Tuesday Poem – At the Sea-Side by Robert Louis Stevenson


When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.
My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up,
Till it could come no more.

It’s school holidays and my wish for children is that they all get to  to the beach at least once.   And dig some holes.  And of course these can be dug with shells or sticks.

child with wooden sand bucket

child with wooden sand bucket

Note the difference between the buckets and spades of early days…not as colourful as our present day plastic ones,(below) but they did the job!


The British seaside tradition which Robert Louis Stevenson knew, began  when  the development of the railway made it more affordable for a much larger section of the population,  to get to the sea. In 1841 Thomas Cook launched the idea of  day excursions by train. Thousands of people could now take a day trip to something such as ‘The Great Exhibition.’ This meant no worries about accommodation and yet enough time to have a good look around. A number of seaside resorts, often referred to as watering places, developed. My first view of one of these remains strong in my mind. I was on  my great OE (slang for the big overseas experience here in NZ). Most young people travel by plane these days but lucky me when I was young, it was still affordable to go by ship. My particular ship went from Australia to Italy and we had train/ferry tickets to Calais and on to England. There was no chunnel.

My first close up sight of England on a cold grey day was an equally grey beach populated with a large number of bathers, complete with their tiny tents for changing in.  Nearby was the pier a wharf dotted with inside entertainments. I was horrified at the time, the idea of sunbathing on a cold grey day was not in my (kiwi) experience. As for entertainment there was always an ice cream shop somewhere near. And we took our own playthings, surfboards, beach balls etc. Nowadays of course we are much more sophisticated:-) and most of our city beaches have cafes nearby but no, we have nothing like the British ‘watering places.’ Here is a webpage with some great  information about British seaside traditions. Scroll down their page to see photos of Brighton Pavilion showing its marvellous architecture.

If you are wondering what a watering place is it can of course be a water hole in the Australian desert but in this case and particularly when the word fashionable is used it is

1. a seaside or lakeside vacation resort.

2. a health resort near mineral springs, a lake, or the sea, featuring therapeutic baths, water cures, or the like; spa.

And now a laugh from ‘Mr Punch at The Seaside’. Punch (magazine), a former British weekly magazine of humour and satire in the mid nineteenth century.


Mrs. Dorset (of “Dorset’s Sugar and Butter Stores”,
Mile End Road).
“Why on earth can’t we go to a more
dressy place than this, ‘Enery?
I’m sick of this dreary ‘ole, year after year.
It’s nothing but sand and water, sand and water!”

Mr. Dorset. “If it wasn’t for sand and water,
you wouldn’t get no ‘olerday.”

A Fashionable Watering Place from Punch Magazine

A Fashionable Watering Place from Punch Magazine

Have a happy week.  You can start it by  returning to Tuesday Poem. Jennifer Compton is this week’s editor with ‘A Garage’ by Robert Gray…a fascinating poem. Don’t forget to check out the side bar of Tuesday Poets and enjoy their great variety.

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