Home > Camping Essentials > The History of Recreational Camping

The History of Recreational Camping

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Camping Tents Campsite Holiday Festival

Camping has been around almost as long as man. Tents have been shelter, used for armies on the move and for many other things. But it’s only since late Victorian times that camping has been thought of as recreation.

Early Camping

The first campsite opened on the Isle of Man in 1894, and only men were allowed to camp there. The air was bracing and in those days the Isle of Man was a very rural area. The site only opened during the summer months. Such was its popularity that it drew 600 campers a week, forcing the owners to purchase more land to accommodate all those who wanted to visit.

The Father Of Camping

The real father of recreational camping, though, is Thomas Hiram Holding. As a child he’d crossed the American prairies with his parents, heading for the Oregon Territory, so he’d learned all the nuances of camping from a very early age.

A well-travelled man, in the 1880s he took a canoe and camping trip in Scotland, followed by a cycling and camping trip in Ireland. This latter trip marked the first use of portable camping equipment, which Holding designed himself, and was followed by a book about his experiences, entitled Cycle and Camp in Connemara, which was published in 1898.


In his book Holding invited others who loved camping to contact him, and this resulted in the formation of the Association of Cycle Campers. Formed in 1901 it had just 13 members (and only six of those attended the first meeting). It proved to be a highly influential group, including explorer Captain Scott and the founder of the Boy Scout movement, Baden-Powell, among the heads in the Association’s early years. As time passed the organisation was rechristened the Camping and Caravanning Club, the name it still holds, with well over a million members these days.

The Growth Of Camping

Other than the period of the First World War, the popularity of camping continued to grow during the first part of the 20th century. This was especially true in the 1930s, when there was a surge in growth. It was a time when the idea of becoming fitter and more in touch with nature was in vogue, and camping fitted the bill perfectly. An indication of the growth of camping came with the first international camping association, which was formed in 1932.

The Later 20th Century

In the 1950s and 1960s the main holiday options for most people were boarding houses, which imposed their own rules and offered little freedom to those staying there. At the same time, the quality of camping gear was improving and its weight coming down. Suddenly camping holidays offered a viable alternative to the restrictive boarding house experience, one which many people eagerly grasped. Others opted for caravans, although these required a car, which few people owned at the time.

Since the early 1970s more and more people have turned to camping, not only in the UK but all over the world. In the US the rise of the car after the Second World War saw more people on the road with tents, exploring the country in a manner not too dissimilar to their ancestors.

More recently, the rise of the festival has brought thousands to camping, something they might first experience on a festival site and then come to love. It’s drawn in a young crowd to camping to join older generations who discovered it several generations before.

Camping has never been more popular. It gives freedom (even in campsites), it’s cheap, and it’s something the family can enjoy together.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
That’s not to say camping hadn’t been around for centuries but previously it had been out of necessity rather than for pleasure – many trips required camping if there was no inn along the way. It simply wasn’t something people thought of as a holiday, it was simply too rough and raw. But it fit in very well with the boy scout ethos of the time.
Pete - 15-Oct-12 @ 10:35 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments