Beach hut era to be swept away
"IT'S our little palace by the sea."That's just one description heard in the past few months of a Suffolk family beach hut where the simple pleasures of life by the English seaside are enjoyed.
By Richard Cornwell
"IT'S our little palace by the sea."
That's just one description heard in the past few months of a Suffolk family beach hut where the simple pleasures of life by the English seaside are enjoyed.
They may look like gaily-painted wooden sheds, but to the owners they are their pride and joy, packed with everything you need for a perfect day lazing and playing on the shore, and just yards from the water's edge.
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Furnished with deckchairs, windbreaks, radios, gas-fuelled cooking stoves, crockery, beach balls and picnic rugs, they are a real home-from-home.
In fact, they are more than that. They are special.
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Walk along the kaleidoscopic rows and see how many are given names – Lazy Days, Val's Whim, Seagull's View, even Dunroamin – to show the special place they hold in each owner's heart.
Beach huts are still one of Felixstowe's biggest attractions – even though the resort has fewer than half the number it had 20 years ago.
Their heyday is gone. But the 1,000 that are left are well-used and cared for, providing families with the same pleasures and enjoyment that they did for many others over many decades.
Manor End was Felixstowe's Beach Hut Town.
Many of its 1,000 wooden chalets were owned by working-class people unable to afford posh holidays abroad. It meant they had their own piece of seaside, with sand, sea and sunshine.
Jim Butters, 89, of Montgomery Road, Ipswich, whose hut has been used respectively by himself and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren over more than 60 years, recalls many happy days.
"The beach huts were a real community – I have never heard a cross word or an argument between owners, because everyone got on so well," he said.
"Families would all gather together for the day at their hut and to have real fun. The children loved it and everything they wanted – the sea to splash in and the beach to build sandcastles – was close at hand. Our site at Manor End had a small shop, toilets, putting green, café – all gone now, of course.
"On a sunny day, we would all be down to Felixstowe first thing and would stay all day.
"People have said the owners brought little benefit to Felixstowe's economy, but very few of us went for the day without spending something on food, ice creams, newspapers, sweets, a meal, or a trip to the funfair."
He recalled families joining together for games of rounders, children playing together, people making tea for each other and just spending time chatting and building friendships.
Beach huts were inspired by the Victorian bathing machines, which were wheeled down in to the water to protect the modesty of those inside. Constructed in neat, colourful little rows, the huts provided a place to change and a base for a day by the sea.
Gradually they changed in to the garden summer house by the sea, something people owned rather than hired, and their own little place by the waves.
Felixstowe, though, has been uncertain about what to do with its huts over the past 20 years as tourists' tastes have changed and people have deserted the seaside for inland theme parks and other hi-tech attractions.
Most of those at Manor End were evicted 15 years ago in readiness for the redevelopment of the south seafront with a modern attraction. The site was then left frustratingly empty as successive projects literally failed to get off the ground.
Hut owners, supported by then Ipswich MP Michael Irvine, battled hard to stop the eviction, and are now gearing-up for a fresh fight with new plans on the horizon for the 17-acre site.
But what will replace the last 58 huts? Coastal grasses and plants.
Many say that councillors need to carefully consider whether it is a wise move to replace regular day-tripper visitors to the resort, which in reality is still Ipswich-by-the-Sea, and its tourist trade, with foliage.
They may deter more people than they attract and lose trade at the same time.
Others claim that the south seafront development as planned is not going to regenerate the resort and attract more visitors, which they say is clear from a cursory look at the designs.
The fear is that a wooden galleon and a couple of play areas, an ampitheatre where people can play music if they want to and which is more likely to become a BMX bikers' den, and some gardens would be unlikely to bring people more than once out of curiosity, and certainly not out of season. All to provide 200 houses.
They say government advice on resort regeneration, which envisages all-year-round attractions, seems to have been ignored. As well as losing the beach huts, Felixstowe could be losing an opportunity.
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