'The Queen of the Beaches': Ostend and the British from the 1890s to the 1930s
John K. Walton looks at the Belgian seaside resort and the part British visitors played in its development.
The British love affair with the seaside, which brought an unmatched growth in the range and complexity of resorts between the mid-eighteenth century and the inter-war years, was not solely for home consumption. From the late eighteenth century onwards, British demand also stimulated the growth of seaside resorts on the Continent, producing one of the great British cultural exports. This helped put Britons in touch with other languages, cultures, histories and ways of life, though the adoption of the seaside resort in new countries was always a matter of adaptation and negotiation rather than simple cultural transfer.
The earliest and most enduring of these initiatives came about on the Channel coast of northern France and what became Belgium in 1830. Ostend was one of the most important European resorts to influence and be influenced by the British at play. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become one of the great cosmopolitan plages of Europe, but also sustained an important and (in the new century) increasingly plebeian British presence.