As an experienced lecturer I enjoy talking to a variety of different audiences and also love how digital lecturing means I can share my passions with people around the world.
Some of the places where I have previously spoken include: The V&A Museum: London, Turner Contemporary: Margate, Hastings Museum, National Maritime Museum: Greenwich, Musée des Beaux Arts: Lyon, National Library of Wales, Edinburgh University, Lisbon University, The Alhambra/University of Granada, The National Trust, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), Ruskin Society, Brighton Fringe, Ventnor Fringe, Bathing Beauties Festival, English Speaking Union, Art Deco Society of New York, West Pier Trust, National Piers Society. I also regularly speak to local history and Probus groups.
This is my current lecture list. I tailor every talk to its particular audience but if you have an alternative subject you think I might be able to speak on for your event please get in touch and I’ll see what I can do!
Deckchairs, Piers and Souvenirs : The History of the British Seaside in 100 Objects
Sandcastles, donkeys, piers and sticks of rock. Beach huts, paddle steamers, promenade shelters and ice cream cones. Our modern seaside is the sum of its parts and all those parts have their history. Based on Kathryn’s book Seaside 100, published by Unicorn in March 2020, this talk unpicks our experience of the seaside through the things that make it distinctive.
Sheds on the Seashore: Three Centuries of Beach Huts
The nation’s beach hut expert reveals how the painted sheds lining our coast are the heirs to three centuries of seaside history. From wheeled bathing machines invented to help the Georgians take a medicinal dip to a stationary home-from-home and the inflated prices of the early twenty-first century. Kathryn is the author of two books on beach huts and has been interviewed on the subject for numerous television and radio programmes.
A Short History of Seaside Architecture
The ‘seaside’ was an eighteenth-century invention that led to the creation of dedicated resorts around the British coast. Devoted to transitory pleasure, architecture at the seaside evolved its own distinctively playful style along with new building types including piers and viewing towers. Well into the 1930s novelty remained an important selling point when lidos and sundecks were the latest architectural expressions of holiday enjoyment.
When the Sun Came Out: Seaside Architecture of the 1930s
The ‘seaside’ was an eighteenth-century invention that led to the creation of The 1930s witnessed big changes in leisure with the social acceptance of sun bathing, a new preference for outdoor exercise and the first legislation giving paid holidays to ordinary working people. As visitor numbers to the seaside continued to climb resorts invested huge sums in new facilities. This lecture examines what the buildings housing them looked like, from the iconic De la Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea and Midland Hotel at Morecambe to lidos, holiday camps and even seafront milk bars.
This lecture explores the background to Victorian Orientalism before looking at how it became a favourite style for seaside buildings. When the West Pier opened at Brighton in 1866 contemporaries noticed decorative references to the Regency Royal Pavilion nearby but there were other sources too. From the end of the nineteenth century, holidaymakers at the seaside could escape their workaday lives in buildings inspired by Moorish Spain and the Near East, from pier pavilions at Hastings and Morecambe, to the Kursaal at Bexhill-on-Sea and Frank Matcham’s magnificent Circus at Blackpool Tower. Even shelters were given onion domes to provide the British coast with an extra splash of exoticism.
Eugenius Birch: The King of Piers
During the 1860s and 70s there was a mania for pier building around the British coast. The engineer Eugenius Birch not only built more of these than anyone else, he was also the first to use iron screw piles and the first to design an integral entertainment pavilion. Among his commissions were the West Pier at Brighton, Blackpool North Pier, Birnbeck at Weston-super-Mare, Eastbourne, Hastings and Bournemouth piers. Birch started out as a railway engineer before specialising in marine engineering, designing sea defences, drainage schemes and even aquaria. Kathryn undertook new research on Birch to celebrate the bicentenary of his birth in 1818 which she plans to turn into the first book on his life and work.
Walking on Water: The Social History of Britain’s Pleasure Piers
In this lecture Kathryn examines how seaside piers have been used since their introduction as leisure spaces in the early nineteenth century. Created as an extension of the promenade, piers were also distinct from it with fees charged to maintain a certain social tone. Throughout the year they fulfilled different functions for locals and holidaymakers, offering a range of entertainments in often exotic settings, as well as sports including angling, roller skating and swimming. While piers provided excellent people-watching opportunities they could also afford spaces for more furtive encounters. This talk explores above and below the seaside pier, concluding with a look at how threats to their future helped us rediscover our love of these eccentric structures
The Holiday Camp: ‘A New Social Phenomenon’
During the 1930s holiday camps posed a real threat to the old-fashioned seaside boarding house, offering an immediately popular package of all-in accommodation, meals and communal entertainment. Their origins, however, lay in charitable and co-operative holiday ventures that date back to the 1890s. This talk explores the evolution of the holiday camps’ winning formula, its huge commercial success under the entrepreneurship of Harry Warner, Billy Butlin and Fred Pontin, and it’s late twentieth century decline.
Camping De-Luxe – Billy Butlin’s Holiday Villages by the Sea
As author of the Official History of Butlin’s Kathryn is well-qualified to reveal the story behind one of Britain’s best-loved holiday companies. This lecture focuses on the early decades as entrepreneur Billy Butlin pursued his dream of offering affordable luxury to middle-income customers in the 1930s. Looking at fashions in leisure and health it demonstrates the revolutionary nature of Butlin’s all-inclusive package and the Modern design used to transport campers to a holiday world of Elizabethan chalets, floodlit tennis courts and American cocktail bars.
Sir Billy Butlin: The Holiday Maker
Born in South Africa in 1898, by the 1930s Billy Butlin was a household name in Britain. Now most famous for his chain of holiday camps, this lecture explores Butlin’s unconventional background, his early career as a travelling showman and amusement park owner and the phenomenal success of his all-inclusive camp idea. Butlin’s rags to riches story was key to his company’s branding but his own family life was rather less happy than the image he portrayed to the world. He was, nonetheless, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the twentieth century and the ultimate holiday maker.
The Clever Kitsch of Butlin’s Design
Holiday camps have rarely been assessed on their aesthetic merits but, as Britain’s most successful operator, Billy Butlin was firmly in control of how his sites looked displaying a canny feel for popular design that drew upon the fairgrounds of his youth and a stint as a commercial artist. In this talk Kathryn reveals how the chalets, entertainment buildings, theme bars and colour schemes all reflected Butlin’s overarching vision as it evolved from the 1930s to the 1960s. Using a wealth of illustrations this lecture uncovers the stories behind the Art Deco theatre moved from Glasgow to Skegness, the re-use of post-war army surplus and Christmas lights from London’s Regent Street, as well as such innovations as ‘human aquariums’, Beachcomber Bars with erupting volcanoes and the first monorail in Britain.
VICTORIAN ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN
Owen Jones: the Greatest ‘Lost’ Designer of the Nineteenth Century
This lecture explores the career of Owen Jones (1809-74), the Victorian architect and author of classic design textbook ‘The Grammar of Ornament’ on whom Kathryn Ferry wrote her PhD thesis at Cambridge University. Though little known today he was a pioneering exponent of Islamic design, became a household name through his work at London’s iconic Crystal Palace and was one of the founders of the V&A Museum.
Exotic Appeal: Victorian Architecture and Orientalism
As the British Empire expanded so did knowledge of foreign architecture and design. Although notions of exoticism clung to the styles borrowed from Islamic nations, thanks to the work of architect Owen Jones the Victorian period also saw a more analytical appreciation of Eastern design. This lecture looks at the varying manifestations of Orientalism from travellers’ sketchbooks, to displays at the Great Exhibition, seaside piers and the late-C19 Moorish Revival.
Aspidistras and Antimacassars: Middle Class Taste and the Victorian Home
The late-19th century saw a craze for interior decoration as the rising middle class took advantage of the new purchasing possibilities brought about by industrialisation. In this lecture, the author of ‘The Victorian Home’ (2010) explores how notions of good taste differed between the consumers wishing to display their new wealth through the acquisition of things and the elite designers who increasingly rejected mass consumption in favour of Arts and Crafts simplicity.
The Romantic History of the Humble Bungalow
The bungalow was introduced to Britain from colonial India in the 1850s. Taken up by the rich and famous as the ultimate ‘get-away-from-it-all’ holiday home, the bungalow was romantically fashionable by the turn of the century. Popularised as a labour-saving home in the 1920s and 30s, it subsequently became ubiquitous on post-war estates. Today, with land at such a premium, few new bungalows are being built. This lecture, based on Kathryn’s Shire book of ‘Bungalows’ (2014), examines their early popularity and reveals the surprisingly unconventional past and architectural variety of the humble bungalow.
The Old Convent, East Grinstead: J M Neale, G E Street and the Society of St Margaret
In 1855 John Mason Neale, Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, created one of the earliest orders of Anglican nuns in Britain. A decade later work began on their Gothic-style convent to the designs of super-star architect George Edmund Street. This lecture tells the story of how the Sisters of St Margaret overcame prejudice against their High Church beliefs to take their nursing and education mission across the globe. Based on Kathryn’s book, written to celebrate 150 years since the convent’s opening, it discusses how the religious life gave Victorian women a unique outlet for their talents and how St Margaret’s became a centre for girls’ education as well as an internationally renowned school of ecclesiastical embroidery.
Re-colouring the Victorians
It is all too easy to visualise our Victorian ancestors through the prism of black and white photography but this lecture aims to restore the vivid colours that they loved. By looking at developments in architecture, interior design and fashion, Kathryn will show just how far the Victorians gloried in colour. The nineteenth century was the era of fitted carpets, enamel street signs, chromolithographic printing and brightly painted cast iron. This lecture demonstrates that the products of the Industrial Revolution were anything but dark and gloomy.