25 May 2021 by Karen Averby
Broadstairs, photo by Jay Garrett
The beach hut is a quintessential part of the British seaside, with over 21,000 located around the coast, nestling amongst sand dunes, lining promenades, and clustered at the shoreline. Often painted in bright or pastel colours, the wooden shed-like form is the most common, but there are also chalet-style blocks and even huts of brick and concrete.
Their appeal transcends generational and social groups, and whether providing shelter from the elements with a cuppa, or a handy space to change, they are also a place to gather with family and friends, though can also offer peace and solitude. They are also part of our social and architectural heritage; some now enjoy listed status and groups of vibrant huts are often integral to innovative seafront regeneration and planning schemes. Notable examples include Bridlington in East Yorkshire, and Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire, where beach huts are part of sea-wall defences.
The first beach huts
Beach huts emerged as a seaside fixture from the early 20th century when changes in social attitudes and bathing attire led to a decline in popularity of the old-fashioned and cumbersome bathing machine that had protected the modesty of many a sea-bather for well over a century. Although beach tents were used at many resorts, it was the beach hut that gained popular traction; more than a glorified changing cubicle, it offered a fixed space for spending time at the beach.
Early incarnations were often repurposed existing structures, such as de-wheeled bathing machines and upturned boats. The first purpose-built beach huts were simple wooden shed-like structures of all shapes and sizes, often found at the top of the beach in a ramshackle fashion. Local authorities soon recognised that leasing beach huts could be lucrative, and many municipal huts were constructed; the earliest are in Bournemouth and date from 1909 in a much-emulated simple gabled style. Beach hut terraces were also built, including a 1910-11 group at Scarborough, North Yorkshire, and one at Cromer, Norfolk of 1912.
Beach hut heyday
Councils also leased plots for people to build their own huts, and some hotels and boarding houses owned huts for exclusive guest use. By the 1930s the demand for beach huts was in full force at most popular seaside resorts but when the Second World War arrived, many beach huts were dismantled. When beaches reopened post-war, people once again flocked to the coast, and the 1950s and ‘60s were a heady beach hut heyday as rentals soared and waiting lists grew ever-longer.
Scarborough, photo by Steve Silver Smith
The lull in popularity of British seaside holidays in the 1970s and ‘80s in favour of cheaper holidays abroad was devastating for beach hut use, as hundreds were demolished around the coast. Happily they have since enjoyed a glorious renaissance and the scores of new beach huts being built to meet demand is testament to enduring popularity. Although there are often long waiting lists for leases, and they can reach eye-watering prices on the open market, daily or weekly rentals are available at many resorts for people wishing to enjoy a slice of beach hut life. Some of the more unusual beach huts are listed below, but there are many more dotted around the coast and it’s fun to find them.
Here are some of Britain's more unusual beach huts:
The contrasting colours of this unusual group of terraced brick beach huts adds to their unique character.
Folkestone, photo by Eric Young
This group of individually decorated wooden beach huts have a strong community focus and are not available for tourist hire, nor can they be sold for profit.
Hopeman, photo by Mike Stephen
Amongst a long line of beach huts are a distinctive 1950s reinforced concrete and timber clad group with curved asbestos cement roofs, and a 1960s terrace with butterfly roofs and clerestory windows.
Sutton-on-sea, photo by Martin Parratt
Ovingdean, Sussex & Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset
1960s terraced huts include brutalist blocks at Ovingdean and dainty chalet terraces at Weymouth.
Ovingdean, photo by Simon Carey
Weymouth Esplanade, photo by Gary Rogers
An interesting collection of traditional huts, many painted with individual, colourful designs, contrast with distinctive but uniform blue and yellow traditional and terraced huts.
Broadstairs, photo by Jay Garrett
The Seagull and the Windbreak of 2011 was the country’s first purpose-built fully accessible set of beach huts. The innovative steel-framed design includes two pairs of huts with retractable partition walls and capacity for up to four wheelchairs.
The Seagull and the Windbreak, Boscombe, photo by Jonathan Kington
These seven huts have divided opinion since construction in 2013. Designed to reimagine beach hut typology, they have undulating ‘green’ roofs and feature prefabricated recycled timber pallets and panels infilled with pebbles, gravel, glass and shells.
Shoeburyness, photo by Simon Kennedy
Saltburn, North Yorkshire and Cromer, Norfolk
Seafront elegance with Saltburn’s 1920s terraced huts, and Cromer’s 1930s Art Deco block with integral beach chalets and café.
Saltburn, photo by Mick Garrett
Cromer, photo by North Norfolk District Council
Blackwater Estuary, Mill Beach, Essex
Built in 2014, these minimalist steel-framed, composite-concrete clad huts have galvanised steel stilts set 21ft into the ground. Clever design means that despite sitting just 8 inches or so above high tide waters, slightly domed flooring allows flood water to drain away.
Blackwater Estuary, Mill Beach, photo by John Myers
Barry, South Glamorgan
The huts are integral to the East Promenade’s 2014 regeneration scheme that incorporated viewing platforms, public art and intersecting walkways linking the beach level to a clifftop pathway.
Barry, photo by Hugh Trainer
Karen Averby (karenaverby.co.uk) is a buildings historian and author of Beach Huts (£8.99, Amberly Books)
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