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.
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