Next, Stewart Raine, a retired history teacher, spoke to us about the British Seaside Resort. He covered how the seaside became popular with the advent of workers' holiday weeks and the development of the railway network. He reminded us of features like Blackpool landladies, Punch and Judy shows and the holiday camp with its traditional knobbly knees contests – all features which brought about a few reminiscences among members of the audience – before he then brought us up to the present day. The advent of cheap flights abroad and holidays in the sun has proved to be tough competition for British resorts, which are falling into decline.
The following week Pip Barker spoke to us about Dartmoor Prison. The prison was built initially to house French prisoners of war, who were being kept in very poor conditions in rotting hulks in Plymouth Sound. It very soon became overcrowded itself with American POWs as well as French. Eventually though, after a period of closure, in 1850 it became a convict prison. During the First World War it housed conscientious objectors, but it is most famous for the range of notorious criminals who did time there. These include Frank Mitchell (the Mad Axeman), the Krays, Ronnie Biggs, John Haigh, the acid bath murderer, and Mad Frankie Fraser, among lots of others. This was a fascinating talk full of history and human (or inhuman - given the horrendous nature of the crimes some of the inmates were convicted for) interest, in particular for the rogues gallery we were led through.
The following week we were treated to our own privite tour of the Tower of London by retired Chief Yeoman Warder John Keohane, who spoke to us in traditional uniform. Perhaps by chance his talk conincided with a TV series on the Tower being shown concurrently. It was said by those who saw the TV series as well that the Forum talk provided a more comprehensive and entertaining exposition of the Tower's history, its present day role, its regalia and the role of the warders in all their range of duties. Perhaps these days they are principally actors in tourist theatre, but with over 3 million visitors a year the importance of the Tower to Britain's tourism industry should not be underestimated.