle and Moelfre Rose alongside Southend Pier, Southend-on-Sea, Essex (1939-08-21) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Southend Pier, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

21 August 1939

Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, extending for 1.3 miles (2.1 km) into the Thames Estuary.

Dating from 1889, it has survived a collision and several fires.

This low-level Aerofilms photograph shows the paddle steamer PS Royal Eagle moored at the pier head populated with hundreds of tourists.

Read the List entry for Southend Pier.

Dreamland Amusement Park, Margate, Kent (1931-05) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Dreamland Amusement Park, Margate, Kent

May 1931

Situated just behind the seafront, Dreamland opened in April 1920. Its largest ride, the Scenic Railway, seen at the left of this photograph, opened in July the same year. A rebuilt version of the ride can still be enjoyed today.

Read the List entries for Dreamland's Scenic Railway, Cinema and Menagerie.

The Stade and the Old Town, Hastings, East Sussex (1932-08) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The Stade and the Old Town, Hastings, East Sussex

August 1932

Historic Hastings comprised two main streets running inland from the seafront. Lacking a natural harbour, the town's fishing fleet launched from the beach.

With its boats, capstans and timber net stores, the Stade, or landing place, is an attraction for tourists today, and is now the location of Hastings Contemporary art gallery.

Read the List entry for the Net and Tackle Stores.

The pier, Eastbourne, East Sussex (1931-05-25) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Eastbourne Pier, Eastbourne, East Sussex

25 May 1931

Eastbourne's pier is one of fourteen designed by the prolific architect and engineer, Eugenius Birch.

The pier had two principal functions - to act as a landing stage for passenger ships and as an attraction for holidaymakers who could promenade along its deck and be entertained in purpose-built theatres and music pavilions.

Read the List entry for Eastbourne Pier.

The Royal Pavilion and surrounding streets, Brighton (1926-08) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The Royal Pavilion and surrounding streets, Brighton

August 1926

Set back a short distance from the seafront, the Royal Pavilion was built as an exotic seaside residence for the Prince of Wales, later King George IV.

The Prince first visited the fashionable seaside town in 1783. Enamoured by its pleasures, he purchased a modest farmhouse and over many years had it transformed into an extravagant seaside palace.



Read the List entry for the Royal Pavilion.

The Royal National Hospital, Ventnor, Isle of Wight (1933-08) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The Royal National Hospital, Ventnor, Isle of Wight

August 1933

The history of England's seaside is synonymous with health. The benefits of seaside spas, sea bathing and sea air stimulated the construction of scores of seaside health institutions.

The Royal National Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest was constructed on a south-facing site near Ventnor in 1868-70. Stretching for over a quarter of a mile, it comprised ten accommodation blocks, an administration and dining block and a chapel.

Read the List entry for Ventnor Botanic Garden.

The Esplanade, the beach and the town, Weymouth, Dorset (1932-08) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The beach and Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset

August 1932

Like Brighton, Weymouth was a seaside resort favoured by royalty. Due to illness, King George III was a regular visitor between 1789 and 1805.

The king bathed in the sea using his own bathing machine, took walks around the town and went riding and sailing.

To commemorate his association with Weymouth, the town council commissioned a statue of George. Sited on the Esplanade, it was completed in 1810.

Read the List entry for the statue of George III.

The Swimming Pool (Tropicana), Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset (1949-07-25) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The Swimming Pool, Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset

25 July 1949

The first visitors to Weston arrived in the late 18th century. Its first hotel opened in 1810 and the railway arrived in 1841.

Due to the resort's long tidal range, artificial bathing places were created on the seafront. In the 1920s a Marine Lake was created and in July 1937 the new open air Swimming Pool opened to visitors.

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe, Lancashire (1934-08-30) by Cyril Murrell, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe, Lancashire

30 August 1934

England's seaside is a good place to see buildings designed in a Modernist style.

The Midland Hotel at Morecambe is a striking example. Built in 1932-3 by Oliver Hill, it elegantly follows the curve of the promenade. Its interiors were filled with contemporary art and design by Eric Gill, Denis Tegetmeier, Marion Dorn and Eric Ravilious.

Read the List entry for the Midland Hotel.

Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, Lancashire (1920-07) by B Quinlan, Aerofilms LtdHistoric England

Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, Lancashire

July 1920

Blackpool Tower is probably England's most iconic seaside structure.

Blackpool had been the site of sea bathing since the 1750s. The resort was slow to grow but, helped by the arrival of two railway lines, almost two million visitors arrived by train in 1893.

Blackpool's popularity stimulated the construction of exciting visitor attractions, including three piers, the Winter Gardens and the Tower.

Read the List entries for Blackpool Tower and The Winter Gardens.

Credits: Story

Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England's spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops.

You can view over 95,000 Aerofilms images at Britain from Above.

Explore the Historic England Archive.

Much of the information used in this exhibit has been sourced from the National Heritage List for England and from Allan Brodie's book England's Seaside Heritage from the Air (2021).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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