100 years of the caravan

More than 2,000 years ago, the Silk Road was a key trading route that ran thousands of miles between Asia and Europe, and along its length, traders used horses to tow goods. This is perhaps the earliest example of a caravan: a company of people, a fleet with convoy, all travelling together for security.

1919 saw the first car-towed caravan enter commercial production here in the UK. The date marks the rise of caravanning for leisure and the start of the growth of the camping and caravanning industry.

Here is a history of the caravan in pictures.

Eccles caravan 1919

An illustration of the first Eccles caravan. The caravan first rolled off the production line at Eccles Motor Transport Ltd in Gosta Green, Birmingham, in 1919. That first caravan created a template that has since been used the world over.

1920s car-towed caravan

One of the early Eccles models out on the road in 1925. Eccles would dominate the market until the early 1950s.

Lean to tent early 1920s

An early 1920s Eccles with a "lean to tent", a precursor to the modern awning.

Bottogas 1936

Paraffin was used for lighting and cooking until around 1935. Gas would become the new super-fuel in 1936.

Eccles interior 1938

The interior of an Eccles caravan in 1938. Prior to World War II, Eccles produced luxury tourers, before mass production methods post-war led to cheaper models. Eccles was sold to Sprite Caravans in 1960.

Cavalier caravans twin axled caravan

The twin axled caravan became mainstream in 1972 with this model from Cavalier Caravans. By 1985, the twin axled tourer would become the new must have!

1975 Easter camp

A 1973 A-Line Super 1100 caravan, pitched at an Easter camp in 1975.

Cassette toilet 1987

The cassette loo began to appear on luxury tourers from 1987 and by 1990 most new tourers had them fitted - this is the swivel model.

Caravan electric hook up point

More campsites began to feature hardstanding pitches and electric hook up points from the mid-1980s onwards. From this point on, medium priced and luxury tourers had mains fitted as standard.

No B+E thmubnail

A modern car and caravan combination.

Pictures courtesy of Andrew Jenkinson caravan historian and The Camping and Caravanning Club archive.

To learn more about the Club's archive, or share your old camping and caravanning photos, email archive.enquiries@campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk.

Caravan statistics

  • £1.64bn was spent on domestic caravan holiday trips in Britain in 2017 (National Caravan Council)
  • There are estimated to be more than 870,000 touring caravans currently in use in Britain (National Caravan Council)
  • In 2018, UK holiday parks and campsites generated £9.3bn in visitor expenditure and supported 171,448 full-time employees (UK Caravan and Camping Alliance)
  • 40% of Club members choose to holiday in a touring caravan
  • The Eccles Caravans Owners’ Club is celebrating 50 years’ as a formal Owners Club in 2019
  • In 1939 the first touring caravan reached the Arctic Circle. It was an Eccles
  • Mains electricity became the norm in caravans by the early 1990s
  • Gas lighting in caravans was phased out by 1983
  • The twin-axle caravan gained popularity from the mid-1980s Double glazed acrylic plastic windows were standard by the mid-1980s
  • Caravans cost anywhere from £1,500 for a pre-owned unit; a new starter caravan can set you back about £14,000
  • 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the first commercially-made caravan designed to be towed behind a car and not a horse
  • The East Riding of Yorkshire is the caravan manufacturing heartland of the UK. Some of the biggest manufacturers are based here, including Swift Group and Coachman
  • 45% of Club members who caravan choose to store their pride and joy at home on the driveway
  • More than one in four Club members who caravan also own a tent
  • Awnings make great additional space and shelter, and many now have inflatable poles for quick pitching
  • The National Caravan Council, the UK trade body for the caravan and motorhome industry, is celebrating 80 years in 2019
  • VAT was added to caravans in 1973
  • Early caravans were made with wood and often lined with hardwoods such as mahogany. This made them surprisingly heavy
  • Today’s caravans are made of more composite materials and are considerably lighter
  • Some modern caravans come equipped with smartphone technology that allow heating and lighting to be turned on remotely
  • The Club had 755 members at the start of 1919. Today, the pastime is proving so popular the Club has more than 720,000 members