After the Scottish Hutters Rally and the afternoon visit to the Carbeth hutting site which has survived since the 1920s, I did some digging around looking for similar sites in England and Wales. As soon as I found the word “plotlands”, I started finding these sites all over. There’s an overview of the breadth of their distribution in the early twentieth century in “Town and Country” by Barnett and Scruton:
By the end of that century another form of unofficial settlement had appeared, known first as ‘bungalow towns’ and later as the ‘plotlands’.
They hoped, on their plots costing between £5 and £50, to start a smallholding or chicken farm, or simply to build a holiday home or country retreat. The word evokes a landscape of a gridiron of grassy tracks, sparsely filled with army huts, old railway coaches, sheds, shanties and chalets, slowly evolving into ordinary suburban development.
In the south-east of England, the plotland landscape was to be found in pockets across the North and South Downs, along the Hampshire plain, and in the Thames Valley at riverside sites like Penton Hook, Marlow Bottom and Purley Park. It was interspersed among the established holiday resorts on the coasts of East and West Sussex at places like Shoreham Beach, Pett Level, Dungeness and Camber Sands, and most notoriously of all, at Peacehaven. It crept up the east coast, from Sheppey in Kent to Lincolnshire, by way of Canvey Island and the Jaywick Sands, and clustered inland all across south Essex.
Nor was the plotland phenomenon confined to the south-east. Every industrial conurbation in Britain once had these escape routes to the country, river or sea. For the West Midlands there were sites along the Severn Valley; for the Liverpool and Manchester conurbations, places in North Wales and the Wirral; for Glasgow, the Ayrshire coast and even the banks of Loch Lomond. Serving the West Yorkshire towns and cities there was the Yorkshire coast and the Humber estuary, and for those of Tyneside and Teesside, the coasts of Northumberland and Durham. It is as though a proportion of the population was obeying an instinct or a natural law in seeking out a place where they could build for themselves.
I’m going to keep posting references to the text, images, and video footage of this once widespread but now almost entirely forgotten way of connecting to the countryside.