In 1885 William Gordon Stables (1840–1910), a former naval surgeon turned author, took his specially-designed caravan, the ‘Wanderer’, drawn by two horses, to Scotland. He also took his manservant Foley, who did his washing and cooking, and rode on ahead on a tricycle to check the roads and bridges could take the two-tonne vehicle.
Stables’s bestselling book about his adventures started a craze for recreational caravanning. The Caravan Club was formed in 1907 and wealthy folks went off on adventures with their servants and horse-drawn homes.
Caravanning declined after the First World War until the appearance of new lightweight caravans, which could be towed by car. So caravanning as we know it now really began in the 1930s, as it came within the financial reach of the middle classes – although it was prompted as much by the American craze for ‘tin can tourism’ as by Stables.
By the way, the best performance by a 1930s caravan in a British film is at the climax of Powell & Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale (1944), and if it doesn’t have you crying buckets, you’re not normal.
The Caravan Club today has around 370,000 families on its list, which amounts to a million people in all, about half of the UK caravanning population.
Answered by: Eugene Byrne, author and journalist