The life and times of the humble caravan

Haven Holidays caravanSimple caravans breaks, at a holiday park by the seaside, are an integral part of the short-breaks we offer to struggling families all around the UK.  To recognise the unique part they play, we thought it would be fun to take a look at the history of the humble caravan.

A brief history of caravans

You can trace the origin of caravans back to the time of Charles Dickens (there is a reference in “The Old Curiosity Shop”), although they really started to gain popularity in the early twentieth century. The Caravan Club was formed in 1907 and by 1912 it boasted 267 members. Initially the preserve of the well-off, by the start of the 1920s mass production had made them cheaper and more accessible.

Caravan strip

By 1947 the first static caravans started to appear. Made from hardboard they were not the most robust of things and after a few seasons they had a tendency to warp! They were also pretty basic, fitted with gas lighting, a coal fire for heating and a single gas burner to cook on but no bathroom or running water. You’d have to wait until the end of the 1970s for those luxuries to be included!

The Holiday Camp concept

The holiday camp style of holiday became popular in the late Victorian era. The first, Cunningham Camp for men, opened on the Isle of Man in 1894. Campers stayed in tents with basic conditions which matched the fad for healthy living.

The inter-war period saw the annual holiday become part of the lives of large numbers of people for the first time. In the Edwardian age it had been a privilege enjoyed by the few, but by the end of the ‘thirties, 15 million people were going away to the coast each year for a week or two.

Billy Butlin’s big ideaButlin's poster

The concept of the Holiday Park we know today, with accommodation and additional amenities, went hand in hand with this social change. Billy Butlin was by no means the first, but when he opened his park in Skegness in 1936 the scale made it stand out. Catering for 2,000 fun-seeking holidaymakers the park boasted dining and recreation halls, a theatre, gymnasium, boating lake, tennis courts and
bowling and putting greens. Offering a week’s holiday for a week’s pay it was a huge success and by the time the war finished, Billy owned 5 camps, two of which could accommodate a staggering 5,500 people!

A golden age

The golden age of the holiday camp was in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. After the War there was a great rush to the coast. Many people had not had a holiday for years and could not wait to get away. The holiday camp provided what they were looking for. Prices were reasonable, food was plentiful – for the time – and there was loads to do, even when it was raining.

In 1957, around 18,000 new caravans were registered in the UK; by the end of the 1960s, this number had reached 53,000. The British Travel Association reported that one in seven holidays were in a caravan in the mid-sixties.

Holiday Parks