Club History

Over 100 years of The Camping and Caravanning Club

The Camping and Caravanning Club exists to help its over a third of a million members reap the maximum enjoyment and value-for-money from their camping. In this article we look at its proud history, where it stands today, and what its future may hold.

In August 1901, six people went camping in an orchard on the outskirts of Wantage and from this ‘small acorn’ has grown the ‘mighty oak’ known as The Camping and Caravanning Club.

Thomas Hiram HoldingThomas Hiram Holding

The prime mover was Thomas Hiram Holding, a London-based journeyman tailor, who had developed a passion for camping at the age of nine, whilst crossing the American prairies with his parents in 1853, as part of a wagon train.

Holding was a keen cyclist and one of the leading lights in the formation of the Bicycle Touring Club in 1878. Then, years later, a chance conversation with a friend, who wanted to try ‘cycle camping’ resulted in him designing some suitable lightweight kit and, with four friends, embarking on a cycle camping expedition in Ireland.

In a book chronicling the experience (Cycle and Camp in Connemara) Holding invited interested readers to contact him and this resulted in the formation of the Association of Cycle Campers, with thirteen members, in 1901. Its inaugural camp at Wantage, with just six people in attendance, was the first meeting of the organisation now known as The Camping and Caravanning Club.

The Pre-War Years

Captain Robert Falcon-ScottCaptain Robert Falcon-Scott

By 1906, the Association had several hundred members and, in June that year, the first Club Site was opened at Weybridge. A feeling amongst some members, that the scope of activities should be widened, led to a group of members forming The Camping Club. Holding himself severed his links with the Association of Cycle Campers and formed the National Camping Club. In 1909, the Association of Cycle Campers and the Camping Club amalgamated under the title of the Amateur Camping Club, and in 1910, this organisation and the National Camping Club combined, with a total membership of 820.

It was in this period, too, that the current local structure of the Club began to emerge, with the Birmingham District Association being formed in 1907, followed within months by the Metropolitan DA (later to be renamed London and District DA) and the North Midlands DA.

In 1909, Captain Robert Falcon-Scott, RN, later to become better known as Scott of the Antarctic, became President of the Club, a post he held until his tragic death three years later.

The Great War and Beyond

The war years were a difficult period for the Club, with membership in 1914 slipping back to just 755. Then, with the war over, the upward trend resumed and, in 1919, the Club changed its name to The Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland. That same year Sir Robert Baden-Powell, already well-known as a hero of the Boer War and founder of the Boy Scouts, became its President.

Sir Robert Baden-PowellSir Robert Baden-Powell

The first Club Feast of Lanterns was held in 1921 at Deep Dene, Dorking. Based on Chinese tradition, this was an event in which members were encouraged to decorate their units with hand-made lanterns. It was to become the Club’s biggest annual event and, nowadays, is attended by many thousands of people.

In 1930, the Club mourned the passing of its founder, Thomas Hiram Holding and then, in 1932, it took the initiative in forming the International Federation of Camping Clubs (Federation Internationale de Camping et de Caravaning – FICC), which has, ever since, held international rallies in member countries. It also formed a Mountaineering Section and a Folk Group.

In the following year, the British Canoe Association became the Canoe Section of the Club. Also, by this time, some Club members were becoming interested in a new form of camping – the caravan.

In those days, although companies like Eccles, Winchester Car Cruiser and Raven were producing caravans commercially, some Club members built their own, mostly using Ash as the timber for the chassis and drawbar, and wheels and springs from a crashed motor car, such as a Morris Cowley. Plywood was used for the walls and stretched and doped canvas for the roof.

This upsurge in interest led, in 1933, to the formation of a Club Caravan Section, later to become known as The British Caravanners Club. The Photo Group was formed in 1935.

The years leading to the outbreak of the Second World War saw continued membership growth and the addition of several more Club Sites. However, the Thirties were also dogged by legal battles between landowners and those demanding free access to moorlands and uplands, as a growing outdoor movement gained unstoppable momentum. This led to Mass Trespasses being organised and the first of these, on Kinder Scout, was close to the Club’s site at Hayfield. Many Camping Club members took part.

World War II

Then came the Second World War and, in 1941, the death of the Club’s President, Lord Baden-Powell. The same year saw the formation of The Youth Camping Association, sponsored by the Club.

The main thing on everyone’s mind, though, was the war, and the opportunity to get into the country, away from the raids of the towns and cities, was something Club members really appreciated. Throughout the war, people regarded holidays and shorter periods away from home, as important. Consequently, unlike the first war, the second one saw the Club’s popularity remain steady. Members in the forces could continue their Club membership on a reduced subscription, and many did so.

In 1944 The Association of Cycle Campers was re-formed as a specialist section of the Club. It later changed its name to the Association of Lightweight Campers.

The Post War Years

Since then, the Club has seen steady growth in the membership, and more sites added to the network. By the time it celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1951, membership had reached nearly 15,000, and the Club had gained the patronage of HM King George VI. In 1952, following the death of the King, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh granted his patronage.

By 1967, Club membership topped 100,000 and the Club magazine was recording its 60th year of publication. By 1991, membership had broken through the 200,000 barrier and, by the last year of the old millennium, it had passed 300,000.

Along the way, many milestones were passed, including the resuscitation of the Folk Dance and Song Group in 1962 and the formation of the Motor Caravan Section in 1963. The Club’s first Canadian tour and the formation of the Trailer Tent Group took place in 1967, and there were record attendances at several major events in the late ‘70s (over 11,600 people attending the National Feast of Lanterns in 1978 and 17,500 attending the FICC International Rally at Cheltenham Racecourse in 1979).

In 1983, to reflect the growth in caravanning amongst Club members, the Club changed its name to The Camping and Caravanning Club, the name by which it is still known today. Then in 1990, Club headquarters was moved out of London to its current base on the outskirts of Coventry.

The nineties saw further development of services to members, with a loan service being launched in 1991, a range of branded clothing in 1993, and the Club’s Carefree overseas travel service becoming evermore popular as the decade passed. More recently members services have increased to include Club Autosave, a new, nearly new and used car scheme at discount prices and also Club Care, providing insurance for caravans, motor caravans, trailer tents, tents, small craft, vehicle, pet and household insurance.

Also in the 1990s’ the Club renewed an old connection when, in 1992, The Lord Baden-Powell, grandson of the founder of the Scout movement, was appointed as Club President, a post he filled until 2002.

Beyond the Centenary Year

More and more people are taking to the road to experience the freedom camping and caravanning brings. Currently the membership stands at 730,000 and over 3 million campers experienced the Clubs quality Club Sites and 1,300 smaller Certificated Sites throughout the UK.

The Club's Travel Service offers campers across Europe, sending over 65,000 people a year to its summer campsites in over 14 European countries, along with its Winter Sun sites and rallies for low season camping. It also offers tours to European destinations including Italy, Greece, Iceland.

Since turning 100 years old the Club has instigated a number of new initiatives. National Camping and Caravanning Week was created in the centenary year to set a  record for the most people camping and caravanning at one time. In 2008, the audited figure for number of people camping out overnight was 96,000

Julia BradburyJulia Bradbury

Other initiatives include The World Tent Pitching Championships which has done much to raise the profile of the Club and an on-going media campaign to encourage journalists to try caravanning for themselves. The Club prides itself on its forward thinking publicity ideas that not only encourage people to become members but also do much to highlight the outdoor industry as a whole.

The Club has a strong environmental policy. Its Countryside Care section allows Club Members to put something back into the countryside from which they derive so much pleasure. They do this on a voluntary basis through an ongoing programme of footpath construction, hedge clearing and tree planting in and around Club Sites. In 2002 five out of five Club Sites entered into the David Bellamy Conservation Awards, achieved Gold Standard.

More recently we welcomed Julia Bradbury as our Club President.