Brean and Duluth

The mobile billboard standing in a field beside the M5 motorway is unambiguous in its claims, “Unity,” it declares, “the South-West’s Premier Resort.” Without wishing to detract from the claims of the complex at Brean Sands, it is not hard to imagine that there would not be dozens of resorts in Devon and Cornwall that would regard themselves as considerably more worthy of making such a claim. There would even be a few in Somerset claiming superiority over Brean.

Making bold claims regarding a place has a long history. “Boosterism” was common in the North America of the mid-Nineteenth Century. To encourage the building of the railroad to a town, an essential of economic development, representatives of the town would make all sorts of exaggerated claims. Boosterism became so absurd that it was satirised in a speech in the United States House of Representatives in 1871. J. Proctor Knott, a representative from Kentucky, opposed the Saint Croix and Superior Land Grant, the application for which had been based on boosterism. J. Proctor Knott’s speech was called “The Untold Delights of Duluth,” it includes the following lines:

Duluth must be a place of untold delights, a terrestrial paradise, fanned by the balmy zephyrs of an eternal spring, clothed in the gorgeous sheen of ever-blooming flowers, and vocal with the silvery melody of nature’s choicest songsters . . .

. . . As to the commercial resources of Duluth, sir, they are simply illimitable and inexhaustible, as is shown by this map. I see it stated here that there is a vast scope of territory, embracing an area of over two million square miles, rich in every element of material wealth and commercial prosperity, all tributary to Duluth. Look at it, sir [pointing to the map]. Here are inexhaustible mines of gold, immeasurable veins of silver, impenetrable depths of boundless forest, vast coal-measures, wide, extended plains of richest pasturage, all, all embraced in this vast territory, which must, in the very nature of things, empty the untold treasures of its commerce into the lap of Duluth.

To claim that one’s holiday park is the “south-west’s leading resort” smacks of the booster tradition particularly when The Beach Guide says,

The 7-mile stretch of sand and dunes that make up Brean beach lies just over two miles down the coast from Weston-super-Mare. It boasts one of the longest stretches of sand in Europe and at low tide a vast expanse of mud flats are exposed. It is however dangerous to walk too far out at low tide and there are warning signs about staying away from the mud flats on the beach.

(“Boasts” is an apt word for the claim about the length of beach. The vast line of beaches stretching the two hundred miles from Gironde to the Pyrenees in south-west France rather dwarf those of the Somerset coast).

Perhaps the greatest achievement of boosterism is to get noticed, perhaps the billboard will attract attention – Newquay, it’s not, but Brean’s visitors seem content.

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