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Living History


Holiday Camps

Presented herewith is a brief history of Warners Holiday Camps, Captain Harry Warner retired from the Royal Artillery in 1925 and opened a successful seaside restaurant business, and then expanded into the holiday camp business opening his first camp on Hayling Island, Hampshire in 1931, This was the beginning of the Warner's Holiday Camps and by the outbreak of the Second World War there was a total of four camps in operation. No information is currently to hand as to what the camps were used. After the war Harry together with his three sons Bill, John and Alan set about expanding the business. By 1960 the number of camps had risen to eight 1965 saw a further five camps had been added and by the early 1970s the total had risen to 14. However in 1964 Harry Warner died and it was left to his sons to carry on the business, and by the early 1970s Warner's Holiday Camps were operating a total of 14 camps for during the war. One of these camps on Haying Island, Hampshire, closed and was demolished in 1981.

Around 1960, and looking to expand on the Isle of Wight the company bought Woodside House, Woodside Bay on the north east coast of the Isle of Wight. The house dating from the 1850s was set in 30 acres of woodlands and overlooked the Solent, with view of the distant mainland and had its own private beach. It had been used since the early 1930s as a naturist camp but was closed during the Second World War, opening again after the war it finally closing when the property was sold to Warners.

Plans were submitted by the company for permission to build a holiday camp catering for 650 people with support services. There was a lot of local opposition, but plans were approved and building work was scheduled commenced in 1963, the camp would contain a selection of single, double chalets and family units mostly with private bathrooms.

Woodside House was demolished and replaced by the main building containing reception, bars ballroom and disco, cafe, gift shop, games room and indoor swimming pool, there was also an outdoor pool, which overlooked the Solent. The dining room kitchens and nursery were built further West. The large windows in the main building and dining room provided a grandstand view of the Solent and there was great excitement when the Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary went by. In1965/6 Warner's bought the nearby Underwood (now Woodside Hall), from Mrs. Davies Evans, which also included the woodland and field to the South of the camp. Planning permission was applied for, and given to build a footbridge over the public footpath to join the two sites, saving the guest staying at Underwood from having to walk via the road to reach the campsite the same time permission was given to divert the public footpath, which would have run through the new camp. This new arrangement provided a pleasant walk through the wood to Underwood and on warm summer nights in July/August the glowworms shone along the path. These alterations allowed the camp capacity to be increased to 950 adults and children together with 250 staff; it was Warners largest camp. When complete the site had a main building housing the reception area, bars, cafe, gift shop, ballroom and an indoor swimming pool. A separate building contained the dining areas, catering and support services. There was also an outdoor swimming pool with views over the Solent and all the usual sports facilities. Although the camp must have discouraged some wildlife it did not deter the red squirrels that use to empty the litterbins looking for food. The local school and youth club used the swimming pools at pre-arranged times and there was a limited, membership for local residents who wished to use the facilities at a cost of a shilling per season.

In 1969 some guests travelling from Southsea on the hovercraft asked Hover Travel if it was possible for the company to provide a Saturday service direct to the camp, the company thought it was a good idea and approached Warner's, both companies felt that such a service would be of benefit to them both and visiting holiday makers. When the proposals became public many local residents objected, and a Wootton action group was formed. There were concerns over dangers to users of the beach, noise and also the precedent this would set for other beaches around the island. After much ado the service went ahead that year. During the winter a concrete apron was built alongside the slipway to provide a better landing for the SRN6. The service continued for two more seasons, at which time Hover Travel needed the hovercraft and pilots elsewhere. As a result of this service being started, planning controls were introduced for the landing of hovercraft along the Northern and Eastern Coast of the Isle of Wight, between the Needles and Dunnose.

Around the 8th August 1975 a complaint by 400 holiday makers who were staying at the camp about the general standard lead to Mr Warner flying back from Ireland to investigate the complaint, the campers threatened to serve a writ on Warner if they did not receive refunds, Mr Warner issued a statement saying he was astonished that such a complaint had been made and promised to ensure the matter was resolved. On Friday evening in the main hall, the camp manager faced a hostile audience complaining about the standard of hygiene, food and quality of entertainment, a petition signed by 171 people was handed in, to be given to Mr Warner alleging “Appalling lack of hygiene in the kitchens, dinning room and toilets, the food served was bad and poorly prepared, and samples had been sent to the island’s Public Health Authority and an analyst in London. The entertainment was poor being divided in two groups, the camp greencoats and visiting artist some of whom were second-class. The meeting elected a sub committee meet the Warners management in order to resolve the dispute. On his arrival at the camp Mr Warner promised a full investigation into the complaint but stated that his brother had been in the camp on the 6th of August and no one had a complained to him, nor had anyone contacted the camp manager to allow action to be taken and it was Friday before the complaint was made. All we know about subsequent actions to this is that Warners wrote to everyone staying at the camp that week and asked for their views.

Warner's sold their camps in 1981 to Grand Metropolitan and the camp was closed in 1982 for upgrading [it was temporarily opened to accommodation 160 policemen for the island scoter “invasion” on August Bank Holiday. In October 1983 the Isle of Wight Council gave approval for a one million pound upgrade of the camp. This would see the replacement of the existing 250 wooden chalets [already demolished] with around 200 family sizes chalets in readiness for the reopening of the camp.

A devastating blow was received to the reopening plans for the complex on Saturday evening 19th April 1985 when a fire completely destroyed the entertainment complex which was awaiting refurbish, all that was left standing was the metal skeleton. Furniture, carpets and large amount of equipment used by other Warner camps on the island had been stored there and damage was estimated to be in the region of £1,000,000. At the height of the fire there were 14 fire engines and 50 firemen from all over the island fighting to contain the blaze and stop it spreading to other parts of the camp. It took 11 hours before firemen had completely extinguished the blaze, at the height of the fire there were 6 jets in action and water was being drawn from the swimming pool. During the blaze there was a report that children were inside the building and firemen braved the buckling wall and falling debris searching for them, later a report was received they were safe. Later a police spokesman said, “Some very young children were responsible for the fire, it was an accident and our investigations are finished. Two months later another fire destroyed the catering staff quarters and in 1987 there was a further fire at derelict camp.

In 1987 Grand Metropolitan sold Warners to Rank, articles also mention the Roche group at the same time but no detailed information is currently to hand.

On Tuesday 23rd April 1991, Isle of Wight Council gave the go ahead for an application submitted by the Roche Group for the building of a large holiday and leisure complex on the site of the old camp. The proposals include a 100-bedroom hotel and 220 time-share units; there would also be a conference facility and sun dome to compete with Centre Parcs. Originally there was a off shore harbour and marina, but this was dropped due to widespread opposition from the public a conservation groups, plans for a golf course on land at Palmers Farm were put on hold pending a site visit. Part of the approval restricted use of the time-share apartments to holiday use only, with no individual or group being allowed to stay for more than two months in any one year. There would be an upgrade of the approach road [New Road] to the camp to a width of 4.8 metres with eight traffic restriction points. One pavement would be provide alternating on either side of the road to suit topography and a set of traffic lights would be installed at the junction with the High Street, the developer offered to pay up to £500,000 towards this work. The current situation is that a further planning application has been made and passed for a change in the development plans, the highway alterations are part of the application.

In August 2010 the derelict holiday camp site and adjoining land was sold to the Darwin Investment Group of Jersey for a reported £4,500,000, this included the still current planning application for around 150 plus holiday chalets and associated buildings.

The sale also included the nearby Woodside Bay Caravan Park, which is sited on the new owners land. Darwin intend to proceed with the planning application and work started in September to survey the site and start preparatory work in readiness for building work in 2011. Part of the planning application requires the developer to install traffic lights at the junction of New Road and Wootton High Street. This is not welcomed by people in Wootton, as it will result the loss of two-village businesses.

Video of the Camp from the 1960's

Supplied by Brian Longman of Dagengam, Essex.

Woodside June 1964. Video supplied by Mr S Leno

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This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:50

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