Friday, 3 September 2010

Humberstone Fitties

The Humberston Fitties Chalet Park is the last remaining (and now protected plotland) on the Lincolnshire Coast, it is an area just outside Cleethorpes that during the early twentieth century was easily accessible by train and motor car. ‘Fitties’ is a Lincolnshire term for a salt marsh and the area of marsh at Humberston was enclosed by the construction of sea bank so that it might be used as agricultural land (common practise on this stretch of coast). This provided a sheltered area immediately behind the sand dunes which by the later nineteenth century was being used as a site for tents and other shelters by holiday makers (Dowling, 2001). The land originally belonged to the estate of the Marquess of Lincolnshire who sold it in 1920 to the Humberston Fitties Company Ltd (sand and gravel extractors) who began the process of selling off plots, eventually coming under the authority of Grimsby Rural District Council. There was, inevitably, an interruption to such activity during the First World War when the coast was inaccessible to the general public but when normality returned in 1919 farmers saw the potential to increase their dwindling incomes by renting or selling plots of land to individuals who then built chalets, huts or shacks on the sites and thus the ‘plotland’ developed (Dowling, 2001; Hardy and Ward, 1984). This is precisely the way that the Humberston Fitties camp initially developed and it is indicative of how similar developments arose elsewhere on the east coast. Unlike many of the other plotlands of this period there is little evidence to suggest that the Lincolnshire plotlands supported a permanent community, forced to live there because of the lack of affordable working class housing post First World War. In his history of the Humberston Fitties camp, Alan Dowling (2001) points out that it is difficult to find the right terminology for the structures that started to spring up at Humberston; ‘chalets’, ‘bungalows’, ‘shacks’ etc all describe such makeshift structures; the fact that some might be constructed out of old omnibus bodies or railway carriages and others might be purpose made sectional wooden bungalows from companies such as Boulton and Paul only strengthened the sense of aesthetic outrage on the part of men like Scorer and Steers. Most makeshift landscapes in Lincolnshire seemed to consist of a combination of both of these types and clearly indicates that those who occupied such plotlands were from a range of income levels and lifestyles. This reflects the kind of divisions that Holtby identifies in her description of the shacks in South Riding, the Holly’s in their converted railway carriages, the Mitchells in their corrugated tin hut. It also indicates that there were some wealthier individuals who deliberately chose to enjoy a holiday in a makeshift environment rather than the more usual seaside accommodation of guest house or hotel, perceiving the lifestyle to be more authentic, more natural and linking to the popularity of romanticised ideals of the ‘gipsy’ lifestyle, a more bohemian experience. This can be ascertained from Dowling’s investigations into the early owner of properties on the Fitties, they included bankers, estate agents, florists, butchers, fishermen, hairdressers and general practitioners. None of the original occupants appear to have been forced there by poverty; rather they represent those wanting to enjoy their leisure time in a coastal environment for the reasons outlined in earlier chapters. Dowling cites an example of this as remembered by one early Fitties resident: 

Servants were brought along if anyone had them. My mother allowed hers to do without her cap when camping. I was never allowed to present anyone with a cup of tea unless it was one a small tray... when silver teapots appeared my father thought it was the beginning of the end...

(Dowling, p.34, 2001)

Dowling’s research also reveals that a majority of those visiting the Fitties during the inter war period were relatively local, from Grimsby and Cleethorpes with a few more distant visitors from the industrial midlands. Between 1920 and 1929 the camp expanded from one wooden bungalow to 153 buildings causing Grimsby RDC to impose a planning restriction on the site, by 1939 there were 174 including 54 actually in the sand hills themselves. Such developments lead to a long and complex process of negotiation with the RDC and the eventual adoption of the site by them, it is because of this local authority intervention and the tenacious efforts of several Fitties residents that it is not only still in existence but in 1995 became a conservation area.

Dowling A (2001) Humberston Fitties: The Story of a Lincolnshire Plotland, Cleethorpes: Dowling 13/09/09

Hardy D and Ward C (1984) Arcadia for All: The Legacy of a Makeshift Landscape, Five Leaves: Nottingham

Holtby W (1936) South Riding: An English Landscape, London: Collins

Mills D (ed.) (1989) Twentieth Century Lincolnshire, Lincoln: Yard

Robinson D (1981) The Book of the Lincolnshire Seaside, Buckingham: Baron

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