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Building sand castles
Building a sand castle. Print 1838 PD
When was the first sand castle built at the seaside?
On a visit to the seaside it is a child'’s delight to build a sand castle, and it must be said, there are quite a few adults who also enjoy it. It is impossible to say when the first child played the game of trying to stop the tide coming in on a sandy beach by building an embankment of sand or a tower of sand with a moat around it. But the use of the words Sand Castle to describe this activity, as far as we can establish, only came into use in print in the 19th century.
Visiting the seaside began in Britain in the latter part of the 17th century when doctors recommended sea bathing and drinking sea water for all types of medical ailments. Spa resorts such Scarborough began to be popular for sea bathing, and other resorts soon followed, the most well known being Brighton with its famous patron, the Prince Regent, later George IV. However, it was in the 19th century that the seaside became truely the venue for family leisure and recreation.
So when is the first mention of Sand Castle? The Oxford English Dictionary does not help, so we carried out searches of online sources. The earliest reference we found, and incidentally, the first image we could find, is the above image from a children's book titled Conversation of a father with His Children published in 1838. It is an educational and religious book, and in the discussion about a sand castle, the children learn about castle architecture, King Canute, and the Ancient Greeks. The child in the book asks to build the sand castle so the words must have been well-known by then.
A search of the online British Newspaper Archive produces the earliest reference in the Liverpool Mercury in 1864 when it describes the activities on the beach at Llandudno, North Wales, which included sand castle building. Meanwhile on Google News, the Chronicle from Nova Scotia (1868) writes of sand castle, dykes, redans and malakoffs (the last referring to the Crimean War and defense fortifications.)
Sand castle building competitions were firmly established at the seaside resorts by the end of the century, and one newspaper described hundreds of children building "forts and bridges, houses, and lighthouses". In 1900, one competition created controversy in the local area. In Rhyl, North Wales, the company of Bovril (a meat extract drink) sponsored a sand castle building completion. Competitors had to include the company’s name in the castle. A few days later a whisky company sponsored a similar competition, again their name had to be included. The local temperance society was up in arms as one can imagine.
As more archives come online there may well be discovered earlier references to sand castles.