It was while I was at a Classic Car Boot Sale on London’s South Bank that I spotted the beautiful, light-green Cheltenham dating back to 1948. It was tucked away in the corner of the car park, along with a tiny classic Airstream and another renovated vintage caravan.
David and Sally Catchpole had seen a post about the event on Facebook: they decided to pack their van full of vintage wares and take along their prized classics for everyone to admire.
“The Cheltenham that we restored doesn’t really go with our modern 4×4 tow car, so we bring our Aston Martin because it’s a bit more in-keeping,” said Sally.
The restoration project wasn’t exactly planned, because both Sally and David already led busy lives: David supplies film locations with vehicles, while Sally is a horse trainer.
“A friend of ours gave us some land to use just down the lane from our place [in Surrey], and as we went down to the field we saw a caravan in a hedge,” said Sally. “I asked the landowners about it; they didn’t want the van, so we paid scrap value for it. We had to rope it to the back of our Toyota truck because it had a very early hitch head and didn’t fit to our tow ball!”
It turned out that this caravan had belonged to an ‘Aunty Ethel’, a relative of the landowner, who had lived in it during the 1960s and 1970s. Having been left there for more than 40 years, the tyres were flat and there was a resident rat, which was immediately evicted. First on the list of improvements was to wash the van, strip the body and prime it ready for a brand new lick of paint.
“On the inside, David stripped out the two front corners that were rotten and rebuilt them. He rebuilt what was already there, but we added our own touches, too.
“The next job was to make new doors for the van, because it didn’t have any – there were just pieces of wood pushed in the doorway. So David created split stable doors with detailed woodwork made to look like inlay.
“We kept the original cupboards that housed the sink and wardrobe, and just rubbed them down and re-oiled them. We had to make a cupboard to put a fridge in, and the old owner of the caravan gave us a sewing cabinet that we put on the wall.”
The caravan also came with its original Cheltenham badge, and its original hubcaps were hidden under the wheelarch. So Sally and David bought new tyres with whitewalls, and put these on with the original hubcaps, just as the caravan would have had in its heyday.
“We wanted the caravan to look as original as possible, so we did what we thought was right. There’s only one other Cheltenham that we’ve ever seen, so we’ve not got much to compare it to! With all that, we wanted to keep it as comfortable as possible, too.”
In search of that comfort, the original gas light was converted to electric. The caravan had come with its original ‘colonial’ cushion upholstery but, after spending so much time in the abandoned van, they were no longer in good condition.
“I bartered with my friend who makes curtains,” said Sally. “I trained her horse for her and she made the curtains and the cushion covers!”
Modern conveniences inside the van have been kept to a minimum. The Catchpoles bought a cooker through eBay, added a fridge, and electricity is supplied by a quiet generator; but there’s no gas, heating or shower. There is, however, a small cubicle in which they have a portable toilet; Sally and David eventually hope to replace it with a porcelain unit. ￼￼￼As for berths: if you fold down the two tables (one of which was handcrafted by David, and features a diamond inlay) and put the cushions on top, you get two comfortable double beds.
“The van has got everything we need, but we would never go away in it in winter because it would be too cold,” said Sally.
Bringing the Cheltenham back to life was definitely a challenge: Sally and David found the caravan in June 2010, and had it ready for a grand opening tea party on the day of the Queen’s Jubilee, a year later. Because of their ingenuity and hard work, the whole project didn’t cost more than £4500; the wallpaper and the flame-retardant cushion fillers turned out to be the most expensive parts.
“The wallpaper cost more than the caravan,” said Sally. “We just paid scrap value for the van, but the paper was made specially for us. That’s the nice thing about this project – although the van looked horrendous inside, once we had stripped out all the horrible dirt and bits, it turned out to be a beautiful caravan with everything there.”
Sally and David haven’t yet been on holiday in the van, but have stayed in it while touring classic car shows such as the Goodwood Revival, Hazlemere Classic Car Show, the Silverstone Classic and Wheels Day at Rushmoor Arena. Plus, of course, they’ve visited the Classic Car Boot Sale on South Bank, where we met.
“That was a lovely day: we did really well. We stuffed the caravan full of bits to sell! We definitely want to go to another car boot sale.”
Apart from showing off the caravan at car shows and local fêtes, David and Sally use it in their garden to host tea parties and spend time with friends.
“It was our labour of love. We never thought we would be caravanners, but if we can find the right caravan, we will definitely do another project.” And their enthusiasm is clearly infectious: “Our son, Ted, even bought his own van to do up: it’s a 1952 Teardrop and he’s collecting items ready to start!”
The wallpaper cost more than the caravan!