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When storms washed away Gorleston's beach huts

PUBLISHED: 08:00 15 September 2019

Victims of a 1969 storm, a half-century ago: beach huts at Gorleston in danger of being smashed by the sea.

Victims of a 1969 storm, a half-century ago: beach huts at Gorleston in danger of being smashed by the sea.

Archant

It was only recently that I mentioned here the famous Peggotty's Hut, a fictional dwelling created from an upturned boat on Great Yarmouth beach in the 19th century.

When beach huts and tents were prolific on Gorleston's beach, possibly just before or soon after the war.When beach huts and tents were prolific on Gorleston's beach, possibly just before or soon after the war.

Author Charles Dickens visited here while penning David Copperfield in which the unusual home featured.

For all the wrong reasons, currently beach huts - for leisure, not living in, Dickens style - are a much-discussed topic, our borough council being criticised by the townsfolk for an expensive Gorleston scheme apparently attracting minimal interest from buyers (reportedly at nearly £20,000 each) or renters.

I have lived in Gorleston for most of my life, and Mrs Peggotty and I often stroll along the entire Lower Promenade, these days usually accompanied by our son's dog. Therefore we have an interest in developments (like the children's Splash!) and are qualified to express an opinion as resident and sea-front lovers.

In my view, and that of others to whom we chat on our perambulations, the beach huts scheme seems to have been devised without proper research by people with little first-hand knowledge of the site at that farthest end of the esplanade.

How it once looked: Gorleston beach, breakwater and pier in 1887.How it once looked: Gorleston beach, breakwater and pier in 1887.

For starters, our golden pebble-free beach is at its narrowest there whereas it widens considerably all the way to the breakwater at the other end. Also, beach hut users have to descend steps to the sands, I believe, not a slope.

Few strollers go beyond JJ's popular promenade café. Perhaps that handful of beach hut occupants - owners and renters - prefer their privacy without perpetual passers-by, although I doubt it.

Had the planners sited the very expensive huts farther along, perhaps near the Ravine, those owners and renters would find them an attractive talking-point for passing promenaders and might have persuaded some potential new neighbours contributing towards the council's outlay and thus mitigating some of the criticism.

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Also, resiting might have meant convenient public toilets, eliminating the need for the purpose-built private block (albeit with showers) for those new hut occupants.

As for the wooden huts the council hopes will be bought or hired (at riviera rates), to a passer-by the twin doors seem not to open fully, thus reducing the limited verandah area. Is there enough room for, say, three chairs there?

Readers can be excused for thinking the obvious: surely the occupants can put their deckchairs on the Lower Promenade itself where foot-fall is sparse.

If my information is correct, hut owners can spread their chairs and loungers on to the promenade, provided they are not obstructing the right-of-way or encroaching on their neighbours' territory.

So we were surprised to be told that while owners, their families and guests can overspill on to the "prom", renters are forbidden from even placing a chair there and have to squeeze on to their small verandah.

If that is so, why on earth was that unsociable "them-and-us" stipulation included in the rules and regulations? Who on earth devised that clause, if it is so?

Perhaps the sky-high purchase and rental charges and unimpressive location are not in themselves off-putting to prospective occupants. Do's and don'ts, can and can'ts, might well be powerful influences. Whatever the downsides, let us hope the hut users enjoy Gorleston's sea-front as much as the Peggottys and other strollers do.

The summer of 2019 is drawing to a close, and it is reported that the Town Hall has acknowledged its over-ambitious approach and more huts are available to rent because of poor sales. Might we expect radical changes next summer reducing the chalets' sale price to attract buyers, recouping some of the capital outlay borne by council tax payers, and eliminating some of the criticism?

Older residents will recall that Gorleston's main beach once boasted umpteen huts and tents for hire, used by families as a base and by bathers wanting to change discreetly without gymnastic contortions behind a towel.

Sadly, a 1969 gale ravaged the beach, wrecking many huts.

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