A Sheffielder's memories of 1970s caravanning - basic amenities, DIY entertainment and friendship

We’re all thinking about holidays and one keen caravanner remembers the 1970s, when amenities were basic and they made their own entertainment.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 3:37 pm

Bill Betts bought a touring caravan in 1969 for trips with his wife Barbara and children Stephen and Alison.

He said: “In 1977 we joined the Camping & Caravanning Club South Yorkshire District Association. I have held many positions on the committee, finishing with being chairman before standing down.

“The sites we camped on in the main were farmers’ fields which had water on tap for our use. We also used the occasional commercial caravan site which allowed us to use part of their site and full use of all their facilities.“Site stewards for all meets were volunteer club members prepared to give up their holiday. The steward had to be the first on site. The site was always advertised in the monthly magazine, giving the ordnance survey grid reference. The stewards then put out directional signs nearby, pointing out the last twists and turns to the site.

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Barbara Betts taking trip bookings with friends at a Camping & Caravanning Club South Yorkshire District Association rally at Ingbirchworth Farm in 1986

"When the tenters, caravanners and converted vehicles started arriving, the members’ cards and car registration had to be taken. The stewards would take orders for milk, eggs and papers, then direct them to a site for their unit.”

Campers had toilet tents and the stewards dug a cesspit and filled it in afterwards.Bill remembers: “During this period some caravans had the original gas lighting and two ring gas burners, other had just been improved having basic 12v lighting. Small portable TVs were on the market, having their own aerial and would be powered by a spare 12v car battery."

Entertainment included a home-made bingo game and playing music: “One day on site Arthur, a guitarist, Charlie and me decided to form a skiffle group, to pass away the summer evenings.

Cars struggled with boggy ground at a campsite in Great Ouseburn near York in 1985

"The only musical instrument we had was the guitar. So with our partners and friends Charlie and Edna, Barrie and Sheila, we set about to make our own. Bass drum - made of wooden tea-box, brush handle and string. Shingle-stomping stick - made of wooden brush handle with bells and bottle tops nailed on. We also had tambourine, maracas, spoons, Tommy talker (kazoo), scrubbing board and spoons.

"As you can expect, the only real tune came from the guitar but was sufficient for our friends to recognise the songs. Some additional new friends felt uncomfortable not knowing the songs. This prompted Barbara to print out some song sheets so all could join in, which made a more enjoyable evening.”Club members collected fruit to make their own wine and asked a wine taster to judge their efforts.

Bill said: “All cars during this period did not have the advanced mechanism of today’s vehicles.

The campers' skiffle band at Bridlington South Shore in 1982 - pictured are Brian, Charlie, Roy, Edna, Barrie, Arthur on guitar, Brenda, unknown name and Bill

"One of the surest ways for guys getting to know their fellow campers was when a car had broken down on site. You could always tell because there was always a group of guys round the car giving their opinions of the best way to solve the problem and supplying tools if required.”

He concluded: “Present-day tents, caravans and motorhomes have had unimaginable improvements made to them, but the freedom, friendships and camaraderie over the years never changes.“I have many fond memories of camping over the years and looking forward to many more.”

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Barbara and Alison in the family's trailer tent in 1976 at Lane Side site near Hope
Barbara, Alison and Stephen catch the sun outside their tent in 1970 at the Sparrow Pit site near Lowestoft