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Camping Coaches

Anything on rails does not meet our definition of an RV, which should be road-based. Nevertheless, recreation on the railways influenced the design and use of road-going leisure vehicles in both the UK and USA. An innovative use for old railway coaches was found in the UK in the 1930s.

A promotional photo for Great Western Railway camping coach holidays (UK, 1930s)

The Depression of the early 1930s caused significant hardship in many parts of Britain. Those who had work were forced to work long hours with perhaps only the occasional day’s holiday during the year. As economic conditions improved, so did the demands from workers for more time off. The Holiday Pay Act was eventually introduced in 1938, giving paid holidays to workers for the first time. Holiday camps such as Butlins (the first was built in 1936) as well as caravan parks were now in strong demand.

One unusual and mildly eccentric form of ‘recreational vehicle’ that met with some success in the 1930s was the railway camping coach. These were retired railway coaches placed in sidings at holiday destination railway stations and rented out to holidaymakers.

Trialled successfully in 1933 by the London & North Eastern Railway, other railway companies soon followed with more coaches in their regions, including the Great Western Railway. Coaches were adapted to include kitchens, beds and bathrooms and were rented out at about £3 per week. Posters advertising these unusual railway holidays could be found at stations across the network. The concept was suspended during wartime, but revitalised after the war by the newly nationalised British Rail in 1948.

A camping coach in Wales (UK,1930s)

Andrew Woodmansey


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