The annual Twinwood music festival in Bedfordshire is a haven for all things vintage and on one visit, my friends and I spotted a delightful old caravan. However, this tourer held a surprise – it was actually brand new!
Jubilee Caravans designs and builds these models from scratch, and owner Ken Selby makes them to order. Every detail reflects the period of the earliest caravanning pioneers. I chatted to Ken to find out what goes into creating these ‘new-old’ caravans.
The history of Jubilee Caravans dates back a couple of years, when Ken made ‘Doris’, his caravan, which he completed in May 2013. He began working on her during the summer of 2012 – the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – after searching for a small period caravan to tow behind his 1933 Hillman Minx, ‘Suzy’. The plan was to give him and wife Annette somewhere to stay when going to the 1940s weekend shows that they enjoy.
“I was unable to find a caravan of the period that was small and light enough to be towed by a car with just 10hp,” said Ken. “There are larger types still in existence, but the lightly built ones are sadly all long gone.”
While searching, Ken came across a short article on the Raven Argonnette van: it dated from 1933, and was described as ‘the only caravan that can be towed by an Austin Seven or motorcycle combination’. The size and weight were perfect. “We instantly fell in love with it, but I realised that the only way I was going to get one was by making it myself,” said Ken.
“From the photo I was able to plot the shape onto graph paper, and from that to full size. There was also a sketch in the article showing some interior detail, but nothing on the structure. From further research I established enough knowledge on the manufacturing processes of the 1930s to enable me to make Doris as close to the original as possible, but allowing myself licence for improvements.”
From her very first outing, Doris has attracted attention that Ken described as: “Unexpected, and overwhelming to begin with. When there’s not even time to make a cup of tea, things are getting out of hand!”
It was during their weekends away that people began asking whether Ken had any plans to manufacture more caravans. With a few serious enquiries and his son, Simon, urging him on, Ken decided that it was an enterprise he could really enjoy. So Simon put together a website, and called it ‘Jubilee Caravans’.
Ken is a recent returnee to caravanning: although he’d not been involved in our hobby for many years, the family did have a 12’ Sprite Alpine when the children were young. “It had a double bed at the front that lifted up against the wall – something I haven’t seen since,” said Ken. “We had many happy holidays up and down the country.”
But Ken’s attention is now fully focused on Jubilee Caravans – and the emphasis is very much on retaining the vintage feel of the original vans, no matter when they were built.
“I try to construct the caravans very much as they would have been, with timber chassis, frames, panelling and so on, but of course they have to comply with current legislation. I also use a steel towbar rather than wood for strength and peace of mind!”
The entire process is completed by hand, too, in Ken’s garage: “To get them out I have to remove the wheels and fit some small wooden ones that I made for the job, then remove the garage door! The vans will just get through.”
At the moment Ken only makes one size and shape of van, although this does lend itself very well to allowing options to suit different periods – 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and even ’60s. Each caravan is made to suit the customer and the period that is required, as well as the car that will be towing it.
Ken has been thrilled with the response that his vans have received. “Everyone seems to love the caravan, from youngsters right up to people who can recall seeing and using this type of caravan all those years ago. It seems to have universal appeal; obviously not everyone wants to own one, but they love the design!”
And those who do invest in one of Ken’s vans also benefit from a longer-term service: “These caravans, like everything else, need looking after if you want them to last. They’re made of timber, and only protected from the elements by their layers of preservatives and paint. It is very important to maintain the integrity of this.
“We are happy to service, repaint and maintain our caravans for customers as necessary. We want the vans to last for many years, and still be in existence for as long as there is a car to pull them!”
I was unable to find a caravan of the period that was small and light enough to be towed by a car with just 10hp