Across The Pond

Our Across The Pond page is a short exploration of mobile homes as they have evolved in the United Kingdom. Not every aspect may be covered, but we hope to touch on the more important facets of Britain's "Caravan Culture".

First off, it should be explained that what we in the United States refer to as a trailer or mobile home is known, in the Mother Country, as a caravan. The term mobile home is used in the UK, but has become a somewhat archaic term.

In England, there are two types of caravans. A smaller unit, often towed behind a car, is known as a touring caravan, or tourer (we would call it a travel trailer, camper or RV).  A wider -and longer- static caravan (our house trailer) is too large to be towed by a car. It would be moved to a permanent location by a "lorry" (or truck).

Static caravans are also called holiday homes. These are used strictly for vacation and leisure and are not occupied on a permanent basis. The holiday home has been installed in a resort-type setting, or holiday park. It is either maintained as a second home or rented out as a "holiday let".

A few Brits do live year-round in residential static caravans. These have either been set up in caravan parks who maintain a so-called 12-month residential license, or have been towed to a less-regulated rural setting.

It bears mention, at this juncture, that British Caravan Culture is vastly different than any American counterpart. In The States, living in a trailer can be (and often is) looked down on. 

However, in the UK, a mobile abode is, more often than not, seen in a positive light.  To sum things up, NOBODY in Britain is ever derided as being "caravan trash". In fact, such a term does not exist. 

Oddly enough, Brits may call someone "trailer trash". Being as how a caravan is not referred to as a (quote-unquote) "trailer" over there, this American term doesn't really make sense when used in the British vernacular. 

It can be surmised that the reason "trailer trash" is ever uttered across the pond at all is because so many Brits have heard the term in American TV shows and movies.   

Say what Sarah? In an early episode of the BBC One "Last Tango In Halifax" programme, "Caroline" (portrayed by Sarah Lancashire) maligns the "Gillian" character for being "brain dead, low life, trailer trash".
Photo from Wikipedia / "DalekHelen"

Caravanning in England had its beginnings in the earlier part of the 19th century. Specially-built horse-drawn carriages provided sleeping accommodations, and not much more. A character in a circa-1840 Charles Dickens novel resided in such an abode.

The next mobile home milestone came about in 1885, when Scotsman Dr. William Gordon Stables designed the world's first leisure travel homeKnown as The Wanderer, the 30-foot-long, horse-drawn caravan was built in Bristol. Mr. Stables, a well-known author, traveled the British countryside in his stylish house on wheels and wrote a novel chronicling his exploits. 

William Gordon Stables (on the right) poses for a photo op in front of The Wanderer, his touring caravan. It provided seating and sleeping accommodations and included a paraffin "cooker stove".
Photo from

1919 was another banner year in British caravanning. The Eccles ["ek-ulz"] Company, of Birmingham, brought out the Eccles Motor Transport. The unit was the first to be designed and marketed as a "car-pulled" caravan.

A 1920s promotion for current Eccles Caravan models. The company, known for its high-quality, luxury line of mobile homes, was the industry leader for several years.
Advert from / G. Windsor

In the 1930s, the typical caravan was built with a wooden frame. Varnished, or painted, plywood was used as an exterior covering, with roofs consisting of stretched canvas. Some high-end "vans" had steel coverings, with the most deluxe models being clad in more durable aluminium ["al-yoo-min-ee-um"]. A few models included bathroom facilities, but this would not become a standard static caravan feature until the 1950s.

The "style moderne" ("art deco") movement of the 1920s and '30s led to the design of so-called "streamlined" models. In this rendering, we see the sleek 1936 Airlite.
Drawing from Flickr / "SirJadam" 

The global conflict of 1939-1945 caused a hiatus in caravan manufacturing. However, in building air craft for the war effort, more efficient, and cost-saving, mass-production techniques were perfected. 

In 1946, the Eccles Company debuted its assembly-line-built National Transport model. Now viewed as the first static-type caravan, its low cost made the caravan (up to this time strictly a luxury item) available to the middle classes. 

A circa-1952 promotion for the Willerby Villa static caravan. As the copy attests, "the longest mobile home in Great Britain" extended for a whopping 35 feet and included full bathroom facilities.
Advert from

The 1961 Bluebird Senator is shown in a recent photo. Originally selling for around 899 pounds sterling (or 2,200 -1960s- US dollars), it featured two bedrooms, a shower room and fully-insulated walls, floors and ceilings.
Photo from

By the 1970s, the standard static caravan floor plan was established. In America, the "tongue" of a mobile home (which connected it with a towing vehicle) was nearly always situated at the front of the unit. In Brit-built static caravans, the "tow hitch" (or "tongue") was a rear-end appendage. In essence, a reverse of the American model.

So, in Britain, the tow hitch and "lounge" (living room) were typically at the rear end of the mobile home. Going stern-to-bow, there would -then- be a divided bedroom and kitchen area, "shower room" and master bedroom (which occupied the front of the unit).

Static caravans of the time averaged 10 feet in width. 12-wide units were available, but were not commonplace. Meanwhile, the American mobile home model was averaging 12 to 14 feet in width, with behemoths of up to 70 feet in length being sold. In Britain, it is plausible that roadway regulations dictated that the maximum length of a static caravan could not exceed 40 feet. 

In this image, we see a 1971 model Willerby 10-wide mobile home, which was configured with the standard "rear lounge" floor plan.
Photo from Willerby Homes for Leisure / Naomi Woodstock

By the 1980s, static caravans with vinyl-coated galvanized steel exteriors were being offered. The first 14-foot-wide models entered the market in 1995. 

A front elevation and floor plan of the typical static caravan of the 1980s and 1990s. The standard width of such a unit was in the 10 foot range, with its length being 40 feet.

By the Twenty-tens, the "Twin" (or "double-wide") mobile home had been introduced. These were 20 feet in width, when both 10-wide units were connected. The standard single-wide static caravan of the New Millennium was built 12 feet in width, with the maximum length being 40 feet. 

As a footnote, we will add that none of these measurements are quoted using metric figures...everything is stated in standard Imperial (foot and inch-type) dimensions.

We wrap up our Across The Pond page with views of the latest static caravan / holiday home models. The Oakley Carousel, seen here, comes in a width of 12 feet and length of 39. It sells for 28,969 pounds (or 36,800 -2018- US dollars).
Photos from (ABI UK, Limited)

The somewhat higher-end Pemberton Rivington has a width of 12.6 feet and end-to-end dimension of 40. Its selling price is 46,700 pounds (converting to 59,400 -2018- US dollars). 
Photos from (Pemberton Park & Leisure Homes, Limited) 

"William Gordon Stables" article on Wikipedia 
The Daily Mail / Naomi Woodstock (ABI UK, Limited) (Pemberton Park & Leisure Homes, Limited) 

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