What to do and see in Frinton-on-Sea this summer
PUBLISHED: 11:25 14 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:38 14 August 2018
From weatherboarded beach huts to famous names treading the boards at the Summer Theatre, Frinton on Sea has an elegance that makes it stand out brightly as a seaside resort, says Petra Hornsby
People choose their favourite seaside locations for various reasons and, fortunately for the British, we have seaside towns that between them offer us, pretty much, anything we may want.
Frinton on Sea, like neighbouring towns along the Essex coast, became a Victorian hot-spot thanks to developer Peter Bruff, but it was Robert Powell Cooper who had a vision beyond brass bands, amusements and donkey rides.
He wanted something a bit more cosmopolitan and thus set the tone for a more conservative resort which would attract the upper echelons of society.
If you want the arcades and pier-based amusements, beach side burgers and bags of candy floss, then you won’t find them in Frinton.
You will find family-friendly beaches with safety patrols, a huge greensward for picnicking and game playing while the tide is in and a town centre with independent shops, cafes and plenty of opportunities for buying ice cream or – for the international palate, gelato.
A key part of Frinton’s attraction for many visitors and residents is the town’s beach huts – all 1,100 of them.
Stretching from the golf course to the south and along the promenade north towards Walton on the Naze, these desirable shelters from the elements have a history that dates back even before the Victorians, although these fervent seaside-goers still made full use of them.
Once referred to as bathing machines, beach huts were essentially a place for Victorian bathers to protect their modesty while changing into their swimming attire. On wheels, the huts would be pulled into the sea, where bathers could plunge straight in. Even Queen Victoria had her own personal bathing machine, although it would seem she didn’t, sadly, put hers to good use during a trip to Frinton.
Julie Dunning has been renting the same beach hut for a week every summer since her daughters were toddlers. She explains: “I live and work in Sudbury. Although not too far away, it is still a bit of a drive but it is well worth it. We love the beach hut – it is a home from home for us for the week.
“We come every day and, if it’s a wet day, we sit and play board games. We pack a cool box for picnics and the hut has a gas ring for boiling a kettle for warming drinks. When the weather is good we play games on the sand, walk into town and sit and watch the sunset.
“My girls are in their twenties and still love coming. We have made some good friends over the years and there are plenty of people keen to visit us during our beach hut week. Frinton has an old-fashioned appeal; I like that it hasn’t changed much over the years. It really doesn’t need to.”
Peter Dias is chairman of the Frinton Beach Hut Association and is typical of someone whose short stays in Frinton, along with the family beach hut, eventually brought him and his wife to full-term residency in the town. He understands fully the desirability of having a beach hut, but he explains that, as lovely as they are, they are vulnerable.
“I got involved with the association as there had been a spate of break-ins and security was an issue. Their design makes them easy to access for vandals and people were losing precious personal items.
We campaigned for some time for some help and I am pleased that Mike Carran from Tendring District Council has offered us his support, and we seem to have turned the corner. We have night-time patrols and, on certain dates, the patrols run all through the night. We also advise on how to make the bottom sections of the stable-style doors more secure.”
Although the town does have a conservative image, the hut owners have been allowed to let rip with a bit of decorating to jazz up the promenade and give Suffolk’s famous beach huts at Southwold a run for their money.
Peter clarifies: “Before around 2003, the huts were mostly just stained brown wood. Now, owners can paint theirs in pastel colours. One owner, in tribute to his love of Battenburg cake, painted his hut accordingly and has named it Huttenburg!”
Peter adds: “The huts are like a home from home and a great way for families to enjoy the seaside. We have grandchildren who, when visiting, love the beach and the hut.
“We make full use of it. The Frinton Beach Hut Association has also initiated the return of the swimming rafts which were popular back in the 1950s; they are placed along the seashore and are great for youngsters to swim to.”
Another great symbol of Frinton’s enduring character is its rather famous little theatre. The theatre has been attracting audiences since it opened in 1937 and, over the years, the theatre has maintained its charm and traditions, such as asking the audience to stand for the national anthem before each show.
Many great British actors have experienced the delights of the Frinton Theatre summer season at the start of their careers, including Vanessa Redgrave, Gary Oldman and Timothy West, while Richard Wilson is the theatre’s patron.
Angela Gostling is communications director for the venue and has been a trustee since it became a fully registered charity last year, as well as an enthusiast for several years.
“The Frinton Summer Theatre is an authentic experience and not much has changed since the 1930s, something that audiences seem to love.
“People come from all over North Essex to watch performances and people visiting the town for the summer will often book their stays around our dates. We certainly enjoy good numbers and are frequently at capacity.
“This year we have a first; we have been given permission to stage a full-scale musical production of Fiddler on the Roof in a tent, situated on the Greensward. As always there will be a fully professional cast and stage crew with Friends of Frinton Theatre managing front of house.”
As well as a full weekly programme in the home of Frinton Theatre, the McGrigor Hall, this year there is a comedy night at the golf club and two music nights at the Lawn Tennis Club.
Angela is also promoting a project that calls on the memories of those who have been involved with the theatre over the years, from those closely involved in productions to keen audience members.
Angela explains more about the Frinton Theatre Listening Project. “The theatre has been going for almost 80 years and many people who still attend remember quite a way back. We are keen for people to record their memories in a special booth which will be open through the summer from July 4.
“We are working with the Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust and contributions will be collated and included in a book about the history of the theatre.”
For the theatre, for the beach and for the town itself, it seems that preserving a sense of timelessness in times where change is expected and even demanded, is what Frinton manages to do very well and will, no doubt, continue to do so for years to come.
Find out more
For a full programme of events associated with the Frinton Theatre, and to book tickets, visit frintonsummertheatre.org