YORKSHIRE CAMPING AND CARAVANNING CLUB (1937-1938) film no: 4866
Made by club member Frank Charman, this film shows members of the Yorkshire District Association at their various camping weekends in 1937 and 1938. The film captures the lively and fun atmosphere of the trips as well as the scenic landscapes surrounding the campsites.
Fulwith Mill, near Harrogate: The camp has been set up, and the large viaduct can be seen in the background. A man walks towards the camera and past some tents. He is wearing a towel around his waist. A group of the campers pose for a picture, and the woman taking the picture can also be seen in the foreground. There is a steam train which crosses the Crimple Viaduct, and following this, a lady wearing a swimming costume walks across the field. One of the men at the camp, wearing a towel around his waist, decides to perform a comical dance for the cameraman, and there is a lot of laughing and joking around among the club members.
The men of the camp have dressed up in women’s clothing, maid and servant outfits, and cater to the group. The women and children in the camp are all seated at a long table set for a meal. The men serving the group all pose for a picture, and following this, there are shots of the various caravans and cars at the camp.
Some of the camp entertainment includes different races. The children in the camp are first up and participate in an egg and spoon race. The adults are seated on the grass and in folding chairs along the side-lines. The men are next up. They race half way down the track, each light a candle, and run to the finish line while trying to keep the candle alight.
Coniston Hall, Cumbria: An old man walks near a stone fence and towards the camera. The camp has been set up near the lake, and there is footage of the scenic surrounding landscape. A steamboat or ferry is on the lake, and later, the filmmaker films the surroundings from the moving boat. The landscape is quite hilly around the lake.
A couple are seated on a blanket, and other members of the club relax in front of their tents and caravans. Some of the men are smoking pipes. The club members are gathered together to listen to a musical performance. One man plays a xylophone, another plays the banjo, and the third man plays a small drum. Everyone is seated on the grass together, and tents can be seen nearby. A woman washes a dog in a small basin while she listens to the musicians perform.
Fulwith Mill, near Harrogate, Ladies Weekend: Many of the men have dressed up in women’s clothing – maid and cooks outfits. A long table has been set up, and the women and children of the group are all seated at the table which has been decorated for a tea service complete with three tiered platters. The people seated look down the table towards the cameraman.
One of the men in fancy dress tries to balance a wooden folding table on his chin, but he is unable to do so. There are more shots of the camp. One of the men has trouble getting off his dress, and a woman helps to pull the costume over his head. Following this is more footage of the group members relaxing, and the viaduct can be seen in the background.
Some of the women from the club look at the interior of a caravan, and the members go around and look at each other’s caravans. A train passes on the viaduct, and one of the men is washing dishes inside his caravan. Outside, a few of the women help to do the dishes, washing and then drying them near the long table. The film closes with shots of the camp and those who have travelled on this holiday.
This is one of around twenty films deposited with the Archive by The Camping and Caravanning Club through their then archivist Hazel Constance. The film is among several made by Frank Charman, a member of The Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland, and more specifically the Yorkshire District Association (YDA) part of the Club which was formed in 1911. Nothing else is known of Frank, other than that he had a son, who donated the films to the Camping and Caravanning Club, and who also made camping films in the 1960s. The YDA had an annual ‘Ladies weekend’ at Fulwith Mill during the 1930s, and here we have one of those. Later in 1938 they visited East Farm in Ulrome, on the East Yorkshire coast, where the first club site in Yorkshire was set up in that same year – see also Caravanning In Ulroam Sands (1948).
With Crimple Valley Viaduct in the background it might be thought that they are camping on the present site of the Yorkshire Show, but in fact the field where they are staying is almost definitely the site of what is now Fulwith Mill Lane Farm, on the southern outskirts of Harrogate, and which may still occasionally cater for camping – at least for the scouts (it is for sale at the time of writing, September 2012). The land runs along the valley bottom, taking its name from Crimple Beck, which lent its name to the ICI fabric of Crimplene in the 1950s. With the prospect of new building development that might be potentially ruinous for the landscape, the Save Crimple Valley Campaign was set up in the 1990s.
The Viaduct was designed by John Birkinshaw and built in 1848 by the railway financier (and dodgy dealer) George Hudson. The stone viaduct (now a Grade II listed building) consists of 31 arches of fifty feet span, the tallest of which was 120 feet high, and has a total length of 1873 feet. At the time of this film the railway line going over it would have run from Church Fenton, but this was the first line to fall under the Beeching axe, with all stations closing in January 1964. It now carries the main line from Leeds to Harrogate and York. Also at that time, just to the side of the campsite, would have run the original main line going underneath the viaduct en route to Starbeck. This line also crossed over a viaduct, Crimple Low, also built in 1848, and somewhat overshadowed by its more famous brother. This line, and the viaduct, also closed in 1951.
The Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland, as it was known then, was formed initially in 1901, with just thirteen members, as the Association of Cycle Campers (ACC). It didn’t adopt its present name, the Camping and Caravanning Club, until 1983. The man behind the organisation was Thomas Hiram Holding, who had set up the Cyclist’s Touring Club in 1878. As well as being a very keen cyclist he was also very keen on camping, and in 1898 he wrote a book about a trip to Ireland, Cycle and Camp in Connemara. Some twenty people wrote to Holding having read the book, and from this a camping holiday in Wantage was organised for August, 2nd to the 5th, with just six people. This inspired the formation of the ACC later that year. A splendid comprehensive history of the club, and of camping and caravanning in general – along with some great photographs – has been written by Hazel Constance, who appeared on a recent BBC4 documentary, Britain Goes Camping (a potted version of the history can be found on the Club’s website, see References).
During the 1930s getting outdoors, and especially camping, became very fashionable, and the Club grew, reaching a membership of 8,500 in 1938. The first international camping association was formed in 1932, whilst the following year a Caravan Section was established, becoming The British Caravanners Club in 1937. This went hand-in-hand with the growing ramblers’ movement. Club members played a key part in the campaign to have the right to have access to the countryside, including the mass trespass on Kinder Scout and the formation of the Rambler’s Association in 1932. There was also a continual battle over the right to camp, with many local authorities using bye-laws to prevent camping and caravanning. At both local and national governmental level there was various legislation and rules that severely restricted camping. The Club in effect had to collaborate with this in order to gain some exceptions for members of the Club, who then had to agree to abide by the rules and only use licensed camp sites. Campers could apply to the local authorities themselves for a license to camp. The Club continued to campaign against restrictions including a struggle over those provisions of the 1936 Public Health Act that adversely affected campers.
Nevertheless, the campers in this film are clearly enjoying themselves. It isn’t clear what exactly a ‘Ladies Weekend’ was, whether a national or local event. Hazel Constance doesn’t mention them and there is no obvious evidence of any gender segregation – although early camp rules do stipulate that single ladies and married couples pitch their tents in a separate site from single men. Photographs from the period show mixed camping as in this film. It is unlikely that it meant men dressing up as women, as seen in this film: a not uncommon practice that seems to surface at any opportunity, as attested in many films held at the YFA – see for example Stanley And District Hospital Carnival (c.1927), and the Context for that film.
Another prominent feature of films from this time, again evident in this film, is pipe smoking. In England it originated in the great maritime explosion of the 16th century, and growth in the trade of tobacco. Chalk pipes were common among sailors, and returning colonists from Virginia, with the help of Sir Walter Raleigh, are credited with introducing it to the English upper classes – although George Apperson claims that herbs and other leaves were being smoked in pipes in Britain well before then. North American Indians were smoking pipes as a symbol of reconciliation as far back as 1500 BC, and for hundreds of years among the native civilisations of the Americas it was thought to have numerous medicinal properties.
It has gone in and out of fashion in the centuries since then, but it was really in the twentieth century that smoking became so prevalent, maybe due to the strength of the tobacco industry. Strangely perhaps, pipe smoking has been generally considered as inferior to cigars, and even cigarettes – except by those who use them. Pipe smoking more or less ended with the immediate post-war generation, such as Harold Wilson and Tony Benn. At the beginning of the twentieth century 80% of tobacco was smoked in pipes, by 1957 80% was smoked in cigarettes (by 2000 this was 90%). Unfortunately for those who still enjoy a pipe, the American Cancer Society claims that they are just as harmful to health as cigarettes.
As can be seen in the film, the camping equipment hasn’t really changed that much in essentials. The tents then would have been made out of canvas, which still gets preferred over nylon for many purposes because of its durability. But perhaps what the film shows more than anything else is that having a good time is all relative: before the advent of cheap holidays abroad, and central heating, campers were much less likely to be so put off by the absence of home comforts.
Hazel Constance, First in the field: a century of the Camping and Caravanning Club, Camping and Caravanning Club, 2001
James Walton, The Faber Book of Smoking, Faber and Faber, 2000.
George Latimer Apperson, The Social History Of Smoking, The Ballantyne Press, London, 1914 Online at the Gutenburg Project