England’s Seven Seaside Wonders

Since the 18th century, people have headed to the seaside to improve their health and to enjoy fun with friends. To cater for millions of holidaymakers, specialised buildings and structures were built, ranging from a fantasy palace and Europe’s largest hotel to the oldest rollercoaster in Britain and the longest pier in the world.

To celebrate Historic England’s first summer, our seaside expert Allan Brodie counts down seven listed structures that sum up the English seaside experience.

7 Saltdean Lido, Brighton and Hove

The Saltdean Lido in Brighton and Hove © Historic England
The Saltdean Lido in Brighton and Hove © Historic England

This grade II* Art Deco lido of 1938, designed by R W H Jones, is built of reinforced concrete with sprayed cement finish painted white. It is one of just three seaside lidos still in use in England, and was recently awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to revitalise the site.

6 Southend Pier

The Royal Eagle Paddle Steamer moors up at Southend Pier, August 1939 © Historic England
The Royal Eagle Paddle Steamer collects day trippers at Southend Pier, August 1939 © Historic England

At 1.34 miles long, this Grade II pleasure pier was built in 1889 by James Brunlees and is the longest pier in the world. The Royal Eagle Paddle Steamer, shown above, began operating in 1933, taking tourists up and down stream from Tower Bridge to Margate. The East Anglian Film Archives hold fascinating films of crowds waiting for the steamer in the 1950s.

5 The Scenic Railway at Dreamland, Margate

The Scenic Railway at Dreamland in Margate, before restoration works started © Historic England
The Scenic Railway at Dreamland in Margate, before restoration works started © Historic England

Margate (as featured in our banner image of Victorian beachgoers) has been a popular seaside destination for over 200 years. An early form of rollercoaster, Dreamland’s American-style railway was built in 1920 by J H Iles and listed at Grade II* as the oldest surviving rollercoaster in Britain. In 2008 it was damaged by fire, but the park is being rebuilt: tickets are on sale now!

The Brighton Royal Pavilion

The Royal Brighton Pavilion © Allan Brodie
The Royal Brighton Pavilion © Allan Brodie

This Grade I Royal palace began life as a farmhouse, and was transformed into an oriental fantasy for the Prince of Wales by James Wyatt and John Nash in 1811-23. You can visit to explore spaces like the Banqueting Room and the Chinese Gallery.

3 The Hippodrome at Great Yarmouth

The Great Yarmouth Hippodrome © Allan Brodie
The Great Yarmouth Hippodrome © Allan Brodie

A Grade II* purpose-built circus (meaning a curved stadia design; the Hippodrome is one of just two left in England) of 1903 by R S Cockrill, with a striking art nouveau façade.

2 The Grand Hotel at Scarborough

The Scarborough Grand Hotel, standing in front of the famous beach © Historic England
The Scarborough Grand Hotel, standing in front of the famous beach © Historic England

Built in 1863-67 by the architect Cuthbert Brodrick, this immense Grade II* structure was reputedly the largest hotel in Europe when it opened. As Scarborough was a famous spa town, the hotel’s baths included an extra pair of taps, meaning that Victorian guests could bath in seawater as well as fresh.

Blackpool Tower

The Blackpool Tower and promenade © Historic England
The Blackpool Tower, entertainment complex, and promenade © Historic England

This icon is a Grade I entertainment complex built in 1891-4 by the architects Maxwell and Tuke, and the engineer R.J.G. Reade.

Do you agree with Allan‘s choices? Let us know!

A bathing beauty: our seaside expert Allan Brodie on the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare © Allan Brodie
A bathing beauty: our seaside expert Allan Brodie on the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare © Allan Brodie

Further Reading


Curious about arts and crafts, mystified by medieval settlements or intrigued by industrial heritage? Our “Brief Introduction to” series is for those who want to find out more about the historic environment. From buildings and monuments to art and landscapes, we summarise our knowledge using examples from the National Heritage List for England.

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