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Changing Times | Caravan stays have moved on from the 1900s

When planning holidays, there are many types of accommodation available, hotels, holiday camps etc but a simple caravan holiday has always been very popular.


From the 1940s, we saw the introduction of static caravans, made just from hardboard and, as you can imagine, they warped very easily. They had gas lights, a single gas burner and were without a bathroom or running water.


Eventually, this type of accommodation increased during the 1960s when there was a boom in this type of holiday. Mass production occurred about this time, and it was possible to buy a caravan for £600 (the price of a Mini car at the time).


As the years went by, improvements came along with the introduction of aluminium panels and even bigger and better caravans. You still had to go to a shower block, but flushing toilets arrived and finally showers were an optional extra.


But what of caravans here in our area? We have had many sites and memories over the years of our caravan sites, and I am sure many of you will recall sites which I do not mention. The press regularly mentioned sites and at one time in the 1960s a council meeting was asked by an owner if they could increase the number of their caravans.


This was rejected as there were already 5,000 caravans in the town and the council felt this was sufficient. Some of the sites have long since gone, but some still survive. One such has been mentioned by many visitors and that is the Riverside Caravan Centre which was started by Percy H May and John D May after he was invalided out of the Navy.


They opened the site in 1954 when there was only an ash road and a small number of caravans. One visitor recalled: “We then spent every evening in the Riverside club playing darts and cards (for matchsticks) and making half a pint last all night (funds were very limited at the time as I was an apprentice).” Not unusual was the memory of meeting a girl, who then went on to become a wife, and continuing to return for their annual holidays.


In 1807 ,Pagham was noted as a ‘place affords no bathing, but if you are induced to spend a few weeks, and possess sufficient strength and courage, you could commit yourselves to the arms of Neptune, unperceived, and with no less safety and delight than at Bognor’.


Unlike other parts of our area from 1907 the first caravan had arrived when it was built for Miss Carre, who paid £1.50 a year. The growth of these caravans resulted in the large popular Church Farm Holiday Centre. The complex today, of course, dominates any aerial view of the village.


There is mention of Second World War use, such as a wartime firing range while one area in the complex was known as a ballast hole!


Church Farm is shown on some early view postcards as being just a few caravans situated around the edge of a number of fields. This site contains more than 900 mobile homes. The centre is today advertised on the internet as being ‘close to the beach, with a backdrop of the South Downs. Church Farm is perfect for nature lovers with a pretty lagoon and its own nature reserve teeming with birds and wildlife’.


Many of the smaller sites were in the surrounding areas of Pagham, Nyetimber, Shripney and North Bersted. In a 1968 directory, there is a record of Marigold Caravan Park, Mill Farm, Mundays, Orchard, Polars and Rose Green sites. I also found reference in a 1960s directory for a caravan builder named Bersted Caravan Works on the Shripney Road. Some of the buildings still exist.


One holidaymaker recalls his caravan holiday and activities: “We travelled from Surrey and were eager to spot the sea. We always stayed at a caravan site in Rose Green run/owned by a man that we called in the family ‘Mister Bleach’ – not his real name of course but as close as I was able to get to Mister Leach.


“I think his wife and son also were involved in the site’s management. I remember that the caravans were always small and a bit primitive; they had gas lights! It was a skill that my parents learned over the years to be able to light them without shattering at least one mantle in the week.


“But, as children, we loved it. At the caravan park, where of course it was always sunny, we used to play with whatever other children were there at tennis – arguing about the rules which none of us had any real knowledge of – and football (ditto on rules) and as a real treat we flew the kite. Well, actually, we hardly ever managed to fly the kite as the wind was always too light (as I said the weather was always good) and the kite was not the best.”


It’s funny how people remember the time they holidayed in an area, such as this person, who thought it was when the Suez Crisis was on (1956) they spent a week at the Riverside for several years, and other members of the family would come down to enjoy the area.


I spoke with one visitor who mentioned she came to stay in Bognor Regis for her honeymoon. They had been sent the key by the site owner.


When they arrived by train, they had Key No 9 but had forgotten the name of the site. They found a policeman who eventually located the site for them.


Today, caravans are a world away from the earlier models. They are very spacious, have balconies, full facilities for all of today’s electrical needs, plenty of wardrobe space, and all of our modern requirements.


Interestingly, when we look at the history of caravans, it is to find that one of the major players in the development of caravans is Bourne Leisure, which apparently led the way and was the first organisation to provide hardstanding, and to create a community atmosphere in their parks.


Today, of course, we think of them here in relation to being the owners of Church Farm and also Butlin’s.

Posted in Lifestyle.