What we did on our holidays: Marx & Engels at the Victorian seaside

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2016 by kmflett


What we did on our holidays: Marx and Engels at the seaside

With Brexit has come a renewed interest in the ‘staycation’- that is holidaying in the UK even if Theresa May is in Switzerland looking for cuckoos.

The left, being good internationalists, tend to prefer, when it can be afforded, trips to other countries in the summer.

There is though a solid tradition of socialism and the British seaside and we need look no further than Marx and Engels to discover it.

Official histories of the town struggle to acknowledge it, though the town’s former LibDem MP did make the point in his maiden Commons speech in 2010, but Eastbourne was Engels favourite holiday destination. Indeed so keen was he, that when he died in August 1895 his ashes were scattered off Beachy Head.

Engels regularly went to Eastbourne in the summer and sometimes other months, particularly after he took early retirement from the family business. He stayed at 4 Cavendish Place Eastbourne more or less opposite the pier that in recent times was largely destroyed by fire.

He wrote to Sorge on March 18 1893 that he had spent two weeks in the place and ‘had splendid weather’ coming back ‘very refreshed’. Engels also spent time at the seaside, Ramsgate for example, when he was pondering major theoretical works and concerns.

Engels had a fondness too for Ryde on the Isle of White. He visited in September 1857 when he went to Carisbrooke Castle and returned on several occasions in the 1890s

Marx had other seaside venues in mind and for other reasons than simply holidays. Indeed as early as 14th July 1857 Engels was urging that Marx ‘go to the seaside’ as soon as possible because of his poor health.

In 1866 he wrote that he had been ‘banished’ by his Doctor to 5 Lansell’s Place in Margate. He complained that it was very quiet in March, vegetating before Londoners arrived for the bathing season. Even so he found the ‘air is wonderfully pure and invigorating’

On 25 August 1871 Marx was in Brighton writing that ‘my doctor found it necessary to banish me for a few months to this place, with the strict injunction to do nothing’

By September 1879 Marx had moved a little to 62 Plains of Waterloo in Ramsgate where on 11th of the month he noted that ‘the weather here is partly good and partly bad, the latter having a tendency to predominate’

In August 1880 Marx gave an interview to a journalist from the radical New York paper The Sun, partly on Ramsgate beach. It was published in the paper on 6th September 1880.

Marx spent months at the end of his life in 1882 and 1883 in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. The area has not changed so much since he lived there and the house he stayed in, 1 St Boniface Gdns, which is in central Ventnor, has a plaque to mark his stay. Just six years later Churchill was in the town and the veteran Chartist George Julian Harney also visited. People came because of the temperate climate and the beneficial impact on their health particularly in the winter months.

What did Marx and Engels do while at the seaside?

Certainly as Victorian gentlemen did, they went for walks both on the seaside and inland. This was also the time of the growth of commercial photography and snaps of Marx at Margate and Engels in Eastbourne still exist. I’m afraid however that neither is to be found in a bathing costume and the Collected Works make absolutely no reference to paddling in the sea.



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