Beach hut back where it belongs

As a child Michael Whitaker played on Southwold beach and took shelter in the family beach hut, just as his father, his grandmother and his great-grandfather did.

As a child Michael Whitaker played on Southwold beach and took shelter in the family beach hut, just as his father, his grandmother and his great-grandfather did.

The beach hut was a humble fisherman's hut in his great-grandfather's day, and a hut on the very same site stayed in the family for 100 years - since before Southwold had a promenade or even a pier.

In 1986 it was sold, but now after a gap of more than 20 years, the hut is back in the family again. It has been rebuilt over the years - most recently this year, after it was damaged in storms last November - but still stands on the same site as Arthur Benjamin Smith's hut.

His great-grandson lives in Somerset and had no plans to invest in a Southwold beach hut. But when Mr Whitaker, 50, heard that the hut on the family site was up for sale, he could not resist.

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The father-of-two said: “I was down here last November, and Geoff Ladd, who repairs the beach huts, said 'You know your old hut is up for sale, and if you want to buy it you should make an offer on it.'

“I had no intention of buying a beach hut, ever. But it was a once in a lifetime chance. My wife and I looked at each other and said, 'Let's find a way of buying it'. If I hadn't done it I would have regretted it forever. It was like fate.”

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He does not want to reveal how much it cost, but intact beach huts typically change hands for £30-40,000. The sale went through in March and since then it has been rebuilt by Mr Ladd following the storm damage. And on Saturday 50 family members and friends from as far afield as South America and Australia, and as near as Yarmouth, gathered for the opening party and naming ceremony. It was called Aura Lee under its previous owners, but has been renamed Longshore Again, in honour of the name the family gave it, Longshore.

Colleen Whitaker, 81, Michael's mother, first used the beach hut more than 60 years ago, after she met her husband, and has been visiting the town since her childhood. She said things had changed a lot. “There are a lot more visitors now. Southwold used to be mostly inhabited by fishermen.

“I think the beach huts have become a bit more luxurious. The first one was never as grand as this! They used to cost a lot less, too.”

The hut passed from the Smiths to the Whitakers when Ida Mildred Smith, Mr Whitaker's grandmother, met William Snowdon Whitaker in a milliner's shop in the town centre. He was serving in the first world war, but they agreed that if he survived the war he would come back and marry her - and so it happened.

Mr Whitaker, a commander in the Royal Navy, said: “Being a Navy man I have no roots - I have lived all over the world. These are my roots, as far as I have any. I consider Southwold my family home, even though I have never lived here.”

Mrs Whitaker, who has 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said: “We love it. It is wonderful that it is back in the family.”

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