Karen Averby takes a look at the en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the Bri­tish beach hut

Karen Averby ex­plores the pop­u­lar­ity of the great Bri­tish beach hut.

The People's Friend - - News -

THE beach hut to­day is a quin­tes­sen­tial part of the Bri­tish sea­side, with its fa­mil­iar pitched roof and of­ten brightly painted and colour­ful façade. Over 20,000 beach huts can be found along the coast, nestling amongst sand dunes, dot­ted along prom­e­nades, stand­ing along the shore line or ar­ranged in clus­ters.

What­ever their form – whether a vari­a­tion on the tra­di­tional wooden shed-like beach hut with stilts, porches and plat­forms, or blocks of ter­raced chalet-style huts, or less com­monly, huts of brick and con­crete – they are as much part of the sea­side tra­di­tion as piers and prom­e­nades.

Yet they emerged as a sea­side fix­ture only rel­a­tively re­cently. In the early 20th cen­tury, chang­ing so­cial at­ti­tudes saw the demise of the old­fash­ioned and cum­ber­some bathing ma­chine, and the idea of the beach hut as a glo­ri­fied chang­ing cu­bi­cle quickly took off.

The first pur­pose-built beach huts were sim­ple wooden struc­tures of all shapes and sizes, of­ten lo­cated along the top of the beach in a ram­shackle fash­ion. They were cheap and easy to con­struct, and were usu­ally min­i­mally fur­nished with an in­built ta­ble and shelf or cup­board.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties quickly recog­nised a lu­cra­tive rev­enue op­por­tu­nity and con­structed many mu­nic­i­pal huts which were avail­able to lease.

The ear­li­est of th­ese is thought to have been built in 1909 in

Bournemouth, and it is now marked with a blue plaque. Pri­vately owned coastal land was scarce, so valu­able coun­cil-owned land was leased to in­di­vid­u­als who built their own huts.

Beach huts be­came fix­tures at most pop­u­lar sea­side des­ti­na­tions, from Aberdeen in Scot­land, to Skeg­ness in Lin­colnshire, Felixs­towe in Suf­folk, Wool­la­combe in North Devon and Llan­dudno in Wales.

Ho­tels and board­ing houses some­times had beach huts for use by their pa­trons, but mu­nic­i­pal beach huts con­tin­ued to dom­i­nate.

By the 1930s the de­mand for beach huts was in full force; wanted and for sale ad­ver­tise­ments reg­u­larly ap­peared in the lo­cal press, and sub­let­ting was com­mon.

Beaches were closed dur­ing World War II, and beach huts were largely dis­man­tled, but once re­opened, there fol­lowed a heady hey­day of the beach hut, as hol­i­day ren­tals in­creased and own­er­ship be­came more cov­eted through­out the 1950s and 1960s.

As wait­ing lists for beach hut sites grew longer, im­pa­tient would-be own­ers reg­u­larly bad­gered their lo­cal councils to see whether they were any higher on their lo­cal list, and beach hut ren­tals by hol­i­day­mak­ers soared.

A lull in the pop­u­lar­ity of Bri­tish sea­side hol­i­days in the 1970s and 1980s in favour of cheaper hol­i­days abroad led to the de­mo­li­tion of beach huts at many sea­side des­ti­na­tions, although this was not univer­sal.

The beach huts at some re­sorts, es­pe­cially Sand­banks in Dorset, con­tin­ued to be pop­u­lar, and the con­struc­tion of new huts bucked the gen­eral trend.

Since the later 1980s and es­pe­cially from the mid-1990s, beach huts have en­joyed a glo­ri­ous re­nais­sance and de­mand is now as vir­u­lent as ever, with a boom­ing busi­ness in sales and ren­tals.

Beach hut own­er­ship is cov­eted by many, and at some re­sorts wait­ing lists are as long as nine­teen years, such is their pop­u­lar­ity. Sales mean­while can reach hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds.

Hap­pily, for those wish­ing to have a slice of beach hut life, daily or weekly ren­tals are avail­able at many re­sorts.

Beach huts are in­creas­ingly ac­knowl­edged as part of the na­tion’s so­cial and ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage. Some huts are now listed and groups of vi­brant huts can re­ju­ve­nate ar­eas, of­ten as part of regeneration and plan­ning schemes.

The scores of new beach huts be­ing built to meet de­mand is tes­ta­ment to the na­tion’s on­go­ing love af­fair with the beach hut. n

Min­ster’s beach huts.

Green­hill Gar­dens, Wey­mouth in the 1930s.

“Beach Huts” by Karen Averby is pub­lished by Am­ber­ley, (ISBN 978-14456-6574-0). Priced £8.99, it’s avail­able on­line and to or­der from all good book­shops.

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