Bertram Hutchings Caravans

The Caravan and Motorhome Club Collection, located in Beaulieu, received its largest single donation to date, a remarkable collection containing twelve photograph albums, over six hundred photographs and numerous postcards and ephemera relating to one of the most influential names in British leisure caravanning: Bertram Hutchings. As one of the first commercial caravan manufacturers, Hutchings played a key role in their history, founding Winchester Caravans, a name synonymous with excellence.

Harry Bertram Hutchings was born in October 1886 in Winchester, Hants. The owner of a health food shop in Winchester, he began caravanning in September 1911 after spending four months living under canvas. He and his new wife were preparing to move into a house for the winter when he learned of an 18ft caravan for sale in nearby Ringwood. Hutchings bought the caravan and with two horses brought it back to Winchester.  

The newlyweds lived in the caravan throughout the winter and although single walled it was comfortable. The main disadvantage was that it was heavy and required two horses to pull and so in December they made the decision to build a smaller 14ft caravan, light enough for one horse. Fortuitously, Mrs Hutchings had relatives in the coachbuilding business who were able to oblige. Building two vans rather than one helped to reduce costs further and was the first sign of the business that was to develop. Although a vast improvement on the 18ft caravan, the new caravans were still heavy due to the coach building techniques used. 

Impressed with the smaller caravans, Hutchings decided to employ craftsmen to build caravans to his own design. Using timber such as silver spruce and white cedar he designed a two roomed caravan which could easily be pulled by one horse. By the summer of 1912 a small fleet of vans had been established which were hired out at a charge of £5 per week with an additional £1 per horse. The new company had grown to a workshop with a floor area of 1,500 sq. ft, fifteen caravans and twelve horses by the outbreak of the First World War, however when the horses were requisitioned for the war effort it appeared that the fledgling business would have to be put on hold. Hutchings was rejected for war service three times on medical grounds but his contribution to the war effort was not insignificant. The value of caravans for use with Red Cross detachments and for accommodation soon became apparent. With the rapid development of new technologies especially with motor vehicles, Hutchings also experimented with building caravan bodies on motor chassis, the forerunner of motorhomes today. The Royal Navy used the first of these in 1915, as a mobile recruiting office.

The two-wheel trailer began to appear after 1919 with the only issue being a strong enough axle to withstand greater speeds of 20-30 miles an hour. In the early 1920s, companies such as Eccles and Piggot were manufacturing two wheeled trailer caravans and Hutchings followed suit within months.

As technology improved rapidly, streamlined designs were the main consideration in the 1930s. The Hutchings new “Winchester” design appeared at the 1930 Motor Show and set the standard for streamlined models.  It was significantly different to his earlier more traditional models. At the first trailer caravan rally held on 27 August 1932, five out of the six awards for 2-4 berth vans were won by streamlined designs and of those four were Winchesters.

Bertram would test many of the caravans himself on family holidays and on tours including Scotland and overseas to Bavaria. A keen amateur photographer, he would take his own publicity photographs and in 1958 he was made Honorary Life President of Winchester Photographic Society.

During World War Two, due in part to a shortage of materials, Caravan production ceased. Leisure caravanning was frowned upon at a time of national hardship but as in the First World War, caravans were still required. Many caravans were used as billets for soldiers and workers, as accommodation for the blitz homeless, or as canteens. The pattern continued with post war austerity, new manufacturing techniques and materials were leading to mass-produced cheaper caravans. Known as the Rolls Royce of caravans, Winchester had established a reputation for quality and craftsmanship but now had to compete with mass production.

Although manufacturing of Winchesters ceased in 1959, Stephens and West Ltd the manufacturers of Stirling caravans made new versions of Winchester models until 1963 with the co-operation of Bertram and his son Lionel. Bertram Hutchings died aged 80 in 1967.

For more information on the Collection visit: www.nationalmotormuseum.org.uk

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