Camping in Wantage 1901

THE least-visited memorials in Wantage must be the two shown here, affixed to the small bridge across the Letcombe Brook in Ickleton Road.

This is mainly because of the busy traffic and the lack of a pavement.

In 1901, there was – as you can see from these plaques – a small encampment at this site over four days on what was then the August 'bank holiday' which is regarded as the first camp for what later became the Camping and Caravanning Club.

The instigator of this camp was Thomas Hiram Holding (1844-1930), outdoorsman, tailor, author and keen camper.

He first developed his interest in camping when he crossed the United States with his parents in a Wagon Train.

A keen cyclist and member of the Banbury Bicycle Club in 1876, Holding wrote to Bicycling News suggesting a national touring club for cyclists, so that 'companionable men' could tour the country together by bicycle.

As a direct outcome of that letter, the Bicycle Touring Club – later the Cyclists Touring Club – was founded at Harrogate in 1878.

Holding was president and chairman from 1880-81 and created an honorary member in 1899.

A natural extension of cycle touring was camping, and this led to the formation of the Association of Cycle Campers in early 1901 with Thomas Holding as president and Mr Edward C Pitt-Johnson from Oxford as secretary.

A meeting was held to decide where the new association should hold their first camp and the result was correspondence and an advert in the CTC Gazettes of July and August of 1901.

The advert read 'Cycle Camping-Mr. EC Pitt Johnson, 4 Lambridge, Bath, the honorary secretary of the Association Of Cycle Campers desires to say a cycle camp will be held at Wantage during the coming bank holiday. Each camper must bring his own paraphernalia.'

Further information was forthcoming in two letters published by the CTC Gazette from Messers Holding and Pitt Johnson.

These explained that the camp site was 'In Mr Haily's meadow, Eagleton Road (an original error by Holding – say the word Ickleton in the Berkshire dialect!) now in occupation of Mr Paul Whitley. (a search of the 1911 census reveals that there was no Whitley(s) in Wantage - a Paul Wheatley, coachman, was living in Newbury Street). Whilst near town it is secluded and affords the following; Deep mill dam for bathing, spring water, a shed for cycles and hay for pillows and beds. Mrs Sheppard (whose cottage is close at hand in Eagleton Road) will receive parcels and render necessary attention. If blankets are needed, better write to her in advance.'

Mrs Sheppard was in fact Mrs Ada Shepherd who was living in a cottage in Ickleton Road at the time with her husband Daniel (a haulier) and daughter Edith, aged two.

Mr A J Belcher in the Market Place was available for any 'cycle conveniences'.

A programme of outings was planned for the weekend including 'a spin' out to White Horse Hill, lunch at the King Alfred's Head in Wantage, church on Sunday morning and a visit to the Moat House in Letcombe Regis on Sunday afternoon.

Six people, including Thomas Holding himself, camped at Wantage from August 2-5, 1901.

The others were Edward Pitt-Johnson, TW Lowther from Birmingham, and three brothers Francis Tom and George Penn from Lambeth in London.

Thus began the Association of Cycle Campers which, by 1902, had more than 100 members.

Over the century since the organisation was first formed, it has undergone several name changes and is now the Camping and Caravanning Club.

The club has more than 480,000 members and I am sure that many members of it will be enjoying life under canvas this August Bank Holiday.