On this day in history : 11th April 1936 – Billy Butlin opens his first Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Skegness….changing the concept of the British family holiday….

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Billy Butlin – Public domain

Billy Butlin was born in Cape Town in 1899 – but when he was around 7-years-old his parents separated and he came to England with his English mother…. For the next five years he travelled the Country with his grandmother’s fairground, where his mother sold gingerbread…. This gave the young Billy an insight into commerce and entertainment…. His mother emigrated to Canada when he was 12, leaving him in the care of an aunt; but two years later, once she had settled, she sent for him….

Finding it difficult to fit into school, where he was bullied and teased for his English accent, Billy left and found work in a department store…. He served in the Canadian army as a bugler during World War 1 and after the war returned to England – with just £5….

Billy invested £4 of his money into a stall on his uncle’s travelling fair…. One stall became several, some of which were at prime static locations…. He purchased some fairground equipment and started a travelling fair of his own…. By 1927 he had opened a static fairground in Skegness….he opened a similar one at Bognor Regis in 1932….

It was on a visit to Barry Island that Billy experienced the frustration of many a family holidaying in Britain at the time…. Staying in a boarding house he found himself being shooed out by his landlady between meals…. He felt sorry for the families who were on their holidays, locked out of their paid accommodation – in whatever weather – often with little to do….

Billy had already been considering the idea of providing accommodation to attract visitors to his fairground in Skegness…. Holiday camps were to a certain extent already founded – such as Warner’s – but it was Billy Butlin who was to take the concept and turn it into an iconic British culture….

After securing a plot of land Billy built his first camp at Ingoldmells, close to Skegness…. His idea was to provide a week’s holiday, with 3 meals a day and free entertainment in between…. A holiday would cost between 35 shillings and £3 per week, depending on the time of year…. He took out an advertisement in the Daily Express costing £500 (equating to over £30K in today’s terms) and on the 11th of April 1932 – Easter Eve – the camp was officially opened by aviator Amy Johnson – the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia….

He quickly realised the holiday makers were not interacting with one another quite the way he had intended – families were keeping themselves to themselves…. he asked Norman Bradford, an engineer who had been involved with the construction of the camp, to take on the duty of entertaining the guests…. Norman mingled with the holiday makers, chatting, telling jokes and creating a holiday atmosphere…. He was to become the first of Butlin’s Redcoats….and soon a whole team had been recruited….

Within a year the holiday camp had doubled in size – and two years later Billy built his second camp at Clacton-on-Sea…. Butlin’s holiday camps were on their way….

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