This August at The Archive we will be taking a look at the history of the Great British seaside, from bathing machines to bathing costumes, and today in this special blog we will explore one of the seaside’s most familiar sites: the beach hut.
Using our newspapers, we will take a look at how the beach hut became popular, and how in the 1920s and 1930s newspaper columns brimmed with advice on how to furnish your beach hut, from which colour schemes to pick, to which practical furniture to buy. Who knows, you may even pick up some design tips along the way!
So read on to take a step back in time to when the beach hut was something of a novelty, and at the centre of any British seaside holiday.
‘A Crowning Touch of Pleasure’
Most seaside resorts allow residents and visitors to rent a portion of the foreshore for quite a small sum each season; and now that sectional huts are to be obtained so cheaply many families will be buying one to use as a beach hut during the summer seasons.
This was the beach hut revolution, which gave people the chance to make the most of their time spent beside the seaside. But why was the beach hut proving to be more and more popular? The Aberdeen Press and Journal in July 1934 describes the advantages of the beach hut, and how the seaside building could allow one ‘to make the most of a seaside holiday:’
The ownership of a beach hut gives the crowning touch of pleasure to a seaside holiday. With its shelter always at your disposal in case of possible showers, or too hot sun, you are able to spend whole days on the beach and get the fullest possible benefit from what should above all be an out-of-doors holiday.
The beach hut was the perfect solution for the unpredictable British summer weather; whether rain or shine it could provide useful shelter, allowing holidaymakers to make the most of their time spent beside the seaside.
Indeed, the beach hut was an extension of that earlier phenomenon: the bathing machine. But the beach hut was something rather more permanent, and a little less prudish, the object of the older contraption being to convey bathers to the sea with as little exposure as possible. Now you could get changed into your swimwear in your beach hut, and simply walk down to the sea. And moreover, the beach hut represented endless chances for personalisation – but more on that later.
Another advantage of the beach hut was its cheapness. The Framlingham Weekly News writes in August 1936 in its ‘Woman’s Realm’ column how it is ‘not an extravagance’ to ‘rent or own a little wooden hut on the beach,’ especially when:
…it prevents the constant going backwards and forwards between the house and the beach. Long happy days can be spent beside the sea, meals can be taken in the hut, and bathing things kept there throughout the holiday.
Cheap, convenient, at a time when British seaside holidays were in vogue, it was little wonder that ‘during the past few years more and more beach houses or huts have been erected all along the coast,’ as reports the Ballymena Observer. And with all these new beach huts appearing across the coast of the United Kingdom, just how were they to be decorated?
‘It’s Fun to Furnish a Beach Hut’
The Ballymena Observer, when reflecting on the beach hut phenomenon in 1934, remarks that if a beach hut is ‘left uncomfortable and unfurnished’ it is ‘nothing more than a large, wooden bathing hut, which is a pity and a waste of time.’
Indeed, Elizabeth Wald for the Northern Whig in July 1935 observes:
Many people hire a beach hut for the seaside holidays, but not all make the most of its possibilities. As it stands – four wooden walls and a wooden floor – it is a useful but not attractive place.
Thankfully, the 1930s press was on hand to provide a host of useful and practical tips on how to furnish a beach hut – the Ballymena Observer advising that only ‘a few shillings will work wonders.’ Meanwhile, Elizabeth Wald sells a vision, that after a little care and attention, of how the beach hut can become:
…a peaceful spot in which to rest when the sun’s glare is strongest, a pleasing place wherein to a spread a picnic tea without getting sand all over sandwiches and cake, and a safe place in which to keep deck chairs and bathing costumes.
And so the Aberdeen Press and Journal in 1936 joyfully relates how it is ‘great fun to have and great fun to furnish’ a beach hut – ‘especially when you are furnishing on a limited budget.’ But where to start? For the Aberdeen Press and Journal, the colour scheme is of the utmost importance:
First, and most important of all, what colour are you going to paint the walls? Why not pale, leaf green, which is soothing and restful to the eyes in sunny weather? Or the clear, pale blue of the summer sky? Or a soft grey?
This vision of the beach hut’s colour scheme is a little muted when compared with other designs of the time. Take this example from the West London Observer, given in September 1927, which relates how ‘many ‘hutters’ choose individual colour schemes,’ like this one on the South Coast:
…which has a quaint little orange tree painted on the back of the entrance door and an orange curtain at the little window, while the deck chairs are fitted with striped orange canvas, and the china and other items follow a similar colour note.
The brighter the better for beach hut decoration, and this was echoed again in the Aberdeen Press and Journal in 1934:
The furnishings of a beach hut should be as bright as possible, and one can safely give rein to a liking for colour. One or two very nicely furnished huts I saw recently had the framework of deck chairs and stools and card table painted in a cheerful orange or bright green to match the prevailing colour of the striped canvas. The effect was very good.
Orange, again! And you could also add ‘modern unbreakable’ plates and mugs in ‘plain bright colours’ to add to the overall colourful effect.
‘Bring Your Beach House Up To Date’
So you’ve decorated your beach hut now, but how to fill it? The Ballymena Observer advises that ‘for the beach hut fewer furnishing details are needed,’ and luckily, in order ‘bring your beach house up to date’ there were many practical, inexpensive and labour-saving furniture options available – all British made, of course!
The Framlingham Weekly News in August 1936 gives an overview of the type of furniture you should be filling your beach hut with, in its ‘Woman’s Realm’ column:
The only furniture required are some chairs and a suitable table. The chairs can be merely deck chairs, or cane tub-shaped ones, or else canvas-seated armchairs which hold up. Folding up ones are best, because of their space-saving qualities, and it is wise to choose waterproof canvas seats and to try to get fadeless colours.
The ‘suitable’ table, according to this article, should be ‘of the collapsible order’ too. And as for the table cloth, that should be colourful, in keeping with the overall theme of the 1930s beach hut. Perhaps the table cloth might be made from a ‘bright-coloured checked gingham,’ accompanied by a ‘few pretty and inexpensive cushions, covered with fadeless casement cloth in bright hues.’
But what other equipment should you furnish your beach hut with, given that you will be spending the best part of the day there? The Framlingham Weekly News is again on hand to advise:
A spirit stove and a good-sized kettle, some cheap cutlery, a teapot, a jug or two, and inexpensive but pretty china or unbreakable ware will, of course, be needed. A small bowl and some tea towels for washing up should be part of the equipment. A saucepan is useful.
Meanwhile, other newspapers of the time had some good suggestions for space saving and storage solutions. Elizabeth Wald for the Northern Whig in 1935 advises:
If there is no cupboard, get a big box with a lid and a padlock and in it store costumes and towels, when they have dried in the sun. With a cushion on top it will make a useful seat.
And where to put your cooking equipment when you are not using it? Again, Elizabeth Wald has an idea for this:
Have another box to hold the spirit kettle and all the tea equipment. That, too, will give an additional seat. Cushions for the hut. Why not make the covers of glossy waterproof material in a bright scarlet, orange or blue?
You could even add more colour in this way, too. Now, for some finishing touches. The Ballymena Observer suggests covering ‘the floor with an attractive coloured matting,’ adding a wall mirror, pegs for ‘hanging wraps and hats on, and perhaps a waterproof hold-all for the children’s change of clothes.’
Another useful addition for the beach hut was a curtain, which the Aberdeen Press and Journal in 1934 advises can be ‘easily be drawn across when anyone is changing into or out of a bathing costume,’ providing shade if needed. Elizabeth Wald concurs, advising how:
It will not cost only a very small sum to put cool-looking casement curtains at the window, and these can be drawn when necessary to keep out too strong light. Have a sun curtain to hang before the door. It will let in all the sea breezes but keep out a great deal of sand and dust as well as glare.
So, you have all your hints and tips on how to furnish your beach hut, but how would you go about getting one?
Beach Hut to Let
The answer is: newspapers! Contained within the columns of seaside publications like West Sussex’s Worthing Gazette and Littlehampton Gazette were sections devoted to beach huts, where you could advertise your beach hut, or even advertise for one.
For example, in the Worthing Gazette in June 1937 you can find this advert for a ‘Beach Hut to Let:’
BEACH HUT TO LET furnished, near Chandler’s Corner, Lancing – Apply 56, King Edward-avenue, Worthing.
Meanwhile, this advert in the Littlehampton Gazette in June 1938 states the price for renting a beach hut in East Worthing:
BATHING HUT, East Worthing, to be let fully equipped to July 31st, 1938; 2 gns per week – Apply NORMAN AND SPENCER, 77, Chapel-road, Worthing.
Renting this beach hut on the South Coast would cost you just over £100 a week in today’s money.
Within the same columns you can find also adverts for beach huts for sale, such as this one, as detailed in the Worthing Gazette:
BEACH HUT for sale, right of Sea-place, No. 13, asbestos lined, lockers, shelving.
We have to say we’re not quite sure about the asbestos lining! But what if you didn’t see what you were looking for within the pages of such publications like the Worthing Gazette? The beach hut column in such papers contain very detailed requests, such as this one from the Littlehampton Gazette:
BEACH HUT wanted for 3 weeks, August 20th to September 10th, near Alexander-road – Bardwell, 15, St. Matthew’s-avenue, Surbiton.
And here’s a similar request from another Surrey holidaymaker, this time from the Worthing Gazette:
WANTED, BEACH HUT, August 7th-21st, between Grand-avenue and Wallace-avenue, or East Worthing – Write Redpath, 30, The Ridge, Coulsdon.
Indeed, you could even bring your own beach hut (although we’re not sure what the local council would have to say about that). In 1921 The Sphere contained an advert for a beach hut which could be erected ‘where you wish:’
The Browne and Lilly Beach Hut is easily erected anywhere; it adds to holiday enjoyment and ensures full benefit of bracing breezes the whole day long. Stoutly built throughout of substantial and reliable materials. Durable, convenient and artistic.
The Englishman’s beach hut had become something of his castle, especially at a time when not many people had access to foreign holidays, the ‘staycation’ for many being their only holiday option. Indeed, The Tatler pictures the Foster family in their beach hut in Frinton, which they had named the ‘Grand Hotel.’
So the next time you are by the sea, and notice a beach hut, think how they might have been enjoyed in the 1930s, and how they are still enjoyed to this day – and today, they are not as affordable as they once were!
We found this article in the Daily Mirror from 1999, authored by Christian Fraser, which reports on how a ‘A beach hut with no electricity, running water or toilet has just been sold for £47,000.’ The piece relates how:
Another hut is on the market at £36,000 but is expected to fetch at least £40,000. Estate agent Mark Orr said: ‘These huts sell for what may seem a huge amount of money. But the location and the atmosphere are the attractions. I can’t think of anywhere else which offers such a complete break from ordinary life.’
This ‘complete break from ordinary life’ was to be found in Mudeford, Dorset, where beach hut owners could spend up to £10,000 on new fittings – a world away from the few shilling improvements suggested by the press from the 1930s!