How Far Have We Travelled in 100 Years?
Byline: GILES MILTON
THERE were no aeroplanes, you could catch typhoid in Brighton and Spain's Costa del Sol was still a collection of fishing villages.
If you wanted to go on a motoring holiday, you'd have to wait a generation. In 1900, there were only 230 cars in the whole of Great Britain.
Foreign travel at the end of the last century was a luxury that required time, patience and serious amounts of money. But the world was fast changing and, as the chimes of Big Ben ushered in a new era, many were busily predicting the sort of holidays that people would be taking in the year 2000.
Fly-drives and weekend breaks were not on their lists, and few Victorians believed that long distance travel would catch on. One wit joked that companies would pay their workers to go on holiday, and predicted that England in the new millennium would be so rich that even factory cleaners would be allowed a few days off work.
Others said the middle classes would be able to look forward to '14 days of boisterous delight in Blackpool, where now there are only seven'.
But what these Victorian stargazers could never have imagined was that in the year 2000 the world would have shrunk so small that tourists would be able to fly from London to New York in half the time it took the Victorian packet-steamer to chug down the Thames estuary to Margate.
Nor could they have conceived just how cheap it would be to travel the world. In 1900, a ticket on the steamship to Gibraltar would have swallowed the entire month's salary of a London clerk, while a night in the Hotel Battenberg in Spain cost the princely sum of nine shillings.
Even passports were expensive - almost double the price of a cast-iron kettle.
Although foreign travel was beyond the means of most English families, the country's love affair with sunshine was already flourishing and there had been a staggering rise in the number of people taking off each summer.
Y 1899 some of the very rich were off to the South of France - Nice, Menton and Monte Carlo. But for the vast majority, a holiday meant only one thing: a week of raucous fun at the English seaside.
Resorts such as Blackpool and Brighton were in their heyday and millions of visitors headed to the sea each summer on specially chartered steam trains. Blackpool's tourist authorities had seized on this growing craze and turned the town into a giant theme park, pouring money into evermore crazy attractions. The 1896 iron tower proved so popular that local entrepreneurs decided to build the largest big wheel they could afford. It seemed the ideal gimmick for the new century.
Booking the holiday was a nightmare, for travel agents were few and far between and Victorian families had to reserve hotels, trains and restaurants without the benefit of telephones, faxes and email.
So how, exactly, did they cope in 1900? Which resorts did they choose?
And what holiday essentials did they pack into their portmanteaus?
Meet Mr and Mrs Browne, a respectable young couple who reside in the leafy London suburb of Wimbledon, along with their two daughters, Victoria (named after the Queen) and Alexandra (after the Prince of Wales's wife).
George Browne is - let's say - a clerk in the city, and the new century has dealt him a good hand. An unexpected pay rise has increased his annual salary to a handsome [pounds sterling]150 - the same as a skilled bricklayer - and he has also landed himself a week's annual paid leave.
For the first time in his life, George is planning a family holiday.
As the Brownes tuck into their Sunday dish of roasted mutton and parsnips, they discuss where they should go.
George longs to visit Paris in order to see Rodin's statue The Kiss, which is on display for the first time.
But Elizabeth Browne has other ideas. She has an even more romantic destination in mind - Constantinople, 'one of the few places in Europe for which a passport is required'.
But they are deterred by Baedeker, which warns that the 'natives are ignorant and uneducated', and says that Turks need a firm hand to be 'kept in their proper place'.
SINCE a Thomas Cook holiday to Turkey would cost Mr Browne more than he earns in a year, it's not an option for a middle class London family. In fact, all the Brownes can afford is a week in the Kent resort of Margate.
It's not exactly an original choice. Margate in 1900 is one of the most popular resorts in England, with more than 75,000 holidaymakers visiting the town in the summer. On August bank holiday weekend, that figure rises even higher and hotels struggle to cope with the demand.
Mrs Browne is not very happy about George's choice of resort, for her Handbook To Kent describes it as 'the paradise of Cockney holidaymakers'.
But she is won over with a compelling argument: London in 1900 is gripped by an influenza epidemic and more than 50 people are dropping dead every day.
Margate, by contrast, is said to be the healthiest place in England.
It's also easy to get to.
A steam-packet departs each morning from London Bridge Wharf, and reaches Margate seven hours later. Although it is a tiring journey, unruly children are kept occupied by fabulous views of the Thames estuary and, at 3s 6d, it costs less than half the price of a new pair of trousers.
Discussion about accommodation starts another family row.
Mrs Browne suggests staying in one of the popular temperance hotels, since they attract a better class of person.
But William likes his porter, and he books the family into the White Hart, a comfy boarding house with a bar for residents.
He's secretly hoping to indulge himself while on holiday.
The 1900s holidaymaker does not travel light. The Brownes have two expanding portmanteaus (the very latest in baggage accessories) which contain everything from air cushions and sponge bags to field glasses and cutlery.
They've also packed waterproof clothing 'the costly Atlantic Yachting Suit', which Mrs Browne saw advertised as very durable and pretty suit for seaside wear'.
If George could see today's tourists in their shorts and shell-suits, he'd have an attack of the vapours.
He wants to look dapper on holiday and has bought a special serge-and-tweed promenade costume from D. Nicholl of Regent Street. They're being advertised all over the capital.
Elizabeth is praying for good weather and has slipped into her luggage a two-shilling bottle of Rowland's Kalydor, which 'eradicates sunburn' and 'removes the baneful effects of sea bathing'. She's also spent considerable time reading up on holiday medicine.
In 1900, tuberculosis kills one in six, while scarlet fever, cholera and typhoid is also rife.
O be on the safe side, she buys a large medicine chest from Kirby and Co of Newman Street in London.
Its 'Case of Proper Remedies' costs [pounds sterling]1, the same as a ton of coal and 'contains all that is required for the first treatment of catarrhs, feverish attack, diarrhoea and stomach complaints'.
She also pops in a packet of Dr Collis's famous Chlorodyne, an extra precaution against typhoid.
The vexed question of what to wear on the beach has been all but resolved by the 1900s. Until 1870, many men and women bathed nude on segregated, private beaches, even though this was frowned upon by the more prudish Victorians. 'If ladies don't like to see men naked,' complained one male nudist, 'why don't they keep away from the sight.' But they did like to see the men naked, so much so that the Observer was moved to ask why respectable ladies at the seaside 'throw off all pretensions to modesty and decency'.
OYEURISM was worse among gentlemen and many packed opera glasses to spy on the ladies.
In an age when even piano legs wore skirts, the diarist Rev Francis Kilvert was not alone in spending his time examining 'the soft exquisite curves of the rosy dimpled bottom and broad white thighs'.
Such antics are little more than a fond memory in 1900, and the nudist beach does not come back into vogue until the mid Sixties.
The Brownes' beachwear consists of long, heavy and not very revealing bathing suits, which they change into in special machines installed on Margate's beach.
Holiday reading material has to be carefully considered . . . no airport novels, trash thrillers and sex-and-shopping novels.
The 1900 beach read is the latest offering from a young writer called Joseph Conrad. The book is called Lord Jim.
Victorians view pleasure and learning as inseparable and one of the most popular pastimes at the seaside is collecting shells and seaweed.
Most families also pack a couple of Philip Gosse's best-selling books on marine biology.
The Brownes manage to reserve their boarding house and steam-packet through something called a travel agent - 'a new but useful service that is slowly becoming available in London'.
What they do not realise is that they have to pay a hefty commission for this service. Still, the White Hart is a respectable place and their ten shillings gets them two bedrooms and the use of the dining room.
Full board is expensive and most residents buy their own food and entrust the cooking to the landlady. For two shillings, a family of four can get enough herrings for a feast, and still have change for an ounce of tobacco.
Even so, there are numerous hidden costs. In 1900, unscrupulous landladies charge extra for lights, fires, table linen and sheets. Some even demand a surcharge for blankets. If Mr Browne could look into a crystal ball and see the sort of activities
indulged in by the holidaymakers of 1999, he would keel over in astonishment.
The 1990s' whitewater rafting, hang-gliding and theme park rides are a world away from what is on offer in Victorian Margate.
Musicians, strolling players, acrobats, hawkers, hurdy-gurdy men, escapologists, magicians, clowns and ventriloquists - not to mention evangelists - all crowd the seafront in order to entertain the holidaymaker.
The Victorian favourite is the minstrel with his banjo, cornet and witty banter.
Children like Victoria and Alexandra prefer penny-in-the-slot machines.
These are new to 1900 Margate, and the arcade on the pier has recently acquired several 'what the butler saw' machines.
For one penny, youngsters can enter the world of the upper classes through the eyes of the curious butler.
OT everyone is pleased by these American gadgets and they are said to be the ruin of children. Others grumble about the new and dangerous craze of cycling, while a few criticise the growing sauciness of the Punch and Judy shows.
More intellectual forms of entertainment are common in many resorts.
Western-super-Mare offers lectures on craniology and phrenology. 'A table full of skulls was set out and the lecture was given by a Mr Hume,' writes one visitor. 'We had seen it advertised on the pier.' Despite Mrs Browne's objections, the family holiday proves a roaring success and George celebrates on the last night with a five shilling bottle of champagne.
The next morning, he glugs a cupful of Dr Collis's Chloro-dyne; it's the only thing that will cure his woolly head.
No sooner have the Brownes arrived home than they are planning next year's holiday - providing, that is, Mr Browne gets another pay rise.
Mrs Browne suggests Baden-Baden, the daughters propose Rome, but George wants to go to Paris where there is to be an exhibition of paintings by Monet, Cezanne and Toulouse Lautrec.
Little could he imagine that 100 years later - in a very different world - people would be doing exactly the same.
Costumes on Page 87 supplied by Angels and Bermans, 40 Camden St, London NW1.
Tel: 0171 387 0999.
GETTING THERE (what it cost then)
THE White Hart in Margate (no phone) costs 10 shillings per week: there are extra charges for food and bedding. Return fares on the packet-steamer to Margate from 3s 6d per adult. Tickets are sold at London Bridge Wharf. For up-to-the-minute information, wait 100 years . . . for email to begin.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: How Far Have We Travelled in 100 Years?. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Mail on Sunday (London, England). Publication date: December 26, 1999. Page number: 87. © 2009 Solo Syndication Limited. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.