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