The first ever custom built for leisure caravan has been awarded Engineering Heritage Listed Status by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.

The Wanderer, built in 1885, has been granted the Engineering Heritage Award, a scheme that was set up in 1984 to recognise pioneering engineering artefacts, locations, collections and landmarks.

Past winners include the Vulcan Bomber, the Mallard steam engine and Concorde.

Old photo of The Wanderer

The caravan is currently under the custodianship of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, and rests in the renovated railway goods shed at the club’s Broadway site.

The club says the horse-drawn vehicle’s stand-out features – such as small wheels and a wide body to maximise internal space, a sophisticated braking system, and a versatile layout that would still work well today – had all been used before, but never together in the same vehicle. And it says that although technology has moved on, the essence of what the Wanderer was trying to facilitate – access to the great outdoors for leisure, in comfort and safety – still apply today.

Mahogany interior of The Wanderer

The horse-drawn vehicle came with its own cooking and washing facilities and even musical instruments. As it is made largely of mahogany and maple it weighs a hefty two tons. But it comes with a tramcar brake, an iron skid to lock one wheel if necessary when going downhill, and a roller towed on a chain bridle to check the back wheel if the horses give up and the vehicle starts moving backwards.

It was built for £300 by the Bristol Wagon Company, and commissioned by William Gordon Stables. He was a retired naval surgeon turned adventure book writer who had travelled the world and now wanted to find a suitable vehicle to mount a 1,300 tour of Britain. He published an account of his travels (travelling most of the way at 2mph with his servant walking in front to make sure the road was suitable) in a book in 1886 called The Cruise of the Land-Yacht Wanderer. The book’s success encouraged others to take up caravanning.

If you’re looking for a more modern trip to embark on a tour in, be sure to take a look at our guide to the best caravans, where we share our top picks.

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