Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Butlin's holiday camp, Birmingham

As this blog reaches its 600th post, I needed something special to mark the occasion. This why I take you once more to Birmingham for a rather rare sign for Butlin's from the late 1930s.

Take Your ...
Holiday Camp
Four Good Meals A Day,
Free Amusements,
All For
£2"5"0 per ... *

*: £2"5"0 is a pre-decimalisation (1971) price and would read as two pounds, five shillings and zero pence.

Another sign was painted on this space at some point but I have only been able to decipher a couple of letter at the same level as the horizontal black line:


Billy Butlin, who headed a funfair empire, opened his first holiday camp in Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast on April 11, 1936. It had rows of cabins for 1,000 campers and offered all sorts of fun activities throughout the day. Accommodation was relatively basic but at a time when most holidaymakers had to be out regardless of the weather because B&Bs closed during the day and had to pay extra for any attraction, the idea of an all inclusive camp was quite radical and tempting. Two years later another holiday camp opened in Clacton on the Essex coast, just in time for the first paid holidays for working-class employees (The Holiday with Pay Act, something Billy Butlin had been campaigning for, was passed in 1938). That year one of Butlin's slogans was "A week’s holiday for a week’s pay." More camps were planned but because of the Second World War these were handed to the military. Once the war was over, they were returned to Butlin's. Between 1945 and 1966, the company opened eight more camps, including one in Ireland and one in the Bahamas.

The heyday of Butlin's was between the early 1950s and early 1970s, when it was seen by many in Britain as the perfect resort for a family holiday. However, even if Butlin's share of the holiday market remained strong, by the 1960s cheap package holidays in the Mediterranean became available and an increasing number of families opted to leave the uncertainties of the British weather behind (and the slightly too regimented holiday camps of Butlin's and its competitors). Billy Butlin left the company in 1868. Four years later his son sold it the Rank Organisation, which proved unable to halt its decline. Several camps closed or were rebranded in the 1980s and the company's sold all the hotels it had bought or built over the previous two decades. In 1998 Butlin's was bought by Bourne Leisure. The new owners kept the brand for the three camps still in operation: Skegness, Bognor Regis and Minehead.

Since 1937, entertainers and stewards at Butlin's have been wearing the famous red jacket, hence their name Redcoats. However on this ghost sign, the entertainer wears a green jacket with white lapels and a white hat. In his raised hand he holds a drum stick while the drum is held by the two yellow straps (originally certainly brown) down his chest. With his round face, his smile and his moustache, he bears a resemblance to Billy Butlin.

Thanks to the presence of this character, the prices quoted and the fact that only the Skegness holiday camp is mentioned, we can get a pretty good idea when this ghost sign was painted. Even if the face and position of the body are different, the entertainer is very similar to the one featured on a 1937 poster for the LNER (London & North Eastern Railway). When Butlin's Skegness opened, prices for a week's holiday between July and September cost £2.12s.6d per adult (equivalent today to around £133) With inflation of 0.7% in 1936 and 3.4% in 1937, it is reasonable to assumed the price on the ghost sign corresponds to the 1937 or 1938 season (although for 1938 one might have expected Clacton to be advertised alongside Skegness). Finally if this ghost sign had been painted at a later date, the costume of the entertainer would certainly have been red as the Redcoats rapidly became one of Butlin's trademarks. Therefore this ghost sign must be 75 years old.

Location: Moseley Road / Pictures taken in May 2012


Sam Roberts said...

Love it, what an amazing find.

Howard said...

Brilliant! What a survivor. How long will it last though?

Sebastien Ardouin said...

How long will it last? That's the 64 million dollar question! The current owners of the building don't seem to spend much money on maintenance, which is a blessing for now. Age and the weather seem to be the only threats at present. However the day the owners decide to do something about the building, I doubt they will try their best to preserve it.