Beach Huts, a British Relic from the Seaside

If shepherd’s huts are the next big thing in countryside living, they have a way to catch up with beach huts – the ultimate British seaside symbol for some years. Beach huts can change hands for as much as £35,000+ and can quickly hit a six-figure price tag in desirable locations.

Primarily associated with the traditional British bucket and spade holiday, beach huts are also found in other parts of the world, including Wimereux in France, Cape Town in South Africa, Nesodden in Norway and even Australia, where in 2016 one beach hut located in Brighton, Victoria sold for a record £285,000.

Beach huts
Beach Huts in Bournemouth


What is a Beach Hut?

beach hut

Sometimes also called beach cabins, beach boxes or bathing boxes, a beach hut is a small timber box usually brightly painted with a door and often with pretty basic accommodation inside.

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Situated above the high tide mark, beach huts are a base for people who want to spend all day on the beach. They provide somewhere to change for swimming and to shelter from the sun, wind or rain.

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They can also provide cooking facilities, with many containing a basic kitchenette supplied with bottled gas or even mains electricity.

A History of Beach Huts

Most people think that beach huts first appeared in the Victorian era, where huts on wheels were towed to the water’s edge to provide a safe and discrete place for bathers to get changed into a swimming costume. However, beach huts date back further than this.

As early as the 1700s, doctors were prescribing the sea as a cure for multiple illnesses and diseases, and it was this that heralded the advent of beach huts as the seaside became more than just a place for fishermen and smugglers.

Queen Victoria’s bathing machine (restored)

The earliest type of hut was known as a bathing machine, which was portable and drawn by horses. One at a time, people were taken from the top of the beach right down to the water’s edge, getting undressed as the horse made its way across the sand.

Bathing was done naked, for medicinal reasons, of course. The bather would be assisted by helpers known as ‘dippers’. Even King George III followed this trend and took a naked dip in the sea at Weymouth to help manage an illness called porphyria.

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The monarch performed his dip to the accompaniment of ‘God Save the King’, something we could all try after the Coronation of King Charles III in May!

Fast forward one hundred years, and by the time Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837, bathing machines had never been more popular, although bathing was done in swimming costumes due to the strict morality of the age.


Bathing-machines were a fixture at beaches all around England and the world during the very prudish 1800s and early 1900s. Women and men were not to swim (or bathe) together at swimming locales, but with the women’s rights movements that was to change. 

Queen Victoria continued the royal trend and installed her own beach hut at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight in the 1840s.

Male bathing machines had always been kept separate from the ladies, but by the 1900s, the UK wanted to keep up with the Continent and have men and women bathing together.

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In the early 20th century beach huts were regarded as something for the working classes, but royalty revived their image when George V and Queen Mary spent a day at a beach hut in Sussex.

As times changed and it became more common for people to walk around on the beach in their swimwear and sit on the sand, the bathing machine became largely redundant, and many were parked up at the top of the beach where they remained. This is the advent of the modern-day beach hut.

beach hut

Beach Huts during World War II

During World War II, all the beaches around the UK were closed, fortified, and many were mined. The beach huts remained unused and uncared for. In the late 1940s, when the beaches reopened, the British population rekindled its love of the traditional bucket and spade holiday and beach huts again became popular.

Rangers in Weymouth for D-Day
US troops ready to board landing ships at Weymouth, Dorset for the Normandy Invasion, May-June 1944.

20th Century Beach Huts

Many beach huts in the first half of the 20th century were often converted fisherman’s huts or boat sheds. Some of the first purpose-built huts appeared in Bournemouth on either side of the pier in 1909.

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These were available to hire for £12 10 shillings per year. Around 160 beach huts were built before the First World War. Now Bournemouth has over 500 beach huts owned by the council and a further 1,200 huts in private ownership.

beach hut

Many styles range from traditional wooden shed-like designs to uber-modern concrete terraced cabins at Overstrand. These were recently renovated using designs by the Red or Dead label founders Wayne and Geraldine Hemingway and styled as Beach Pods.

This seems to be a nautical reflection of the countryside fashion for shepherd’s huts and forest pods.

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A strange and rather quaint relic from another age, the popularity of the beach hut shows no signs of diminishing. However, buying a beach hut in the 21st century requires a lot of money and a very long wait.

Where to find Beach Huts in the UK

There are approximately 20,000 beach huts around the UK, with quite a concentration on beaches in the East of England. Prominent locations include the trendy town of Southwold in Suffolk, where in 2022, a local estate agent offered a beach hut for sale at £250,000 – a record price for Southwold.

This hut had no electricity or running water, and overnight accommodation was not permitted, so it was literally a painted wooden box.

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Other East Anglian locations include Lowestoft, Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton-on-Sea in Essex, but beach huts can be found further afield in Dorset, the Isle of Wight, Tankerton Slopes at Whitstable in Kent, Plymouth, Minehead in Somerset and Rotherslade in Swansea.

Who owns Beach Huts?

Depending on the location, some beach huts are privately owned and can sell for eye-watering amounts. Some owners will rent their huts out when they are not using them, but the local council owns the huts on some beaches.

The Asking Price for a Beach Hut

The popularity of beach huts shows no signs of diminishing, and prices are stacked accordingly depending upon the location and the amenities the hut offers. The highest prices are reserved for huts where you can stay overnight.

beach hut for sale
As reported in the Bournemouth Echo

A pre-war wooden chalet at West Bexington in Dorset sold at auction for £216,000 in 2006, and another on Mudeford Spit near Bournemouth for £170,000 in 2012.

Both offered overnight accommodation and were serviced with power and water, and local bylaws allowed overnight sleeping. More recent prices for this style of beach hut in Dorset have reached a staggering £500,000.

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A more normal price range would be anything from around £6,000 to £35,000, with the location’s popularity having just as significant an impact on the price as the amenities on offer.

A study in 2021 reported that the average asking price for a beach hut in the UK was £36,034, an increase from £25,578 twelve months earlier. In Brighton and Hove, there are more than 500 beach huts. In 1980, they cost just £100, and now asking prices start at £25,000.

Beach Huts for Hire

Due to a mix of local authority ownership and private huts being offered for rent, it is possible to just hire a beach hut alongside other holiday accommodation. However, good huts book up quickly and are just as popular as sought-after cottages and hotels.

Famous and Interesting Beach Huts

The late Queen Elizabeth II had a beach hut in Norfolk which was destroyed by fire in 2003. This hut had been in royal ownership for seventy years.

The famous artist, Tracey Emin, sold her beach hut in Whitstable to the equally renowned Charles Saatchi for a bargain price of £75,000. Sadly, this hut was stored in a warehouse and destroyed when it caught fire.

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In 2011, Bournemouth Council, who always seem to be trailblazers in beach hut innovation, erected a beach hut chapel on the sands to host weddings and civil partnerships as an approved venue. This hut is situated on the beach near the West Cliff lift.

Travel overseas along the coasts of Morocco and Portugal and you can enjoy the Truck Surf Hotel, a five-bedroomed accommodation built onto a truck designed to service the surfing community. It follows a weekly route and pattern.

What’s Inside a Beach Hut?

Most beach huts don’t have electricity or running water, so what’s inside is usually quite basic, although some are very comfortable and well-appointed. Most beach huts have some sort of seating and a table.

beach hut
Interior of a beach hut. Credit:

Some are fitted with a stove and kitchen unit, which can be powered by a gas bottle for some cooking facilities like frying bacon or boiling water.

Beach huts offer great storage, so you can keep spare towels, windbreaks and surfboards on the beach without having to pack the car and lug them back and forth. Solar-powered lighting has revolutionised beach huts.

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With just a small panel and a portable charging station, you can add fairy lights to your beach hut and power electronic devices.

Most beach huts are decorated in bright colours, and there is often an unwritten code about presentation and style manifested in a tendency to outdo the neighbours.

Some councils restrict the appearance and modification of beach huts, even those in private ownership, but the internal opportunities are limitless, for there is a quite a thriving industry around beach hut interior design.

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