A Century Of Towing

The nations first caravan The Wanderer way back in the 1880s

By William Coleman

In the past 100 years the planet has changed dramatically, some good some bad. We saw a man land on the mood, the Internet, man learnt to fly and even pre sliced bread! This year also marks the 100th birthday of the first caravan towed by a car. But where did it all begin?

Following some earlier news regarding how big 2019 is set be for UK holidays it is very timely that we have been towing for a entire century. Over the past 10 decades a lot has changed in the world of towing, from technology to technique we really have come a long way.

If we turn the clocks back to the 1880s it seemed the need for living on the road was at a fever pitch and people were adapting trailers into a primitive form of caravan.

At its humble beginnings the caravan was actually a very good looking trailer that went by the name of “The Wanderer”. The Wanderer name has actually been adopted by the Caravan and Motorhome Club for their brand new series of onsite restaurants that only use locally sourced food in the kitchen. The first eastery of its kind is at their Knaresborough site which was one of the first stops for this pioneering caravan.

The original wagon was built by adventure writer Dr William Stables who was contracted by the Bristol Wagon & Carriage Works to build him an 18ft “gentleman’s caravan”. The Wanderer toured all around the countryside where Dr Stables wrote his book “The Gentleman Gypsy”.

Fast forward a few decades to just after the end of the world changing event that was The Great War and the UK was a very different place. The effects of the WW1 took quite the toll on the UK and the nation needed a jump start to get everyone back on track.

The Birmingham based Eccles Motor Transport company saw an opportunity to provide a new type or touring holiday home that everyone could enjoy, there was not too much air travel or European getaways at that point so getaways were few and far between.

Seeing that this type of vehicle was non existent they swooped in to fill the void. Eccles Motor Transport produced the first automobile pulled caravan.

Once it hit the market you had to shell out £100, which in today’s world works out to be slightly upwards of £5,000. What did you get for your money? A 9ft long and 5ft 7 wine 2 berth. Onboard it came equipped with a Primus stove and even a wardrobe. By today’s standards it looks pretty medieval but back then this was a dream for many people.

Simon McGrath, from the Camping and Caravanning Club, said: “Early models were made of wood and often lined with hardwoods like mahogany, making them surprisingly heavy for such a diminutive size.”

How do you market a brand new concept to the masses in a post War era? Simple, you tell them that if holidays are a problem then this is the solution. It worked wonders!

From humble beginnings a 100 years ago to 5 star touring accommodation. The world of the caravan is massively divers and literally has something for everyone. Some of the vans I have been in make my house look like a hovel.

While chatting away at the show to one it was said that the NEC can generate millions and millions of pounds worth of business for the caravan industry over the 5 day it is on. The figure can differ depending on who you speak to but it always around the £100,000,000+ mark.

So the caravan world is serious business and the industry is estimated to be worth around £6 billion. From plastic plates to compact air conditions systems the last 100 years of caravan evolution has made modern day touring safe, secure and most importantly a lot of fun.

Simon McGrath said: “Since the first commercially produced towing caravan was launched in 1919, designs and manufacturing processes have evolved massively to make them lighter and real home from homes.”

Pictures- Andrew Jenkinson.