• The first production caravan (towed by a car instead of a horse) was made in the UK in 1919
  • Evocative photos from 1919 to 2019 show how cars, caravans and fashions have changed, but the key elements of a caravan holiday haven’t: enjoying quality time together, getting out in the great outdoors, exploring new places, and having the freedom of your own space
  • Caravans have changed from simple wooden structures with just the basics in 1919, to using modern production techniques and being equipped with all the comforts and gadgets of a modern home, from app-controlled heating/hot water to USB sockets
  • The UK’s campsite/holiday park industry generates £9.3 billion of visitor expenditure and supports 171,448 full-time jobs (source: UK Caravan and Camping Alliance)

Photography from The Camping and Caravanning Club’s archives evocatively illustrate how cars, caravans and fashions have changed since the commercial production of caravans started 100 years ago. They also illustrate how the key benefits of a caravan holiday – enjoying fun times away with friends and family, getting out in the great outdoors, exploring new places in the UK and abroad, and the freedom of touring with your own home from home – remain the same today.

With only a limited number of people owning cars when commercial production of caravans started in Birmingham, in 1919, the early caravanners saw themselves as pioneers. That spirit of independence and freedom of exploring with your own home from home is still true today, and has grown from only being possible for an elite few to becoming a holiday tradition enjoyed by millions.

Photos of caravan holidays from 1919 to 2019 show many happy memories of people going away to the countryside, relaxing together, playing games and enjoying the great outdoors. In 1919, the first caravanners wore more formal clothing. As the popularity of caravans grew massively from the 1960s onwards, the different fashions and styles of each era saw dress codes became far more relaxed and informal, often matched by the styles of caravan interior furnishings.

The technology behind tow cars and caravans has also changed significantly. It’s not that long ago that the advanced technology, performance, braking systems and safety equipment of today’s tow cars would have sounded like science fiction. Thankfully, today’s caravan chassis technology and stability aids also make the towing experience more comfortable and safer.

Other significant changes during 100 years of caravan holidays include a massive expansion and improvement of our road networks to make it easier to get anywhere, and significant upgrades to campsites and holiday parks, many of which can now provide electricity, water or satellite TV reception to every pitch, if required.

As a guide to the growth in popularity of caravans, membership of The Camping and Caravanning Club included only a handful of caravanners in 1919, whereas it now represents around 730,000 people, and has a network of more than 100 high-quality Club Sites, a further 15 Camping in the Forest Sites and 1,400 smaller Certificated Sites available across the UK. Research by the UK Caravan and Camping Alliance shows that the campsite and holiday park industry generates £9.3 billion of visitor expenditure and supports 171,447 full-time jobs.

Caravan holidays have become more comfortable and well equipped in the last century. The first caravan (an Eccles, a brand still in production today) cost £90, the equivalent to about £5,000 today, and was made from a simple wooden frame with no equipment, except possibly a small stove for cooking.

By the 1960s or 1970s luxuries such as electric lighting, double-glazed windows, fridges and heaters started to be fitted, and in the 1980s and 1990s new comforts included ‘cassette’ toilets (emptied via an external hatch), microwave ovens, hot water systems, showers and domestic-style heating with radiators.

Today, depending on the model and accessories, they can have all the latest comforts of home available including apps to control the hot water and heating systems, air-conditioning, USB sockets and ‘motor movers’ so a caravan can be manoeuvred by remote control when unhitched from the car. Production techniques and levels of insulation have also transformed, meaning caravan holidays are now easily enjoyed in winter as well as summer.

The Camping and Caravanning Club’s Simon McGrath said: “We have been enjoying celebrating the centenary of the caravan this year, together with all the wonderful memories they have enabled our members to create over the decades. Many people fondly recall their caravan holidays, whether as a child in a ‘basic’ caravan 50 years ago, or their adventures along the way.

“It’s amazing to see how caravans have improved compared to those early days and we look forward to seeing how they evolve over the next 100 years as people enjoy their leisure time. One thing is for sure – caravan holidays will always be fun and memorable!”