The Hut Parade
PUBLISHED: 10:12 08 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:18 20 February 2013
There are hundreds at Felixstowe and Southwold and is much more than seaside sheds
Who would have thought an architectural expert would be so completely smitten by simple Suffolk seaside sheds? Richard Ginger meets beach hut fan Dr Kathryn Ferry
It was during her time studying at Cambridge University for a PHD in Architectural History that Dr Kathryn Ferrys obsession with the humble British beach hut really took off. In between the ongoing round of lectures and research, Kathryn would escape for weekends on the East Anglian coast, heading to Suffolk and neighbouring Norfolk, to explore their beautiful coastlines and quaint seaside resorts.
These escapes also encouraged her growing passion for the unassuming seaside sheds. Kathryn says: Its not necessarily a rational thing and I guess its one of those English eccentricities in wanting to be in a shed on the seashore. Beach huts are simple wooden structures, but theyve come to stand for so much more than that. Theyve become seaside icons.
In 2002, an unexpected break in her studies presented the chance to give full rein to her fascination. Packing her bags, she set off on a two-month odyssey around Englands beach hut hotspots starting in County Durham, all the way around to the British Channel.
En route, Kathryn once again stopped off in Suffolk, visiting the UKs premier beach hut destination at Southwold the very top of the hut parade!
Everywhere I went people always asked me if Id been to Southwold! The fame of the resort, dubbed Hampstead-on-Sea, has been secured by news that its shoreline shacks can command a price tag upwards of 35,000. Its a beach hut Mecca and now so famous for its rising prices that, when I visited, the owners association had a dedicated media officer to deal with press enquiries.
It is a state of affairs that leaves the UKs Dr Beach Hut more than a little bemused. For all that I love them, I do think its got rather silly. Theyve become a status symbol where you can say you are going down to your beach hut for the weekend.
So, with expectations raised, Kathryn had prepared herself to be a little let down by the town and its beach huts. It had a lot to live up to with its reputation for instant nostalgia, but I wasnt disappointed. The huts are all beautifully maintained, in a whole rainbow of different colours, and the owners have come up with the wittiest selection of names anywhere in the country from Ceezruf to O2B@C and the heartfelt Paradise Found.
Two proud hut owners, Ann Thomson and Sarah Chapman, also told Kathryn a delightful tale about how the sheds residents marked a very special event. On Millennium Eve most of the huts were open and lit by lanterns as people waited to toast the new century with shared Champagne. It sounded just the sort of display of community spirit that I found in beach hut owners around the country.
For Kathryn, this goes some way to explaining the inherent appeal of these simple seaside structures: the sense of community they inspire and desire to escape to a simpler life.
While contemporary Southwold may be the UKs beach hut capital, Kathryn says another Suffolk resort has earned itself a similar place in hut history.
Felixstowe has an equal claim to fame because it had the first purpose-built beach huts in the country. They were being advertised in the Edwardian period as the perfect seaside home-from-home.
She continues: There are some great descriptions of families having afternoon tea in their hut and things havent really changed that much in the century since.
Kathryn admits to a particular fondness for Felixstowe. Its got nearly a thousand huts in pretty coloured rows and theres always something to look at on the horizon. She recalls one special day spent at Brackenbury Fort. I borrowed a white hut there and enjoyed a decadent picnic, complete with Champagne in plastic flutes!
Such colourful anecdotes and her other Suffolk sojourns to Sizewell, Lowestoft and Pakefield are all recounted in Kathryns latest book, Sheds on the Seashore: a Tour Through Beach Hut History. The title takes readers along on Kathryns contemporary tour and also back in history.
She is also encouraged by the renaissance in our love affair with the sheds and our shoreline. Were missing a trick if we dont value whats on our own doorstep. Going around the coast was phenomenal because it really highlighted the value and beauty of our coastline. You can go five miles and the coastline changes completely. Its this beautiful thing that we should make more of and be proud of we are an island nation after all.