When vacations became staycations during the pandemic, demand for beach huts soared – but what makes these humble little structures so desirable? Ettie Neil-Gallacher finds out

Beach huts are the jewel in our coast’s crown, dotted along the shoreline in an array of storybook-worthy colours — and they’re in high demand, says Ettie Neil-Gallacher.

The Highland Games have survived, indeed thrived, for centuries on local and clan support that has coursed through generations, says Ettie Neil Gallacher.


Bits have rediscovered the unadulterated joys of an old-fashioned bucket-and-spade holiday, and everything that comes with it: the sand which gets in the sandwiches, the dive-bombing seagulls, the glistening sea – enticing regardless of its temperature. 

Dotted along the shoreline are the newly appreciated jewels in the coast’s crown: beach huts. These unassuming little structures are enjoying something of a renaissance after two years of travel restrictions. “There was a 50% increase in website traffic in 2020 compared with 2019,” says Charlie Ramsay, founder and executive chairman of SpeedyBooker, the technology platform behind BeachHuts.com.

Having been all the rage in the interwar years and after World War II, the beach hut languished in the holiday doldrums, a casualty of the air travel boom towards the end of the 20th century. As foreign holidays became more affordable, the humble hut conjured visions of being buffeted by the elements while gazing out to sea forlornly through drizzle, cradling a flask of tea and sharing a damp sandwich and gristly sausage roll, before going inside to wrestle into some ill-fitting swimwear and brace oneself for a cursory dip in the briny deep.

So what is the enduring appeal of beach huts that enabled them to re-emerge? For Ramsay, it’s “a mixture of practical benefit and romanticism. They’re helpful if you are with friends or family and want somewhere to store your clobber, or somewhere to keep it safe while you go for a swim. They can be a retreat if the elements are making themselves felt, and most have a gas hob so you can warm yourself up with a brew. At the same time, if you love the beach, then beach huts are an integral part of the image of the English seaside tradition.” 

And it’s a long-established tradition too, dating back to the 18th century, when the British seaside evolved from being the domain of sailors and fishermen into fashionable resorts for the affluent, who flocked there to take advantage of the curative and therapeutic wonders of the water.

To begin with, men and women bathed nude on mixed beaches. But as Victorian moral rectitude took hold, women started to wear woollen bathing gowns, and segregated bathing became the norm. Bathing machines were created to protect bathers’ modesty. These were, essentially, wooden huts on wheels, which were sufficiently capacious as to allow the person inside to stand. The bather would enter at one end, change inside, and then be wheeled down to the sea, emerging to take the waters from the other end of the hut. 

The demand for seaside holidays grew: the newly emerged middle class was keen to ape the leisure activities of the smart set, and was enabled to do so by using the new network of railways, so British beaches became ever more popular. Segregated bathing and beaches declined, and clumsy bathing machines gave way to beach tents and beach huts in the early 20th century. As observed by historian Karen Averby, the beach hut was “more than a glorified changing cubicle, it offered a fixed space for spending time at the beach”.

Local authorities quickly realised that beach huts could provide valuable revenue, and started building and leasing them. Hotels and private landowners muscled in on the beach hut scene too. Averby reports that the earliest appeared at Bournemouth in 1909, with the classic gabling which would soon be copied all over the country, and with others popping up at Scarborough in North Yorkshire and Cromer in Norfolk, within a few years. 

Demand soared until the 1930s, but was curtailed by World War II, when beaches were closed and huts removed. There was a new heyday for beach huts – a golden age, even – in the 1950s and 1960s, with huge waiting lists as holidaymakers desperately sought out a stake in the sunny seaside. But the comfort and security of beach huts struggled to compete with the lure of exotic foreign holidays, and the attractions of the Mediterranean put the humble hut in the shade. Many were dismantled, and some would never return. 

But something that never disappeared was the beauty of the British coastline. And so before long, beach huts began to undergo something of a renaissance, and one that grew and grew, garnering an even greater following during the pandemic. There are now more than 21,000 dotted around the British Isles, commanding vast sums when the freehold is for sale and generating huge waiting lists for leases.

So while others take advantage of being able to venture overseas this summer, have a look at The Field’s guide [on previous page] to some of the best beach huts our fabulous coastline can offer. 


Wells-Next-The-Sea, norfolk 

There are several resorts in Norfolk which epitomise all that can be wonderful about the English seaside, so it’s difficult to pick out any one in particular. But Wells-next-the-Sea, with its raised huts in a medley of tasteful colours, certainly deserves attention. Most are privately owned, but a handful are up for rental by the day. The beach itself, offering safe swimming and a vast expanse of sand matched by the big Norfolk skies, and backed by dunes and pine trees, is pretty perfect. Just mind the naturists at adjacent Holkham beach – unless you want to join them, of course. It’s thought that the Royal Family used to derive a certain amusement from watching the nudists from their beach hut, but the presence of people walking around starkers apparently detracted from the enjoyment of what was once a much-loved family refuge. 

Branscombe, Devon

Devon has several beach hut hotspots, but what Branscombe offers is not so much huts as chalets, in which you can actually stay from around £500 a week. The chalets themselves are simple affairs, but you’re sleeping on the beach. And what a beach. Situated between Sidmouth and Beer, Branscombe is not only in the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, but also on the Jurassic Coast, and the South West Coast Path runs by the village, which is picture-postcard pretty, with thatched cottages running down the cliff valley to the sea. The beach itself is shingle, and when the tide is out, sand and rock pools appear, providing endless diversion for the smalls.

Bude, Cornwall

Perhaps surprisingly, given its proximity to Dorset, Devon and South Wales, where there are plenty of beach huts, they are rather scarcer in Cornwall. But they can be found at both Crooklets and Summerleaze beaches in Bude, with the former being just to the north of the town. The beaches are linked at low tide by a wide stretch of sand. Summerleaze is sandy, and fed by a river, and also has a tidal pool, part natural, part man-made, which is topped up by the Atlantic Ocean at high tide. Crooklets is slightly more exposed and therefore popular with surfers – but be warned: no four-legged friends in high season. 

Findhorn, Moray

There aren’t many beach huts north of the border. Perhaps the Scottish weather, even in summer, deters all but the hardiest holidaymakers from sitting, gazing out to sea, for long periods. But they’re missing out. For at Findhorn, they’d find a 10km stretch of fine white sand, and clean waters perfect for swimming and watersports. Twitchers would find plenty to catch their eye, and it’s easy to spot seals lounging at low tide. In short, it’s an ideal spot for a row of beach huts. And this is obviously what architect Ian Sutherland McCook realised when he drew up plans to develop some right here. These huts hit the headlines five years ago, with locals marvelling at the cost these tiny cabins were commanding upon release, with certain media outlets fuming about paying £25,000 for something smaller than a prison cell. But the aesthetic is pleasingly old school and eco-minded: Sutherland McCook explains that he wanted traditional, well-spaced huts in muted colours which wouldn’t jar with local surroundings or tastes. His huts are made from timber, nails and screws, and nothing else. And while the brief for around 30 is only half complete, almost all of them have been sold – and sold to local buyers. 

Abersoch, Gwynedd

North Wales’ answer to Newport, Pembrokeshire in South West Wales. The advent of rail travel in the first half of the 20th century transformed the British seaside holiday. But the line never reached Abersoch, which remained a small, sleepy fishing village. And while there may be other prettier towns and villages nearby – the whole of the Llŷn Peninsula is a region of fabled natural beauty – Abersoch’s natural advantage is its spectacular
sandy beach. Its celebrated beach huts come with chairs, windbreakers and children’s toys, allowing grown-ups to take stock as they gaze out over Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea. Or to take to the safe waters, for swimming or dinghy sailing. August sees the legendary Abersoch Regatta, an annual event first held in 1881. Alongside the races, there are also crab-catching and sandcastling competitions. Beach huts can be rented through Elvins Estate Agents. 


George III cemented the trend for bathing machines at Weymouth in 1789, with his octagonal structure which bore the royal crest. He was an enthusiastic proponent of the benefits of seawater, and his patronage turned Weymouth into one of Britain’s most popular resorts. He would change inside the bathing machine and be wheeled down to the sea, where a brace of female royal dippers would accompany him into the waters, before leading him back inside to dress.

His granddaughter greatly enjoyed the beach too. At Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight, Queen Victoria was persuaded by her husband Prince Albert of the benefits of sea bathing, and with their children spent many blissful times here. Victoria would sketch from inside her bathing machine, while the children, including the future King Edward VII, learned to swim. Curtains would protect her modesty from any prying eyes as she immersed herself in the sea. Victoria first took the plunge in 1847, noting in her diary that it was “delightful” until she put her head under, whereupon she thought she would be “stifled”.

In the 1930s, George V and his wife Mary were pictured at a beach hut in Sussex, and the 5th Earl of Leicester, who owns the Holkham Estate, some 15 miles from Sandringham, gave a chalet to HM The Queen. It was a secluded spot, and popular for Royal Family picnics. Apparently the Queen Mother enjoyed walking her corgis on the beach; the Duke of Edinburgh loved to barbecue there, and even used to spend the night there sometimes in one of the bunk beds. But in 2003, it was destroyed in an arson attack. While more than 70 firemen tried to save it, all that remained were the steps up to the chalet and the brick chimney stack.