Their design couldn’t be more simple: a single room housed in a box with a gently pitched roof and double doors. Anywhere else this would be called a shed. But along the UK’s coastline, they are beach huts. And they’re shorthand for a typical British seaside holiday of yesteryear, bringing to mind cups of tea made on the gas ring and drunk sitting in a deck chair in the sun – or rain.
In recent times, these shacks have become increasingly sought-after and in popular coastal areas have been souped up. Which explains why a beach hut in trendy Mudeford, Dorset, has sold for £325,000. This one boasted a mezzanine, WC, heating, solar panels, and sleeping space for six people.
Despite the significant cost of beach huts with such accommodation, at local agent Denisons the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. ‘I think the “staycation” is playing a big part and a lot of people are still nervous of traveling abroad,’ says principal Andy Denison. ‘We’ve got into the habit of staying local and making the most of it.’
That nostalgia fix offered by beach huts is playing its part, he believes. ‘It’s something that we did in the 1970s and this has bought back childhood memories.’
But even the more traditional, basic sheds – without sleeping quarters – command a hefty sum. In Mudeford that can be £92,000, rising to £150,000 in Southwold on the east coast. For pricy bijoux spaces, they’re up there with coveted parking spaces, like the one in the Somerset town of Taunton, which was on the market for £8,000.
For contemporary tarted-up beach huts, the dominant aesthetic could be described as utilitarian-marine. Painted woodwork (with matching enamel crockery), timber flooring for easy sweeping away of sand, and lots of storage for beach paraphernalia, such as windbreaks, buckets and spades, towels and sun loungers.
The predecessor to the beach hut was the bathing machine, a cumbersome chalet on wheels. Once a Victorian had changed into swimwear, he or she was towed into the water and took a dip from the hut.
After WWI, people lightened up a bit and it was deemed acceptable to walk into the water in full view, having changed on the beach in a bathing hut whose wheels had been removed or in a new hut, provided by the council.