The story of Cunningham's Holiday Camp

Jill Drower, great-granddaughter of Joseph and Elizabeth Cunningham, has revisited the story of the Young Men’s Holiday Camp in Douglas, in the Isle of Man. The result is a book packed with information and pictures, with hitherto undiscovered facts about the Cunningham family and the enterprise that set the standard for Butlins, Pontins and other holiday camps that were to follow. 

In the book Drower shows the links between living and working conditions in the early nineteenth century Liverpool and how these produced the philanthropic movement of which Joseph Cunningham was a part. 

She has traced the Camp’s origins back through her own family history to bread production in Paisley in Scotland, following the generations down to the family of bakers who sold bread to the boats.   She follows the story from its beginnings before the ‘Toxteth camping trips’ in the 1890s, to the Camp’s sale after the Second World War. 

With over 150 illustrations, the book is packed with new information about Cunningham’s and the rise of this ‘major national phenomenon’ called the holiday camp:


  • The shocking living and working conditions that endured during the Industrial Revolution
  • The reaction within evangelical Christianity to counter anti-social behaviour and deprivation in Liverpool’s most notorious and crime ridden North End.
  • The transformation of a camping holiday to a holiday camp.
  • The significance of the bell tent.
  • The Camp’s role as Internment camp for Germans and Austrians during the First World War
  • How the Cunninghams dealt with competition from other holiday providers between the wars.
  • What life was like for the boy cadets on the ‘naval training ship’, HMS St George, which was the role of Cunningham’s during the Second World War.
  • The sale of the Camp after World War Two.
  • The Syndicate which purchased the Camp and one of its member’s connection to the famous Lynskey corruption scandal. 


Joseph and Elizabeth Cunningham were not just founders of Britain’s first holiday camp.  They were also prominent figures in the Isle of Man from the Edwardian period.  Their names have been associated with many of the Island’s charities, and especially the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements towards which they showed particular loyalty.




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