A first glance and you might struggle to date this photograph. So much of what it shows is so familiar, the people and the activities on the beach and the landscape behind. You need to focus on the details to spot the social and environmental changes since it was taken in 1973.
Woolacombe is surrounded by National Trust-owned land, so despite becoming a hugely popular tourist resort, it has been largely protected from development. Today you will still see Black Cloud Hill as an undeveloped stretch of headland because of its protected status.
“It was thanks to Miss Chichester that so much of the scenery is the same, as she left her land to the Trust” says Sue Hill from Mortehoe Museum and Heritage Trust.
But Sue and longstanding parish residents can spot the changes to the buildings along The Esplanade
One thing that will be missing is the memorial erected in memory of the American soldiers who trained on the beaches at Woolacombe during the Second World War. Two granite stones with an inscription were placed on the grass along The Esplanade by Mr Parkin around twenty years after this photo was taken. Sue says she always thinks of the memorial when she sees the surfers standing on the beach, holding their boards upright, looking out to sea – a parallel image.
Someone is holding a long board near the back left of this image, but the most noticeable surfboard is the wooden one being held by the man to the left. Now a collector’s item, these bellyboards were the original surfboards used in the UK as far back as the 1800s.
Everyone in the image is wearing one, but how many costumes would you see these days, when everyone, not just the big wave surfers, wears a wetsuit.
Sue, who has a collection of old postcards of Woolacombe, points out the sea of figures in the background, “looking like a painting by Lowry”.
“I’ve seen that image of the adult and child bending over and looking into the water so many times,” she says. “It could be taken at any time.”