Camping has long been one of the favourite British leisure pursuits but over a hundred years ago it was something that only the military did to provide a practical solution for sleeping soldiers.
Today, it attracts over two million people in this country alone.
In 1908, Thomas Hiram Holding wrote the first campers’ handbook. He had been introduced to camping when, as a child aged nine years old he travelled with his parents over 1,200 miles as part of a wagon train across the prairies of America.
He never forgot the sights he saw when he emerged from the tent each morning and it started a lifelong obsession with the great outdoors.
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He also designed a light weight tent that could be carried on a bicycle at a time when few people had motor vehicles.
The first commercial camp site in the UK was opened on the Isle of Man in 1894 when it was attracting over 600 tents each week and had to expand into neighbouring fields.
Camping wasn’t without its critics and it was once seen as subversive and something to be stopped.
Between the 1920s and 1930s there were a number of Government bills introduced to restrict it when members of the Establishment warned that camping was patronised by the ‘wrong sort’ and if we were not careful we would see the countryside overrun with poor people.
Laws were passed that prevented the sale of bread, butter or milk on sites and that there had to be a minimum distance of 12ft from the pitch to a hedge.
By the 1950s, it was apparent that it was a much cheaper and respectable way to enjoy a holiday and far removed from the restrictions of seaside land ladies.
It was seen as the perfect way for families on a low income to get away and the British Camping Club membership soared to over 50,000.
It was made more attractive to all classes of people by Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first person to climb Mt Everest, together with Sherpa Tensing in May 1953.
Seeing them sleeping in tents made people realise that this could be the perfect way to enjoy a family holiday at little cost.
By the 1980s camping took a bit of a dip in popularity being seen as dowdy and dull with the British weather not helping much either, and anyway foreign holidays by coach or by air were becoming more affordable.
However, not to be outdone, camp sites started to spring up in Europe which combined freedom and sun and really superb amenities. A heady combination!
It seems that a third of all Brits say that their top holiday memory of all has to be the family camping trips, superseding any that they took abroad.
Camping is definitely like Marmite. You either love it or hate it!
We always forget bad times and bad weather, preferring to remember happy times and the fact that summers were always hot when we were young, which is debateable, and memories of camping are no exception, although some people have been so tainted by a bad experience that they’ve said ‘never again’
So, what if there was no running water, no toilets or electricity, only communal toilets and shower blocks. That’s what made it such fun.
Packing camping gear on to the top of the car weighing a ton. Hammering wooden tent pegs into the ground in gale force wind is always a good memory together with father losing his temper when he hit his finger!
Tents hot in the daytime and cold at night and subject to flooding when there was heavy rain which was quite often. Being frequently wet and miserable.
Mother trying to cook a full Sunday lunch on a small stove.
The fact that you’d be finding grass in your clothes and shoes for months to come!
But on the plus side was the complete freedom that camping afforded.
Any other sort of holiday gave parents concern for the safety of their children but that never seemed to apply with camping.
You stayed up late, learnt new skills, slept with your siblings in the same tent, always had loads of other children to play with.
There were no iPads, mobile phones, Nintendo’s or television sets. It was real family time. And best of all bath times were very relaxed. After all, a grubby child was a happy child.
In the last twenty years or so camping has become ‘cool’ with the advent of music festivals like Glastonbury, although looking at pictures, how on earth you know which is your tent, I will never know!
And a new word has sprung up – glamping.
These are luxury camps, many with tents but others with accommodation in tree houses, yurts, shepherds huts, Gypsy caravans, tipis and a site in Dorset where the tents each have their own shower unit in a converted horsebox!
One of our best loved British films has always been the 1969, ‘Carry on Camping’ when on arrival at the camp the campers are met with a sign saying ‘Asses must be shown!’ On asking to see the manager they are told that ‘He has gone for a P’
That’s the sort of subtle camping humour Brits like.
Have you got fond – or otherwise – memories of camping or pictures from old family holidays?
Send them to [email protected] to be featured in Retro.