Oxwich Bay chalets in the news

Oxwich Leisure Park has one of the chalet communities of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, and they had the result of their appeal to the Supreme Court yesterday and unfortunately it was bad news. Their service charges will continue to increase by 10% a year, and whereas currently they pay £3000, by the time the leases expire they will each need to pay over £1,000,000 every year. On hearing the outcome, residents were describing their chalets as now worthless.

The court sympathised with the residents but upheld their annual service charge contracts which were signed in 1974. These contracts  agreed to an increase of 10% per year, when inflation was 16% and when 10% looked attractive.  However, the various measures of inflation have been much less for almost all of the intervening years and in 2015 the CPI measure of the cost of living is actually falling. Against that background, 10% per year leads to eye watering increases: £90 per year in 1974 has now become £3000 and will be £1,025,004 each by the end of the leases in 2073.

Despite the harshness of their situation, the judges observed that signing a fixed rate of increase amounted to placing a bet about inflation which could equally well have benefitted the tenants rather than the landowner if things had been different. Nevertheless, there is the possibility of a better outcome, as the landowner repeated her offer to renegotiate the terms of the contract in the tenants’ favour.

The Gower Peninsula has several “chalet field” communities, and the Oxwich chalets appear to be quite modern in style and (re)built in brick rather than the wooden huts I’ve blogged about elsewhere and that are well represented on other Gower sites which I’m planning to blog about in the future.

Braystones beach huts, Cumbria

Last month we visited Braystones on the Cumbrian coast, within sight of the mountains of the Lake District and near to the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site. There have been huts on the beach here since before the First World War and two or three dozen remain. Locally they are referred to as “beach bungalows” but they are clearly part of the tradition of wooden huts and chalets we see across this island.

Beach bungalows at Braystones

I found out about these huts from this striking photo on Flickr taken by Gordon Edgar (which he has kindly allowed me to reproduce here.) You can see the beach bungalows in the foreground on the shore, a train on the single-line coastal railway, some of the Tarnside caravan park behind, then the industrial buildings of Sellafield, and then finally the high ground that eventually becomes the mountains of the Lake District.

Behind the huts is Braystones railway station, and there is another cluster of them a bit further along the coast at Nethertown.

This whole area is called Lowside Quarter and PastPresented has an excellent archive of historical photos and documents about the beach bungalows.

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While we were photographing the huts, we got talking to Jack, the owner of The Lobster Pot and Summerville semi-detached huts. You can rent Summerville during the summer (mail me if you want their contact details) and it’s very nicely fitted out and comfortable. Definitely a bungalow rather than an unfurnished hut now! Jack has lived here for decades and in the short time we were there he told us lots of stories about living on the beach, including being able to take his boat out to catch fish and lobsters whenever he felt like it. He also has a collection of photographs of the huts in the past, some of which you can see in the Henson Collection on PastPresented.

There first picture in this blog might give the impression the beach bungalows are rather precarious and might be swept away, but sand and pebbles are banked up to create a breakwater and they are well above the high water mark. Behind the breakwater is a roadway that was good enough for Royal Mail to make deliveries while we were there.

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Even so, there was one ruined hut at the end that was in the process of being destroyed by the elements. The front wall had come off and the foundations were being eroded, leaving some of the wall posts hanging from the remains of the roof and gently swaying in the sea breeze.

Braystones is definitely the harshest hutting environment I’ve visited, but if you compare my pictures with the historical photos on PastPresented you can see much of the original structures have survived.

There are other styles of hut elsewhere on the Cumbrian coast. One community I’ve yet to visit has been blogged about by Alen McFadzean: the Black Huts on dunes further south near Barrow in Furness.

Update: in 2016, Paul Merton visited Braystones for Channel 4. Naturally, he talked to Jack at the Lobster Pot.

Moving to Hutters.uk

uk-logoI’ve been blogging here on WordPress for almost a year now, and today we’re moving from wrekin.wordpress.com to hutters.uk . The new name is shorter, better describes the content, is easier to remember, and above all is easier to scribble on a scrap of paper when you’re talking to someone next to their hut!

The name also matches the Hutters.uk Facebook group.

Originally I’d planned to blog more about woodland and forestry topics, and they will still appear now and then. I’m also hoping to do more about the cross over between huts and woods, and continue cataloguing the plotlands, log cabins, huts, chalets etc etc we have in this island and beyond.

Hut, cabins, chalets, or sheds?

One of the features of this whole subject is the number of names there are for very similar types of buildings. Last week I visited the beach bungalows in Braystones (blog and pictures coming next week) and so added a fifth word to my growing list even if “bungalow” is more normally associated in Britain with conventional brick buildings.

“Hut” is the preferred term at Carbeth north of Glasgow, and is used by Reforesting Scotland’s “Thousand Huts” campaign and has a definition the  Scottish planning policy:

Hut: A simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation (ie. not a principal residence); having an internal floor area of no more than 30m2; constructed from low impact materials; generally not connected to mains water, electricity or sewerage; and built in such a way that it is removable with little or no trace at the end of its life. Huts may be built singly or in groups.

Not all huts (even at sites like Carbeth) meet those conditions, but you get the idea. “Hut” also gives us “hutting” and “hutters”, and connects to the Norwegian “hytte” tradition and on to the wider northern European practice of owning huts or summerhouses for overnight stays in the countryside or even on allotments.

Beach huts, which are concentrated on the southeast coasts of England although not exclusive to them, are also huts but mostly on the shed end of the spectrum, often with no windows and just double doors on the beach side. Sheds in gardens and allotments are a world in themselves, with sites like Readers’ Sheds organising annual competitions which are covered by Channel4.

Along with “hut”, the name “log cabin” is naturally associated with woodland structures due to the traditional way of constructing buildings from whole trunks or sections of them.

Finally,  “chalet” is a word borrowed from the Alps and suggests something a bit more sophisticated than a hut. The Plotlands preferred chalets to huts, and the Humberston Fitties still do.

Despite the name and the differences, there’s still a common “hutting” thread. When I visit these sites, so many of the buildings have a look to them. Here I’ve picked out some of the pictures from my blogs, showing huts in East Yorkshire, Cheshire, Humberston, West Midlands, and Cumbria – spread over hundreds of miles but all clearly part of the same tradition.  I could have included pictures from Carbeth to extend this a hundred miles further north too.