75 Years of Butlins – Rated or Dated?


For our first family summer holiday (sorry yes, we’ve been greedy and had 2) this year we scooted across the UK to the East Coast; Skegness was our destination, and the Butlins resort our base camp. You can read more about what we got up to here, but this post is a look at how Butlins came to be,  if it is still a ‘popular’ family holiday destination 75 years after the first site opened and the best and worst bits…

History – Our True intent is for Your Delight

The Butlins Skegness resort was the first Holiday camp set-up Billy Butlins back in 1936 and 2011 is the 75th anniversary of its opening. Billy used money he made from bringing the first Dodgems to Europe to set up his first site, the idea being that the UK workforce should be able to have an all inclusive holiday for a weeks wages.

The Skegness resort was the first of many and another important factor for Billy Butlin was good transport links, for example Skegness was with in easy reach by train from the Midlands. Other resort opened over the years included – Ayr, Barry, Bognor Regis, Clacton, Filey, Minehead, Mosney and Pwllheli.

The chalets were brightly coloured escapes from the drab dreariness of home. With ‘Lads and Lassies’ bathing blocks at the end of each row.

The first RedCoat was Norman Bradford, the famous coat being modelled on the Canadian Mounties jackets Billie recalled from his childhood in Canada; the role of a redcoat – ‘to put a smile on guests’ faces’.

In the second world war the Skegness resort became HMS Royal Arthur when the government took over the camps for the armed forces.

Entertainment was vital, Billy wanted there to be something for his guests to do all year round come rain or shine – so there were indoor and outdoor activities from Holiday Princess competitions to putting greens, swimming pools and Donkey Derby’s and all resorts just a pebbles throw from the beach. Billy’s vision was for somewhere that had

“dining and recreation halls, a theatre, a gym, a rhododendron-bordered swimming-pool  and a boating lake… tennis courts, bowling and putting greens”

In 1972 Butlins achieved a record 1 million bookings and merged with Rank Organisation. In the 1980’s huge investments were made in the Skegness, Minehead and Bognor Regis resorts while the others were sold off.  In 2000 Butlins became part of the Bourne Leisure group along with former rival company Haven Holidays.

If you want even more info on the History of Butlins you should check out their student guide here

Today

Well, one thing is for sure you certainly can’t still get a holiday for a week’s wages at Butlins today, in fact for most of the UK population a months wages probably would cover the cost of an all inclusive stay – what a shame that legacy didn’t survive 😦

Another thing that has not survived the test of time is that of good transport links – Skegness and Minehead are ‘off the beaten’ track when it comes to good road links, long, slow, winding ‘A’ roads, far from Motorway connections mean the mode of transport most common for today – the car – is a long and arduous journey.

Despite opening many resorts now only 3 remain – Skegness, Minehead and Bognor Regis.

Original Chalet

Accommodation is now ranked Standard, Silver or Gold, so if you want more luxury you can pay the extra, or stick to basic but comfortable in Standard (as we did), not as bright and cheery as the original chalets, but at least we have en-suite now!

The Redcoats still try to put a smile on guests faces, although I suspect it is the guests that don’t value them as much as they used to rather than them not being as good now… This year they are wearing a version of the original outfit that looks rather peculiar today (but still better than the Jeff banks design imho) Maybe they will get a new look again after the anniversary celebrations?

You can still find things to do on and off site all year round and what ever the weather, but the evening shows aren’t my favourite thing and the lose of things such as Holiday princess I think is a shame really.

I did contact Butlins to ask for details about the demographics of attendees, but due to the industry sensitive nature of this information they were unable to provide me with an details, in addition when Bourne Leisure took over a lot of the older records were missing so they couldn’t even give me any old data as an example 😦  They did provide the following:

The bulk of Butlins guests are families with the four night midweek term time breaks mainly attracting families with pre-school age children. Our visitor numbers are around 1.5m annually including residential and day visitors – it’s difficult to compare with previous times as the number of resorts is now 3 from 9 previously.  From 2003 to the end of 2011 we will have invested £150m in the three resorts with £34m being spent in 2011 alone (this is the biggest investment year since the resorts were originally opened)

The Best Bits

1. Daytime – The best thing has to be the range of things available to do during the daytime – a much greater variety than the evenings!

2. The food – We went half-board and the food was great, good range of choices, something for everyone (unless you’re mega posh and only eat a la carte nonsense) – simple, traditional, homely (not school dinners) food 🙂

3. Something for everyone – be it family holidays, or 90’s reloaded adult only weekends, concerts or wrestling Butlins has lots going on throughout the year (good for the quiet ‘out of season’ times for them, and for us!)

The Worst Bits

1. Evenings – The lack of variety of evening entertainment has to be my pet peeve about Butlins!

2. Cost – The reason this was our first family holiday at Butlins is that it has always been more expensive than Haven and PGL which also both offer a good range of entertainment etc themselves…

3. Location – Skegness and Minehead are both a pain to get to by car (haven’t been to Bognor, so can’t comment on that)

Overall, I think it is still ‘rated’ as a family holiday destination.

What do you think is Butlins rated or dated?

Thank you for reading!  If you have enjoyed reading this post please share it with others who may be interested and I always enjoy receiving feedback and comments 🙂

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10 comments on “75 Years of Butlins – Rated or Dated?

  1. I think Butlin’s Skegness is definatly rated. When I first booked it I was a little dubious, but i fancied a caravan holiday (having not had one for years) and wanted to offer the kids the closest I could to an all inclusive holiday, entertainment wise,so Butlin’s seemed like the best option. Even though the food was ridiculously expensive costing us around £100 per day not including snacks and extra drinks, we really enjoyed it. It was odd because if I was sat at home I would never have chosen or bought tickets for any of the night acts that we saw, but when you were in there and you just allowed yourself to get into it, actually everything was really good (even the take that tribute, and I ain’t no take that fan). Even the stuff that was really cheesy and rubbish was good because it was funny. I think all-round it was an excellent choice for a hol and we will deff go again. The Quasar, Go kart’s, daytime shows etc were also fun, we never stopped. If you’re with the right people (same as everywhere i suppose) then Butlin’s is an awesome place to holiday, if you want to spend most of your time laughing, and spending your hard earned cash lol. I highly reccomend It. So for me it’s RATED. xx

    • Thanks for your comment Suse. Yeah I agree there is plenty to do, I’m looking forward to our adults only weekend at the end of the month now 😀 xx

      • lol I have a friend thats going to an adults only weekend at butlins at the end of the month as a work doo. An 80’s weekend I believe he said it was. I hope you have a great time, I should imagine you will. 😀

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