Angela Willis, Curator, Caravan and Motorhome Club Collection
In the early part of the twentieth century, a growing number of ladies and gentlemen took up outdoor leisure activities in the pursuit of good health. Touring in a horse-drawn caravan became increasingly popular, by 1907 The Caravan Club of Great Britain and Ireland (today known as the Caravan and Motorhome Club) was formed in order to bring together and support its enthusiasts. At the Club’s historic Collection, hosted here at the National Motor Museum, we have launched a fascinating research project which aims to uncover and share the stories of the organisation’s founding and pioneer members.
Held in the Club’s Collection are two small printed booklets, which despite looking very insignificant hold the key to unlocking the personal stories of the trailblazers of the caravan holiday. Printed inside is the name and address of every Caravan Club member from the years 1910 and 1913. Much is known of some of our more prominent members such as founder J Harris Stone, whose stories have been told widely. Yet for most of the names held in the archives, we know little or nothing of the people behind them.
I have delved a little into these booklets in the past, most recently for a project commemorating 100 years of Votes for Women, where I undertook a little research on the ladies listed. I quickly happened upon some incredible stories, including a brave Club member who was a Suffragette arrested and imprisoned in Holloway for her militant protests. I have often wondered how many other stories were hidden behind the names that were listed, and I am delighted that we have now begun to uncover them.
Nick Hargreaves, a Club member who is a volunteer at the Collection, is undertaking the fascinating task of researching these pioneering caravan personalities. Drawing on the vast experience gained from researching his own family history, Nick has begun weaving census records and newspaper reports together with the historic documents and photographs held in the Club’s Collection.
Often referred to as ‘Gentleman Gypsies’, the term has long painted a picture of caravan pioneers being a group of men from the leisured and professional classes. A quick glance at Club membership records already dispel the ‘gentleman’ aspect, with one third of Club members being women in the years before the First World War. There are many other questions that we have about the lives of these early members, and we aim to gain a better idea of the demographic which took part in the hobby at the time. How old were they? What were their professions? Who were their families? Were they more likely to live in urban or rural areas? We also hope to go further and glean more specific information, such as what happened to the men listed in the 1913 roll during the First World War?
The project is a huge but fascinating task, and we can’t wait to find out what surprises are waiting for us. We aim to share some of these stories as we find them, and plan to use the research to form the basis of our future programme of exhibitions, outreach events and social media content.