Brighton may rightly be able to claim many iconic coastal images but for me the rows of beach huts that stretch from central Brighton all the way out to the Hove Lagoon paint a particularly British picture.
One of my favourite memories of my childhood is our annual holiday down on the south coast where we met up with friends of my mum and dad and their kids. For reasons of practicality (as a new father myself, looking after one child on holiday is hard enough, let alone six) we rented out one of the many beach huts that help frame some of the best beaches in Britain. These beach huts, a seemingly quintessentially British invention, provide splashes of colour in winter and base camps for countless families throughout the summer.
Although still used today – indeed Brighton and Hove council issue yearly licenses and huts are on the market at prices reaching £12,000 – there is something about these simple wooden sheds that evoke memories of an earlier time. Although they’re not a Victorian reaction to the immorality of mixed beaches, royal patronage by George III and Queen Victoria in the 19th century definitely created a popularity boost. Beach huts, or mobile changing rooms as they were originally designed, first appeared on the beaches of Scarborough back in the 18th century. Medical experts of the day were starting to prescribe cold sea baths as a cure for all kind of sicknesses. Families took their sick loved ones to the seaside and a mobile changing room/bathing machine was invented, designed to help keep the privacy of the infirm as they took a dip into what must have been fairly cold water.
As the 19th century progressed trips to the seaside became ever more popular and no visit was complete without a splash in the ocean – with the help of a bathing machine dragged down to the surf by horses as the occupant changed into their modest swimwear on the way down. During World War II Britain’s beaches were closed but the end of the hostilities led to a new found love of the British beach holiday and the late 1940s and 1950s arguably became the heyday of the beach hut as we know them today.
These days they are just as popular. Brighton and Hove council regulates the colour scheme of their beach huts so, looking from the road, they form a pale green barrier against the excitement of the beach and the power of the sea. Looking from the beach is a another matter though, with the doors painted a myriad of colours that brighten up even the dullest Sussex day and provide excellent content for a million instagram accounts.
America has its famous boardwalks, and other British coastal towns and cities may have showier – and definitely tackier – attractions, but the beach huts of Brighton are, for me, an excellent example of simple British style.
by Dan Roberts
First photo by Dan Roberts, Remaining photos by Lee Champion (follow him on Instagram funky_nosferatu)