At The Seaside: William Merritt Chase

The term “the seaside” might be held to be a synonym for, “coast,” but it conjures up the image of holiday resorts: ice cream on the promenade, donkey rides and Butlins . Ness and Hartlepool are on the coast, but they are not really at the seaside, Europie Beach notwithstanding.

The seaside, like most good things: scrabble, detective stories, baseball and the free indirect narrative voice, etc, etc, was invented by Jane Austen.

No one had heard of the seaside before Jane took up her pen. OK, the Romans had summer villas on the coast around Naples but their amusements were more along the lines of feeding unsatisfactory slaves to their pet moray eels than sunbathing in deck chairs with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads, so I submit that they don’t count.

And sea bathing had begun to be prescribed as a medicinal cure from the 17th Century. As the 18th Century wore on Britain became richer (see certain Bristolian statue controversies for a clue to one reason for the increase in wealth) but medicine hardly developed at all, so taking the waters at spa’s like Bath and sea bathing at new resorts like Brighton and Scarborough (which managed to be both spa and bathing spot) became ever more popular amongst doctors and their patients, and the presence of so many wealthy people concentrated in these spots made them fashionable…

It is even possible that other writers mentioned this phenomenon before Austen, but I haven’t come across any, so again they don’t count.

Jane mentions seaside in Pride and Prejudice where Brighton plays a part, though the massing of soldiers is more the attraction than sea bathing. In Emma, Southend, Cromer and Weymouth all get a mention, but things get really seasidey in Persuasion with a pleasure trip to Lyme Regis playing an important part.

Sanditon, the book she was working on when she became ill and died was about the seaside, set in a resort that is actually in the process of being developed. Sadly, very little was competed by the time she became too unwell to work, but it would certainly have been the first seaside novel.

Sonnet 75: “One day I wrote her name upon the strand”  by  Edmund Spenser

One day I wrote her name upon the strand;
But came the waves, and washed it away:
Again, I wrote it with a second hand;
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
Vain man, said she, that dost in vain assay
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.
Not so, quoth I, let baser things devise
To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your virtues rare shall eternize,
And in the heavens write your glorious name.
Where, when as death shall all the world subdue,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

Smooth between sea and land

A.E. Housman

Smooth between sea and land
Is laid the yellow sand,
And here through summer days
The seed of Adam plays.

Here the child comes to found
His unremaining mound,
And the grown lad to score
Two names upon the shore.

Here, on the level sand,
Between the sea and land,
What shall I build or write
Against the fall of night?

Tell me of runes to grave
That hold the bursting wave,
Or bastions to design
For longer date than mine.

Shall it be Troy or Rome
I fence against the foam,
Or my own name, to stay
When I depart for aye?

Nothing: too near at hand,
Planing the figure sand,
Effacing clean and fast
Cities not built to last
And charms devised in vain,
Pours the confounding main.


Two rather different themes have emerged, the first is seaside, beaches, coast, the juncture of sea and land

But the poems and one of the songs are more about the impermanence of life and the futility of trying to make lasting monuments, or lasting anything.

Or, to put it more positively, the importance of seizing the moment and enjoying it, rather than trying to set it in stone.

5 thoughts on “Seaside

  1. Knoll Beach, Studland

    Place of outstanding natural beauty
    Picture perfect golden sands
    Surrounded by sandstone cliffs of varying hues
    From pastel pink and yellow to deepest russet red
    A place of competing priorities

    Wooden board walk transport you from car-park through a forest of picture postcard perfect beach huts*

    So popular in Summer queues of traffic form along Dorset’s high hedgerowed leafy lanes
    People sit getting hot and bothered in their hot metal boxes whilst anticipating the fresh air and freedom of the beach.
    The car park reaches one in one out saturation and the traffic snakes back as far as the bypass and beyond.

    Each tribe beach territory carefully demarcated by stripey wind breaks, chairs and strageically strewn beach towels of garish jewel coloured hues in star contrast to the sandstone surroundings.

    Should you choose to wander from the family friendly PG zone you will cross the boundary into the nudist beach territory, and behond up amongst the sand dunes at the far end handsome young men frolic with gay abandon. Something for the whole family!

    Rebecca Mahoney

    Henrietta and Ralph Bankes at Studland (Ralph donated Studland beach along with a number of properties in Dorset to the National Trust when he died in 1981)

    Studland sandstone



    ‘I do like to be beside the seaside’ and
    The French song ‘La Mer’ are the songs
    I remember from my childhood
    They were always on the radio

    When I was young we did not have a car
    And we did not go to the seaside
    It was later that we went down to Colchester
    To visit family on the train
    From there we had a few day trips on the train to
    Clacton-on-Sea and Walton-on-the-Naze
    My first visits to the sea side

    Then in my teenage years I had a coach trip
    To see the lights
    The Blackpool illumination
    In dark November

    I chose to go the new University of Sussex in Brighton
    For the first term we were put in a guest house
    While the hall of residence was being built
    So we got the flavour of a seaside town
    Brighton had a pebble beach and no sand
    Occasionally we went by bus to Hove and Newhaven
    And on a day trip to Dieppe on the ferry

    Later I was sent on teaching practice to Weston Super Mare
    It was a seaside resort with a huge beach
    Flat and went out for what looked like miles
    So we went for walks out towards the sea

    It was after we got married and had a car
    That we travelled and visited the sea side
    Each holiday we went camping with the family
    Tenby St Ives
    Then we headed north
    Visited my sister in Newcastle
    Discovered Seahouses
    Our young daughter played in the snow on the beach

    Later we went further north to Scotland
    Visited more sea side places
    She was delighted when we got to Portpatrick as
    Suddenly there were arcades and rides

    When we retired we came to live in the Western Isles
    We had the sea all around us.
    We visited the sea side regularly
    At every opportunity



  3. The Seaside

    Every year for 2 weeks in June,
    You go on holiday to see the sea, the promenade and donkey rides,
    Upon the beach we all had a go off course,
    Smiling faces and ice cream cones
    And guess what no mobile phones.

    Kiss me quick hats me and my cousin had on,
    We watched the adults play prize bingo,
    The sound of the gulls the smell of chips.
    Crowds gathered to see shows on the pier,
    And the Tower Ballroom got stars to appear,
    We saw Jim Davidson who said nick nick.
    And Frank Carson was there and that was a first.

    Penny Arcades we played for hours,
    Not winning much but it meant a lot to us,
    Sandwiches cut up and sand in your mouth,
    It fair takes you back.
    Beachballs were blown up and blew away,
    Rubber rings around your waist,
    Before we went in the sea,
    Don’t go far our parents would shout,
    And if we did we got a clout.

    A family day out was had by all,
    And when we got back to the B and B
    It was just in time for tea
    And off to bed to sleep soundly
    Dreaming about the fun day out at the sea.

    By Donna Keenan


  4. The island

    Living on an Island,
    Is an amazing thing,
    when you leave you feel a sadness
    when you return your heart beats faster,
    with excitment of coming home,
    Its not the same,
    to speak on the phone.

    The Ferry leaves from Ullapool,
    You can’t get on as its always full,
    So you have to queue and wait and see,
    If the staff will take pity on you.

    Off she sails up loch Broom,
    All the other wee islands you pass,
    Wee bird island is full of class,
    when its calm the journey is stunning,
    but gale force 9 is not so funny.

    Before we know it it’s the coast of Ness
    we see from the boat,
    it doesn’t matter how many times,
    it still leaves a lump in my throat
    The people are wonderful, the salt of the earth,
    Kind warm and friendly,
    and not just to you and me

    The Loch Seaforth docks,
    around 8 o’clock,
    what a fine boat she is,
    and stands out amongst others,
    she seems to go on and on and on like no other,
    so Cal Mac have made us proud,
    providing a great ferry boat,
    that can cross the Minch and stay afloat.

    Donna Keenan


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