Friday, 6 February 2009

A short history of camping and caravanning

In 1901 six campers pitched up in an orchard on the outskirts of Wantage.

Among their number included Thomas Hiram Holding, who had developed a passion for the outdoor life after crossing the American prairies with his parents in 1853, aged nine. Holding went on to become a founder and leading light of the Bicycle Touring Club in 1858. Years later, he took up the idea of 'cycle camping' with a friend and undertook an expedition in Ireland, which he chronicled in a book 'Cycle and Camp in Connemara'.

In this book he invited interested readers to get in contact with him, from which an initial Association of Cycle Campers was founded with 13 members. It was this group which organised that first night under the stars in idyllic Berkshire.

By 1906 the club had several hundred members who enabled the burgeoning club to set up it's first permanent site in Weybridge that year.

Disagreement about the purposes of the organisation led to a splintering into factions, as some members felt the variety of activities they offered should be widened. At this point The Camping Club was founded, followed shortly afterwards by the National Camping Club and in 1907 by The Caravan Club of Great Britain and Ireland.

When, in 1909, the Association of Cycle Campers and the Camping Club merged under the title of the Amateur Camping Club, and in 1910, with the National Camping Club, total membership had grown to 823 and Capt. Robert Falcon Scott (who would hold the post until his death in 1912 on famous Antarctic expedition) added immense prestige to the organisation by becoming it's first honorary President.

The Caravanning Club was equally successful in this period soon being able to claim 450 listed sites across the country.

The years of the First World War were a difficult time for both organisations as well as the whole country, but the experiences gained from numerous overnight outdoors trips was almost certainly of much benefit in helping improve the conditions of individual soldiers on the front line of the conflict. Indeed, The Caravanning Club contributed to the war effort by supplying caravans to the Red Cross - in 1918 50 vehicles arrived at 24 hours notice, which significantly assisted the mobility of the army, support and humanitarian services after German withdrawl.

After the war the National Camping Club changed it's name to the Amateur Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland and in 1919 recieved the influential backing of Sir Robert Baden-Powell who became the club's President and would combine this role with his promotion of the outdoor life integral to the Scouting movement until his death in 1941.

As the Scouting movement had matured and developed international wings, so too did The Amateur Camping Club. In 1933 the ACC helped found an international umbrella organisation (The International Federation of Camping Clubs (Federation Internationale de Camping et de Caravaning, or FICC) to confer the benefits of memberhip to those who wished to experience the outdoors while travelling across borders.

This outdoors movement had grown unstoppable and despite continuing legal challenges from landowners who resisted free access to the countryside and the 'right to roam', a series of mass trespasses (repeating the impact of the first on Kinder Scout [report] in the Peak District, organised from the nearby club site at Hayfield in conjunction with the Ramblers Association and a coalition of other politically inspired groups) finally resulted in the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act [Wikipedia] .

Initially it appears Baden-Powell had attempted to integrate all forms of outdoor activity into a single structure setting up a caravanning, canoeing and mountaineering sections, among others. But with his grip unable to contain the scope of the organisation as various interests proliferated and grew this vision was never realised.

With the onset of the Second World War the militaristic overtones of the Scouts had reflected on the campers and The Caravanning Club began to revive, publishing the 100th edition of thee magazine 'The Caravan' in 1941, the same year as Baden-Powell's death. With the passing of it's dominant figure the ACC felt unburdened from it's association with scouting and set up a youth division, The Youth Camping Club.

The following years provided a massive impetus to get out of the overcrowded cities into the countryside to get away from the bombs and escape from the horrors and privations associated with war. Rationing was also less strict closer to to where food was produced, so the alternative of camping or caravanning was a far cheaper, accessible and more relaxed way of having a short break or holiday. This popularity was recoginized in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 which helped make it easier to set up a site.

In 1951 on it's golden jubilee the King, George VI, granted his patronage to the almost 15,000 members of the organisation. When he died the following year Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, was appointed patron of the now merged organisation.

Following successful lobbying to increase the speed limit for towing caravans (from 10mph to 40mph) the two organisations split again in 1959, since which time growth has continued almost unabated.

The Camping and Caravanning Club (it formally changed it's name from the Amateur Camping Club in 1983) surpassed 100,000 members in 1967, 200,000 in 1991 and 300,000 in 1999. It currently owns more than 100 permanent sites and 12,500 smaller certified sites in the UK.

Motor-caravanning began being introduced on a wider scale after 1967 and The Caravan Club now offers 200 sites and 2,500 certified locations in it's guide with specialist facilities.

Both organisations also offer listings and cooperate with a much larger number of affiliated independent site owners to help encourage enjoyment of the outdoor life. Having celebrated their centeneries they now offer a wide range of all-encompassing products including everything from rallys and tours to financial products like insurance. Both organisations are owned by members and run by members and their facilities and services are 'developed by people who share a love of camping and caravanning'.

Sources: The Caravan Club, The Camping and Caravanning Club.

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