12 January 2016

Hove Beach Huts

Judy Middleton (2015)

copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 2 June 2009
In 1923 Matthew Hatton of 32A Brunswick Square suggested to Hove Council that facilities for sea bathing would be greatly improved if the Council were to erect twenty wooden bathing chalets and a pay-box on the beach between the Coastguard Station (south east of Hove Street) and Carlisle Road. He thought the chalets should be leased out for periods of seven, fourteen or twenty-one years at a yearly rent of £75. The idea was not taken up at the time but by 1930 it was definitely on the agenda.

Bathing machines had once been popular and their heyday at Hove was in 1884 when there were forty-six bathing machines designated for female use and twelve machines reserved for men. Segregated bathing was the rule at Hove and the town was slow to leave the strictures of the Victorian era. Although mixed bathing was permitted at Brighton from July 1901, Hove had to wait until 1905 for mixed bathing provision and only in designated areas. These were the beach west of the wooden groyne opposite Westbourne Villas (eleven bathing machines) the beach opposite numbers 1 to 7 Queen’s Gardens (eleven bathing machines) the beach south west of Medina Terrace and the first wooden groyne (seven bathing machines) and the beach 65 yards west of the outfall sewer then in the course of construction.
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If you look closely at this old postcard, you can see the bathing machines on Hove beach.
In 1925 the Council asked proprietors of bathing machines to fit them with low wheels, half to be done that year and the other half by 1926. But the machines were already losing out to tents because although there were still 54 machines, there were 94 tents. Some of the old proprietors rented out both tents and machines but others like Frederick Port in 1922 had tents only. By 1927 the number of machines had dropped to twenty-five (no doubt their decline was hastened by the new rules as to wheel size) while there were 132 tents. 
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The bathing tents look somewhat incongruous against the classical backdrop of Brunswick Terrace.
Bathing tents were first mentioned in 1907 when it was stated that mixed bathing from tents was to be allowed on the beach from the groyne east of Langdale Road to the next groyne on the west. In 1912 the Watch Committee produced regulations for mixed bathing from tents. You were allowed to pitch your tent free of charge on the beach opposite Langdale Gardens and extending west to the next groyne but east of Langdale Road to Carlisle Road there was a fee ranging from 10/- for the whole summer or 1/6d per week. All tents had to be taken down and furled not later than one hour after sunset.
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This daring postcard of mixed bathing at Hove was posted in 1911.
Harry Woolgar, born in the 1880s, lived right near the sea in Beach Cottages (long since gone) and hired out bathing machines (with large wheels) and a double row of bathing tents on the promenade south of Hove Lawns. The bathing tents in the back row were marked ‘Strictly Private’ and Harry warned his grandson, young Bill Woolgar, never to disturb the occupants; this was because courting couples used to hire the tents for the afternoon.
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Note the pinnacles on the beach huts along Western Esplanade in the 1930s. 
Bathing tents did not find favour with everyone and many people thought the rows of flapping canvas was both untidy and unsightly. The more solid construction of a wooden chalet or hut quickly became popular and by 1936 there were no less than 290 of them situated on the promenade from Hove Lagoon to Wish Road, near the newly constructed sea-wall and steps. It is interesting to note that although today there is a standardised design of hut, it was different in the 1930s with the ones on Western Esplanade displaying a delightful little pinnacle and four squares of glass in the doors.
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It is interesting to see the beach huts placed on the south side of the promenade. 
copyright © J.Middleton
A modern view of beach huts on Western Esplanade. 
We are so used to seeing huts on the north side of the promenade that it comes as something of a surprise to discover that originally at Hove Lawns they were placed on the south side of the promenade, thus blocking the sea view from people strolling along the seafront. Moreover, in some parts there was a double row and not a single one as at present. In 1937 the ones at the front commanded a better view and a more expensive price costing £8 to hire for the season while the ones in the second row could be yours for £6-10s. Evidently, Hove residents considered these prices a bit steep and the following year the rate dropped to £7 and £5-10s respectively. By 1939 there were 473 huts on the promenade and because the esplanade at the western end had recently been widened, it was expected there would be enough space to accommodate another 227 huts.
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A modern view of beach huts on the north side of the promenade
The Second World War put paid to lazy days on the beach and all the equipment including bathing machines, tents and floats were cleared away and stored in garages in Namrick Mews. In modern parlance you could say parts of Hove were in lockdown. The Army and Naval authorities commandeered many private properties and private schools such as Hove College, Mowden and Cottesmore while the newly-built municipal swimming baths became HMS King Alfred and was responsible for training 22,500 RNVR officers; armed guards were on duty. Grand Avenue was cordoned off by barbed wire with sentries patrolling the confines. Tank traps were dug on the promenade, which was a mass of barbed wire anyhow, beaches were mined and the two Brighton piers had central sections cut out to prevent the enemy landing; Hove Lagoon was used for military manoeuvres.

After the war when normal conditions returned to the seafront, it was optimistically stated there would be 700 huts eventually. It seems this number was never achieved and of course there was a chronic shortage of building materials in the aftermath of war. The bathing machines were sold off to Lytham St Anne’s.

There were many more people wishing to hire huts than there were huts available and so Hove Council hit upon the idea that the fairest way to allocate them was by having a lucky dip system. This began in 1947 and lasted a surprisingly long time.
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Beach hut on the left painted in the stripes of Brighton & Hove Albion F.C., October 2013
By 1963 there were 446 huts and the lucky dip system still prevailed. In August 1982 Hove Council invited tenants to buy them at a cost of £100 plus the annual ground rent of £25. But it seems clear some huts were already privately owned. For example Peter Taylor purchased his hut in 1980 for £105 while in May 2011 it was stated Callways had recently sold a hut that had been in the same family for 50 years and originally cost £75. The beach hut was of course nothing but a basic wooden structure with no plumbing or electricity laid on. There were also stringent conditions; you were not allowed to sleep there, run a business or keep animals and if you played music you must not let it be too loud. You must not make any alterations to the exterior although you could paint the doors uniformly in any colour you fancied OR EVEN IN STRIPES. 

The great gale of 16/17 October 1987 wrecked havoc amongst Hove beach huts. A memorable aerial photograph appeared in the local Press showing Hove Lawns strewn with the wreckage.  Seventy per cent of the huts were destroyed or damaged. The situation posed something of a dilemma for Hove Council because as they were no longer the owners, they could not clear up the debris at once. By law they had to allow the owners six months to clear the site themselves and so timber was left stacked on the promenade. After six months had expired, Hove Council served a statutory fourteen days’ notice that on 27 May 1988 the seafront would be cleared from end to end.
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Beach Huts looking east with Brighton's West & Palace Piers in the distance, October 2013
In October 1991 it was stated that hut owners were holding a public meeting to discuss the next move in their fight against new rate charges. The District Valuer had written to all 400 owners telling them they are liable for bills of £77-20p; they were already paying £80 a year in ground rent. Hove Council supported the owners. The precedent was set when rates were imposed on Worthing beach huts and the owners lost their appeal.
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Row of beach huts near Hove's King Alfred, October 2013
In 1993 beach hut owners were involved in another campaign – this time against Hove Council who wanted to charge them a business rate on their huts although it was forbidden to run a business from them. By November 1993 hut owners were jubilant to have achieved their goal. The Tribunal decided that although the huts could not be classed as domestic premises and therefore the Council was correct to rate them as a business, the rate was far too high. The tribunal directed Hove Council to lower the rateable value to £86 instead of the £200 they wanted to charge.

By April 1992 Bernie Foster had been looking after the beach huts for seven years. It was an all-the-year-round job and every day he carried out an early morning inspection. He painted them when needed and could build a new one within four weeks.
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A row of beach huts with Brighton & Hove City Council's King's House in the background, October 2013
In August 1992 it was stated that beach huts were selling for between £350 and £850, depending on the location. In 1998 there was a revival of interest in the huts; usually there were around twenty-five on the market but in September 1998 there were only five. The cost was still between £650 and £750.

But vandalism was a big problem. In both 1992 and 1993 some 108 huts were damaged. On the night of 3 October 1997 vandals targeted 32 huts. Doors were kicked in and contents strewn over the esplanade. The damage was estimated at £3,000. On 4 November 1997 at around 8 p.m. two other huts were set on fire, causing £2,000 worth of damage. Mr and Mrs Paddy Collins of Burgess Hill owned one of the burnt-out huts and had paid £450 for it two years previously. The fire destroyed chairs, paint, tools, tea-making equipment and a little radio purchased in 1970 shortly after their marriage. Seafront Office Charlie King said the vandalism was the worst he had seen in four years.

In July 2004 estate agents Callaways announced they had four beach huts for sale at prices varying from £6,500 to £8,500 while the annual ground rent, insurance and maintenance totalled £500. By this time Hove Council was no more and Brighton & Hove City Council was in charge.
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Row of Beach huts near to Hove Street, October 2013
Interest in the huts continued to grow and in 2010 the council decided to build seventeen new huts at Hove Lagoon. They went on sale in the summer of that year and as soon as they were advertised estate agents Parsons, Son & Basley received more than 100 enquiries. The huts were all sold within the space of three weeks at a price of £12,000 each. One of the new happy owners was Kate Silverton, a BBC news presenter. 
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Beach huts near King's House, October 2013
A new version of Brighton Rock was released on 4 February 2011 although many people felt that the definitive film would always be the old one starring Richard Attenborough. Graham Greene (1904-1991) was the author of Brighton Rock published in 1938. The new version was set at Brighton in 1964 and starred Helen Mirren, John Hurt, Sam Ridley and Andrea Risborough; Rowan JaffĂ© was the director. In the summer of 2010 the film-makers descended on Hove seafront because the famous beach huts were to appear in the background of one scene. But first of all the area had to resemble the 1960s and the modern litter-bins were tucked away out of sight. Although there is only a passing glimpse in the finished film, the beach huts have become such an iconic symbol of Hove that the location was instantly recognisable. Indeed, the beach huts have also appeared in advertisements – such as a backdrop for luxury cars for instance.
copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 21 January 2009 after a downpour provided a puddle to reflect the beach huts. 
Brighton & Hove City Council endeavour to ensure the huts are sold only to people living in the locality. As part of this process, early in 2011 hut owners received a request for them to update their licences, which by this time cost £283-33 and covered the ground rent too; there were said to be 450 huts. But some people were upset by the new rules and there was a change of heart that meant people with longstanding licences did not have to sell them to city residents. Peter Taylor, aged 65 and a semi-retired civil servant, was one of those upset by the new regulations. He had purchased his hut in 1980 for £105 when he and his family lived in Wish Road. Since then they had moved to Maidstone, Kent but he and his wife Jacqui and friends paid regular visits. He said ‘Our beach hut is our little piece of the city and we have many happy memories of spending time there with family and friends.’
copyright © J.Middleton
These beach huts were photographed on 2 June 2009
In June 2011 Jeff Allen, aged 67, was going away to attend a wedding and asked a friend to paint his beach hut for him; he left the choice of colour to his friend. When he came back Mr Allen was amazed to find that instead of the standard one colour, his friend had decorated his hut with masses of circles in different colours and sizes. The Press dubbed it the psychedelic hut and passers-by stood next to it for photographs. Mr Allen rather liked the effect but the Council was not amused – after all it was against the rules. They ordered him to paint over the bright circles. But Mr Allen could not bear to do that and instead he took the hut apart and said he would sell it at a car boot sale; he ordered a new hut to replace it. Meanwhile the ground rent had grown to £295-15s a year. In November 2011 two new huts were for sale at Western Esplanade for £10, 500 each.
The Daily Mail of 13 August 2011 printed a two-page article written by Nicola Gane on the joys of owning a beach hut on Hove’s seafront, accompanied by a large photograph of her happy family group.
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Beach hut with Hove Lagoon in the background, October 2013
By 2013 the price of beach huts had risen again. In August 2013 one was on sale for £14,000. It was in a prime spot south of King’s House and Hove Lawns but as the Argus pointed out for the same price you could buy a two-bedroom house in a village near Newcastle.

On 15 October 2013 two friends of mine kindly undertook the heroic task of walking the length of Hove seafront in order to count the beach huts for me. Here are the results:

Wooden beach huts       514
Brick-built huts               12
Concrete huts                10                                            Grand Total 536

 *(Please note there are many gaps along Hove seafront where beach huts have been removed, if all these gaps were filled there would be over 550 beach huts.)
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Two interesting hut signs on Hove Seafront, October 2013
The winter of 2013 / 2014 was one of gales and torrential rain. The beach huts were subjected to a battering especially during the Valentine's Day storm, which also coincided with a high tide. A group of around ten beach huts were blown against the wall between the promenade and the pitch and putt green and when the wall gave way, they went crashing down, scattering wreckage over the grass.
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The aftermath of the Valentine's Day storm. Note the abundance of shingle on what should be a smooth stretch of promenade.

Advent Calendar

The Revd Martin Poole was behind the concept of creating a life-size Advent Calendar in individual beach huts along Hove seafront. He masterminded the first event in December 2008 and hoped to bring home to people the true meaning of Advent and Christmas while at the same time showcasing local talent.

Beach hut owner Martin Poole founded the Brighton-based Beyond Church Group and they took over twenty-four huts to create the living Advent Calendar. Every evening from 1 December to Christmas Eve and between 5.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. a different hut door would open to reveal an artistic surprise.  On 1 December 2009 around 100 people came to watch the first door opened to show a tableau depicting God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen. On the second evening the tableau was in Poole’s own hut and showed a nativity scene cocooned in a block of ice and lit by lasers.  

In December 2011 some beach huts were again involved in becoming a 3-D Advent Calendar. The first door to be opened was at hut 311 and showed the choir of St Christopher’s School in full song plus some of their artwork. The year’s theme was Las Posados after the Mexican tradition of many characters being involved in the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

In December 2013 one of the twenty-four huts involved in the Hove Beach Hut Advent Calendar hosted a tribute to Janette Tozer, a local artist, who died in July 2013. She had been associated with the event since it began.

In 2014 the Advent Calendar displayed children’s artwork, Morris dancers plus a mini-pub called appropriately enough The Holly and the Ivy.

Recently, it was announced that Prime Minister David Cameron has praised the priest responsible for organising the Advent Calendar on Hove seafront. Revd Martin Poole, aged 55, is the priest at St Luke’s Church, Prestonville. David Cameron gave him a Point of Light award. This award recognises outstanding individual volunteers ‘who are making a change in their community and inspiring others.’

Sources
Argus
Brighton & Hove Independent (2 January 2014)  
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Middleton, J Portslade & Hove Memories (2004)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
page layout by D.Sharp