Beside the Seaside ', the summer exhibition at Sewerby Hall and Gardens opens this Saturday (27 May) , and is a celebration of the history of Bridlington as a seaside resort over the years, charting its rise, subsequent decline and recent regeneration.
Between Saturday, 27 May and Sunday, 4 June visitors to the site will be able to take part in various traditional seaside activities including donkey rides (£2 each), Punch and Judy shows, traditional swing boat rides, children's strikers and a new Rusticus Adventure: Beside the Seaside!
Created by Janice Smith and her team at Sewerby Hall, the exhibition begins with the fashion for 'taking the waters' in the spa town of Bridlington in the eighteenth century.
In September 1839, Charlotte Bronte stayed in the town – the first time she had ever seen the sea. Numbers visiting really took off when the railway arrived in 1846, and saw the start of the good old seaside holiday.
Development of quality accommodation was brisk in the early nineteenth century, and with all the new places to stay, the leisured classes could holiday for the entire summer season. As the holiday season grew, fashionable entertainments were built to keep the new visitors happy. The Victoria Rooms opened in 1848, along with promenades with gardens and floral displays. Punch and Judy shows arrived on the beach, along with donkey rides, in 1896.
Other delights included the Grand Pavilion (1906) and The Winter Gardens, which burnt down in 1923.
The Spa Theatre and Opera House opened in 1907, after fire had destroyed the wooden original. The new art deco building on the site arose in the 1920s and soon became the entertainment destination of the east coast. But then the Royal Hall burnt down in 1932, to be replaced by a new one just 52 days later!
The 1930 and 1940s were a golden age for Bridlington and The Spa – 'the finest dance and concert hall on the coast'. The 1950s saw the peak of the factory fortnight mass exodus to the seaside, when people from the industrial cities of South and West Yorkshire would swell the local population by thousands. But gradually, the advent of car ownership, increased wealth and the package tour to Europe brought many changes to the town.
Lack of industry and the total local reliance on tourism, as well as the rise in day trippers rather than people staying for a fortnight, plus the huge increase in self-catering accommodation, led to a decline from the mid 1960s, made worse by railway closures. Three cinemas closed down, and the Alexandra Hotel was demolished. Prince's Parade became a funfair and the Pavilion an ice cream parlour.
But then came regeneration once more. In 1998, Bridlington South Promenade Improvement Scheme opened, and won an RIBA Award for architecture in 2000. The Spa and Royal Hall were fully refurbished in 2006-8 to recreate the glamour of a golden age, in a £20.5 million project.
Sewerby Hall and Gardens were next to be restored, in 2013 /14. The Hall was restored as an Edwardian country house with pieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Then came the total rebuilding of the town's swimming pools, fitness and leisure complex – the £25million East Riding Leisure Bridlington opened last year.
The exhibition looks towards the future of the town, with the Bridlington Town Centre Area Action Plan, and the associated redevelopment of land to the north of Hilderthorpe Road, and the proposed extension of the existing harbour, with a marina.
Janice Smith explains : "Anybody who has any interest at all in how Bridlington grew, thrived, declined as a resort, and is now reviving again, will find this exhibition fascinating. It mirrors so many seaside resorts right across the country, and forms a unique social history of our wonderful town."
Admission charges to Sewerby Hall and Gardens are £7 for adults, £4.90 for children and £22 for a family (two adults and two children).
Annual passes are also available, starting from £12.50, and can be purchased or renewed online or via any pay box.
For further information about the Hall, exhibitions, the café, special events, the zoo, and the gardens, call (01262) 673769 or visit www.sewerbyhall.co.uk