A LITTLE CARAVANNING HISTORY
At the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the young artist Frances Jennings became a semi-invalid and was advised by her doctor to spend as much time as she could in the open air. Being a Victorian lady at loose ends, the obvious choice was to take to the open road. Her simple rig and a good spirit served her well. As described by J. Harris Stone:
She is extremely delicate, partially paralysed, and her doctor told her that she should practically live in the open air. Being of an active and practical mind she set to work to see how she could, within her means, carry out the drastic requirements of her medical adviser. She joined the Caravan Club, and all the assistance, in the way of pitches and introductions, was of course afforded her. Her desire was to take to the road and live altogether in the open air in rural parts of the country. Her cart—it can scarcely be called a caravan—she describes as “strange and happy-looking.” It is four-wheeled, rather like a trolley, and painted bright blue, with a yellow oilskin hood—something like a brewer’s dray in shape.
“I carry,” she tells me in one of her letters from a pitch in a most out-of-the-way spot in rural Gloucestershire, ”a hamper of food, and one of soap and brushes and tools, etc., and a box of books, a small faggot of wood for emergencies and a gallon can of water. I have a covering of sheepskins with the wool on them, and a sack of oats, bran, chaff, hay, or something to feed my little ass upon. Also I keep in a sack the donkey’s brush and comb and chain, etc., and the harness when not in use. I do not generally travel after dark, but if overtaken by dusk I hang out my candle lantern.”
“…I build immense fires. That constitutes a great happiness to me. I have a kettle-hook and hanging pot, and I buy food in the villages. At the farms I find a plentiful supply of milk, fruit, honey, nuts and fresh vegetables. I build the fire just by the cart, with the donkey near at hand.”
Described in her first year on the road, she “sleeps in the covered cart, and she carries a few straight rods with her to drive into the ground on her pitch, on which she hangs squares of sacking across as a screen to keep off the gaze of curious watchers when she wants to sit by the fire ” and dream, and not be the object of their gaze.”
In her own Walden experience, things were not always easy or perfect. “I find great excitement, in the winter, in hearing the storms raving around me in the black of night… I feel my present outfit and way of getting along is very far short of perfection!… at present it is rather by the skin of my teeth that I manage to exist amid the elements of wind and rain and cold and space.”
Speaking of her time with the more traditional travellers, she says: “They have spoken like poets, worn silver rings on their copper hands and rosy beads around their necks; and their babies have round little twigs of hazel-nuts in their red hands. And perhaps the roof of their cart has been on the sea—the sail of a ship.”