1930s Sussex Holiday

by Harry Pope  

Looking through an auction catalogue I discovered they were selling some old 1930 photos of a family holiday in my home town of Eastbourne, on the Sussex coast. They are a fascinating insight into the period, typically of scenes popular at the time and still current.  


There is one young lady who is particularly in love with the camera. She smiles a lot, posing happily. I think there were either three or four of them in the party, and they stayed in a road to the east of the pier one back from the seafront. In 1930 only the wealthy or upper middle class could afford to stay in a seafront hotel, others stayed as close to the seafront as possible. The houses would contain anything up to sixteen rooms, two stories above the ground floor. This would have the lounge, dining room, kitchen, possibly small garden, and living accommodation for the proprietor. Staff were either here, or in the attic.  

The bedrooms would either have four foot double beds, or twins. Only married couples were allowed to sleep in the same room, casual acquaintances only allowed to meet in public areas. There would be a shared bathroom on each landing, separate toilets. A bath was allowed once a week, which had to be booked in advance. As the water was heated each time, some proprietors charged extra. The stay would be for a week, change-over day was every Saturday when the bed linen would be replaced, and a thorough clean made before the arrival of the next guest. The season would start at Easter, ending mid-September. Guests outside this time scale would be travelling salesmen and tradesmen, as there would be very few attractions open to encourage holidaymakers.  

The small hotel used by these holidaymakers was on the corner of Cambridge Road and Latimer Road, now a private house. From one of the photos you can see the seafront about thirty yards away, further inland there was a wash house you could visit if you wanted an extra bath, towels provided. Evening meal would have been provided as part of the all-inclusive package, packed lunch would have been extra. There are no snaps of rainy weather, they were a young-ish foursome so would have walked to most local destinations. This included Beachy Head, with one of the men sporting cricket clothing. This was a unique game played at the top of the five hundred feet cliffs between the Wars. You hit the ball as hard as you could, hopefully over the edge onto the beach below. You kept on running until the ball was retrieved, the record is in the region of 1,300 runs. The game was abandoned after a few years because they ran out of cricket balls.  

There are photos of them posing and walking along the cliff edge. There is a sheer drop, the edge is crumbly, even nowadays people like to pose as close as possible to show their bravery. I have even seen a photo of a man standing in a fissure, the ground ready to give way at any time. Nature has a way of weeding out the weakest. To get to Beachy Head would entail a walk of at least three miles, it is still a delight to stroll along by the sea, the promenade is planned without steps for maximum pleasure. The stroll would have taken them at least an hour, then a picnic at the top, looking out to sea.  

There are some photos taken by the bandstand. This was demolished in 1935 to make way for a new structure, but the one depicted was mainly glass. It was on spindly legs that rested on the beach, but never collapsed so must have been on a secure foundation. There wasn’t much room for the bandsmen, it must have been pretty cosy trying to play an instrument such as trombone requiring much arm movement. There also was not a lot of room for the spectators, hence the new current design that can take up to 800 seated on three levels. Deck chairs were available to hire for the day, men wore collar and tie at all times, even when sunbathing on the beach, sitting in a collapsible chair. They would also often wear a jacket, little likelihood of getting a suntan, as they would also frequently wear some kind of hat. This might be a cloth cap, or a trilby.  

Dinner would be at six sharp, no choice, you had what was put in front of you, which was a roast, or fish pie, or stew. This would be because the variety show would start at 8.15pm, giving you sufficient time to digest them sit and enjoy your entertainment. If you had ordered, and the establishment was of sufficient high standards, there would be a sandwich waiting on your return from the theatre, as well as a bottle of beer for the men, and a lemonade for the ladies. These might be mixed to make a shandy.  

In 1930s Eastbourne, you knew exactly what to expect when you went on holiday.  



  • Harry Pope

    Harry Pope realised he could write when he first went to school, and hasn’t stopped since. He returned the next day after parental prompting, because he realised he could talk as well, just as well because he is now in retirement a cruise ship lecturer with P&O and Saga, talking about the greatest comedians the UK has ever known. He is not a lecturer, nor a stand-up comedian, but an entertainer. His wife Pam goes as well, as there are so many groupies onboard.

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