Andy Jenkinson

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If you love vintage caravans and classic cars, you'll adore this 1930s outfit! Andy Jenkinson meets the owners of this Winchester and its Alvis tow car

Paul Genner has been a keen caravanner for many years. He and his partner Trisha are members of the Historic Caravan Club and enjoy the classic scene, attending many vintage caravan rallies, which also fits with Paul’s interest in vintage vehicles.

It was in 1986 that Paul first clapped eyes on the Winchester tourer that would become part of his classic caravanning for many years to come. The model is one of the few surviving vans of the 1930s that had moved on from the traditional boxy shape to a more aerodynamic, streamlined design.

The Winchester story began back in 1912 when founder Bertram Hutchings began building horse-drawn units after honeymooning in a caravan. The tourers became known as ‘The Rolls-Royce of Caravans’, such was the quality of the workmanship carried out. In those early days, caravanning was the pastime of the well-heeled and customers were able to have the original Winchester factory designs altered to suit their particular requirements.

The horse-drawn caravan gave way to the car-towed tourer during the 1920s, and by the 1930s more aerodynamic models began to appear. By the 1950s, the appeal of caravanning had broadened and cheaper, mass-produced tourers were in demand. Conversely, the market for luxury caravans had shrunk; in 1959 the Winchester factory closed and the name was sold to Stirling Caravans in Cirencester, who continued production for a short period. The Winchester name enjoyed a revival from 1974 to 1983, when Stirling ceased production.

Paul’s Winchester was built in December 1930 and so was classed as a 1931 model. It was purchased by Mrs EMW Jay of Alford, Lincolnshire, for her family to use for holidays in the Lake District. It was a time when you just pulled over and camped without a care in the world!

The Winchester was designed to sleep four, no washroom was fitted – on summer days most people would wash outside – and you had a small tent for a toilet. Mrs Jay had a maid to do the chores, and she slept in a tent.

Mrs Jay had the Winchester towed by an Alvis. When it was not being used it was stored under cover, so saw little in the way of bad weather for the near-50 years of Mrs Jay’s ownership.

The caravan was sold and passed through two more owners before coming up for sale again in 1986. It had clearly been cherished; when Paul bought the Winchester it was almost in the same condition as it was when it had left the factory back in 1930.

Paul gave the Winchester a slight restoration, returning the caravan to as near perfection as possible. A luxury vintage van needed a classic car to tow it and what better, thought Paul, than an Alvis. He found a 1932 Alvis Speed 20SA Ellis Tourer. It was the perfect outfit.

When the Winchester was built, oil lamps and 12-volt lighting were the norm. The cooking was done on an oil stove, which also provided heat, although winter caravanning was rare. There was no insulation as such and single-glazed glass windows meant the Winchester was for summer use only. At the back of the van were two long bench seats and a large table for dining. The seats doubled as single beds. A solid partition divided the caravan in two and provided privacy; this arrangement was known as a two-cabin design.

The kitchen was in the middle on the offside of the tourer, with a wardrobe opposite. The front end had a transverse settee and this could also be made up into a double bed.

According to Paul, the Alvis tows the Winchester well, but the pace is leisurely. Unsurprisingly, the outfit receives plenty of interest when he displays it at classic shows. Paul says: “Visitors ask where our modern tourer is and can’t believe it when we tell them that the Winchester is used as well as displayed!”

The 1930s was the era during which caravanning become accessible to the middle classes and not just the well-off. In this period the industry grew, with names such as Car Cruiser, Eccles, Raven, Cheltenham and Siddal helping to establish caravanning as a pastime.

The Winchester factory has long gone, but its set-up had tourer bodies built on the first floor then lowered to the ground floor for the chassis and furniture to be fitted.

Stepping inside the Winchester is like going back in time: real wood veneers and brass hinges show the solid workmanship of a time when men designed and built everything. The Winchester feels spacious, even though its width is narrow compared to that of today’s tourers.

The Winchester was built at a time when life moved at a slower pace and when you just went where you liked and left your caravan knowing that it would still be there when you returned! Caravanning was different in the 1930s, that’s for sure, and when you step into Paul and Trisha’s Winchester you can soak up that ambience of a stress-free way of touring.

If you visit one of the many outdoor classic shows over the summer, keep an eye out for Paul and Trisha who will be only too happy to transport you back to that pre-war era!

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