with thanks to the UK Caravan Club
Dr. Gordon Stables' Wanderer is, as far as we currently know, the world's first purpose-built RV. It has been beautifully restored by the UK Caravan Club and, unless on loan elsewhere, is kept in a former railway shed at the club's Broadway site in the Cotswolds. Other than during special events it is not on general public display and can be viewed by appointment only. Here's what the fully restored Wanderer looks like.
The Wanderer was built in about 1884 by the Bristol Wagon Works Company, known for building railway carriages. As Stables later admitted to Caravan Club Secretary J. Harris Stone, his only regret about the design of The Wanderer was that it was 'most uncomfortable' due to its construction heritage having 'more in common with a Pullman railway carriage than a horse-drawn coach'. Unlike many circus or gypsy caravans of the period, The Wanderer is elegant in its simplicity - Stables did not want his caravan to be showy or 'gay'.
It was certainly a large and heavy caravan for its time, measuring twenty feet in length and weighing almost two tons when fully laden. The exterior was made of solid mahogany lined inside with maple, so it is no surprise that two horses were needed to pull it. The driver's compartment at the front is under a canopy and includes a splash board. The driver sat on top of a corn-bin which held two bushels of corn.
When viewing the restored Wanderer's interior, the immediate impression is of light and space. There are two rooms - a living/dining/sleeping room towards the front and a kitchen at the rear. A large lantern roof with red stained glass illuminates the uncluttered main room where there is nothing out of place and nothing more than needed. Stables called The Wanderer a 'land yacht', harking back to the ship cabin he would have slept in as a naval surgeon. A single bed serves as a daytime sofa, with folding table opposite and four shuttered windows bringing in extra light. There are simple cupboards, shelves and a bookcase.
In the rear corner of the kitchen, called the 'after-cabin' by Stables, is a plate rack and a portable 'Rippingille' cooking range. When on tour Stables' valet would do most of the cooking. In good weather he would take the range outside and cook next to a separate tent where he would also sleep.
In the opposite corner is a red water bucket and tap on a shelf, tastefully marked with the caravan's name and triangular in shape to fit neatly in the corner.
The underside of the caravan has strong leaf springs and relatively small wheels for a carriage of this size. Stables was keen to fit the axles and wheels under the caravan to ensure the caravan was narrow enough to fit through farm gates. The underside also held a ladder, a tent frame for the after-awning, a spade and buckets. There was also enough room to swing a hammock for use by the coachman.
The restored Wanderer is a marvel of efficiency and a testament to its maker and designer. At a time when living in a caravan was both unfashionable and dangerous, it was a vehicle designed for leisure. Full credit must be given to the Caravan Club for acquiring and restoring to a high standard this precious piece of RV history.
A full description of The Wanderer and its first major journey can be found in Stables' book, The Cruise of the Land Yacht Wanderer or Thirteen Hundred Miles in my Caravan, published in 1886. Original photos and sketches of The Wanderer are included in Recreational Vehicles: A World History 1872-1939.