When conjuring up an image of a typical British seaside scene in the height of summer, we most likely think of windbreaks and ice cream, sandcastles and sunburn. And rows of coloured beach huts overlooking the less-than-warm sea.
But what may seem like a timeless picture postcard is in fact a very recent part of British history, with our much loved beach huts telling a story of how things used to be.
Almost three centuries ago, British holidaymakers wanting to take a dip in the sea would take a ride in what was known as a bathing machine. This horse-drawn shed on wheels would lead bathers out into the shallow waters where they could change and bathe in privacy.
As the railways became more established, trips to the seaside became increasingly popular and bathing machines were soon competing for space along the beach – jostling with fishing boats for the best spots. In time their design was adapted and they were built taller, narrower and light enough to be pulled manually.
It wasn’t really until the 1930s that beach huts transformed into their current form. As the resort towns and seaside tourism grew, so did the number of beach huts being mass produced – including new designs such as two-storey blocks, with access to the upper level huts via steps at the end of the row. With so many beach huts being constructed, they were eventually moved off the beach and onto the promenades or underneath the cliffs.
Over the next few decades, our attitude to modesty and bathing attire loosened up but the huts remained integral to British seaside culture, serving as a convenient base for families and friends on days out at the beach.
In recent years there has been a huge resurgence in their popularity, with many council-run huts now carrying a ten-year waiting list. Their value too has risen significantly, with private sales in desirable resorts often fetching more than the price of an average detached house!
Today it is estimated that there are around 20,000 beach huts located around Britain’s coast. From the iconic rows of terraced sheds with simple amenities, to luxury structures complete with their own private terrace and shower room. So next time you visit the seaside, take a moment to appreciate the humble beach hut and the story it tells.