Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Guardian Under Canvas: A history of camping

It used to be said that Guardian readers ate muesli, wore sandals and went on camping holidays in the English Lake District. While there’s only anecdotal  evidence to support the first points, the paper’s archive is full of articles about the joys of life under canvas.

From declaring in 1901 that camping was ‘a most wholesome occupation’, the paper has reported on everything from new tent designs, bizarre outdoor movements, the sanitary arrangements on continental campsites, fire-making, to where to find the most authentic ‘glamping’ experience.

The very best of these articles has been brought together in The Guardian Under Canvas, a new ebook that offers a unique history of camping in Britain.

The story begins in the early 20th century with the emergence of the cycle-campers, a band of mainly middle-class men led by Shropshire tailor, Thomas Hiram Holding. After the first world war,  a more diverse group began to sample the joys of the outdoor life and during the 1930s camping clubs and sites began to appear all over the country. In the decades following 1945,  the paper reflected the fact that more and more of its readers were forsaking their beloved Lake District for the more exotic France, while in the 1980s many were opting for the easier life offered by readymade campsites such as Eurocamp. The growth in recent years of outdoor music festivals, environmental concerns, combined with the appearance of very cheap tents and equipment, has led to the current boom in popularity of camping.

David Lloyd George, British chancellor of the exchequer (later PM) camping in North Wales. The Manchester Guardian, 29 August 1913
But alongside these developments, the book also examines changes in society’s attitude to the great outdoors as well as attempting to find out why the comfortably well-off are happy to pay for the privilege of spending their holidays in a muddy field with basic amenities. More than one commentator casts a jaundiced eye over the recent commercialisation of what used to be called ‘roughing it’.

This though is very much in keeping with the Manchester Guardian’s (Manchester was dropped from the title in 1959) historic interest in the great outdoors. The early growth in camping went hand in hand with a general concern for health and wellbeing, it being considered good for the nation’s health to escape the industrialised cities once in awhile.  This was very much the view of the paper, which championed the outdoor movement and the need for all members of society to enjoy a holiday. As such, the paper promoted recreational camping from the very beginning and has continued to do so ever since - whether it's discussing the relative merits of the yurt or the teepee, or urging readers to try wildcamping.


  1. I don't want an ebook, I want this in a real paper pocket sized book to read under canvas. How very boring of me!

  2. Hi Anonymous,

    I partly agree, although a Kindle is a very useful item to take camping...at least until it gets wet.

  3. I was camping on the Isle of Man for 4 weeks this summer, and I must admit a kindle's tempting me more and more. Saves having a bagful of books all ready to be soaked!