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The Chalet Roulant (UK 1910)

Despite this van's French name, the Chalet Roulant ('The Rolling Chalet') is a self-built British motorhome. Below is an account of a holiday in this early RV in the West Country of England written by its owner, Grace A. Lomax.

The account is a refreshingly positive account of a motorhome holiday from a female perspective. It gives details of the motorhome's features and layout and gives examples of the kindness received from complete strangers during the tour. In the days before caravan parks, RV owners had to seek permission from private landowners before pitching their vans. Mrs. Lomax's experiences stand in stark contrast to the North American touring experiences of Mr. and Mrs. Miller a few years earlier in 1904.

Although the report of this holiday was published in 1913, a reference in the article to the Crippen murder case of 1910 suggests the tour was probably undertaken in that year.

The motor caravan "Chalet Roulant" in a field overlooking Babbacombe Bay (source The Motor 19 Aug 1913)

Westward Ho! On The Chalet Roulant

An Interesting Description of a Holiday Tour on a Motor Caravan

by Grace A. Lomax

(source: The Motor 19 August 1913, sub-titles inserted for readability)

"So much has been written lately about caravans in general and motor caravans in particular that the following short account of our experience may be of interest to some who contemplate a similar tour.

Built in a Disused Coach-House

"The Châlet was entirely home-made, the van being built in a disused coach-house, and when complete being lifted on to the chassis of our landaulet. It was arranged to sleep four people – two adults and two children, but on the outward journey we carried five. On the next page are rough sketches showing the arrangement of the interior.

"It was our experience during the trip that the caravan body was no heavier than the usual closed body, and we were able to make good speed on the road. While travelling we sat on comfortable garden chairs in the front division, which had large side windows to open. It was in this cubicle, so to speak, that our passenger friend slept among an assortment of petrol cans and Gladstone bags. This room was fitted with green serge curtains for the night time, and was separated from the living room of the van by the same means.

Mattresses Resting on Chairs

"The children slept on the wide seats on each side of the living room, these being softly cushioned. We, the parents, slept in the centre floor space on a pair of lath spring mattresses (also home-made) resting on chairs at either end, and covered with a small hair mattress. This bedding, together with the necessary blankets, etc., was stowed away during the day at the back of, and on, the wide settees, and covered entirely with green serge covers. We had a good-sized table here also in one corner, which was easily removed for the girlie's convenience in getting into bed. When she was safely tucked in, we would put the table back again and calmly eat our supper. Of course it only covered her legs, and in no way interfered with her comfort.

"We Will have Electric Next Time"

"Behind the living room was my special compartment, the kitchen. Each side was fitted with lockers and shelves. On one was the cooking stove, a little Rippingille, and really that little stove was a marvel. The great secret with a paraffin stove is strict attendance to cleanliness. Above and beneath the partition for the stove, which space was entirely lined with metal in order to guard against fire, were divisions for saucepans, kettle, oil, wash-up, dustpan, etc. On the opposite side at the top was a most ingeniously-contrived larder, with an opening to the outer air; below this, shelves and fitments safely to carry stores and enamel ware. A good window to open at the back, with a small ledge table under, gave us thorough ventilation. Over the driving room was a large space, which was fitted with two light, long, sliding boxes, and these were used as our wardrobe and library. Interior lighting was by means of candles in double sconces, and was not at all bad, but we will have electric next time.

The interior layout of Chalet Roulant (source The Motor 19 Aug 1913)

Caring for The Stranger at Our Gate

"We left London, a northern suburb, on a glorious September afternoon, being cheered by our friends, who told us they would come along the road in a few hours to find us again, for very few gave us the credit of having built a really navigable van. We were stocked with weekend provisions, but as we were late in getting away, and wanted to leave home some distance behind before nightfall, we had tea at a wayside cottage en route. We reached Maidenhead after dark, and were hurrying through the High Street in order to find a pitch for the night, when a back tyre burst. My husband, who made a splendid skipper, got out to prospect, and, finding we were outside the gates of a large house, went in and got permission to stand in the drive for the night. This is a sample of country courtesy which was multiplied several times during our tour, and which makes one respect and revere the spirit which, though sometimes invisible in our large towns, still exists in England, that "caring for the stranger at our gate". The Lady Jane Levitt (since gone to her rest) not only allowed us to shelter in her grounds, but gave orders for a supply of boiling water, a delicious chicken for supper, and a bountiful supply of new-laid eggs for breakfast to be served to us. As early as possible the next morning we moved through the town, and on to The Thicket, where we spent an ideal Sunday, and on Monday morning continued our westward journey.

Two-Hour Lunches

"We found absolute honesty in the country, being able to leave the van for hours with spare tyres, etc., strapped on, and finding all intact on our return. One little refinement for which we made room was a folding mail cart for the boy, who only six weeks previously had broken his leg, and was unable to walk long distances. Our daily plan was to move camp shortly before midday. We called a halt for dinner at one, or as near that hour as possible. This would last until about three, as there was clearing up to be done and a cup of tea to be enjoyed. We then drove again until tea time, which meal we sometimes partook of on the road, and at others waited until we were camped for the night. As evening drew on the pilot kept an eye open for a likely camping field, and only on one occasion were we refused permission to enter the chosen field, and only once were we charged for doing so. This was in a tour lasting three weeks, and is only another proof of the inborn charity of the true Englishman. We found almost without exception that the owner of our pitch was a farmer, and was only too pleased to supply us with eggs (our principal food), butter, milk and also apples. We lived very simply, eating a plentiful supply of the above articles of food, together with custards, stewed fruit, cold meat, etc. We found the country bread very delicious, as was also some I baked in the oven of the oil stove. Of course, when staying for some time in one camp, I was able to indulge in a little cooking, and excellently it turned out, though the process seemed slow after a large gas cooker.

Harbouring Criminals

"We had an amusing experience at a little place near Wells. It seemed that the place we had chosen belonged to a lady farmer, who at first looked on us with what almost bordered on suspicion. A motor caravan! Well, there were such dreadful things going on in London that she wondered if she was being asked to harbour criminals (it was at the time of the Crippen outrage). However, when the pilot produced from the depths of the van a wife and two rather comely children we were welcomed with outstretched arms and given the best in the land. This lady and her daughters did the entire work of a busy farm: milking the cows and tending the large number of poultry and pigs which were to be seen on every side. When we awoke in the morning it was to find our van surrounded with fowls, turkeys, geese, pigs, etc., and we had great fun with them before we left.

"Our hostess came aboard, and found us a cosy little household, and on parting presented us with a week's supply of apples.

Cheering Roadmenders

"So the days slipped by until on Thursday we found ourselves over the Devon boundary. Torquay was our goal, and having Devon blood in our veins, once we had sighted the red soil, our spirits, already very high, rose yet more, and in sheer delight we sang as we drove through the hedges bristling with ferns and flowers. Surely the roadmenders shared the joy which we felt, for they cheered and waved their caps as we passed. Our meals were very informal that day, and the word went round – "No tea till we get there", so as the boy, being yet not quite out of his babyhood, had to be fed at the regular hour, I retired with him into the interior and prepared his meal while the car ran through lovely little coast towns and up hills and down again. I still feel a pride in the performance, for it was much like being in a ship, but the movement was far from gentle.

"It was nearly dark when we mounted the hill above Teignmouth, after crossing the bridge at Shaldon, and so we lighted the lamps and glided down into St. Mary Church (our haven), and came to rest by the statue at the end of Fore Street. Here we were soon sighted by friends, who had received no tidings for two days, and who, never having seen the Châlet, were filled with curiosity.

"We tried to get down a lane to a field close by, but got tightly wedged between unyielding hedges of granite, so, being in no-one's way, and being very hungry and tired, we settled to a hearty tea and bed, choosing, much to our people's amazement, to sleep on board instead of in a house.

A Postal Address for Letters

"We spent a never-to-be-forgotten week in a field overlooking Babbacombe Bay, with a moon, such as only rises down there, for a lamp by night, and splendid sunshine by day. We were very much at home here, and indulged in a clothes line and a washing day, and even had a postal address at which our letters were delivered. There was a dear old horse in this field, "Grey", who would come over and insert as much of his head and neck as he possibly could in the window in search of the sugar and apples which he discovered were to be had within. The photo shows the Châlet at rest in this spot.

Oh! The Absolute Peace of Those Dreamless Nights

"Well, all good things come to an end, and we bade farewell to St. Mary Church and took to the open road once more. We made for Exeter by a route through Newton Abbot and Chagford, and spent the night at a farm a few miles out of Exeter. Oh! the absolute peace of those dreamless nights. It can only be found in the depths of the country and away from the main roads, for we found that on the principal highways there is a never-ceasing stream of motor traffic by night as well as by day. But up a lane and around a corner you lose all that, and mind and body gather refreshment for another spell of hard work.

"It only added to the enjoyment when the rule of dreamless slumber was broken by a horse or horses, who were the original tenants of the field, coming across the Châlet in the dark and using it as a scratching post, and if there were a fowl within walking distance, you may be sure that Chanticleer would greet the dawn right under your bed, with only a floorboard between you and he.

"Bath proved very interesting after a quiet weekend at Taunton, and several days were spent in exploring this ancient city. Our camp was at the foot of the hill outside the town, and it was a nightly pleasure to watch the twinkling lights which dot the slopes like glow-worms.

Homesick for The Cosy Van

"Our next pitch was at Reading, and then our motor seemed to smell his stable, or we to think of home, for we decided that anywhere between Reading and London was too towny for a camp. Tea-time saw us at Woodford, and our predominant feeling on entering the house was how ridiculous it was to have so many rooms and so much work, when one could carry one's house on one's back, so to speak. I was homesick on that and on many succeeding nights for my cosy little van, which had come to be a home indeed during the three weeks we spent in her. Our daydream since is always another caravan, rather larger, but very little heavier, for one can do wonders with a van of that size, while anything heavier must be a cumbersome affair, and very extravagant to run as regards fuel and tyres.

Don't Forget Rubber Boots and a Sun Sheet

"One word in conclusion. We all carried our rubbers, as in the early morning the grass is soaking with dew, and wet boots or clothes are not desirable in a caravan. In hot weather, when standing in an exposed camp, a sun sheet would be necessary to avoid unpleasant heat in the interior, but being late in the year we were not troubled with enough sun to make this necessary."


Andrew Woodmansey

August 2022


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