In 1885, Scottish medic Dr William Stables commissioned the first ever leisure caravan in the world. Now, whilst carriages had been hauled by horses, especially within the Gypsy community, Stables wanted to experience the travelling lifestyle like never before. And he achieved just that, building ‘The Wanderer’ and in turn labelling himself the ‘Gentlemen Gypsy’.
But fast-forward 130 years and the world of caravan travelling has evolved into unprecedented areas. They now come in all shapes and sizes, and whilst experiencing a lull in popularity in the early 2000’s, the caravan is making a comeback as more Brits opt for stay-cations instead of travelling abroad.
Dr William Stables original leisure caravan may have been the starting point, but after facing problems navigating his beloved ‘Wanderer’ across the nation’s poor quality roads, it would be years later when Bill Eccles Snr of Eccles Motor Transport Ltd would spot a potential in the unexplored and lucrative market of caravanning.
He would create and build the world’s first prototype of a caravan specifically designed to be towed behind a car and in 1919, sold it to the Dowager Countess Rhonda. During the 1920s, he continued perfecting his skills and designs with his Company quickly becoming a world leader in travelling transport.
From then onwards, the world of caravanning has never looked back. The industry has gone from strength to strength and is now worth an estimated £6 billion to the UK economy. And with the changing of designs, the cost also has increased. The first commercially available caravans cost around £100, which work out at about £5,000 in today’s money. Today, the latest caravans start at around £15,000 while a state-of-the-art motorhome will set you back a staggering £146,000.
But what is the appeal, and why has the caravan made such a comeback?
Freedom could be the answer. There is nothing more simpler (and cheaper) that attaching a caravan and heading on the open road to explore what the UK has to offer. And with the uncertainty around Brexit and soaring prices of travelling abroad, many Brits are preferring to stay at home. And who can blame them.
My own experiences of caravanning at Cropton Forest, North Yorkshire as a child are some of my most vivid. Whether it be playing cricket, or spotting Deer in the forestry (or even, as a baby, falling from a plastic bath-tub resting on a table, to my mother’s horror), there is a sense of simplicity that rivals the exoticness of travelling to a distant land.
Caravans have changed a lot since the 1920’s. They are better insulated, sturdier and bigger. You can easily make them more of a home from home and they also seem to fit the fashion of the day – retro.
In a world which is shrinking in size by the day, and as Planes are flying further but with higher prices, it is touching that the old enjoyments of the past are refusing to vanish. The caravan has existed for over 130 years, and whilst their designs may have changed along with the landscape they traverse, one thing has remained the same. Dr William Stables created ‘The Wanderer’ in the hope that many could travel with a piece of home, we think he’d be proud to know, 130 years later, many still share that wonderful sentiment.