Q. How many beach huts are there in the United Kingdom? A. There are no exact records but the figure is probably somewhere between 20-22,000. In the summer of 2002 I spent two months travelling by public transport from Seaton Carew in County Durham to Dunster Beach in Somerset. I counted just over 19,000 huts but I know that I missed some! There are also huts along the Welsh coast and I’ve been told about others in Scotland. I went to Northern Ireland in search of huts but couldn’t find any. If I was just looking in the wrong place please get in contact and let me know.
Q. Where are the most expensive beach huts? A. The most expensive day huts have traditionally been at Southwold in Suffolk where, in the most desirable Gun Hill location, they can change hands for £40-50,000. Recently, however, a hut at Poole in Dorset was offered for sale with sealed bids accepted over £70,000. The most consistently expensive are on a sandspit at Mudeford, also in Dorset. Although these are slightly bigger than the average beach hut and can be used as tiny holiday homes, they still don’t have any drainage, water supplies or electricity. Despite these drawbacks, huts here have sold for more than £100,000.
Q. Is there a standard beach hut design? A. No, not really. The gabled shed type of design is certainly the most common but people enjoy adding their own touches to ensure that even these are quite varied. Different designs are also determined by the local coastal environment and the date when the huts were built. Some are simple wooden boxes like at Newquay in Cornwall but others, like the pagoda-style huts at Sutton on Sea in Lincolnshire, are more decorative.
From the Edwardian period onwards solid rows of joined up changing rooms began to be built by local authorities. These tend to be called chalets but the term can be a bit misleading because, depending on the location, individual huts can also be given this name. As long as they fit the description of single rooms by the seaside I have included them in my survey whether they’re built of wood, brick or concrete.
Q. Is it traditional to paint beach huts using really bright colours? A. There is definitely evidence that bathing machines were painted, often using more than one colour and even in stripes. For example, the bright red and yellow vertical stripes of the bathing machine restored by the Langham Hotel at Eastbourne in East Sussex are based on paint scrapings of the original colour scheme. Beach huts followed in this tradition and owners have always personalised their seaside residences by using different colours and their own choice of decoration. In some places where there were hundreds and hundreds of huts the colour was also a good way of identifying which hut was yours!
Q. Where are your favourite beach huts? A. As you might expect, I have lots of favourites for different reasons. The 1950s huts with pagoda-style roofs in Lincolnshire are unique and were a wonderful surprise the first time I saw them. The huts on stilts at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk are quirky and colourful; they look really picturesque against the backdrop of a pine forest too. At Felixstowe in Suffolk, the tiers of huts are painted in pastel shades of blue, green and yellow and there is always something to see on the horizon. These huts look out over a busy shipping lane with some of the world’s largest container vessels coming in and out of the ports at Felixstowe and Harwich. I also love the rows of chalets at Deauville in Normandy, France, which are all named after Hollywood movie stars.
Q. Why don’t all beaches have them? A. That’s a good question. It’s certainly true that more places had beach huts in the 1950s than they do now but I think it depends a lot on geography and the period at which any given resort was developed; also probably the type of people who chose to go there. As foreign holidays became increasingly popular some resorts lost their beach huts because there wasn’t a big enough market for them. Unfortunately, because planning policies have changed in the meantime and coastlines have continued to erode it isn’t necessarily possible to put these lost huts back - even if people might now queue up to use them!