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Recreational Vehicles: A World History 1872-1939

By Andrew Woodmansey

2021 review by Autolycus

From the very first pages of this remarkable book (the Preface and Introduction) can be detected a seriousness of purpose, a high quality of English and evidence of the most thorough research. The remaining pages (over 200) do not disappoint.

Andrew Woodmansey has been passionate about recreational vehicles since his family caravan holidays as a child in England. Now living in Australia, he has brought an international perspective to the story of the RV. After an initial chapter on origins and influences, the book is logically divided into countries: from the United Kingdom, which he acknowledges as the home of the recreational caravan, through France and Belgium, the USA, Germany and Australia to New Zealand. The book ends with a chapter on special purpose coaches, caravans and motorhomes and a fascinating appendix on selected pre-1939 patents, neatly illustrated by the drawings that always appear in such documents and that show the creativity (and craziness) of designers through the years.

The Origins and influences chapter tells a fascinating and enlightening history. From Scythian houses on wheels in 900-200 BCE, through Genghis Kahn’s ger pulled by twenty-two oxen, to the first caravans in 1640, their descendants in the nineteenth century and the birth of recreational travel, the story is told with clarity and perfectly judged illustrations.

The chapters on the countries not only explain the cultural differences that led to very different developments – they are brought to life by delightful black and white photographs, many of them full page, taking advantage of the landscape layout of the book. The quality of many of these is remarkable, allowing the reader to dive into the period they depict. In one example, of the Austin Motor Company’s 40hp motor caravan of Harvey du Cros from c1909, there are no fewer than eighteen people in, near and even on the roof of the machine (£2000 in 1909), each one with different clothing and expressions that reflect the age and the many layers of society from working-class onlooker to well-dressed toff.

There are many wonderful photographs of elegant (and not so elegant) exteriors and interiors of caravans and motorhomes, from home-made contraptions to a motorhome built on a Rolls-Royce chassis for a wealthy Australian customer in 1938. Each image is linked logically to the history being related in the text. And, when the story of the RV warrants it, the book introduces key people from other walks of life and how they ended up in RV manufacture – not least the tale of the inventor, engineer and racing driver Glenn H. Curtiss and the Aerocar and, of course, Wally Byam and the Airstream.

This is a superb book and a credit to its author. It is highly recommended.

Publisher: Pen & Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk) January 2022

Price: £30 plus postage and packing (also available as a e-book for £15.59)

Description Hardback in dust jacket (247 x 260 mm), 239 pages; copious black & white images.

ISBN: 978-1-5267924-5-7


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