Realising that a trip to the seaside was financially out of reach for most East End children, in 1934 the Tower Hill Improvement Trust decided to create a beach on the banks of the Thames close to London's Tower Bridge in London. The trust located a stretch of shingly, muddy foreshore, uncovered at low tide and brought in 1,500 tons of sand in barges to cover it.
The beach was officially opened on July 23rd 1934 by the Lieutenant of the Tower of London. King George V decreed that the beach was to be used by the children of London and that they should be given “free access forever”. The King’s blessing was necessary as a previous royal proclamation by King Edward III forbade swimming here “on pain of death”.
Like any other beach, visitors could enjoy deckchairs for hire, ice-cream carts, sandcastle building and the chance to paddle.
A newspaper reported "When it was opened a few weeks ago they expected that 500 children a day would visit it. But there were 5,000 a day from the beginning, and considerably more since the summer holidays started.”. It was estimated that between 1934 and 1939 over half a million people used the beach.
In 1939 with the start of WWII and the evacuation of many of London’s children, the beach closed, but was reopened after the War in 1946. It remained popular until 1971 when it was finally closed due to concerns over pollution. Ironically pollution levels were in fact lower than the 1930s, and continued to fall.
Curation: Amanda Uren
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