from Bathing Machines to Beach Racing …

19th century newspapers frequently reported on various social outings from Alford to Mablethorpe and Sutton but recently something sparked my curiosity.

In May 1874 the Stamford Mercury contained the usual paragraph on Alford news but sandwiched between the Schedules of the Poultry Show and comment that Alford was very busy on Tuesday lay one short sentence …

Monday was a holiday in Alford and crowds of pleasure seekers visited Mablethorpe and other parts of the coast.

Stamford Mercury Friday 29th May 1874

Clearly this was more than a few church outings, when did a visit to the coast become such a draw: how would so many people get there and what would they do when they reached their destination ?

The Draw to the Sea …

The draw to the sea had not begun as pleasure seeking exercise, in the 1800s it was all about health. Sea bathing, including the consumption of sea water, was favoured by the scientific community and many highly revered medical men published extensively on the subject from the mid-1700s. A multitude of books and pamphlets provided detailed descriptions on how to bathe, where to bathe, and offered a wide variety of prescriptions according to the ailments suffered.

The East Coast of Lincolnshire followed the well trodden path of other coastal resorts around the Country by working to attract visitors to the sea for the further development of their towns. Wealthier towns such as Brighton and Margate led the way; embracing the new fashion for health in the late 18th century.

Enterprising locals were keen to promote the benefits of our coast, newspapers carried advertisements under the heading Sea Bathing offering accommodation for visitors, they provide an insight into life at the time:

1802: Mablethorpe Hall offered to let: ready furnished for the season. An elegant mansion very near the sea-shore, two miles from Sutton Hotel (a very fashionable bathing place) Spacious and convenient mansion is well adapted for the accommodation of a numerous and genteel family.

Stamford Mercury 2nd July 1802

1807: Mablethorpe: T Frow respectfully informs his friends and the public that he has considerably enlarged his house and fitted it up in a manner for the reception of ladies and gentlemen: he has laid in a stock of wines and spirits of the first quality and assures them every attention will be paid to their accommodation.

Stamford Mercury 22nd May 1807

1813: Mablethorpe Hotel and Land to Let: Well established Inn and Hotel, or bathing house situate near the sea coast at Mablethorpe. The premises comprise a large dining room and drawing room, smoking room, two bar rooms, a kitchen, back kitchen, mangling room, hot bath room, brewhouse and cellar, a spacious yard, stabling for 30 horses, chaise houses, garden etc.etc. … The shore at Mablethorpe is excellent for bathing and the air highly salubrious.

Stamford Mercury 15th Jan 1813

The adverts continue in the same vein for some years, reflecting the fashion among the wealthy for sea bathing, taking the sea air and romantic notions of the sea view.  They highlight the delightful situation of Mablethorpe on the German Ocean with firm sands free from mud and filth.

In the 1830’s a Mr John Richardson (the Book in Hand ) appears among the advertisements: comfortable accommodation and a choice stock of wines & spirits are offered along with a comfortable bathing machine, and a warm bath , at any hour of the day.  The offer of a bathing machine and warm baths become a permanent feature of advertisements, many hotels offered them at short notice or had their own machines available.

In 1839 Mr Richardson had a new offer :

     … an excellent double roomed bathing machine, with steady horses and cautious drivers, on the shortest notice.

Stamford Mercury 21st June 1839

This reference to steady horses and cautious drivers brought to mind another contemporary extract on the perils of undressing in a bathing machine:

dressing in a bathing machine… he ascends that intolerable nuisance a bathing machine; and after a jolting of two or three minutes, violent enough to discompose the frame of an Hercules, wishes that he were in bed again. With a reluctant jump he commits himself to the wave, and upon recovering the effects of the first plunge, while gasping, and endeavouring to keep his feet upon the sands, an overgrown wave gives him a gratuitous mouthful of salt water, and a slap in the face, which knocks him against the wheel of the machine. This is too much for his nerves; he pants and blows, and hurries up the steps of his house of correction, with more celerity than he walked down them. The shaking now is patiently endured, though it gives an occasional impetus to the towel, to the danger of his eye. Released from his purgatory, he retraces the beach, and meets his neighbour going the same journey …

cited in Designing the Seaside: Fred Gray

The Bathing Machine

The bathing machine was essential to sea bathing and advice on its use was included in  the health publications. During the 19th century the seaside slowly became a pleasure resort, the bathing machine remained a feature throughout these changes finally disappearing in the early 1900s. One hundred years earlier the appearance of the bathers around our coast caused quite a stir, and the satirical artists of the time embraced this new controversary wholeheartedly.


The machines were a method to enable the bather to disrobe and take the sea water but modesty did not always prevail. Initially some sources suggest that both male and female bathers did so naked, this attracted a lot of undesired attention from the shore. 


Mermaids at Brighton : William Heath abt 1829

In the fashionable resorts attendants were present to dip the bather; these were strong women used to the sea and are often depicted as dressed like fisherwomen. Sea bathing for many was a frightening experience and there are several references to rough handling by the dippers where a  timid client has been grabbed and pushed under the water to ensure complete submersion. Brighton was frequented by Royalty and the fashionable set followed them to see and be seen on the promenade. Royal bathers gained notoriety, at least one of whom received a pension for life from the crown upon retirement. Martha Gunn was known as the Queen of Bathers , she bathed the Prince of Wales and is widely commemorated in Brighton.

In Margate a Quaker named Benjamin Beale was sufficiently disturbed by such immodest behaviour (and the related peepers from the cliffs ) that he invented a canvas canopy which protected the bathing ladies, mermaids as they were called, from onlookers. The canopy met the water creating a private pool for the ladies to be dipped by their attendant away from prying eyes.  Machines also had a rope for the bather to hang onto, sea bathing for health was about submersion not swimming. Public information explained how to use the bathing machine and the associated bath house, where those wishing to bathe waited for a machine and consumed sea water as advised. Warm sea water baths were also available in some bath houses for those who did not wish to convene with nature so directly.



  • Margate description of Machine

The photographs and illustrations of bathing machines at Mablethorpe and Sutton do not show the modesty hoods used further South and obviously not all experiences were akin to those of the fashionably wealthy at Brighton and Margate. The bathig experience at Scarborough may be closer to that on the East Coast of Lincolnshire.


Sea bathing from poetical sketches of Scarborough : Thomas Rowlandson 1813

An extract from a 1771 novel describes the experiences of Humphrey Clinker on a Scarborough beach where the bathing machines were …


… ranged along the beach with all their proper utensils and attendants: Image to yourself a small, snug, wooden chamber, fixed upon a wheel-carriage, having a door at each end, and on each side a little window above, a bench below – The bather ascending into this apartment by wooden steps shuts himself in, and begins to undress, while the attendant yokes a horse to the end next to the sea, and draws the carriage forwards, till the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressing room, and then he moves and fixes the horse to the other end – The person within being stripped , opens the door to the seaward, where he finds the guide ready, and plunges headlong into the water – After having bathed, he  re-ascends into the apartment, by the steps which had been shifted for that purpose, and puts on his clothes at his leisure, while the carriage is drawn back again upon the dry land; so that he has nothing further to do, but to open the door, and come down as he went up

Tobias Smollett 1771 Humphrey Clinker

Local Sea Bathing

Whitby Lifeboat Man Henry Freeman in cork vest
Cork life saving vest : Whitby Lifeboat Man Henry Freeman oed his life to his: Sutcliffe Collection

In Mablethorpe the bathing vans were operated by various members of the Gray family, in Sutton the key proprietor for the hire of machines on the sands was Mr Dan Wilyman. These men became the unofficial attendants of the sands, their knowledge of the beach, the clay holes and the currents being acquired over decades. Daniel Wilyman and Henry Gray had a particular understanding of the sea, both being retired sailors. They hired out the machines from 7am during the season and were frequently called upon to rescue those who got into trouble. There are many reports of inquests at the Book in Hand following the loss of day trippers who fell foul of the under currents and the old clay holes. The attendants would take the horses out as far as they could and then struck out in cork vests, unfortunately sometimes only a lifeless body could be retrieved.

The Coroner and the public were effusive in their praise of these brave rescue attempts but there was  also frequent criticism that the attendants failed to direct the bathers properly and that the Council failed to regulate bathing on their shores, with the noteable exception of the separation of male and female bathing areas. The machine proprietors had notices directing bathers to stay in line with the van and not to stray too far and were , for many years, the only source of lifebouys on the shore.

A young man from Alford, Joseph Smith, was a casualty of the clay holes in Sutton. In September 1854 Joseph and his friends went into the sea and got hemmed in amidst the clay pits during an incoming tide. The party of young men were not accustomed to the sea and 19 year old Joseph drowned, he was a son of W Smith of Alford Top Mill. There is no mention of a bathing machine attendant being present on this occasion.

Another incident in 1894 ended more successfully and was widely reported:


Mablethorpe was the scene of an exciting occurrence  … A party of seven or eight persons went out for a bathe in a ladies bathing machine about four oclock in the afternoon when the tide was a considerable distance out. The bathers continued in the water for some time regardless of the fact the water was rapidly rising. On returning to the machine the bathers found that the water had risen almost to the floor. The horse which had been standing in attendance was attached to the machine but the wheels had become so firmly embedded that it was impossible to be moved. Another horse was procured to assist but this availed to nothing. Meanwhile the rising of the tide increased the difficulties of the situation and a large crowd gathered on the sands.A heavy wind was blowing and the waves were dashing with great force against the machine, which was at times enveloped with spray and almost hidden from view. The water was causing the machine to rock in such a manner as to threaten its overthrow. The occupants were thus placed in imminent danger, and the excitement amongst the crowd on shore became intense. The onlookers however, although fully realising the danger, seemed powerless to render assistance until a young gentleman said to be Mr AJ Monson dressed in flannels came hurrying up to the scene. Without a moments hesitation he pluckily plunged into the sea and soon reached the bathing machine. One child was conveyed from the machine to one of the horses, and two others were rescued in a similar manner. Next the rescuer conveyed two scantily clad young ladies safely to shore but not without a considerable effort as at one moment, struck by a large wave, his burden appeared too much for him. He again returned to the machine and released another young lady from her perilous position. There then remained one occupant , an elderly lady . A huge wave now lifted the machine and threw the lady into the water. She struggled until she succeeded in grasping the collar of the bathing van horse and with assistance was conveyed on shore.

Lincolnshire Chronicle 25th August 1894






At the beginning of the 20th century bathing from machines gradually declined,  the mixed bathing on the continent became sought after and the machines were seen as an outdated method of enforcing regulations on the segregation of men and women. Many towns on the South coast prohibited bathing other than from a machine to ensure high standards of propriety were maintained. Tents along the shoreline became the preferred option from which to bathe, or swim, and they were a preferable option for families.

Reports on an August storm in 1908 confirm the continued presence of bathing machines and provide a little more information on the Mablethorpe sands at the time …

SCENES AT MABLETHORPE : STALLS SWEPT AWAY TO SEA BY HIGH TIDE The high tides at Mablethorpe caused serious damage to stallholders there yesterday morning. The tide has been most unfortunate for Mablethorpe stallholders. Several of the stands being entirely swept away to sea, laden with goods intended to last the remainder of the season. While other stalls were wrecked and washed up to the hills. The helter skelter was undermined, and the aerial flight also suffered much damage. The whole of the beach was strewn with wreckage from the stalls, while numerous chairs aud tents have been washed away. … All the bathing machines and boats were early last evening taken into the streets, as it was anticipated that the water would reach a higher level than on the preceding night, and great anxiety was evinced.

Nottingham Journal 14th August 1908

a new helter-skelter was utterly ruined. First it buckled in the middle, and then collapsed on the beach, damaging a shooting saloon in its fall. The damage estimated at close upon £100.

Stamford Mercury 12th June 1908

Bathing machines were just one element of the entertainment available on the sands, before looking at what else was on offer there is the matter of transport to consider.

Getting the crowds to the coast

The adverts of the early 1800s were aimed primarily at the gentry who let houses for the season and had their own staff and transport. In the 1830s hotels in Mablethorpe and Sutton underlined the availability of carrier services to Alford and Louth for their guests reliant on the early coach links.  Larger group outings to the coast were somewhat self reliant in the organisation of their transportation.

One 1842 article reported on an excursion to the sea; the Louth Rechabite and Teetotal Societies, along with friends, mustered between 400 and 500 people for the outing. The group used 50 carriages to  convey them to Mablethorpe accompanied by a band. At a time when the inhabitants of Mablethorpe numbered around 300 that must have been a sight worth seeing.


The arrival of the Railway in Alford, in September 1848, enabled the coastal towns to expand and welcome more visitors. Local inns and hotels quickly took responsibility for conveying these new customers to their destination.

The increase in visitors was noticeable the following season:


The village of Mablethorpe is now enlivened by an unusually large number of persons, who are visiting for bathing, the shore here being one of the best in England: the sands are smooth and firm, and have such a gradual descent that bathing may be performed at all times of the tide. In addition to a good inn there are about 18 private lodging houses. Mablethorpe is 8 miles North East of Alford Station from which conveyances are required.

Stamford Mercury August 1849


It was nearly another 30 years before coastal rail links improved and the reliance upon horse drawn vehicles increased on these smaller routes as large numbers of  visitors were deposited in Alford requiring transport elsewhere.

By 1858 the omnibus between Alford and the Mablethorpe was reportedly loaded inside and out with visitors to the coast.

The Eagle Hotel offered Livery and Bait stables for visiting gentleman, plus an omnibus, waggonette, dog carts, and horses for hire. An omnibus ran between Alford Station and the Eagle hotel; via Trusthorpe and the Convalescent home.  The Bacchus Hotel in Sutton ran a similar offer in tandem with the White Horse in Alford. Transport times coincided with the Alford trains with offers to deliver luggage to other local destinations.

Screenshot 2020-06-21 07.55.45


Stamford Mercury : Friday 19th June 1874


Charles N. Jamson, Empire View Productions, Doncaster

The Mablethorpe to Louth rail link opened in October 1877, resulting in a significant reduction in horse drawn traffic from Alford.

In 1879 The Eagle Hotel offered for auction their two horse omnibus, along with horses, dog carts, a family trap and a large selection of ironmongery and blacksmith’s paraphernalia, along with a large manure hill.



Alford celebrated the opening of the steam tram in 1884



Afterbrunel / CC BY-SA

The Mablethorpe rail link must have substantially reduced traffic between Alford and the coast. 

The Alford to Sutton Tramway opened with great celebrations in October 1884. Unfortunately it was undermined by the Willoughby to Sutton railway in October 1886, the Sutton to Mabethorpe rail link completed the loop in July 1888.

The Alford to Sutton tram ceased in December 1889. 

Alford Tramway sale


Stamford Mercury 1892 

The completed loop rail link ensured that travel from the Midlands working towns have never been simpler or more affordable, the Lincolnshire Coast was being promoted further afield and all of those visitors needed to be entertained.

Entertaining the pleasure seekers

The shore came alive during the summer, Masters brought their labourers to the sands in gaily decorated carts, local organisations had outings to the sands and visitor numbers grew. Lists of visitor names from each establishment were recorded and publicised for many years during this time. Special events were planned during the visitor season providing additional entertainment.

In August 1869 one such event was held by the Lincolnshire Coast Shipwreck Association, in union with RNLA, good weather ( reportedly) brought thousands to the coast:


… indeed it seemed as if every village and every scattered farmstead for miles had done its best to swell the holiday gathering. As early as 9 o’clock heavily laden vehicles were on their road to Mablethorpe; coaches; waggons; gigs and conveyances of every kind and quality, not excepting bicycles and perambulators, were eagerly pressed into service. The shore and the sandhills presented a truly animated sight; bands of music; flags and streamers, stalls and roundabouts, donkeys with gay trappings, and grotesque aunt sallies all helped to make the proceedings imposing.

Stamford Mercury August 1869

The highlight of the event was a boat race between Donna Nook , Theddlethorpe, Skegness and Sutton Lifeboats for the entertainment of the crowds. Following the race 150 ladies and gentlemen retired to a tent where they took refreshments provided by Book in Hand. The formal AGM of the society took places with speeches from officers of the various affiliated organisations. The opportunity was then taken to publicise the new Lincolnshire Convalescent Hospital about to be built.

Rev F Pretyman who had been instrumental in getting the project off the ground revealed that subscriptions already amounted to 2000 pounds, sufficient to start building. Other speeches praised Rev. F Pretyman  who had presented the land to the institution and to the county. Several ladies and gentlemen accompanied Rev and Mr Fowler to the site of the convalescent hospital , which will be built mainly on the sea bank at a place known as gibraltar in the parish of mablethorpe and not far from the spacious inn that is being erected by an enterprising individual.

The hospital was established by Miss Emily Anderson of Gainsborough, a colleague of Florence Nightingale at Scutari, the Lady unfortunately passed away before the completion of the project. Miss Nightingale exchanged letters with the Reverend and offered advice on the plans. The vision for the home was the provision of a change of air; a means of restoring the working man to his family, a delicate mother might go back to nurse her children, restored for many years. Subscribers were able to put forward members of their parish, or organisation, who could stay for a nominal fee. The home opened in the Summer of 1871 with a luncheon at The Eagle Hotel.

Many of the events held in the latter part of the century involved the coastguard. In Sept 1879 a small regatta was held much to enjoyment of thousands of trippers and others on the shore and embankments. The local Coastguard demonstrated their rockets and lifesaving apparatus showing how they transferred shipwrecked from ship to shore. Entertainments listed consisted of bicycle contests; horizontal and perpendicular greasy poles for climbing and walking; a donkey derby and a brass band.

Thoughts on our coast

There are a few lengthy articles from the press here, they were nearly edited out ( some of you may wish they were ) but they do provide a insight into our coast from different perspectives  - which some like - so they remain below. If you are short on time or inclination, skip down to the next set of postcards and dont miss the Battle of the Flowers at Blackpool.


A little over twenty miles by road from Cleethorpes is the quiet but pleasant watering-place of Mablethorpe which offers many attractions to people of moderate means, blessed with larger families. There is no pier, no promenade and no necessity to take fine clothes, as at the fashionable sea-side resorts. There are hard sands, extending miles along the seacoast, great sandy hills covered with sea buckthorn and the prickly glasswort, magnificent prospects of the German ocean, comfortable apartments of all kinds at moderate charges, and hotels where they do not impose upon visitors.


Mablethorpe is a sea-side retreat where those who go for health and quiet retirement may enjoy themselves to their hearts content in an atmosphere noted for its salubrity. It is a real paradise for children. They can gambol among the sandhills, stroll through rich pastures, or manufacture “sandpies” on the beach. … Bathing may be enjoyed at all states of the tide. … Young ladies may go out just as they please, without those minute attentions to dress which are considered “the thing” at resorts where there is more style and display. In these days when “thrift” seems to be taking possession of the public mind , Mablethorpe is one of the few sea-side places where it can be practised. Paterfamilias may calculate to a nicety what it will cost him to take his wife and family there, and he need fear no “extras”. The land literally flows with “milk and honey”. Eggs, milk and real cream may be bought off the farmers. The rich flat pastures are crowded with beeves, sheep, and lambs; vegetables are abundant , and geese and poultry abound. Starnge to say , fish is the only scarce article, though Mablethorpe adjoins the sea. There is no haven or jetty, no shelter for the boats, and consequently no fish, but a boat may be engaged and fishing may form one of the enjoyments of a holiday by the sea. Efforts are being made to bring fish from Grimsby, where it is so plentiful . It is proposed to form a haven, and to induce fishermen to take up residence at Mablethorpe. …

The people of Mablethorpe are anxious to build a new church, to erect a pier, and to develop modern atrractions. New roads have been formed, seats and small benches are placed on the sandhills, bathing machines brought into requisition, donkeys and ponies are ready for crowds of visitors, and a brass band has been established which plays regularly in the season, for Mablethorpe is worthy of note as a bathing place.

Leeds Mercury 3rd June 1880

The Mablethorpe improvement committee had many meetings in the early eighties with plans to construct a pier, at one stage reports of the appointed construction company were headlines but the plans did not come to fruition. One report in 1884 provided lists of visitor numbers from various destinations and thanked Louth gentlemen for giving their time and money to support Mablethorpe but there was a feeling that the inhabitants themselves should commence in earnest to do something. Many of the first time visitors had complained that they found the lack of a pier and band rendered the place dull in consequence. 

Murray’s guide to Lincolnshire published in the 1890s is somewhat dismissive of the Lincolnshire Coastal places, the class divide feels very apparent in this piece:


Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-sea and Skegness are the great summer play-ground of the working classes in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire, besides drawing on a great many from Yorkshire and even Lancashire, who are conveyed by the spirited northern railways in express excursion trains every day through the summer at fares for which , south of London, one could hardly get to the suburbs. The sands thus present a curious and interesting scene every afternoon and form a superb playground , being broad and safe and so firm that tennis croquet and even cricket can be played upon them. … On the whole these sea places can hardly be recommended for a stay except for families [with] children, but they are worth an occasional visit.

Mablethorpe is a much frequented watering place with fine sands but with hardly any of the energy for creating popular attractions which has been conspicuous at Skegness. Bathing from the shore is not very safe here owing to the clay banks, in which there are deep holes, but the bathing machines may be trusted to avoid them.

John Murray: Handbook for Lincolnshire: 1890 London

In contrast an article in the Barnet Press highly recommended Mablethorpe and Sutton to its readers precisely because it was quieter than other more bawdy seaside resorts…


[ Mablethorpe with its population of around 640 inhabitants is a place with natural charms] with magnificent sands and a glorious view of the sea. The sands are superb the bathing excellent. … A pier is necessary … There is a very good pavilion high up on the bank, commanding a wide view of the sea. Mablethorpe is the chief coastguard station for the district, and the houses erected for the officers are not the least interesting features of the place. There is also a Convalescent Home … I had a converation with some of the inmates of the home, they spoke very highly of the treat ment received and the benefits derived from the pure bracing air. … Persons not aflicted with a morbid desire for excitement will find ample means of enjoyment at Mablethorpe.

Sutton is a comparitively new place, the railway having been opened but a year; consequently the place is as yet undeveloped. Sutton has the advantage of possessing but one hotel, known by the suggestive title of “the Bacchus” . The original building is very old ; alterations and additions have been made, but it still retains its homelike cosy character. … The proprietor in view of the growth of public opinion in favour of temperance principles , has also erected a commodious temperance restaurant. …

Plans for a new hotel to be erected at Sutton, facing the sea, have been drawn out. The fact might be mentioned that some of the old inhabitants of Sutton are not particularly anxious that the place should develop into a rendezvous for large parties of “trippers” … other would not at all object if the Great Northern Railway should see their way next season to arrange a few cheap excursions from London.

… In conclusion … I would say to the hard working business man anxious above all for rest and repose … store up in your mind for future use the fact that Mablethorpe and Sutton are places to be remembered – especially the latter. … The tourist who has become tired of the noise and the hustle and bustle of the most popular watering places , may find a little haven of rest , free from hurry and confusion , in the quiet, healthful vicinity of Mablethorpe and Sutton-on-Sea. Barnet Press – Sat. 8th October 1887

Mablethorpe and Sutton continued to develop their sea side attractions, stalls and refreshment marquees built up along the sands at Mablethorpe while Sutton developed as a quieter “sister” resort albeit with a short promenade. Additional entertainment took place at intervals thoughout the season.

By the turn of the century Mablethorpe was a village of 900 inhabitants and had become a favourite resort easily accessible from London or the Midlands by rail. An article in the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph of 1905 promoted Mablethorpe as a holiday destination. Accomodation had to be booked in advance for the season. Many householders accepted visitors with charges from half a sovereign to one pound a week. The three hotels; The Louth Hotel; The Book in Hand and The Eagle offered moderate terms and were cheaper than rooms, although provisions were reportedly cheap for those who did take rooms.

Once again the offer of a quiet, affordable escape was targeted at tired businessmen keen to avoid a continual round of evening entertainment; there were excellent sands for his family and rabbit shooting available on the sandhills, subject to agreement with local gentlemen. Burnt Cork artists (minstrels), donkeys, roundabouts and awing boats provided attractions on the sands. Entertainments were given at frequent intervals during the season. The Urban District Council provided an band annual flower show, including horse jumping, and a carnival. On Thursdays throughout the season the railway company issued cheap return tickets to Grimsby and guides declared a visit to the pontoon very interesting.





Practically all day smacks would come and go unloading their catch.

The 27 mile coastal route was suggested to be a perfect excursion for cyclists.

Old postcards provide a great visual record of the sands at Mablethorpe in the early 20th Century:








Battle of Flowers

The quietness of our coast was interupted annually for another special event worthy of mention: the Battle of Flowers. A prominent festival on the continent; newspaper articles had reported on the attendance of British monarchy in Cannes and Nice and Grasse for years. Grand processions of carriages decorated with flowers preceeded the battle. Costumed participants in the carriages and on foot added to the carnival atmosphere. Upon completion of the parade “battle” commenced; onlookers and those in carriages threw flowers at each other, street vendors provided the ammunition and the beautiful displays were torn apart in the melee. In 1891 the Illustrated London News reported on the presence of Queen Victoria at the Battle of Flowers at Grasse, the sketch shows the monarch on a balcony at the Grand Hotel, well above the chaos, unlike her son who was frequently reported to be amidst the fray in his own drag, with superb black horses and throwing floral missiles with great spirit.

As with many things continental, Britain slowly adopted the festival, however as it spread around the coastal resorts everything was not all plain sailing, particularly in at the first event in Blackpool in 1888…



A second battle of flowers will be held at Blackpool … Last year the spirit of the fray was hardly entered into fairly. With earnest Lancashire folk a battle is a battle and the procession of carriages had to run the gauntlet of a rough, if good humoured, attempt at assault and battery. The riders were too freely regarded as aunt sallies and from flowers as missiles to cabbages and turnips the passage was found inviting and easy. Faces were bruised , hats were battered, dresses were spoiled and a few scrimmages suggested football or mild riot. [One] gentleman who had been battered more than he anticipated rose up in his carriage and attempted to expostulate with the crowd at the unreasonable vigour of the attack, but his mouth was promptly closed by a bunch of asters, which were neatly discharged from the midst of an unsympathising group of revellers.

Manchester Times : 6th July 1889 / Lancashire Evening Post: 24th Sep 1888

The Battle of Flowers first came to Skegness in 1896 and Sutton on Sea in 1900, the annual battles were extremely popular and took place in Mablethorpe, Skegness and Sutton for many years. They mostly followed the same format as the one described below:

The annual Battle of flowers and carnival took place at Sutton on sea, … the Battle of flowers and confetti, took place on the promenade. Nearly all shops, and a great number of houses, were decorated, streamers were hung across the promenade. Prizes categories were: Decorated House: decorated shop: emblematical car: decorated tradesman’s cart, decorated bicycle, ladys and gents, decorated donkey and rider, decorated donkey and carriage, decorated mail cart or perambulator, fancy costume ladies, fancy costume gents, decorated team horse on lifeboat, illuminated house or shop. After judging the procession took place along the High street, Trusthorpe road, back through the Park and along the High street to the prom where the battle of the flowers commenced. … The Spilsby Volunteer band played throughout the afternoon and for the dancing on the Bacchus Lawn in the evening.


Hedley Davison Broddle: A favourite at the Mablethorpe Battle of Flowers.

One man of diminuitive stature, Hedley (known as Eardley) Broddle, was a popular element to the Battle of Flowers parades in Mablethorpe. Mr Broddle was born in Hannah in 1847, in 1861 he was recorded at Trusthorpe Hall, in the household of widow Eliza Loft, as a servant and a scholar. Eardley remained there for over 30 years. Following the death of Eliza Loft in 1893 life changed for Eardley. In 1901 at the age of 54 he is recorded in the household of William Codd at Mablethorpe, as a farm labourer.

A familiar sight around the town, delivering milk for Mr Codd, Eardley was snapped for a postcard and became known for a while as the smallest milkman in the British Isles. Some years later one man recalled that he  would sometimes pop into the Louth or the Book‘ for a drink; on one occasion someone mixed his drink resulting in Eardley trying to vault the counter. He was accompanied home where he slept it off and took the pledge shortly afterwards. Eardley continued to work for Mr Codd during the Summer months , living in Louth during the Winter. It would have been nice to locate an elderly Eardley at the home of a benevolent relative but his death is recorded in June 1910 at Louth workhouse infirmary. He had returned to Louth having been taken ill a fortnight before his passing.






In July 1905 it was announced that the Lincolnshire Automobile Club had accepted an invitation from the Mablethorpe Amusements Committee to hold a Motor Racing Event on the sands on 19th August.

A last minute announcement from the Amusements Committee confirmed that the racing celebrtity of the day , Mr Selwyn F Edge, would be present.



1905 Motor Car Races on Mablethorpe Sands

In August 1905 an article in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph covered the event. An enthusiastic report noted that the sands were declared to be the best sand track for motor racing so far discovered in England, in Mr S F Edges opinion.

During the afternoon Mr. S. F. Edge, who was present on his touring car, inspected the beach for about five miles north of Mablethorpe, and gave the opinion already expressed with regard to its adaptability for motor races. also expressed his intention to attempt to establish a new world’s record over that course during the latter part of September.

Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Monday 21 August 1905

Two events followed, the first for touring cars in touring trim , open to members of the Lincolshire Automobile Club, the distance being one kilometre ( 1,094 yards). 

The list of touring cars taking part reveals the basis of the London to Brighton veteran car run. 

The cars, in this event, were handicapped in yards. There were 28 entries, and 20 cars competed, no times being taken. The first round was run in heats of two. Dr. Gilpin (Bourne)12 h.p. Georges Richard (360) won from Mr. C. F. Crow (Grimsby) 5 h.p. Rexotte Mr. C. Nelson (Lincoln) 6 h.p. Dion (380) won from Mr. E. Brockway (Cleethorpes) 9 h.p. Clement Talbot (210); Mr. W. Wadsley (Bourne) 4 h.p. Buckboard (400) won from Mr. J. Isle (Horncastle) 8 h.p. Rover (290); Captain Newsum (Lincoln) h.p. Daimler (scratch) won from Mr. T. M. Winch (Legbourne Abbey) 12 h.p. Century (250); Dr. E. (Billingborough) h.p. Baby Peugeot (400) won from Mr. V. Nissler (Lincoln) 8 h.p. De Dion (290); Mr. A. Robinson (Grimsby) 9 h.p. Dion (310) won from Mr. P. Wright (Wold Newton Manor) 8 h.p. Dion (300); Dir. C. W. Pennell (Lincoln) 16 h.p. Martini (150) won from Dr. Miller (Wrangle) 9 h.p. Peugeot (390); Captain J. A. Cole (Roxholme Hall, Sleaford) 12 h.p. Durkopp (360) won from Sir Hickman Bacon (Thonock Hall Gainsborough) 24 h.p. Wolseley (scratch)- Mr W Newsum (Lincoln) 8 h.p. De Dion (300) won from ■ Mr Newton Lincoln (260); and Mr. T. Swaby (Grimsby) 12 h.p. Darracq (240) won from Mr. H. Mays (Bourne) 8 h.p. Cottereau (310). In the succeeding rounds no car competing could get near Captain Newsun’s h.p. Daimler .

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An article in the Boston Guardian describes the scene in Mablethorpe that day :

RACING ON THE BEACH. Mablethorpe the small, but growing sister Skegness. It has not yet reached the same stage of development as its’ more northerly relation, but it ia a healthy and thriving infant, full promise. Endowed with great talents, in the guise of a splendid beach and invigorating air, and encouraged enterprising guardians, anxious about its future welfare, it is a baby town that in years come will take prominent position amongst the holiday resorts of the East Coast. On Saturday it enjoyed a preliminary taste of that promised popularity. Motor-cars of various sizes and designs whirred along the High Street in swift succession, and a special train brought thousands of excursionists from near and far. And what with the raucous tones of the echoing hooters and the constant stream of visitors hurrying from station to the beach, Mablethorpe became quite excited, and, with streamers and banners fluttering the breeze, waved a fussy, but no less hearty, welcome to the throng. The occasion was the first race meeting the members of the Lincolnshire Automobile Club who, some time ago, had a number of cars down in order test a stretch of the sands. … excellent accommodation was provided for the spectators, who numbered close upon 5,000. … It had been announced that S. F. Edge and Clifford Earp, who broke the world’s record Brighton few weeks ago, would be present with the famous six-cylinder Napier racing cars and would make an effort to beat his previous performance over the kilometre. The crowd displayed considerable anxiety to catch a glimpse of the two intrepid Gordon-Bennett competitors, and great was their disappointment when it was known that neither of them were taking part in the meeting. Mr Edge drove down an ordinary touring car.

Boston Guardian – Saturday 26 August 1905


The photo of the beach race above shows the bathing vans lined up behind the spectators, for a short period of time they shared the beach together. As the Great War approached the bathing vans were drawn up and used as beach huts. The report below is from 10th July 1914 and captures Mablethorpe and Sutton just prior to the war …

SAND-HILLS, SUNSHINE, AND SEA Sutton, on the Lincolnshire Coast, is extremely popular with persons who prefer quiet and rest … The many thousands of visitors who frequent these places year after year testifies greatly to the benefits to be derived from the pure dry invigorating air. … It should be stated that Mablethorpe and Sutton are by no means desirable places for the tripper who is “out for the day,” and who likes to take his pleasure with unlimited excitement and noise. … Mablethorpe and Sutton are health resorts pure and simple. From this it need not be inferred that they are “dead-alive ” places. Strictly speaking, you have to make your own pleasure here, and it will be your own fault if you do not enjoy yourself to your heart’s content. … There is boating, bathing, fishing, cockling, shrimping, golfing, cricket, hockey, tennis, paddling—all on the shore—and the rather exciting if doubtfully dignified, donkey riding! Upon the sands a really good variety company gives frequent entertainments, while concerts – at which some first class talent may be heard – battle of flowers, swimming exhibitions, rinking, and many other similar events, form the season’s attractions. The golfing enthusiast will find at Sutton and Mablethorpe excellent links, the courses having good greens and natural bunkers. Whatever your bent, you are at perfect liberty to indulge in it here without let or hindrance. During the holiday season, there are a long line of huts and tents on the foreshore, stretching away about a couple of miles, some fifty or sixty being on the north and about the same number on the south side. These have to a large extent superseded the old time bathing vans, and the owners find them very useful as shelters and for a little lunch or afternoon tea.

Mansfield Reporter – Friday 10 July 1914

Less than one month later the World changed, while the bathing vans were pulled high up on the shore and slowly fell into disrepair across the German Ocean the bathing machines at Ostende became housing for Belgian refugees.