The railway, the Earl and his vision – Skegness as a resort town

1873 – 1900

In 1873, the railway network reached Skegness, and two years later in 1875 Skegness railway station opened. With the opening of the railway Skegness was now easily (and cheaply) accessible to the industrial towns and cities of the Midlands, and it was from this locality that most of the Early visitors to Skegness came.

Much of the land in Skegness at this time was owned by the Earl of Scarbrough. Recognising that Skegness's beach, clean air and natural beauty would appeal to holidaymakers, the Earl, with assistance from his agent, H.V. Tippet, began to plan Skegness as a resort town. His plan for the town included constructing wide, tree flanked promenades, a main shopping street, a church, pier, parks and gardens and lots of new houses and hotels to accommodate the growing population and expected influx of holidaymakers.

The Earl's vision for Skegness was soon realised and over the coming three decades, Skegness would undergo a period of rapid construction and development, transforming the then village forever.

In 1873 the Pleasure Gardens were renamed Tower Gardens after being gifted by the Earl.

In 1876 the Earl helped form the Skegness Pier Company. The aim of the company was to create a spectacular promenade pier to rival that of other resort towns and entice more holidaymakers to visit Skegness.

The pier formed the centrepiece of the Earl's plan so it was imperative that they got it right.

A competition was launched to come up with the best design for the pier with a £50 premium being paid to the company which came up with the winning design.

Over 40 designs were submitted but gradually those entries were whittled down to just one, and it was a design by Messrs. Clarke and Pickwell of Hull which was eventually selected. The design boasted a saloon/concert hall with a capacity of 700 at the pier head, was 1817 ft long by 25ft wide and had viewing bays along its length at 120ft intervals.

Head Wrightson of Stockton was awarded the contract to build the pier. Construction began in 1880 and just a year later, on 4th of June 1981, Skegness pier was officially opened by the then Duke of Edinburgh. The pier cost £20,840 to build.

In 1898 - 1899 one of the towns most prominent landmarks, the clock tower at Lumley Road was constructed. The clock tower was funded entirely through public subscription and was of the Gothic style, like St. Matthew's church which had been built by the Earl twenty years earlier.

The Earl's efforts to put Skegness on the map as a holiday destination were not in vain. In 1850 Skegness was home to just a few hundred people, with most of those earning their living from fishing or from agriculture. By the turn of the century and excluding Skegness's large transient population of holidaymakers, that number had swelled to well over two thousand.

The Jolly Fisherman and his creator, John Hassall

In 1908 the town's mascot, the Jolly Fisherman was born. Designed by illustrator John Hassall, Jolly first appeared on a poster commissioned by the Great Northern Railway Company to promote its rail services. The poster depicted a cheery, somewhat rotund fellow smoking a pipe and the slogan "SKEGNESS is SO bracing", a reference to the chilly winds that often blow off the North Sea.

At over a hundred years old, the Jolly Fisherman is now internationally recognised and regarded by many in marketing circles as the most successful holiday advertisement ever created. To this day, the Jolly Fisherman continues to play an important in the marketing of Skegness. There is a statue of the Jolly Fisherman located near the clock tower at Lumley Road.

Butlins Skegness

1936 saw the arrival of Butlins Holiday Camp and its famous "Redcoats". Butlins was a new concept in low cost holidays devised by Billy Butlin and inspired by miserable holidays he'd experienced in his youth. The concept behind Butlins was a simple one - give paying guests a better deal, make it fun and keep costs low. The camp was an immediate success and demand soon outstripped capacity. To cater for this demand more chalets were soon built, doubling its initial capacity just a year after opening. During the war years Butlins Skegness was taken over for military use and became HMS Royal Arthur. In 1946 it was reopened as a holiday camp.

Butlins Skegness is now owned and operated by Bourne Leisure.