Com­mu­nity of chalets with a slower pace of life

A colony of char­ac­ter­ful chalets on the Lin­colnshire coast pro­vides a peace­ful haven for its res­i­dents

Landscape (UK) - - Contents - Words: Julie Brown Photograph­y: Richard Faulks

NES­TLED ON THE fore­shore of the North Lin­colnshire coast, un­der wide blue skies, sits a unique com­mu­nity. Hid­den away from passers-by, it com­prises 300 homes; a va­ri­ety of wooden huts, chalets and brick bun­ga­lows, some of which date back to the turn of the 19th cen­tury. This is Hum­ber­ston Fit­ties, a lo­cal word for the for­mer salt marshes on which the build­ings stand. To­day, the dis­tinc­tive homes, with their colour­ful gar­dens and idio­syn­cratic dé­cor, are one of the last rem­nants of a move­ment which gave town and city dwellers the chance to en­joy fresh air and leisure. Be­tween the 1890s and the 1930s, the Plot­lands move­ment en­cour­aged work­ing-class peo­ple to buy up small plots of cheap land. Here, they built dwellings us­ing what­ever was avail­able, cre­at­ing their own small havens from work­ing life, even if only for a short time. It over­lapped with the Arts and Craft and Gar­den City move­ments, all aim­ing to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive to over­crowded, pol­luted cities. At the same time, the con­cept of the week­end was born, as was the idea of an­nual paid leave. The ex­act ori­gins of the Fit­ties re­main for­got­ten to­day, al­though there is be­lieved to have been a men­tion in 1900. Peo­ple would flock to sleep on the fore­shore un­der can­vas or with their faces turned to the stars. This marked the be­gin­ning of this site, which, even now, re­tains a dis­tinctly Bo­hemian feel. These first pioneers brought their tents and other home­spun struc­tures to the dunes. Early build­ings on the site were de­vel­oped from bob­bin trawlers, named for the wooden rollers on the edge of their nets, a nod to the nearby town of Grimsby where the some of the first set­tlers came from. A short­age of hous­ing af­ter the First World War saw a boom in build­ing on mar­ginal land like this, with the chalets cre­ated from what­ever came to hand. The build­ings con­tin­ued to evolve over time into the va­ri­ety of struc­tures ev­i­dent on the site to­day.

Nos­tal­gic refuge

A few mod­ern build­ings were con­structed in later years, but the ma­jor­ity are older. All are in dif­fer­ent states of re­pair; some im­mac­u­late, oth­ers less so. The gen­eral prin­ci­ple of the Fit­ties is to cre­ate some­where peo­ple can spend time do­ing the things they do not get the chance to do at home. For some, this means en­joy­ing be­ing in the gar­den, pro­duc­ing a beau­ti­ful site full of colour. For oth­ers, the out­side space is for chil­dren to play on or for pitch­ing tents for vis­i­tors to stay. It was de­signed as, and re­mains, a place of tran­quil­lity; where there is a chance to for­get the world of work and the daily toil. Many of the peo­ple who now own the chalets first came to the Fit­ties as chil­dren. “I spent a lot of my child­hood hol­i­day­ing at the site and have fond memories of lots of us crammed in,” says Andy Tap­pin, a lo­cal vicar, who has owned his chalet on the site for six years. “My wife and I lived in a big town­house nearby, and once the last of the chil­dren had moved on, we de­cided to down­size. “The op­por­tu­nity to buy a place on the Fit­ties came through a friend, and we de­cided it was ideal.” Prop­er­ties are al­ways paid for in cash, as the wooden con­struc­tion means it is dif­fi­cult to get a mort­gage. “We love it here; the peace and quiet,” he adds. “My wife works with chil­dren, and they of­ten visit for bar­be­cues. We can see the calm­ing ef­fect it has. It is like a sanc­tu­ary. “Our lives out­side the Fit­ties are fast paced, and we can­not wait to get back here at the end of the day. The grand­chil­dren love it too. They do good old-fash­ioned ac­tiv­i­ties, such as crab­bing and search­ing for rock pools. It is good for all of us.”

Developmen­t guide­lines

The site has had elec­tric­ity for only 20 years. At one time, gas was de­liv­ered by small bore pipes, but now comes in bot­tles.

SAFETY RE­STRIC­TIONS

While the res­i­dents own their prop­er­ties, the land it­self has been owned by North East Lin­colnshire Coun­cil since 1938. Own­ers are only al­lowed to stay overnight on the site for 10 months of the year. Dur­ing Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, ac­cess is re­stricted to day­time only, and ev­ery­one must leave by 4.30pm. Some res­i­dents have houses else­where, oth­ers go abroad or stay with rel­a­tives. The coun­cil im­poses the re­stric­tions be­cause of a risk of flood­ing. Two floods, in 1953 and 1976, caused ma­jor de­struc­tion to the site, and it is deemed too dan­ger­ous to be there when the weather is at its worst. The gates are locked, so res­cue teams would not be able to get through to an on-site emergency. There are two flood de­fences. One is the orig­i­nal An­thony’s Bank, which runs through the mid­dle of the site. This was erected in 1795, when part of the marsh was en­closed, with a view to us­ing it for agri­cul­ture. The other, more re­cent, ad­di­tion is along the fore­shore, where work has con­tin­ued spo­rad­i­cally fol­low­ing the North Sea floods of 1953. In 2017, the site was sold to a pri­vate com­pany, Ting­dene Park Homes, which is now re­spon­si­ble for its man­age­ment. The coun­cil re­mains the landowner, help­ing to pre­serve the her­itage of this con­ser­va­tion area.

Some chalets have wind­mills, al­though the orig­i­nal wind-driven dy­namos of the 1950s and 1960s are now pow­ered by car bat­ter­ies for light­ing. This means peo­ple do not have to rely on the wind, in what can be a shel­tered spot. Oth­ers have fire­places and chim­neys. Ini­tially, most would have had ve­ran­das, in keep­ing with the orig­i­nal In­dian in­spi­ra­tion for Vic­to­rian bun­ga­lows. How­ever, these were quickly boxed in to make more space, of­ten for a kitchen area. Plan­ning per­mis­sion is needed for de­vel­op­ments af­fect­ing the out­side of the build­ings, al­though no re­stric­tions ap­ply to their in­te­rior. All res­i­dents have a copy of a coun­cil book­let, The Chalet De­sign Guide, to en­sure stan­dards of developmen­t are main­tained. These in­clude such things as no UVPC win­dows or doors that can be seen from the high­way or path. The new­est chalets on the site are built to strict guide­lines, with the ob­jec­tive of pro­duc­ing de­signs that are com­pat­i­ble with the ex­ist­ing struc­tures. They should in­clude ma­te­ri­als that con­tinue to en­hance the char­ac­ter of the site. How­ever, they are more co-or­di­nated in de­sign than the older chalets, which have been changed grad­u­ally, bits be­ing added with ev­ery pass­ing year. Some of the new builds use high foun­da­tions to re­duce the risk of flood­ing.

Re­stored with love

One of the old­est sur­viv­ing chalets is named Era and was oc­cu­pied by of­fi­cers in the First World War. “I don’t have an ex­act date of build for Era,” ex­plains owner Sa­man­tha White O’Boyle. “It is marked on an Ord­nance Survey Map from 1933, but its role in the war sug­gests it was built much ear­lier than that. I bought the chalet in 2016, and it had just been adopted onto the lo­cal

WARTIME TAKEOVER

The Fit­ties have had a role to play in both world wars. Dur­ing the first, the 3rd Bat­tal­ion of the Manch­ester Reg­i­ment used the shore­line for shel­ter, build­ing a num­ber of mil­i­tary huts which, once va­cated, were used by vis­i­tors. The Se­cond World War saw the site req­ui­si­tioned for mil­i­tary use. At the same time, the marshes were drained to al­low vi­tal crops to be grown. Haile Sand and Bull Fort guard the mouth of the Hum­ber and were built to pro­tect the area from sub­marines dur­ing the First World War. These still sur­vive and are vis­i­ble from the shore, as is Spurn Point Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve, a spit of land curv­ing round on the op­po­site side of the river. His­toric As­sets List by North East Lin­colnshire Coun­cil.” The pre­vi­ous own­ers of 20 years had strug­gled with its up­keep, and it was a lit­tle run­down. “I first came to the Fit­ties circa 2002 with my boyfriend,” says Sa­man­tha. “I thought the place was mag­i­cal and wanted to move here im­me­di­ately. How­ever, as I wasn’t a cash buyer, it was not to be.” A later in­her­i­tance al­lowed Sa­man­tha to ful­fil her dream. “I love the di­ver­sity and that each chalet is dif­fer­ent. There are a few new builds, one of which has won an award. It has been good to see these going up, as this is im­por­tant for the site’s fu­ture.” She is grad­u­ally restor­ing Era to its orig­i­nal state and has bought fur­ni­ture and a kitchen from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The orig­i­nal gaslights were found in the at­tic and have been put back to work. There is orig­i­nal 1920s pan­elling, an open Odeon, or Art Deco-style fire­place and orig­i­nal win­dows. “At the mo­ment, I rent Era out as a hol­i­day home, and it is nice to be able to share it with other fam­i­lies,” says Sa­man­tha. “Reg­u­lar hol­i­day­mak­ers of­ten tell me it re­minds them of vis­it­ing their grandma years ago. It has that cosy, homely feel.”

On the fore­shore

Some of the chalets are right on the dunes, with those be­hind this front row po­si­tion built slightly in­land in mostly straight lines. Over the years, these ‘roads’ have been given names. At first, they were sim­ply First Av­enue, Se­cond Av­enue and so on, but have be­come more de­scrip­tive over time, with names such as Cock­leshell Close and Sam­phire Street. Tom and Claire Can­non have a chalet in the dunes, which they have owned for 14 years. “It was Tom who had the first con­nec­tion with the site, as his par­ents used to bring him here as a child.” ex­plains Claire. “We spend all the time we can here.” The build­ing is as close to the wa­ter as it can be, with just the dunes and sea de­fence be­tween the two. “I love that we can walk straight out onto the sand, which is ideal for our three-year-old daugh­ter Ava. It is so quiet and quirky here.” She says she finds it an easy place to re­lax and es­cape from every­day, stress­ful rou­tines. “The sea is not vis­i­ble from the chalet, but when the win­dows or door are open, we can hear it. We get a lot of peo­ple, ei­ther from the site or vis­i­tors pop­ping in and out. It is a very so­cial place,” she says. “We don’t know a lot about the chalet, but it is def­i­nitely unique. Ev­ery­one who has owned it has added a piece of their

per­son­al­ity. Be­cause the front faces the beach, we have to keep any­thing that can be seen by passers-by orig­i­nal, in­clud­ing the wooden win­dow. The rules for the back of the house are less strin­gent.”

A place for the fu­ture

To­day, the res­i­dents of this quintessen­tially Bri­tish com­mu­nity, with its eclectic range of homes, are both proud and pro­tec­tive of its her­itage and their own free­dom to spend time there. A few chalets stand empty, but as mod­ern life picks up pace with ev­ery year, there are signs that the site is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity once more. As peace and quiet be­come sought-af­ter com­modi­ties, the own­ers hope that the next gen­er­a­tion will want to carry on the Fit­ties tra­di­tion for years to come, cre­at­ing new memories.

The shel­tered gar­den of Claire and Tom Can­non’s chalet in­cludes bushes of lavender, re­leas­ing fra­grance in the sea breeze.

Claire Can­non sets off for the beach with daugh­ter Ava, who is fol­low­ing in her fa­ther’s foot­steps. He spent child­hood days at the Fit­ties with his own par­ents.

Sa­man­tha White O’Boyle has cre­ated a re­lax­ing haven away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of the mod­ern world.

The air of peace and tran­quil­lity per­vad­ing the rus­tic site is a main at­trac­tion for res­i­dents.

Colour­ful dec­o­ra­tive de­tails, such as bright­ly­painted win­dow frames and fancy house num­bers, add to the charm of the sea­side com­mu­nity.

Andy Tap­pin and his wife Lynda out­side their but­ter­cup-coloured bun­ga­low, which pro­vides respite from their hec­tic work­ing lives.

Chalets lined up on the fore­shore en­joy cap­ti­vat­ing views but have ne­ces­si­tated pro­tec­tion from flood­ing.

Char­ac­ter­ful fea­tures add to the homes’ in­di­vid­u­al­ity, whether it be a trel­lis for climb­ing plants, a nau­ti­cal name plate, or even a wind gen­er­a­tor. Prices paid for the chalets at Hum­ber­ston range from £35,000 to £100,000.

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