The Victorians gave us many things – the ‘British’ bulldog, a sense of Empire, rules and manners… While these pillars of the Victorian age seem antiquated now, there is one institution, inspired by the time of Queen Victoria, whose influence can still be felt today.
It was the Victorians that gave us Brits our tradition of escaping to the seaside, thanks to the Nineteenth century invention of railways and steam ships which brought the possibility of cross country travel to ordinary folk.
The pretty town of Ilfracombe in North Devon owes much of its present to the Victorians, who popularised this quiet fishing village on the North Devon coast as a go to seaside destination. Evidence of this bustling era in its history can be seen today as a stroll around the town reveals many buildings which were built at the time.
Ilfracombe is home to the Grand Victorian and Steampunk Festival which takes place every year (15th – 23rd June in 2019). The town is also home to theCarlton Hotel, itself a Victorian building (although extensively refurbished in recent years to shine with a 21st century dash of first class) and the perfect base for a historical breakin North Devon.
Throughout the nineteenth century, a seaside scene developed in the UK, one crystallised in the words of the 1907 music hall song by John A. Glover-Kind, a rendition of which is as ubiquitous as calls of ‘Are we there yet?’ on many a holiday car journey to the coast:
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, I do like to be beside the sea,
I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom, Where the brass bands play tiddly-on-pom-pom!
Modesty is a quality often associated with the Victorians. In the Nineteenth century, Victorian ladies decamped from their bathing machines (or swam from designated ladies’ beaches), dressed in an attire much resembling the Burkini of today. Men folk, on the other hand would parade their wares al fresco – hence the need for a separate beach – and Ilfracombe’s Tunnels, which are a popular attraction today, tell this tale of Victorian bathing habits!
What is the Grand Victorian and Steampunk Festival?
Ilfracombe has celebrated its Victorian past for many years with an annual celebration, which involves parades and ‘tea with the Queen’ with music playing from the bandstand in the quaint Runnymede Gardens. Dressing up as one’s favourite Victorian character was very much the order of the day for Victorian Week and it is a town tradition that has been much cherished over time by locals and visitors,enjoying a historical break,alike.
In recent years the tradition has received a breath of fresh air with a new generation of Victorian enthusiasts who are mixing history with a healthy pinch of fantasy, represented by the influx of Steampunk fans.
Now the events of Victorian week combine the historical and the fictional with activities that include teapot racing, ghost walks, parasol duelling, a Masked and Time travellers ball, tea parties on the lawn, art competitions and a lot of period dressing up!Of course fancy dress is not obligatory and any out of town visitors, down for a historical break in North Devon, just enjoy the spectacle!
With a reputation for being quirky and fun for all the family, the latest incarnation of this Ilfracombe tradition takes place just a stroll from the Carlton Hotel (meaning all the fun you can have in a starched shirt – or full petticoat -can be succeeded by a luxurious night of dinner, bed and breakfasting before starting all over).
Steampunk Holiday Destination
The Ilfracombe event has become something of a Steampunk holidaydestination in recent years and it’s certainly a scene that has been growing – helped in part by movies such as The League of Extraordinary gentlemen, The City of Lost Children, The Three Musketeers (circa 2011) and the Guy Ritchie revamp of Sherlock Holmes.
Steampunk supposedly began as a joke term somewhere in the early Noughties, used to describe a specific genre of science fiction which celebrated the fantastical potential of the future within the nostalgia of the past (it has also been called ‘retro-futuristic’).
The Huffington Post talks of ‘retro pimping’, with old fashioned materials such as copper, brass, glass and mechanical workings as being characteristicsof the Steampunk movement and it has been credited with awakening an interest in the Victorian era amongst younger generations.
Not to be taken too seriously, the DIY ethos of Steampunk dressing up is nevertheless seriously good fun,so why not do something different this yearand head off to North Devon for a Steampunk holiday?
Contact the Carlton Hotel to book a historical break during Victorian Week or fuel your Steampunk holiday with a little bit of luxury, contact us on 01271 862446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.