For over thirty years London had a beach, although I for one would not have wanted to go bathing from it.
The Tower of London children’s officially opened on 23 July 1934, after King George V gave his permission for children to ‘have this tidal playground as their own forever’. 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 – sometimes even fatal – led the Tower Hill Improvement Trust to create a safe beach for the children of the local area.
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.
However, the beach remained open to the public between 1934 and 1971, apart from during the Second World War. Its popularity continued until the beach was finally 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 items that have been washed up onto the shore.
The kid in the middle picture ripped his pants, and the beach captain sewed them up for him in what looks suspiciously like a staged photograph. (I’m researching a new book at the moment – you can tell!)