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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Princess Amelia, the English Seaside, and a little bit more!

The late 18th and early 19th century saw the rise, indeed creation, of the English Seaside. At first trips to the seaside were purely for medical purposes, bathing in seawater or, at the beginning, even drinking it. The invention of the seaside as a destination is very much the brainchild of the English. It was to spread across the entire world.

The seaside developed from inland spas, such as Bath and Harrogate, which combined medical treatment with social activities (all those Assembly Rooms),

One of the first seaside resorts was Brighton. This was due partly to its proximity to London, partly to Dr Russell who pioneered seawater as a cure, but largely because of the patronage of The Prince Regent, later George IV.

In fact, the Royal Family's patronage of the seaside was not restricted to The Prince Regent and Brighton. George III and the rest of The Royal family favoured Weymouth, whilst slightly later the widowed Duchess of Kent took her daughter, Victoria (later Queen), to the sands of Ramsgate, George III's family was very accessible to the public, quite unlike the situation today. Princess Victoria was allowed to mix with other children on the beach and take donkey rides. People in Weymouth paid to take a boat out to sail round the royal yacht to catch a glimpse of the King and his family. The Rev John Skinner of Camerton in Somerset was in Weymouth visiting his naval brother, and writes of the hike in prices because of the presence of the king. The date is 1804. 'The expense of this day's boating alone was 17/6d, as the watermen demand 3/- an hour. This seems an exorbitant price...." Indeed it was.

Since I have moved to Worthing I have learnt that George III's youngest child (of 15 children) and The Prince Regent's sister, Princess Amelia, came to the town to convalesce with a bad knee in 1798. She was only 15 years old and was explicitly instructed not to stay in fashionable Brighton because of the presence of her louche brother.

Amelia wrote to her father from Worthing, 'Certainly the vapour and warm sea bath are of use and therefore I hope that I shall be able to assure you that I am better.' Sadly, Amelia was to suffer from ill health for the majority of her adult life, contracting amongst other things TB around this same date of 1798. Worthing has never looked back since, or so we who live here like to say!

Whilst staying in the town Amelia celebrated her birthday with a military band concert on the beach, illuminations across the town in the evening, and climaxed by a fireworks show from HMS Fly. The Royal Navy ship was standing off Worthing as an early warning system should the French decide to launch an attack. Having taken a carriage ride to nearby Arundel in November, Amelia left Worthing shortly before Christmas to rejoin her family at Windsor. She left £20 to the poor of Broadwater, then a village, now an integrated part of Worthing. It was the roughest part of the area in the late 18th century, and its inhabitants were said to be 'lacking in good manners'.

Amelia died in 1820, ten years before her father, and twenty before her brother George. She was only 27 years of age.

Royal connections with Sussex, and indeed the English seaside as a whole, ended with Victoria's marriage to Albert. They disliked the way people would press around them. Instead they purchased land at Osborne on the Isle of Wight and built their holiday home, complete with its own private beach. Another Parson, Rev Ellman of Berwick in Sussex, wrote 'when Queen Victoria came to the throne she was so much annoyed by the inhabitants [of Brighton] thronging her, that she ceased to come down, and the [Royal] Pavilion was sold to the town for £53,000'. For many years it proved a white elephant for the town.

There the royal story might have ended, save for the fact that in 1929 George V was advised by his doctors to recuperate from an operation on his lungs by convalescing in Bognor. I don't think George V had a very high opinion of Bognor because the phrase, maybe apocryphal, with which the king is most often associated is 'Bugger Bognor'. There are two versions of when this phrase might have been used. The most famous is when his doctors trying to encourage the King, told him he would recover and be fit enough to go to Bognor to recuperate. To which the King replied, 'Bugger Bognor'. He died before he had to make the decision. The second version I much prefer. The town of Bognor petitioned the King to be allowed to add the suffix 'Regis' to the town's name. When the King's Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, took the petition to him, George replied 'Bugger Bognor'. He nevertheless agreed to the change of name. In the formal reply, drafted by Lord Stamfordham, the two word comment of the King was replaced by the more diplomatic phrasing of, 'The King has been graciously pleased to grant your request'.

Two book references:

Journal of a Somerset Rector 1803-1834 by John Skinner

Recollections of a Country parson 1815-1906 by Edward Boys Ellman

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