Despite claims the property market is on the brink of a crash, one niche seems recession-proof: beach huts, barely bigger than Wendy Houses, have never been more in demand. Rightmove has reported that the average asking price for these glorified sheds has more than doubled since 2019, so on average a beach hut costs an astonishing £50,000. Last year, the UK’s most expensive beach hut sold in Dorset for £500,000.
This news is especially galling for me. I bought a beach hut in Clacton-on-Sea for £2,500 in 2011. If I hadn’t sold it, it’d probably be worth ten times that now.
The popularity of beach huts comes from the English obsession with prudishness. During the rise of the mid-18th-century wellness industry, as doctors began promoting fresh air and salt water, people came to the beaches to swim, only to find themselves in need of a way to protect their modesty. The solution was a ‘bathing machine’: a small horsedrawn carriage which drove punters down to the water, allowing them a place in which to change and then plunge straight into the sea. Allegedly the popularity of the ‘bathing machine’ was given a boost when George III used one to take a medicinal dip in Weymouth to the musical accompaniment of ‘God Save The King’.
As it became more acceptable for peopleto be seen on beaches in bathing suits, walking to the water presented less of a challenge and so ‘bathing machines’ lost their original purpose – and with it their wheels.
Beach huts as we know them now are a combination of converted fisherman’s huts, boat sheds and purpose-built huts. The Victorian era, when railways made seaside resorts more accessible, was the heyday of beach huts. In the decades that followed, as the British discovered cheap package deals abroad, they fell out of fashion. Now their comeback is partly the result of the pandemic triggering a staycation boom, the renaissance of kitsch and a fashion for wild swimming. It helps that beach huts look cute on Instagram.
Today there are at least 20,000 in the country, ranging from the traditional Punch and Judy pastel-wood style to ultra-modern pods. Despite their astronomical prices, they tend to have few facilities. They rarely have electricity, running water or a toilet.
Famous beach-hut owners included Suggs from Madness, the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, and the Queen, whose hut at Holkham was beloved by the Queen Mother – she took her corgis there, before arsonists blazed it in 2003. Tracey Emin turned her Whitstable hut into an artwork, filling it with photographs of herself taken inside the hut and without clothes. She sold it to Charles Saatchi for £75,000 – half of what he paid for her unmade bed.
Beach huts have become as synonymous with the British seaside as candy floss. At this time of year, it’s impossible not to go to the coast and long to own one. I have one tip: buy in winter, sell in summer. In January the beach-hut market is dead.