The Home of the Beach Huts

The Home of the Beach Huts

Preston in Paignton where the Beaches Guest House is situated is known as the “home of the beach huts” and lining the promenade of Preston Sands they stand with their brightly coloured doors having an uninterrupted view of the clear waters ahead.

The beach hut is very closely associated with the history of the seaside resort and goes back before the Victorians to the Regency period. At this time doctors began to prescribe the cold sea bath as the latest ‘cure-all’ remedy and the sick went to the coast to be treated taking their families with them. 

Not long after this  the bathing ‘machine’ was invented to offer greater privacy to those taking a therapeutic dip. In its original form this horse drawn carriage featured an enclosed room with a collapsible hood to shield patients as they were submitted naked to the waves by burly attendants called dippers. In 1789 George III gave royal approval to this new fashion when he took a medicinal bath at Weymouth to the musical accompaniment of ‘God Save the King.’

For than 150 years this was how the sea was experienced by bathers.

When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, bathing machines had already become an established feature of any seaside resort and in true Victorian fashion there were rules and etiquette designed to keep male bathing machines away from female bathing machines. This was often not adhered to as by the 1890s the demand for mixed bathing was getting stronger, due to it being the norm in parts of Europe as well as America. As it became more acceptable for people to walk across the beach in their bathing costumes some of the bathing machines began to lose their wheels and other, purpose-built, day huts began to appear.

In the inter-War period sunbathing was the new fashion and bathing machines, though still lingering on, were outdated and antiquated. New modern-looking blocks of beach huts or chalets were built near to huge lidos and everywhere had to have a sun terrace.

The last of the bathing machines disappeared with the Second World War and when the beaches had been cleared of barbed wire at the end of hostilities, the holiday makers came back in their millions. The 1950s was the heyday of the beach hut and today there’s a clear resurgence in interest, not least upon the Preston Promenade.