Caravanning: a brief history

archive-imageIn the UK, it is estimated that there are 550,000 touring caravans in use, and with an average of over £1.8 billion spent annually on caravan holidays across Great Britain in recent years*, caravanning is big business. But where did this important contributor to UK tourism start its humble beginnings? Leading towbars specialist Bosal looks at the history of the caravan.  

With 1.5 million of us now taking regular caravan trips every year, it’s safe to say that caravanning has evolved somewhat from its origins more than a century ago. It has grown into a hugely popular pastime with the British, offering an experience that is significantly more comfortable than what its early pioneers would have known. Although the spirit of adventure and freedom associated with caravanning remains, never could they have imagined that it would grow into a such a cherished aspect of British culture.

Early roots

In 1885, the Bristol Carriage Company received an order from a wealthy Dr. W Gordon-Stables to build a caravan for recreational purposes, and named this first model the ‘Wanderer’.

Popularity grew, thanks to the establishment of ‘The Caravanning Club’ in 1901, soon followed by The Caravan Club, founded in 1907 by Mr Harris Stone. By the 1920s, camping as a holiday was becoming more of an appealing option and several similar clubs established the practice of caravanning as a legitimate UK holiday. At around the same time, the concept also began spreading to the US and other parts of Europe and a decade later, holiday camping had established itself as a family activity.

Post war production

With all attention and resources diverted to matters of war, caravan production all but drew to a halt. Post war, the caravan business was booming, thanks in part to hands that had become more adept at making equipment for the war effort. Caravanning became more affordable with the introduction of the ‘Enterprise’ which was small, perfectly formed and mass produced. This paved the way a decade later for some revolutionary changes in caravan design and production, as the 1950s saw manufacturing caravans on the assembly line, as manufacturers discovered they could produce many more units at a fraction of the cost. More efficient production gave designers more financial flexibility with research and development – we were now talking lighter materials, larger floor plans, and amenities that included fully equipped kitchens, lavatory facilities and awnings.

A prosperous era

Caravanning was no longer only accessible to those with deeper pockets; the lifestyle was also now being enjoyed by the average UK consumer. This meant that caravans had become a source of cheap holidays, particularly when hiring on caravan sites which had become more prevalent around the country. Touring caravanning was also on the up as the 1960s came around, due to the increase in distance that caravans could be towed and the amount of people owning a vehicle. Economic prosperity as well as reductions in the prices of caravans also meant that the Great British public’s love affair with caravanning was firmly established. There was more of a focus on increased comfort and space, as well as an improvement in site facilities that offered better washing and toilet amenities. Getting home from work on Friday and enjoying weekend escapes had never appealed more.

Plastic fantastic

The evolution of the caravan was complete: it had become a home on wheels. Only escalating fuel prices in the 1970s could hamper progress; it wasn’t until the early 80s that the lengthy slump gave way to better economics and a renewed desire to get out and see the countryside, which saw caravanning making a strong comeback. The introduction of plastic windows and other material changes made caravans stronger and lighter. New manufacturers and TV advertising campaigns were allowing families to embrace affordable luxury that enabled caravanning to become the holiday lifestyle choice throughout the 80s and 90s.

The technology revolution

The popularity of caravanning didn’t wane as the new millennium swept in; on the contrary, it has expanded even more. An entrepreneurial spirit saw business owners opening more modern caravan parks which are familiar today; ones that now offer swimming pools, sporting fields, water parks and golf courses.

As technology has revolutionised the way we live, so it has dictated the importance of our own living space and our unquenchable thirst for being ‘connected’. The modern caravan now offers the opportunity to increase living space substantially. It is all about energy-efficient windows and appliances, high-quality furniture, creative storage options and, a seemingly limitless array of electronic gadgets including satellite TV and Wi-Fi connection.

In keeping with this focus on living space, since the 2000s we have also seen awnings becoming ‘must have’ accessories with new layouts and larger, longer caravans becoming the vogue.

From past to future

Although the face of caravanning has changed significantly since its modest beginnings, it is the legacy of those early pioneers that caravanning remains a hugely popular pastime with the British. Indeed, it is a love affair that shows no signs of abating and hopefully will still be enjoyed by families for many decades to come.

The History of the Caravan: Fast Facts

  • The word derives from the Persian word ‘Karwan’ meaning ‘van’ and derived from ‘caravane’, the French translation of it, and was used to describe people travelling across the desert.
  • If all the touring caravans in Britain were put end to end, they would stretch from Land’s End to John O’Groats three times – a total of 3,000 miles*.
  • More than two million British people take caravan holidays every year**.
  • The industry contributes more than £6 billion per year to the UK economy (including revenue from sales of products and related services, holiday bookings)*.
  • More than 51 million nights are spent in caravans each year*.


* Source:

**Source: TGI/Mintel


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