04 June 2019

Brits and their beach huts

Is this a purely British concept? The idea of paying thousands of pounds for what is basically a small shed, which, most of the time, is only used for a few hours on a few days of the year and which, mostly, can’t even be overnighted in?
Eastbourne 'bathing machine', August 2014

Apparently not, as huts can now be found in countries like France and Norway, though the idea does seem to have evolved from the bathing huts that prudish Victorians would have wheeled into the sea so they could enter and leave the water in relative privacy. 

The brightly striped ‘bathing machine’ outside the Langham Hotel in Eastbourne is a wonderful example, this one lovingly restored by a former owner of the hotel, Julian Martyr.

From those humble beginnings, the hut evolved into a fixed beachside structure and the concept didn’t only become popular in Britain, but also travelled with the Brits to their colonies abroad – particularly noteworthy are the vibrantly coloured ‘bathing boxes’ in the Brighton of the south, in Melbourne, Australia.  

Beach huts in Lyme Regis, December 2017

According to Wikipedia, there are now around 20,000 beach huts in Britain. In recent years, there has even been a competition, sponsored by insurance company Towergate, to find Britain’s best beach hut of the year – see here and the 2015 finalists here. One particularly luxurious ‘hut’, in a ‘desirable’ location in Dorset, that had a fully-fitted kitchen and the capacity to sleep six people, was for sale in 2018 for £270,000! 

Beach huts in Seaford, March 2019

The practical purpose of a beach hut is, of course, to have somewhere to change into and out of your bathing costume; to store the buckets and spades, deck chairs and sun umbrella; to make a cup of tea and perhaps prepare your picnic lunch, maybe have a barbeque; and, of course, this being Britain, to shelter from the ubiquitous rain. Personally, I like a bit more privacy than these huts provide, jammed as they are cheek by jowl with a host of other huts, and my ideal beach experience is more about long, empty spaces to walk, but I know people hold treasured memories of spending their summer days at huts like these.

Those same Seaford beach huts in summer, July 2018

My eye is drawn to the design of the different huts and their wonderful vibrant colours, and the way they sit in the land- or town-scape. They are very photogenic, and I hope to find more to photograph.

Beach huts on Barry Island, in south Wales, February 2019

29 May 2019

Barry : a drinking fountain

During a recent thirst-inducing walk along the coastal path from Rhoose to Barry, I was delighted to notice an old drinking fountain when we finally reached Barry’s Cold Knap Park. Unfortunately, the fountain no longer works so we were ‘forced’ to visit a cafe across the road from the park, where they also sold nice cakes – a real hardship! But I have a bit of a thing about old drinking fountains (see my post on Penarth’s drinking fountains here and some in Cardiff here, so I’ve been trying to find out more about this one.

It seems the lack of drinking water has long troubled visitors to this area: in the Barry Dock News of 14 September 1906 an article reported the minutes of the latest Council meeting, at which the issue of a water supply for Romilly Park had been raised – that park is just across the road from Cold Knap Park, which did not exist at the time (that same newspaper contained an article reporting that the trustees of the Romilly Estate had decided to sell the land along the foreshore between Barry and Porthkerry where Cold Knap Park is now located).

And, in a letter to the Barry Dock News published on 26 August 1910, ‘Holiday-seeker’ raised the scandal of ‘pleasure-seekers’ picnicking at Cold Knap having to pay twopence to a local farmer for a kettleful of water to prepare tea – outrageous!

According to a Coflein report I managed to locate (Coflein is the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales), the main construction phases of Cold Knap Park can be dated to the 1920s, and the Knap
Lido, which was located within the park and was one of the largest open-air swimming pools in Britain in its heyday, was opened on 1 May 1926. (The Lido closed in 1996, its buildings were demolished and the pool filled in during 2004.) So, I assume the drinking fountain also dates from the mid 1920s.

This date ties in well with an unofficial comment about the fountain that I found on the Friends of the Knap Gardens Facebook page. 

The post, dated 31 August 2016, contained comments about the recent sprucing up and painting of the old drinking fountain, and local resident Joanne Creek commented that she believed the drinking fountain had been installed in 1926 and had been cast by Goulds foundries of Barry – the firm of W. H. Gould, Iron and Brass Founder, was based nearby in Barry Dock. 

Joanne had also been lobbying the local council to have the water supply reinstated but, sadly, had not been successful.

The Coflein report confirms that the drinking fountain is, indeed, made of fluted cast iron, with two bowls on one side, and I have since discovered that the bottom bowl was intended for use by dogs needing a drink – brilliant idea! 

The structures within Cold Knap Park are Grade-II listed so I hope this means the drinking fountain will be protected for future generations to admire, if not to use. I’m sure the local Friends group will be keeping a watchful eye on it.

26 May 2019

East Sussex : Rye windmill

I realised when compiling my previous blog, in celebration of National Mills Weekend, that I had never written about one of the windmills I’ve visited in East Sussex, the one located in the historic old town of Rye.

This grade-II-listed building is a reconstructed smock mill and it sits alongside the river Tillingham, a very short walk from the centre of Rye, but this is not the first mill to have been built on this site. According to the windmill owner’s website, which references the 1594 Symondons map of Rye, there has been a mill here since at least the sixteenth century. It goes on:

The first recorded owner of a Rye Mill was Thomas Chatterton who built a 'post mill' in 1758. After his death his widow, Mary, passed it on to a Frederick Barry who demolished the 'post mill' in 1820 to erect a 'Smock Mill', similar to the one we see today. Milling continued until 1912 when the premises became a bakery. Eventually to be owned by the Webbs, a well regarded family of Rye bakers who were to become custodians of the Windmill for over 60 years.

Unfortunately, on a Friday 13th in 1930, the ovens of the bakery overheated and destroyed the wooden structure on the mill, leaving just the two story brick base. The mill was reconstructed in 1932 and it continued as a bakery until 1976. The ovens were put to good use when the mill became a pottery. The original oven doors can be seen in the base of the Windmill.

Since 1984, the mill has operated as bed and breakfast accommodation – now wouldn’t that be a special place for a weekend away? (No, I’m not on commission and I haven’t stayed there ... yet.) You can find out more about the mill and see some wonderful old images, both photographs and paintings, on its website.