Week Seven: The Caravan

Lecture by Martin Hoskins… Unpacking the nature of research itself. At the start of Martin’s lecture he asked us a number of questions to help unpack research.

At the centre of research is knowledge, and therefore it is our approach to knowledge that we must firstly consider. Before we move on, I would now like you to stop the presentation and take a moment to write your own definition of the word research:

I think that I would define research as the process of gathering and searching for information about a topic of interest. 

If you had to decide, would you say research is a science, an art or even a craft? Do you consider it primarily an academic exercise or is it an activity of life? Apart from this course, when was the last time you had to engage in what you would term research?

From my perspective and in how I have had to engage with research so far in my life I would consider it to be a part of life. I have researched a lot for work. Most recently I conducted research for a podcast I made called ‘Good News From The Sea’. This research was born much more out of curiosity and a passion for storytelling… perhaps that’s what I think my research has always been framed as, curiosity. 

Caravans

I’ve chosen the humble caravan as my topic of research this week as I feel that they have been a big part of my life so far. I currently live in one and have done so for the last three years. It’s somewhat out of choice and somewhat circumstantial of the severe lack of places to live in the coastal community I am from. I am really interested in the connotations that surround caravans, they have supported and housed many non mainstream communities since their invention.

As a teenager my family owned a caravan literally about 100 meters from where I now live, this was my first introduction into them, I love it, we could literally live 5 minutes from the beach and then when the weather got too cold we would go back to our house and wait until we could go back to the caravan in the spring.

Fast forward a few years and in my early 20’s I ran away to the circus… only joking. But I did join a travelling festival food company called Tea and Toast. I lived and worked with the crew for five months of the year for three years. In this time I met so many people that lived alternative lives, it really blew my mind to be honest. Many of these people lived in vans or caravan on the outskirts of Bristol, their lives seemed so exciting and free and really did shift my perspective on life in general. Interestingly during this time my boss Ben also employed a signwriter to travel with us and paint new signs at each festival, Tom was a super moody guy that only left his van to write signs but he was super talented! My next caravan related encounter came in November 2022. I was lucky enough to get a spot on a signwriting course that I had been wanting to do for ages. I knew that Joby Carter had learnt to be a signwriter in his families fairground business but until last autumn I had never heard of the term showman. I didn’t know anything about them which is bizzarre because I imagine a lot of the people I met when working at festivals were also showmen.

Joby introduced me to the lifestyle and traditions of showmen, he had many showman’s wagons at his yard some of which are still lived in.

There is a local history archive building on Facebook which has some really good references to start pinpointing when and where caravans were first used in Pembrokeshire. The earliest caravan history I can find in Pembrokeshire is a Showman’s horse drawn caravan 1890. It is pictured at St Thomas’ Green in Haverfordwest which, until last year, still used to host a travelling fair every year. The next two images are of the first known wooden, horse drawn caravan to be used for recreational purposes in Newgale. This was in the 1930’s.

Negative connotations of caravans in Newgale

This group called themselves the mutants and lived on the A40 and Pelcomb common in the early 80’s… On the local history website “Honey Harvet” there is a lot of mixed reactions to them. Most really positive with other recalling of vigilante groups of farmer set up to keep watch on them and drive them out of the lay-by’s. 

Comment taken from FB Was this when all of Pembrokeshire was terrified the travellers were moving in? They called them hippies and farmers were going out with pitchforks etc to guard lay-bys! I was only little and found it all really scary!

Outcome

The caravan, steeped in UK culture. My line of enquiry started by trying to find out specifically when they started to be used in Pembrokeshire, where I currently live… in a caravan. 

The first record I can find of a caravan in a local town is a Showman’s caravan in St Thomas’ Green, 1890 (1) Following the timeline of showmen in the UK gives an interesting insight into legislation surrounding people living in caravans. In 1889 the Van – Dwellers Association was formed, this later became the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain which is still around today. (2) The association formed to protect the rights and liberties of people whose lives relied being on the road. The next record of caravan culture in Pembrokeshire was a photograph of a wooden, horse drawn caravan at Newgale Beach in 1937. This is one of the earliest records of a caravan being used specifically for leisure purposes in Pembrokeshire. The caravan was owned by a family from Cardiff who would travel down to Newgale once a year. (1)

Seaside or coastal tourism in the modern world is an English invention. (3) An exhibit at the Festival of Britain in the 1950’s explained to foreign visitors that “whenever the British feel they need to relax.. they head to the sea” (4) Visiting the seaside is deep routed in our history and the caravan has made that tradition possible.

In British leisure culture the caravan is a descendent of bathing machines which eventually developed into post-war caravan sites. With the development of caravan sites also comes the development and diversification of people who could access holidays in the UK. Much of this was developing due to the affordability of rail travel and is a notable marker in the relaxation of clothing and customs in the UK. I love caravans, what they represent and the history behind them.

(1) Davies CB . 2016 . Facebook . 23rd June . Available at: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=1754766588098068&set=gm.995200263903340 (2) O’Dell, Sean . 2015 . Post-war Tourism in the Tendring District and Beyond: The Rise of the Holiday Caravan Park . University of Essex

(3) Walton, John K . 2013 . The British Abroad Since the Eighteenth Century . Volume 1 . London: Palgrave Macmillan

(4) Elborough, Travis . 2010 . Wish You Were Here: England on Sea . London: Sceptre

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