A Short History Of Beach Huts
Queen Victoria made sea bathing fashionable with her "hut" on wheels which was trundled down the beach at Osborne Bay on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. These bathing machines afforded maximum privacy for the ladies who could thus enter the water with only their heads being seen.
In the early days, huts were often constructed in locations where nothing else could be built. Some of these were constructed from driftwood. One of the loveliest locations of beach huts is on the Isle of Wight. Here they are to be found nestling amongst the cliffs with their own individual plots and secluded little gardens. The simplest of constructions afforded basic shelter to enable beach lovers to spend the day close to the beach.
Local authorities have been responsible for the construction of many huts and these are to be seen in many parts of the South. They are well maintained and look very smart. Littlehampton on the south coast has many beach huts owned by the local authority alongside its broad promenade which provides traffic free access to the beach and the beautiful River Arun.
The humble beginning of the beach huts like many of the early caravan sites after the war, owed much to the availability of things which could be used for another purpose. At St Helens on the Isle of Wight, the beach huts have been made from some of the Island''s redundant railway carriages and until very recently when they were all clad in weather boarding, they still had the old slam doors!
"the huts arriving at platform 2 will be calling at all stations..."
After the war there was a surge in the interest in beach huts not least because war time restrictions had put much of the coastline out of bounds especially in southern England. Elaborate defences against invasion along the beaches usually included coils of barbed wire at the top of the beach head, thereby effectively preventing use of the beach. Places like Chichester Harbour were out of bounds throughout much of the war.
When peace came, the interest in beach huts was rekindled but because of the post war economic situation, huts were often made of drift and scrap wood. Some were very curious looking, like the early caravan sites where many “caravans” had former military uses. Restricted car ownership in the austerity of post war Britain meant that beach hut ownership was generally the preserve of the locals and the whole environment was very reminiscent of the “Darling Buds of May”. Sixty years later in an environment of endless technical developments and increasing influence of the State and big brother, the simple pleasures of a wooden hut on a beach still brings back the glow of the simple life in the 1950’s.
Since those early days, huts have gone through only minor design and construction changes. The wide use of plastics and fibreglass in the construction of leisure boats saw this material being used for beach huts or more often as small changing cubicles. However, they never really took off as timber still has more appeal since it blends in more sympathetically into its surroundings. A cottage industry has grown up around the construction of wooden beach huts.
Form invariably follows function and whilst this may give the obvious standard look appearance from the outside, many huts have been beautifully decorated inside and very well laid out. These afford a real escape from the rat race. What could be more perfect than spending time at your hut on a beautiful sunny day!
Against a back ground of increasing overseas travel and the subsequent decline in popularity of traditional seaside resorts in the UK, many local authorities through their tourist boards have actively promoted the development of beach huts to bring back the visitors.