Tag Archives: Organised activity

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- The Canoe Club and British Canoe Association

‘In the camp all classes and ages amalgamate;

to be a canoeist and a gentleman is all the qualification required’

John Davey Hayward, Camping Out, 1891

It is unsurprising that the earliest form of organised camping in the UK as a leisure pursuit was associated with the increase in the popularity of pleasure boating and canoeing in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, especially on the River Thames. As the railways took trade from the waterways, many of the less congested rivers became safer places for the more wealthy individual to spend their leisure time and indulge in their romanticised rural idyll. This complimented the growing appreciation in rowing, paddling and athleticism. Small, often quite light, craft could be purchased, rented or built and simplified the carrying of quite heavy, bulky camping equipment. Later, cycle camping enabled budding adventurers to take to the roads in similar fashion. Backpacking, as we would identify with it, occurred later, as still further refinements in outdoor gear were established.

Camping by boat on the River Thames, possibly Eel Pie Island. c1900. Lantern slide

Camping by boat on the River Thames, possibly Eel Pie Island. c1900. Coloured lantern slide

The Royal Canoe Club

Club badge of the Royal Canoe Club. No 36 in series of 50 club badges, Ogden's Cigarettes, 1915

Club badge of the Royal Canoe Club. No 36 in series of 50 club badges, Ogden’s Cigarettes, 1915

John ‘Rob Roy’ MacGregor formed the Canoe Club on 25th July 1866, this was the first canoe club in the World. With royal patronage, they became the Royal Canoe Club in 1873. The Prince of Wales, having joined the club as member and Commodore, was Member No. 57. Membership seems to have been somewhat elitist with members mostly comprised of ‘Diplomats, Doctors, Lawyers and Businessmen’. MacGregor also designed and built a popular lightweight, short canoe suited for paddling, called a ‘Rob Roy’, his boat survives and is held by the National Maritime Museum.

With this boat, MacGregor crossed the English Channel (the canoe travelling as luggage on board a cross-channel steamer) and explored a thousand miles of European waterways, later writing a book of his exploits. He inspired many people to take up the sport of canoeing, including Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson

Racing was the primary interest of most members of the Canoe Club. Camping canoeists looking for kindred spirits had to wait until 1933 when the Camping Club of Great Britain and Ireland formed a specialist sub-section, later known as the Canoe Camping Club.

The Canoe Club held a grand muster at Thames Ditton, between Hampden Court and Kingston, in May 1867. Robert MacGregor with his 'Rob Roy' canoe led the procession of canoes to the start of the race course

The Canoe Club held a grand muster at Thames Ditton, between Hampden Court and Kingston, on 27 April 1867. Robert MacGregor with his ‘Rob Roy’ canoe led the procession of canoes to the start of the race course. By 1874 the race became known as The Paddling Challenge. Held each year, it is the oldest canoe race in the World. Illustrated London News 4 May 1867

The British Canoe Association

In August 1887 a handful of newly formed canoe clubs were invited by the Royal Canoe Club for a joint cruise on the Norfolk Broads, attendees agreed the formation of a British Canoe Association. This was along the lines of the already successful American Canoe Association. MacGregor became its first Commodore.

The first meeting of members of the British Canoe Association was at Loch Lomond in 1888, the next at Lake Windermere in the English Lake District in 1889 (members included a honeymooning couple). When the 1890 meet was held at Falmouth on the South Coast, the association had in excess of 150 members, females were eligible for membership from the outset.

‘… its object shall be the promotion of cruises and meets… for the purpose of cruising and camping… to procure increased facilities for cruising, camping and exploration’

From- the Rules of the British Canoe Association

1889 was also the year that a classic in English literature was published. Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat recorded the author’s trip up the Thames in a camping skiff, with his dog Montmorency and two friends, Harris (Carl Hentschel) and George (George Wingrave). The book received scathing reviews from the critics but the public loved it.

When Jerome K. Jerome set off with two friends and his dog for a cheap holiday on the River Thames, their misadventures were primarily down to their choice of craft and their amateurish attempts to control it- The camping skiffs had three iron hoops over which a green waterproof canvas canopy could be stretched. Sleeping within their craft reduced any reliance on campsites and unwelcoming land owners. Three Men in a Boat, first published 1889

When Jerome K. Jerome set off with two friends and his dog for a cheap holiday on the River Thames, their misadventures were primarily down to their choice of craft and their amateurish attempts to control it- The camping skiffs had three iron hoops over which a green waterproof canvas canopy could be stretched. Sleeping within their craft reduced any reliance on campsites and unwelcoming land owners. Three Men in a Boat, first published 1889

Sailing Canoes, 1891

Sailing Canoes, 1891

There were various definitions of canoe, but a loose interpretation was usually accepted outside of the stricter criteria used in races and competition. Sailing canoes were introduced in the 1870s, these included the Mersey Sailing Canoe- which were up to 20 feet in length.

Canoe camping became a popular pastime with week long camps being established where fellow campers would live the itinerant lifestyle, foregoing shaving and town garb much to the amusement, interest or disgust of the genteel town people they encountered.

“How jolly to be in a boat again- to be without collars and top-hats- to be beyond reach of the postman, the tax collector and the ‘knocker up in the morning’ “

John Davey Hayward, Camping Out, 1891

BCA Burgee, Sub Rosa Cigarros card

British Canoe Association Burgee, ‘Flags of all Nations’ series, Sub Rosa Cigarros trade card, 1909-11

Lightweight tents, or what passed as lightweight at the time, were utilised. Popular styles were the Mersey, Clyde, Marquee and the usual ex-military or military clone Bell tents. Club burgees fluttered from their apex. In contrast with the US penchant for wood fires, small spirit stoves were favoured for cooking. The Mersey, Irene and Boddington stoves were popular, however I have failed to find any information or images of these. John Davey Hayward, in his 1891 book Camping Out notes that a camper who has not eaten in four hours is a ravenous animal and dangerous to meet.

Popular camps were established along the River Thames. Within ten years of their creation the Royal Canoe Club had provided a camping ground for canoeists at Teddington. Members of the Mersey Canoe Club favoured the popular camp on Hilbre Island at the mouth of the River Dee where canoeists would spend the night in hammocks strung in a rented shed.

Landowners became increasingly annoyed with river campers, trees were pulled down for fires and rubbish left. As the number of people wishing to camp increased, available sites were on the decrease. Between the Wars canoeists became disillusioned with river camping. Many prime waterside sites were now private, had newly built dwellings or were simply fenced off. There was an increase in the number of camping skiffs and camping punts available for rent as this freed rowers and paddlers from relying on finding an affordable or welcoming site each night. A canopy could be strung across the boat itself and provided a cosy home for two or three friends during an affordable multi-day excursion. Such boats also required a degree less skill to control than the lightweight canoes and kayaks. River camping was no longer the preserve of the wealthy.

The British Canoe Association faltered but quietly hung on in spirit into the 1920s. In 1933 it merged with the Canoe Section of the Camping Club of Great Britain. In 1936, The Canoe Section of the Camping Club, Clyde Canoe Club, Manchester Canoe Club and the Royal Canoe Club formed the British Canoe Union, which held its inaugural meeting in 1936.

“When darkness reigns around, the lighted candles from their sconces throw a beam of warm light across the still moving inky water of the pond like river. The Primus starts to roar, the fry-pan splutters, plates rattle, bottles gurgle and tongues loosen. Who can deny that the river camper’s lot is cast in pleasant places?”

The Amateur Camping Club Handbook, 1910

The riparian camper was now no longer confined to canoes and kayaks, huge numbers of camping skiffs and camping punts could be hired and the democratisation of the pastime ensured that many would extend their new found enthusiasm for an outdoor life to the roads, lanes, tracks, fells and mountains. The golden age of river camping may be long gone, leaving slalomists, scullers, rowers, punters etc. in its wake. However the ripples of the Victorian experiments in camping, now extend far beyond the river banks.

Traditional camping skiff sen on the River Thames whilst walking the London Countryway, Windsor to Marlow section. August 2016

Traditional camping skiff seen on the River Thames whilst walking the London Countryway, Windsor to Marlow section. August 2016

There is a timeline of many of the most important or influential UK outdoor organisations on my main website. I will be covering a number of these later in the year. Do have a glance at the list and see where today’s organisations fit in, you may even be able to suggest a glaring omission to the list!

Edwardian gentlemen

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- Britain’s first holiday camp

“Only youths and men of good moral character are eligible for admission to this

Holiday Camp and should anyone unfortunately prove, by word or deed, to be otherwise,

he will be liable to instant expulsion”

Joseph Cunningham, M.L.C., J.P., C.P.

Joseph Cunningham, M.L.C., J.P., C.P. Founder of the Cunningham Holiday Camp

Amongst the first public campsites in the World opened on the Isle of Man in 1894. The venture came about due to the frustrations experienced by Joseph Cunningham and his wife when, employed as the superintendent of The Florence Institute in Toxteth, Liverpool, he arranged annual week-long youth camps at Laxey on the Isle of Man in 1892/3. The following year the annual camp was held at nearby Howstrake. Unprofitable at this juncture, Joseph left the institute and he and Elizabeth went it alone, running the next camp at Howstrake themselves as a much expanded and more ambitious enterprise. Within a few years up to 600 men were staying at the ‘tent city’ each week. Open during the finer months, from May to October, the Cunningham’s considerable business acumen ensured the success of the camp and demand quickly outgrew the capacity of the site. However the Cunningham’s were tenants only and sought better control of the facilities they wished to provide.

Howstrake camp on the Isle of Man

Howstrake camp on the Isle of Man

In 1904 they opened a new camp just a couple of miles south at ‘Little Switzerland’. The larger five-acre site they had acquired had room for not only around 1500 tents but also a large dining pavilion where ‘up to 3000 can be accommodated at a time’. The new Cunningham Young Men’s Holiday Camp was originally open March to October but by 1933 this had changed to May to September. The camp at Howstrake continued under separate management.

The Cunningham Camp at Little Switzerland on the Isle of Man had 1500 tents and bungalow accommodation

The Cunningham Camp at Little Switzerland on the Isle of Man had 1500 tents and bungalow accommodation

The 'Camp Herald' was an annual publication that included photographs and reviews of the holiday camp, listed excursions and facilities and included a booking form, 1933

The ‘Camp Herald’ was an annual publication that included photographs and reviews of the holiday camp, listed excursions and facilities and included a booking form, 1933

The camp is usually considered the first holiday camp though some argue that it should be discounted as accommodation was within tents at first. Within a few years wooden huts supplemented the ex- army bell tents. Tents were eventually replaced with more substantial chalets built by WWI internees. The description of these as ‘holiday bungalows’ may be somewhat stretching but, by account, most holidaymakers enjoyed their stays immensely, returning year on year. Reading and writing rooms were provided. There was a 90 feet long swimming bath, lawn tennis and badminton courts, putting and bowling greens, and sports field, at which medals were awarded on the weekly Sports Day.

Bungalows and tents had electric lighting and could each accommodate up to four campers. The same fee was charged for each.  Tents came with wooden floors. ‘spring bedstead and comfortable bed’. More luxurious accommodation was provided in the camp’s ambitiously entitled Snaefell Mansions.

“Use of intoxicants, gambling and improper

language are strictly prohibited”

 

Menu board at Camp Cunningham

Menu board at Camp Cunningham

A programme of daily outings and entertainment was provided, as were three meals a day and an evening ‘supper’ for each camper. The camp had its own bakehouse, laundry, ‘refrigerating apparatus’, electricity generators and workshops.  A ‘camp orchestra’ kept diners entertained at mealtimes. There was a camp farm at Crosby, some five miles away. This grew fruit and vegetable for the kitchen and had pigs and a herd of 130 cows. While the local milk produce was appreciated, young men were forbidden some pleasures, for Liverpudlian Cunningham was a Presbyterian and strict abstainer from alcohol. Though no doubt many took advantage of certain off-camp establishments when away for the day.

Keep Fit Class at Cunningham Camp

Keep Fit Class at Cunningham Camp

Campers could sign up to be bussed to various points on the island. Alternatively, hikes were organised, cameras could be hired and trumpets issued along with song sheets so that groups of walkers could sing while tramping, alongside a ‘merry tune’ from anyone that was musically inclined.

The camp was taken over during both World Wars. In 1914 as an internment camp and as a Royal Navy training school- HMS St. George, during WWII. Following the war the family declined to continue with the camp and it was sold to a Blackpool businessman. Joseph Cunningham himself had died 4th September 1924.

The Concert Hall cleared for a dance

The Concert Hall cleared for a dance

Three Points of the Compass has not, as yet, visited the Isle of Man but has stayed at many a holiday camp as a youth. Various Butlins camps were visited by the family each year as we grew up, they were (relatively) affordable and provided the diversity of entertainment required for a large family with wide age ranges and gave my hard working parents the break they deserved. I am told that we never visited the two main rival institutions- Warners and Pontins, but other smaller independent camps were also occasional destinations. Either alone, or with one or two of my siblings, I would wander off exploring dunes, cliffs, woods and beaches. Rock-pooling and fishing. I invariably had a great time, got sun burnt, sustained multiple scrapes on rocks and thorns, startled adders in the bracken and pulled wrasse from the pools left stranded by retreating tide.

DisclaimerThree Points of the Compass is well aware that the title to this blog is incorrect. The inhabitants of the Isle of Man are British, however the island is not part of the United Kingdom. The Isle of Man, situated between Great Britain and Ireland, has an independent administration and government. However the establishment of this first holiday camp is so closely linked to that which evolved in the UK that it cannot be ignored.

 

Austrian stamp

Organised outdoor activity in the UK- Friends of Nature

The Friends of Nature was founded in Vienna in 1895. Variously known as Naturfreunde / Naturefriends / Amis de la Nature in Europe and USA, it is an organisation with enjoyment of the outdoors at its heart. Emerging with the burgeoning Social Democratic movement, it sought to link people and countryside by facilitating travel and accommodation. Buildings were taken over or built. In other places simple huts sufficed. These provided affordable accommodation for people walking the mountains and countryside. They continue to do the same today.

Georg Schmiedl was a socialist, free thinker and teacher. He placed an advert in a Vienna newspaper inviting like minded people to found a touristic group. There were some thirty interested people, including  Alois Rohrauer and Karl Renner (future President of Austria). They had their first meeting on 28 March 1895 and a founding committee was formed.
The first clubhouse opened in Vienna in December 1900, the first Swiss and German groups formed in 1905. By 1920 there were over 20,000 members and a group had been formed in England by 1925. Banned by the Nazis in 1933, the organisation was revived following the Second World War.

Three Points of the Compass stayed at the Friend of Nature Eco camping barn while completing the North Downs Way in 2017

Three Points of the Compass stayed at the Friends of Nature Eco-camping barn while completing the North Downs Way in 2017

Simple overnight accommodation at the Ec-camping barn, Puttenham

Simple overnight accommodation at the Friends of Nature Eco-camping barn, Puttenham, on the North Downs Way

One of the largest non-governmental organisations in the World, the organisation now has over 500,000 members in 47 countries yet its impact in the UK has been relatively small. There are over 800 houses in Europe, USA and elsewhere yet at the time of writing, Friends of Nature UK lists only eight houses affiliated to Naturefriends International. These are mostly run by volunteers and pre-booking is advisable. All are situated in great walking locations and are in considerable demand. When Three Points of the Compass completed the Pennine Way in 2018 there were few accommodation options in Kirk Yetholm. The Friends of Nature hostel, also affiliated to Hostelling Scotland, was a great place to finish.

Kirk Yetholm hostel, 13th July 2018, end of the Pennine Way

Kirk Yetholm hostel, 13th July 2018, end of the Pennine Way

Prior to writing this blog I had a brief search to investigate which of the eight houses affiliated to Friends of Nature I had passed, seen or stayed at. I was surprised to find that I have actually stayed at four of them, half of their UK total. That is perhaps testament to how well situated they are in walking hot-spots. Though I had actually camped at two of these- Wetherdown Lodge and Court Hill Centre.

Three Points of the Compass camped at the Friends of Nature Court Hill Centre, Wantage, while walking the Ridgeway in 2016

Three Points of the Compass camped at the Friends of Nature Court Hill Centre, Wantage, while walking the Ridgeway in 2016

At both of the Friends of Nature locations where I camped, I was able to make good use of washing, drying and basic kitchen facilities. Always a boon for a hiker after a day of rain, as it was on both occasions.

Camping in the grounds of the Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way in November 2018

Camping in the grounds of the Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way in November 2018

In 2016/17/18 Three Points of the Compass stayed at:

Court Hill Centre, Oxfordshire on Ridgeway

Puttenham Eco Camping Barn, Surrey on North Downs Way

Kirk Yetholm hostel at the northern end of the Pennine Way

Wetherdown Lodge, the Sustainability Centre, Hampshire on the South Downs Way

There is a timeline of many of the most important or influential UK outdoor organisations over on my main website. I will be covering a number of these later in the year. Do have a glance at the list and see where today’s organisation fits in, you may even be able to suggest a glaring omission to the list!

English language leaflet, 2012

English language leaflet, 2012

Friends of Nature UK