A Journey along the South Coast

A Talk by Peter Gillies with Victorian Lantern Slides
We were shown slides from Peter’s own collection of Victorian Lantern Slides accompanied by an informative commentary. There are many castles in the area, the most famous being Dover Castle. Most are little more than fortified manor houses with little means of defence. However, the Martello Towers, of which 103 were built, were based on a tower in Corsica which had resisted a bombardment by warships for two days. Fortunately the Martello towers were never tested in war.
We were treated to views of Margate and its crowded beach: it became more easily accessible when its railway station was opened in 1899. Moving on to Brighton, around 20,000 visitors arrived each week travelling by rail. Railway travel was not for the faint hearted though. A slide from 1830 showed a South Eastern Railways locomotive with no protection for the crew. Passengers fared little better in open ‘carriages’ and had to use umbrellas to protect themselves from water dripping on them in the tunnels. In 1899 the S.E. Railways and the Chatham & Dover Railway merged to form the South Eastern & Chatham Railways. The new company continued to serve seaside towns along the coast.
On to Ramsgate where the railway station was close to the beach which was shown with what looked like ‘standing room only’. A slide of Brighton showed the many Bathing Huts needed to preserve bathers’ modesty. Sea bathing was made popular by the Prince of Wales. A whole selection of beach activities on slides included a vicar preaching, donkey rides, a Salvation Army Band, and a beach photographer complete with his mobile darkroom. Littlehampton was shown with minstrels and the style of the pier entrance seems to be the inspiration for the building of the i-360 in Brighton! Folkestone boasted a switchback railway which was pushed off by beefy men. There was a ‘request stop’ paddle steamer service which steamed along the coast looking much overloaded, and a parade advertising a circus with elephants, camels, etc. The Alhambra Theatre in Folkestone, which could seat 2,000, was opened in 1888.
Hove, surprisingly, was the centre of film production in this era. Devils Dyke, near Brighton, was a big visitor attraction and slides show a fairground, observatory, and funicular railway. Shots of Eastbourne, with its Lifeboat Station and lifeboats, showed a rifle range on the beach at 1d per round! Back in Brighton, there were slides of the beach fish market and a Brighton smack, a two-masted fishing boat. The Volkes Electric Railway, which still runs today, was shown together with the Daddy Longlegs, a sea-going version on stilts! A pier, which in 1823 served cross channel ferries, was later destroyed by a storm. There was a slide showing dozens of Charabancs parked on the seafront.
Next came rural scenes depicting sheep washing prior to shearing, a Temperance March, a pedlar’s cart laden with his wares, prisoners quarrying chalk, a gas lamp-lighter, and a train crash at Polegate! Another slide showed Guardsmen in Hastings who had taken part in a exercise organised by the Ministry of Defence in conjunction with the AA. It was needed to know how long it would take to transport troops by road from London to the south coast. The AA still commemorate the event. The residents of St. Dunstans Institute for the Blind (now Blind Veterans UK), founded in Brighton by Arthur Pearson, are shown engaged in various activities. There were slides of Brighton Pavilion when it was used as a hospital for Indian soldiers. It was thought that they would feel more at home there. Another slide showed a derelict Clergy House at Alfriston compared to its now restored state. The show ended with a series of slides showing a floating dock at Southampton in various stages of operation.
These original slides showed us glimpses of life in mainly Victorian times, in many ways a much simpler life style without the internet or mobile phones.

John Preston