Another of Shire Publication's series of short history books concerns itself with the British infatuation with the holiday camp of years gone by. Once more penned by Kathryn Ferry, she manages to cram in lots of information and loads of photographs in 64 pages. Many may imagine holiday camps to be a post WW2 invention, they began in the late 19th Century on the Isle of Man as a summer camp for underprivileged boys from Liverpool and by 1980 Butlin's alone had ten camps, though by then there had been a steady decline in bookings.
Surprisingly to some, it wasn't just Billy Butlin, Fred Pontin and Harry Warner that owned holiday camps; men such as Fletcher Dodd, Bert Potter and `Maddy' Maddieson also built and ran their own camps but these didn't last the distance. As an alternative to intimidating landladies and their strict rules, apart from set mealtimes, seaside holiday camps allowed the paying customer the freedom to come and go as they please without the need to put their hand in their pocket. (Everything may have been free but the negative aspect, certainly at Butlin's, was being woken at 7am for the first breakfast sitting - there was at least one chalet at Ayr that had the wires to its loudspeaker cut.)
For those old enough to have visited these holiday camps in their heyday between 1946 and 1970, the plethora of photos will bring back memories, both happy and nightmarish - that 7am wake up call being just one - whilst younger readers may wonder why a week's holiday at such places was a big deal. Mind you, the photograph of a `typical dining room' at Butlin's Bognor Regis camp will make you wonder why demand exceeded supply. All the favourite contests are included: Knobbly Knees, Glamorous Granny, Miss Holiday Camp and Bonny Baby. Missing a mention is the Shiniest Bald Head competition that I remember being held at Warner's Dovercourt Bay camp.
For anyone with a passing interest in British holiday camps or wants to reminisce about Redcoats, Bluecoats, Greencoats and tannoy calls of, `Baby crying in chalet 217' should delve into this. What sounds depressing is that there is virtually nothing remaining of the camps built in the 1930s - at least the photos survive. It won't take long to read but it will make you feel a bit nostalgic.
This is well researched and nicely illustrated book in typical Shire Library format that will bring back the memories of childhood holidays at the camps. There are also a lot of interesting dates and facts that I was oblivious of prior to reading this book. This book also serves as a marker to show how much expectations have risen although there is still a place for the holiday camp and there's no reason to think that you'll have any less fun than many other types of holiday. Well produced and good value for the effort that has gone into this niche book.
How wonderful to be transported back to my wonderful childhood hols spent at holiday camps! We had such a great time at Warners and Southdean Holiday Centre (alas, a housing estate now). If you are nostalgic for your hols, this is worth buying.