Caravanning: a British holiday history

Caravanning: a British holiday history

"caravan"What events and pastimes have marked the development of the caravan as a model of holidaymaking in the UK?

The caravan might not look like an historical artefact, but it carries with it centuries of history and hundreds of stories. Indeed, whilst browsing used caravans for sale on a site such as Park Resorts we might not immediately intuit the magnitude or enduring popularity of this humble ‘travel trailer’.

Yet the caravan has its roots in one of the most enterprising, long-standing travelling peoples in the world – and its roots go back to way before the nineteenth century, though it wasn’t until pre-1900 that the caravan as holiday tradition began to make itself known.

Caravans have a long and varied European history, being the trailers of Romany Gypsies, an itinerant tribe of people who still move around the continent to this day.

Often earning their money through circus or horse shows, they would travel around in horse-drawn trailers, which contained their supplies and equipment. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that caravans actually became used as sleeping areas rather than storage units, and the Romany people gave up their tents.

The world’s first ‘leisure’ trailer – the prototypical caravan as we know it – was built by the Bristol Carriage Company in 1880 for Dr W-Gordon Stables. This advancement made significant ground in building the £1 billion industry that we know as caravanning today.

With this shift from caravan as storage to domicile, and its steady growth in popularity with British holidaymakers, we see the first organisations and caravanning groups forming in the very early twentieth century. In 1901the Camping and Caravanning Club was formed, followed in 1907 by, still going strong to this day.

Through membership of The Caravan Club, members gained access to small CLs (Certified Locations) – small sites of up to 5 trailers – as well as larger parks, and played a key role in the development of the pursuit and its popularity.

Alongside this we have the commercialisation of the industry, which along with outdoors movements and the influences of groups like the scouts, the mid to late twentieth century has seen the growth of holiday parks and designated caravanning areas that combine outdoors activities with caravanning community life.

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