The People's Friend

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.

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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

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 ??  ?? Minster’s beach huts.
Minster’s beach huts.
 ??  ?? Greenhill Gardens, Weymouth in the 1930s.
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.
“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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