A beach is born…
It was an instant success. The Tower of London children's beach officially opened on 23 July 1934.
For many years prior the children of the East End had played on the pebbled and rocky foreshore of the Tower of London at low tide. This dangerous practice – indeed, sometimes even fatal – led the Tower Hill Improvement Trust to create a safe beach for the children of the local area.
In its report entitled The Great Goal, the Trust said: ‘Now, on this very spot where, in the Middle Ages the penalty for trespass was also death for man, woman or child, a safe playground for little ones is to be constructed.'
'It was pure joy … it was freedom, it was a day out, it was our Southend. It was something you looked forward to.'
King George V gave his permission for children to ‘have this tidal playground as their own forever’ in a letter read out by Lord Wakefield, President of the Council for Tower Hill Improvement, at the opening of the new beach.
The rocky and pebbled shore was covered with more than 1,500 barge loads of sand, and Lord Wakefield himself had paid for a patrol boat and watchman to keep the children safe as they played on the beach.
Wakefield was referred to as ‘one of the greatest hearts and far seeing minds of our time’ by the Lord Mayor, who also attended the opening, along with other local mayors, the Bishop of London and the Lieutenant of the Tower, representing the Constable of the Tower.
The Times reported that as Lord Wakefield cut a white tape to open the beach ‘the ladder was lowered, to the music of cheerful siren-blasts from ships in the Thames’ and children rushed down to use the beach and enjoy the treat of buns, chocolate and unlimited lemonade at the opening day spread.
The beach proved to be extremely popular. Hundreds of thousands of visitors (some estimates suggest up to half a million) flocked to the beach in its first five years. Considering the limitations this was a huge number. The river's tide was low enough for people to get on the beach for only a couple of hours a day, and the beach was not open throughout the whole year.
The beach remained open to the public between 1934 and 1971, apart from during the Second World War. Its popularity continued.
The beach was closed in 1971 owing to pollution and the water being deemed unsafe to bathe in. And although much of the sand has washed away, a considerable amount remains. And at low tide it still looks – and smells – like the seaside.
Today the beach is only open two days a year for National Archaeology Weekend, when people can go down onto the beach and search for treasures that have been washed up onto the shore….
Memories of ... good times
'It was pure joy ... it was freedom, it was a day out, it was our Southend. It was something you looked forward to.'
‘When the beach closed it was sad. Very sad, ‘cause everybody liked it …it’s lovely.’
‘When my boy was born, first place I took him was round the Tower, the outside, walked him round and then, when he was about 3 or 4 I found out there was a beach. I suppose it was about 1968 that I took him down there, bucket and spade and sandwiches and bottle of pop and spent time on the beach. And we were there quite a lot that summer.’
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