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History of the Caravan

Having worked for a caravan company for over 20 years I was really interested to find out a little more about the history. There is a long standing history of caravans being ingrained in British culture which of course encouraged me to find out more. In England the origins of the caravan go back to the early 1800s. At this time they were more functional as they were used for shelter by farm workers, travelling circus folk and fairground showmen. Travelling communities of Romanies used horse-drawn caravans. But how have they really changed over the years?

Well, we start with Charles Dickens’ novel “The Old Curiosity Shop” of 1840 one of the characters, Mrs Jarley, travelled the country with her waxworks show in a caravan that was described as ‘…not a shabby, dingy, dusty cart, but a smart little house upon wheels, with white dimity curtains festooning the windows, and window-shutters of green picked out with panels of a staring red.’ It was these communities which provided the inspiration for leisure touring caravans which then inspired the development and production of static caravans.


Almost 100 years later, in 1947, we see the introduction of the first static caravans. Made from hardboard they were not the most robust construction and after a few seasons they had a tendency to warp! Compared to today’s standards they were very basic, gas lighting, coal fire for heating and a single gas burner to cook on. A fairly standard layout would be a double bedroom and a drop down double bed in the living area, however… there was no bathroom or running water.


Despite this they gained in popularity (it wasn’t just babies that were booming!) and in the 1960s caravanning really started to take off. Manufacturing techniques improved mass production and as a result created a price of around £600 (the equivalent of a mini cooper!). The bright red and yellow furnishings really represented everything energetic about the 60s. Sleeping accommodation was a double bed with a bunk room and remember how the dinette converted into a second double bed? Finally by the end of the 60s 5amp electricity was supplied to the caravans for electric lighting.

One of our Caravans at Church Farm

One of our Caravans at Church Farm around 1960’s


In the 1970s caravans were made from pre- finished aluminium panels making them a lot sturdier. Along with this caravans got even bigger, some were as long as 28 foot! Funky floral patterns and colour schemes of brown and orange curtains were very popular. Unfortunately, showers still had to be taken in a shower block. However, towards the end of the decade people could experience the joy of flushing toilets and finally showers came as optional extras in many models along with mains water!


However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a fully serviced caravan was the norm rather than the exception which meant hot and cold running water throughout. The kitchen areas were well kitted out with full size fridges and cookers making it much easier to cook and with hot showers and flush toilets caravans were a real home away from home. A real leap forward was being able to have your TV installed in your caravan.

A brochure from the 1970's, advertising the latest models.

A brochure from the 1970’s, advertising the latest models.


In the 1990s the biggest innovation had to be the introduction piped gas to replace gas bottles which were not only unsightly but were also rather annoying as they had a tendency to always run out half way through cooking your bacon and eggs! You could now have microwaves and even top end video players could be installed. Gas fired central heating throughout and double glazing meant that caravans were really toasty.

Present day

Present day caravans are a far cry from the early days. Caravans are getting even bigger with 14’ wide vans available, floor to ceiling windows leading onto balconies. Open plan style kitchens with wooden or marble surfaces and breakfast bars. Full size fridge freezers, standard sized hobs and ovens, washing machines or dishwashers en suite shower rooms and you can even opt for a bath. Contemporary style fires, flat screen TV’s, iPod docking stations, free standing furniture…. spacious bedrooms some with walk in wardrobes, full sized twin single beds, improved insulation and contemporary style decor. In 2012 one of the most popular new style caravans is the summer house model which has been introduced by ABI. Pastel shade exteriors and blue and white style interiors make them ideal for seaside locations.

A modern day caravan available on Haven Parks

A modern day caravan available on Haven Parks

How Bourne Leisure helped…

Bourne Leisure was undeniably one of the reasons why caravan parks boomed in the 1960’s and they have led the way in the industry ever since. They were the first to provide hard standings, fully serviced caravans and piped gas. Robert Seaton, one of the original founders of Bourne Leisure, told us
‘Owning a caravan is not just about the interior design and decor it’s about the experience. There’s a great community atmosphere on our parks that in today’s busy world most people don’t find at home. There are organised events and activities for our owners, even a wine club.’

As a business we constantly challenge ourselves to offer the best services and facilities on our parks. But once something becomes the norm we look at what else we can do to wow our owners. People expect to find swimming pools, shops, bars and restaurants on a holiday park but we were the first to introduce spas and gyms. The park environment is also very important and we were the first to break away from rows of caravans and offer community style developments with landscaping making the most of what is naturally there. We take care to position the caravans in a way to maximise on the views available which include the sea, mountains, lakes and golf courses. We’re also environmentally aware and look to use new green technology in our developments where ever we can and last year introduced a trial of solar powered caravans.

Have you got any old photos of you on holidays? We’d love to see them! You can also browse the latest models here

  • Dave H

    We had a static caravan from 1977 to 1983, 32 foot long by 10 foot wide, 1 double bedroom with fitted wardrobes, 1 small room with bunk beds and small wardrobe, bathroom with sink/toilet/shower.
    kitchen 3 burner gas cooker with oven and grill, multi point water heater and a fridge, table could be used as an extra bed.
    lounge had a gas fire and seating on 3 sides, strip lighting was installed along with gas lights which came in handy when the power went off.
    I recall that the caravan cost around £3000 to £3500
    The site we were on was only a small one which Bourne Leisure took over a couple of years later

  • Doriver Lilley

    My grandparents had a van from 1970, it was second hand, but only a few years. It had no running water and gas mantles rather than electricity. One double bed pulled down from the wall and the other was a fold down tressel that fitted against the bunk in th lounge, the other bunk made it a five birth, although my cousin often slept on a subbed in the kitchen! The toilet blok was not a nice walk at 3am. A Bluebird.
    Over time we had various vans, each one progressively better, for example, my first purchase had gas but converted to electric but still no running water. But it did have a fixed end bedroom. We then had a tourer for a while before selling up and having children.
    As the children grew we visited many Haven sites in England, a couple in Wales and Craig Tara we realised we were spending so much renting that we should buy again. This time , a 2006 Sahara Super, 3 bed, lovely shower room et, heaven, except freezing in winter. This btw wasn’t Haven but Bourne Leisre still. Anyway, we needed warmth so traded it in for a 2011 Willerby Eden, an amazing van -Google it as you don’t see them. Don’t ask me how we managed to do it space wise but we even added bunks to the twin room making it fit three.
    As of today we have the deposit on a 2018 Willerby Skye, exiting area an times ahead, I am just so pleased my parents and grandparents introduced me to these relaxing holidays.
    What a change in 40 years!