SKEGNESS AND ITS ROOTS by Betty Kirkham
Skegness once extended much further out to sea and the coastline has suffered erosion over many years though it is now gaining ground. We know that the area has been occupied since before Roman times. Roman pottery can be found today on the shore, it makes a change from collecting sea shells! Salt was manufactured along much of the low lying coast of Lincolnshire in Roman times and evidence of their working sites and even artifacts bearing their fingerprints can still be found today.
To come nearer to our time it is interesting to see how Skegness has altered in the last 150 years. In White's Directory for 1842 we read that Skegness had a population of only 185 people, it is described as a `pleasant village'. At that time there were only two hotels and several private lodging houses but even then bathing machines were stationed on the beach and there was a lifeboat to rescue survivors of the many small fishing boats which found themselves in trouble. It was also a small port with `upwards of 6000 tons of coal being landed here in the summer of 1841'.
Visiting the seaside became ever more popular over the years though at first only the better off people were able to take advantage of the facilities provided. In the 1870's the Earl of Scarborough, landowner of Skegness at that time, decided to improve the town and with estate agent V.Tippet plans were drawn up for new streets and houses which extended to what is now Scarborough Avenue. This was a piece of very advanced planning for the time. The area was laid out in a very sensible geometric pattern with wide roads, wide verges and footpaths, all of these are still adequate even for today's traffic.
It was not until the coming of the railway to Skegness in 1873 that the town really began to grow. The rail link with the midland towns meant it was possible for the working class people to spend a day at the seaside. At first there was only a single line and it was not until 1900 that it was made a double track. Winston Kyme in his book, `Skeggy the story of a seaside town' says that on August Bank Holiday 1882 the railway brought 22,000 day trippers to Skegness. 20,000 of them paid to go on to the pier which had only just been erected. By this time the population of Skegness had grown to 1400.
The erection of the gas works took place in 1875 and the town boasted 56 street lamps. White's Directory of 1882 describes the construction of the north and south promenades on the sea wall, costing £2,000 (in pre-decimal money) and being officially opened in 1879.
Very early on amusements of various kinds were thought up to amuse the visitors. Donkey races on the beach in front of the Sea View Hotel (built in 1862) attracting thousands of people. (For more information on this see The Book of the Lincolnshire Seaside by David Robinson). Sea water baths were built in 1882 on Scarborough Avenue, these were bombed during the war and have since been demolished.
The first car number plate was issued in 1903 and as cars became popular people began to come and stay for longer than a day trip. This resulted in more hotels and lodging houses being built and more and more amusements supplied for the visitors. A giant figure eight railway was built in 1908 on the new foreshore beyond the north parade. It was demolished in 1970.
The person who made the biggest impression on Skegness and district holiday trade was Billy Butlin. He came to Skegness in 1921, a poor traveling showman. He entertained the holidaymakers with his hoop-la stalls. By 1929 he had opened a large amusement park on the south side of the pier. By 1935 he had built the Butlins Holiday Camp between Skegness and Ingoldmells. This went from success to success and many famous entertainers served their apprenticeship at Butlins Theatre. During the second world war it was used by the Royal Navy and re-named H.M.S Royal Arthur. It was returned to Butlins in 1946 and run successfully until 1972 when it was bought by the Rank Organisation and re-named yet again, this time as Funcoast World. In 1997-8 the theatre was demolished along with the famous wooden chalets in which generations of families had spent their holidays. Substantial blocks of flats built on the site have now given it the appearance of a small village. Meantime Skegness has grown to a famous holiday town having a resident population of around 17,000.
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Planning a visit to Skegness Phone Tourist Information on 01754 899887