> Camping & Caravanning

Camping and Caravanning

A 1933 Standard Little 12 saloon motor car on a caravan tour.

From a caravan weekend at the seaside to tenting at a festival, camping and caravanning are a popular holiday choice. In the late 19th century, these pursuits were often deemed as a curiosity, but as the motor car became more widely available they boomed in popularity. 

Today, as more Britons are choosing to holiday at home, campsites are welcoming bumper bookings, making camping and caravanning as popular as ever.


A jug taken from a ceramic dinner service issued with Cheltenham caravans in the 1930s.

The very first leisure touring caravan The Wanderer was designed and commissioned in 1885 by Scottish born doctor and author William Gordon Stables (1837–1910). This horse-drawn Land Yacht was inspired by traditional Romany caravans and built by the Bristol Wagon Works Company.

The Wanderer was seen as quite a novelty on its first 1300 mile trip from Twyford in Berkshire to Inverness in Scotland.

Caravanning soon became popular among the wealthy who owned luxurious horse-drawn caravans and often took servants on tour with them. In 1907 a group of eleven enthusiasts met to form The Caravan Club of Great Britain and Ireland, now known as the Caravan and Motorhome Club.

In 1919 Eccles became the first company to mass produce smaller, lighter and more affordable caravans. These vans could be towed by the increasingly popular motor car. Caravanning became more popular in Britain.

By the 1960s caravanning had reached its golden age. In this decade the output of new cars more than doubled which also led to the boom in caravan manufacture. In 1957 around 18,000 new caravans were registered in the UK, by the end of the 1960s this number had risen to 53,000.

In particular, the manufacturer Caravans International was unrivalled in its output. In the early 1970s the company produced 35,000 touring caravans a year, a number greater than the total UK output of new vans in 2008.


Lightweight cycle campers relaxing at a Caravan Club Rally in 1914. Courtesy of the Caravan and Motorhome Club

From Native American tipis to makeshift military camps, tents have been used as shelter for centuries. However, camping as a leisure activity only became popular in the 1900s.

Thomas Hiram Holding, a tailor by trade, developed a passion for the outdoors as a child when he travelled across America in a wagon train. Holding was a keen cyclist and canoeist who began to design compact tents and camping equipment. He became hailed as a pioneer of lightweight camping.

In 1901 Holding co-founded the Association of Cycle Campers (later known as The Camping Club) with other enthusiasts. There were many women members despite the frequent scandal provoked by a cycling lady revealing her ankle!

By the 1950s, lightweight camping became less popular. The rise in availability of the motor car provided transport for large heavy-framed tents that could accommodate the whole family. As more campers struggled to squeeze themselves and bulky tents into the car the trailer tent was developed.

Today, camping has come full circle, with new materials and technologies enabling a new generation of lightweight and portable shelters.

Site by Surface Impression