Back to the future: how retro caravans became cool

The book explores how people refurbish and customise their caravans

If you read the newspapers you’d be forgiven for thinking that the caravan holiday had been invented by the Government as an antidote to the recession. Last year the travel media was flooded with stories of the “staycation” and the return of the “great British holiday”. Yet for millions of Brits a caravan trip is both a staple of their childhood and a pastime of their present. What happened to all the caravans of our past is the subject of a new book that celebrates the design of vintage trailers.

My Cool Caravan explores a niche in caravanning, namely the world of creativity and design afforded by restoring vintage caravans. Authors Jane Field-Lewis and Chris Haddon share two things in common: an impressive design background and a love of old caravans that extends to ownership. The book traces their obsession to all corners of caravan design, with forty stylish vehicles of all vintages from across the world. Lavishly illustrated with photography from Hilary Walker, it is rare to find in book form something which captures the touring experience so vividly.

This is in part due to the shared passion of Jane and Chris for how caravans offer “happy memories of simple things, reflecting the valuable details of life which are usually too readily overlooked.” And it is the attention to such “valuable details” which abounds throughout and makes for a fascinating read.

Jane Field-Lewis in particular brings knowledge of set-dressing and framing an object, from her work as a stylist in film and photography. As such the pictures make us feel as if we have walked through the Tardis doors into a trailer of the past. A Bakelite radio, a mug of china and some ginger nut biscuits – all unremarkable items, but placed in a vintage caravan they instantly evoke a simpler time.

The book is divided into chapters which celebrate a particular style. Jane’s own Monza 1000 is to be found under “Old retro” and is used as her office space where she retreats for inspiration. Crucially little has been changed with the 1970s brown hessian print and vinyl wallpaper showing how colour trends have changed over the years. Co-author Chris uses his trailer for the same purpose, only his is a 1963 Airstream Globetrotter he found in Connecticut, USA. Other highlights include a 1936 Eccles Aristocrat in the “Country cottage” chapter, sporting a beautiful two-tone finish with the original blue intact.

What makes this book rise above coffee-table fayre are the stories. Many of the owners spotted their caravan lying somewhere unloved, or being auctioned off for a song, and rescued them in order to restore to their full glory. It is the blend of the informative and personal which gives this book a peculiar charm similar to the caravans displayed within.

Since My Cool Caravan landed on the desk of Caravan Times it has travelled regularly around the office, with staff eagerly nominating their favourite. It is a book which cannot help but transmit the passion of its authors and is a fascinating window on our caravanning past.

Marcus Dubois