The grass roots of Canvas Holidays
The swinging sixties – a decade of mini skirts, flower power and Beatlemania – and the dawn of Canvas Holidays.
In the 1960’s Britain became a truly affluent society – vacuum cleaners and washing machines were in most homes, and cars and fridges became the norm. And for the first time – foreign family holidays became common place.
One of these new ‘explorers’ of foreign shores was Jim Cuthbert and his family. Like many in the 1960’s, the most affordable way for the Cuthbert family to explore Europe was by camping. It was on one of these holidays that Jim Cuthbert found sound inspiration. Whilst waiting on the cross Channel ferry in Ostend he observed many other families crammed into cars filled to the brim with camping equipment and other holiday essentials – and thought how helpful it would be if all this could be provided at the campsite.
With this inspiration and a great love for the essence of the camping holiday, Jim Cuthbert set out to make camping abroad easier. And so Canvas Holidays was born in the spring of 1965 and transformed the world of continental camping as we know it. A total of 25 of the best quality tents that money could buy were erected in Northern France, equipped with camping essentials plus cookers and gas. Holidays were sold at 10-17 guineas a week for six people and in the first brochure holidaymakers were promised that on arrival everything would be “ready for the first cup of tea”.
“Camping is a great life style to follow if you are suffering at all from stress. It is a simple life, and each day starts as and when you want it to.” Jim Cuthbert, 1965
The first year was a success, and the Cuthbert’s added four more sites to their programme in 1967. In that year Jim Cuthbert was awarded a Daily Telegraph travel award for the most innovative holiday idea. Indeed, the innovations did not stop there – in 1968 Canvas Holidays added their first site in Italy and in 1969, electric lights were installed in the tents to replace gas lamps.
“A Canvas Holiday is the best way to see France for the poor professional people of our country.” A Scottish Doctor, 1977
The popularity of the camping holiday, and package holidays in general grew during the long hot summers of the 1970’s. And so Canvas Holidays developed their product to meet the needs of a new breed of campers. In the early 70’s route maps were added to travel packs for the first time, and by 1976 comfort was improved in the tents with the introduction of fully sprung beds, replacing the more traditional, and slightly less comfortable camping air beds. A year later, crockery was first added to the inventory of the tents, bringing the whole experience closer to a home from home.
“Canvas Holidays have taken the whole camping experience by the scruff of the neck and removed the agony.” Joy Chamberlayne in Kent Messenger, 1984
The decade of decadence was a real period of development for Canvas Holidays. In that same year that Charles and Diana married, Canvas Holidays added their first campsite in Spain. Then, in 1982, cool boxes and ice blocks were traded for fridges. A few years later, in 1985, mobile homes made an appearance and Jim Cuthbert was awarded the ‘Soleil d’Or’ from the French Government for services to their tourist industry. The end of the decade saw the launch of the first Hoopi’s Club Programme for Children.
“As a regular with Canvas (6 years) I do congratulate you on the new tents. They are superb, far ahead of your rivals.” Mr & Mrs Gordon, 1995
The nineties saw the opening of Disneyland Paris and the Channel Tunnel and is the decade in which the National Lottery arrived and the internet really took hold. Meanwhile, at Canvas a new computerised booking system was introduced and the unique patented design of the tent was upgraded twice. Firstly, the ‘Mark IV’ was introduced, and latterly the huge ‘Balmoral’ tent in 1995 – later renamed as the Maxi Tent. The Balmoral was a huge success, with more space and a smartened interior.
“A significant improvement in the organisation and activities available. Staff are very professional and enthusiastic. Canvas should make this the benchmark for all the sites they are involved in. We will be back again next year.” Mrs D Jones 2008
Canvas entered the new millennium in an innovative spirit, introducing many advances in product and service. This included the unveiling of the then flagship mobile home, the ‘Millennium’ – complete with a CD player and dishwasher, a long way from gas lamps, beds and cool boxes! By 2009, the accommodation offering was wider than just tents and mobile homes – Roulottes (traditional gypsy-style caravans), Woodland Lodges and Treehouses were introduced as was as the jewel in the crown, the Deluxe Lodge. In 2009 the existing children’s club programme was replaced with the innovative and exciting FamilyExtra activity programme. Other advances in the early part of this decade included air-conditioned mobile homes in Italy and Spain and the first site in Croatia.
“We (at the very last minute) booked for a three day stay, and liked the look of the new Moda mobile home, so decided to give it a try. I cannot overpraise it. The view was stupendous, and the accommodation design and finish was brilliant.” Canvas customer, 2014
As Canvas Holidays entered the ‘ten-ties’… or should that be ‘tent’-ies? (sorry!) the comfort factor kept rising with the introduction of the Safari Tent Deluxes and Modas. The ever-popular lodge programme has also been expanded in the last few years – you can now choose from 2, 3 or 4 bedroom models.
But, as we are looking at the evolution of Canvas Holidays, let’s finish where we started. The humble tent was given a fabulous makeover in 2013, and now includes an extra-large awning on many campsites, and extremely comfortable beds.
I wonder where the next 50 years will take us?