Beautiful Britain – Clacton-on-Sea

Nestled on the Tendring peninsula on the east coast of England, and providing seaside entertainment for the masses for over 150 years, the town of Clacton may seem like any other  British seaside town. Clacton came to prominence in 1871 when it was founded by Peter Bruff as a seaside resort, largely for Londoners to escape the city. He built the pier, which still stands today, and steamer was the main method of reaching the town until the road and rail system caught up.

170716_ClactonPier1

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The heyday of the town was really the middle decades of the twentieth century when there was a Butlins Holiday Camp and many hotels and guest houses to entertain the day trippers and summer holiday makers. Then along came cheap flights to more exotic locations and, like so many British resorts, there was a significant downturn in the economy.

Even in the 21st century the town still has a significant number of visitors and people enjoying the sandy beaches, and going on the rides and other amusements on Peter Bruff’s original pier. When we were kids there were dolphins and orcas kept in the swimming pool on the pier, but thankfully that’s gone now.

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The landscape has also changed a bit with the offshore wind farm on Gunfleet Sands but all in all a pretty standard town that has had its ups and downs…  

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… Or is it?  

Well, there are two things that are also uniquely interesting about this town, so let me explain.

Firstly, Clacton was the site of the first civilian casualties in World War II when Frederick and Dorothy Gill were killed by a Heinkel bomber that crashed into their house on May 1st, 1940. Little is made of this fact, although I clearly recall a plaque on a bench on nearby Skelmersdale Road detailing this tragedy when I was a teenager.

Secondly, although Clacton is primarily known as a typical Victorian seaside town, the area slightly inland at Great Clacton was inhabited by the Celts and there is some evidence of Roman involvement too at the coast. The most amazing fact though is that during the paleolithic period, the area was used for flint mining and tool manufacture. And in 1911 there was uncovered the “Clacton Spear” a wooden yew spear which, at 420,000 years old is the oldest known wooden tool created by man.  It is, in fact, even older than Homo sapiens and was carved by our pre-ancestors Homo erectus.  An entire period of human development, Clactonian, was named after the town and describes the fascinating industry of flint working and tool making.

170716_ClactonSpear
By Chemical Engineer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I lived in Clacton during my teenage years and was totally unaware of this significant piece of our history. Sometimes it truly amazes me how understated the British people can be. In many other places in the world both these events would have been used to develop another aspect of the town, with museums and themed activities, but not in this corner of Essex.

How Quintessentially British!

~Richard

7 thoughts on “Beautiful Britain – Clacton-on-Sea

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    1. Thank you, Brian. I hasn’t been back there for several years and was surprised by how the seascape had changed do much with addition of theses offshore wind turbines. It makes it odd for those of us who remember an open sea with just the occasional boat in the distance.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. If I was doing a comparison of the two countries, I would say that the US is like plain yogurt–healthy, delicious, and a tabula rasa waiting for history to write on its slate. England, to me, is like yogurt with fruit on the bottom. There is always a wonderful historical surprise just under the surface, going back to ancient times. Your words and choice of illustrations have really reminded me how special Europe is and maybe someday I’ll get to visit! Great post, Richard!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Clarissa. I really hope you get a chance to travel to Europe too, there’s a lot to see!
      You make an interesting comparison between the two countries, but don’t forget there’s a huge amount of paeloamerican culture from 30,000 years ago too. The US may be relatively young, but human development has been on the North American continent for a long time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, yes, I know. I guess I’m thinking about a written record. True, Beowulf was written in maybe 400 AD but probably comes from a long line of oral recitations. The Romani have a rich oral history but no real writing until the last 200 years (Wikipedia deleted my contribution when I cited my father’s oral tales as an information source 🙂 ) Oral history and tales are almost like that old game Whisper Down the Lane where the last person (recorder) hears an altered version from the first person. So I worry about that, mainly because I depend on oral transmission for herbal cures that my Gran instructed me about, but she always seemed to leave something out of the recipe and that makes a difference. I guess I envy the architecture and the written word that seems richer in Europe. Sorry, I’m getting wordy 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t worry about getting wordy, it’s an interesting point. I wonder how many pieces of knowledge have been lost one way or another through lack of written language that we understand today. I heard on NPR the other day that we are losing indigenous languages at the rate of one every 14 days! Imagine what culture is being lost at the same time. It’s not just a language, but a whole cultural philosophy each time a language goes.

      Liked by 1 person

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