A Life in a Year – 11th April, NALGO Croyde Bay Holiday Camp

On April 11th 1936 Billy Butlin opened his first Holiday Camp at Skegness in Lincolnshire and although I have never stayed at Butlins as a holiday maker I have, on family holidays, stayed several times at the NALGO Holiday Camp at Croyde Bay in Devon.

NALGO stood for National Association of Local Government Officers, a white collar Trade Union that along with Cayton Bay in Scarborough owned and operated Croyde Bay Holiday Camp for its members.  Dad was branch secretary of the Rugby Rural District Branch so I suppose it was inevitable that we would holiday there and we went for the first time after he had learned to drive and had his first car in 1964.

It was a long drive from Rugby to Devon and without motorways this meant an early start.  Dad didn’t like stopping much once he had got going but I am fairly certain at some point he would have been required to pull up by the side of the road so that we could have the obligatory picnic.  Mum had prepared the spam sandwiches the night before and we were going to eat them whether anyone wanted them or not!

The old Austin couldn’t go very fast and this combined with dad’s steady driving meant a journey that today would take no more than three hours would take five or six squashed in the back seat with my brother and sister and grandparents, because they generally came along on family holidays as well.  Naturally therefore we were all thoroughly relieved when shortly after passing through Barnstable we could see the signs for Croyde Bay and we were really glad when we pulled into the camp off Croyde Road and dad went to the office to register our arrival and be allocated our holiday chalets, which would be home for the next week.

There were approximately one hundred and fifty semi-detached chalets, all pebble-dashed and painted green and white, each having its own tidy front garden full of rose bushes and standing in neat regimented rows around the various open green spaces.  Inside they were sparsely furnished with none of the facilities that today would be regarded as basic essentials.  Floral curtains at the windows and two single beds, a wardrobe and a bedside table was just about it but they did have a separate bathroom so at least it wasn’t like caravanning with communal washrooms and toilets.

The camp was nicely laid out with a big central green area where all the events were carried out – sports day, Miss Croyde Bay competition, knobbly knees and so on.  Later on they built an outdoor swimming poll in one corner but it wasn’t there the first time that we stayed.  In other parts of the grounds there were grass tennis courts (later converted to clay), mini clock golf and a bowling green exclusively for adults.

The main communal areas were basically a series of wooden huts and here was the bar and the dining room and the concert hall where there was a full programme of events, a couple of dances, a camp concert and a cinema evening.  The Camp of course had its own Ted Bovis (Hi-de-Hi) who had the nickname ‘Sporty’ and his job was to provide all of the non stop entertainment for the week.  This must have been a tedious ‘groundhog day’ sort of job going through the same routine week after week after week.  Actually everyone was obliged to have a camp nickname which had to be written on a cardboard badge and pinned on our shirts and blouses.

Breakfast and evening meal was served in the dining room where everyone sat in rows at wooden tables with plastic table cloths and selected from the menu (take it or leave it) and I don’t remember it being very thrilling!  The events started soon after parents had put the children to bed and this was a bizarre thing that I couldn’t imagine happening now but people volunteered to do baby listening patrols and parents were entirely comfortable with this arrangement.  I mean these people hadn’t had CRB checks or anything to confirm their suitability for such responsibility.  They would walk around the camp with a wooden baton as a symbol of their responsibility and if they heard a baby cry or came across a distressed child they would run back to the concert hall and chalk a message on a blackboard to alert the party going parents.

The best thing about Croyde Bay was the location squeezed in between a pretty Devonshire village and a magnificent crescent shaped sandy beach.  In the village there were quaint houses and cream tea shops and on the beach the sea rolled in and crashed onto the sand in big Atlantic breakers.  A path from the camp led down past the tennis courts and through sand dunes, across permanently soft dry sand above the high tide line and then an endless stretch of hard wet sand that was just perfect for beach cricket and football, flying kites and making sand castles.

There wasn’t really any need to leave the camp so the car stayed locked up resting in the car park while we spent sunny days on the beach or wet ones being entertained in the concert hall.  Most people joined in on sports day and there was a prize giving night sometime towards the end of the week.  I liked going to Croyde Bay Holiday Camp and it was a good job I did because we returned several times over the next few years in 1967, 1972 when I met and fell in love with a girl from Edinburgh, Jackie Grieg, and finally in 1974 when I was really too old to be hanging about with my parents on a holiday camp vacation.  In between we went to Cayton Bay in 1970 but I didn’t like it there quite so much.

Croyde Bay Holiday Camp is still there but it has been reinvented as Croyde Bay Holiday Village, my Mum went there a couple of years ago and she said that it hadn’t changed very much at all.  I thanked her for the tip off and went to the Ryanair site to look for a cheap air flight to somewhere exciting in Europe.

17 responses to “A Life in a Year – 11th April, NALGO Croyde Bay Holiday Camp

  1. Thank you for your article about the NALGO Holiday Camp in Croyde Bay. I too spent many holidays at Croyde with my parents during the late 50s and early 60s but we travelled even further as we came from Manchester and our journey was also in one go.

    All of the things which you mention I recall very well and as I became older and more responsible (I was probably no more than 11 years old!) I became a Baby Monitor and was on the roster to walk around the Camp looking for the handkerchiefs tied to the window openers, which indicated the presence of a bay to be listened out for.

    My father and mother always chose our weeks at Croyde to suit the times at which previously made acquaintances could be renewed but I also suspect that my father secretly chose dates on which he knew he would have no serious rivals for the elected role of Camp Chairman. The Chairman for the week was presented with a rosette to wear for the period of his Chairmanship and was therefore a Camper to be reckoned with!

    I remember the pool being installed because even after the deaths of my parents I took my own family to Croyde during the 80s (the pool was heated and covered with mist in the evenings and therefore bathing au natural amongst the young adults was more than commonplace) a couple of times. By the 80s they had also installed a bar; during the days of the 50s there was no bar and my father always lamented the fact that you had to go outside the camp for a drink in the evenings.

    The entertainment was not just knobbly knees and Miss Croyde for the week and I recall that the camp concert was the highlight of every Friday evening (afternoon for the Kids concert) when the “talented” Campers would perform to entertain the less talented, or perhaps just the shyer members of the camp.

    I could go on forever but just want to finally mention mealtimes. If you were late entering the meal hall everybody already in attendance would yell out and you had to pay a forfeit, which was generally a donation into the Widows and Orphans collection box and so often meals were interrupted by your next opponent in the billiards or the putting coming to your table looking for “Kooky” or “Elvis” in order to complete the sporting events which were pretty much a compulsory part of the NALGO Camp life.

    Again thank you for allowing me a few moments of such pleasant reminiscence.

    • Nick
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and adding some more bits of detail to my fading memories. Your mention of the camp concert reminded me that on one evening each week there was a film in the main hall. The billiards room was a place where children were not allowed to go. I’d forgotten about the forfeits but I remember a camp entertainer called ‘Sporty’ but that would be around about 1972. I also recall that we all had to have a silly camp name rather than use our real ones. My mum went to Croyde Bay Holiday Village a couple of years ago – she said that she liked it but it wasn’t quite the same forty years on!

  2. Hi Andrew, I never went to Croyde, even though we came from Hampshire, we went to Cayton as dad came from Grimsby & I think he wanted to go where the accents were not so posh!! A seven hour+ drive with me being sick on the north circular with regular certainty! I have many happy memories of it from my 13 visits, I cried for weeks in 76 when it finally closed & our summer holiday in 77 was a thoroughly miserable week at a farm house near Ingleby, ending with elvis dying, I’d no idea who he was but I remember it as if it was yesterday, I just wanted to go to Cayton! Sounds like Croyde was very similar to Cayton in its ethos, if I could go back in time it would be to there! Cayton had a Sporty & an Uncle Mac, I guess sporty came from Cayton, as he was much missed when he left, Uncle Mac was not quite the same! We also had the baby listeners, they had a truncheon that indicated for the children that this person was on duty & could be trusted! we had forfiets if late for meals with all sorts of sillyness going on! My camp name was originally Shrimp, but I changed it to Snowwhite when I was about 6! mum & dad were topsy & turvey & my brother was slowcoach! I never knew our friends real names!! Gog & Maygog were my best friends parents, we went the same week every year so met the same kids! Thank you for letting me relive some of my memories – one of the happiest was always the campfire night which was the highlight of my week, as we were alowed to be up late or were woken up to sing camp songs round the bonfire – probably the rubbish from the camp for the week!!

    Oh for such simple fun again!!

    Many thanks for reminding me of fun times Barbara

  3. Having spent virtually every summer at NALGO from early 1960’s to late 70’s it was lovely seeing your pictures and words. I popped into the camp this weekend the first time in 30 years and very nostalgic. Yes I remember the baby partol, also the wakey wakey man (did it sometimes) plus Camp Concert, ladies night, film night on a Sunday, bingo, the dance, football campers v staff and much much more Plus the Carpeners Arms when I was older and able to enjoy a pint of cider
    Very happy days
    Owen Skinner

  4. What a lovely trip down memory lane … my family and I went to Croyde Bay for 11 years running from 1965 to 1976 – we absolutely loved it. We usually went the same two weeks each year and so would meet up with friends we only knew through Croyde. One of my best friends growing up was called Claire and she came from Newcastle (I came from Manchester) and we’d spend the whole fortnight together. I have loads of memories – too many to mention here, but they include throwing buckets of cold water over Sporty (passed for the height of entertainment at the time … ), dressing up and pushing the Chairman into the dining room on a trolley (the Chairman was always Samson as in Delila when we were there), the construction of the bar and then the pool (great excitement), the weekly barn dances, singing Goodnight Campers after the evening’s entertainment, singing grace before meals (always eat when you are hungry, always drink when you are dry etc), shouting “box” at full voice when anyone came in late for lunch and dinner. I was a toddler when we first went and a teenager the last time, so it holds a special place in childhood memories.

    • Some great memories there – I’d forgotten about the box shouting thing – thanks for reminding me!

    • Barbara Colson (Nee Fletcher)

      Hi Lindsay, I’m Barbara, I went to Cayton the camp up north, Croyde was obviously run on the same lines as Cayton, as your memories are so similar to mine, I also had friends I only saw at Cayton, I’m so jealous you had 2 weeks, we only ever went for one! 1964 – 1976, I remember the last year as being very sad as the camp had been sold, the next summer was horrid, we went to a farmhouse & Elvis died that week, not that I knew who Elvis was…. worst holiday ever, as all I wanted was to go back to Cayton, Sporty was at Cayton originally I think, as we had Uncle Mac for the last few years (he was not on the same level however!) – was the sun always out for your holidays? it was for mine!! did you have camp names at Croyde?

  5. Hi, I enjoyed reading the memories of Croyde Bay Holiday Camp. I spent many happy holidays with my family from the late 1950’s to early 1970’s. I remember well the chalets, which seemed very luxurious (when compared with Butlins) in the early days, but became more basic as time went on. They had no bath or shower, just a sink and toilet. At busy times, the hot water ran cold and the cold tap often produced a rusty brown liquid. I remember the queue for the baths (actually I can only recall two baths for the whole camp, though there may have been more).
    I too, remember the rush to the dining hall when you heard the singing of ‘Always eat when you are hungry…’ to get in before the end of the song and the ‘ha ar ard luck’ which was your last chance to beat the call of ‘box’. Drinks (non-alcoholic) and sweets etc. could be bought in the shop, which had a hatch. It closed at a particular time in the evening and the hatch was slammed down on the dot, whether you were waiting or not!!
    I also remember the earlier times without a bar. Chalet parties were popular and we bought cider in large plastic containers frm the local pub. We also trecked down to the rock – pool area for a beach bonfire party and some campers had guitars used for a sing-song.
    My family also returned for the same week each year and met up with many of the same people. Most I only ever knew by their camp names – it seems strange to think how completely we followed the rules. A few I met in other places and called them by their camp name without a second thought. My father told me that the camp names were to provide a degree of anonymity, to get round the fact that the local government employees were of different status; so that the junior clerk and borough treasurer could mix without embarrassment!
    My father won the Mr NALGO competition on several occasions and one year both my parents were Mr and Miss NALGO. The Chairman during our week was usually a man called ‘Fuzz’. I remember the ‘Campers Concert’ mentioned by others, which always seemed to include a lively ‘Uncle Tom Cobbly and All’ or ‘If I were not upon the stage something else I’d like to be’. In my earlier memories there was a splendid elderly couple called ‘Sorbo’ and ‘Ruin’, who studied the people and the highlights of the week and composed a special piece bringing together all their observations in a dry, amusing way (like the Weston Brothers (?) I think my father said, though a bit like Flanders and Swan to me).
    I also remember all the tournaments and competitions. As a child you had things like plasticine, wild flower, fancy dress and sand castle competitions. The standard could be very high (lots of talented parents!) You had the ramble and sportsday, aswell as an array of tournaments You were in the hands of ‘Nurse’ who didn’t just deal with the sick. The adults also took part in many tournaments, which, if you progressed, took up half your holiday. Most were just for fun, but in our week the tennis was taken very seriously. In my final holidays it was won by ‘Loz’ who I believe played at Junior Wimbledon. I also recall the people who needed hospital or medical treatment after competing in sports day ( especially the three-legged race).
    I’d better stop now, as I seem to be remembering more and more as I go along. Oh yes, I remember in my earlier days that the camp was run by Mr and Mrs Kay. I have a vague memory that he kept a goat in the field to the side of the chalets! A particular camp dance (line-dance style) was named the Kay Sway in their honour.
    I loved every moment

    • Thanks for this comment. Nalgo Croyde is certainly a good memory!

    • Hi Kim
      I loved reading your memories and wonder whether you were there the same weeks that we always went – late August? Your memories are really similar to mine…

      • Hi Cathy,
        Yes, we did go late August each year, so we may well have been there at the same time. My parents were called Oxo and Bisto. I remember another couple called Punch and Judy and there was an Easycome and Easygo who were there each year. Were you a child or a ‘grown-up’ (or both) when you were there? I was born in 1956 and went first when I was very young and then many times over the years until about 1977. I did go back and visit in later years and they had a board up with some interesting old photos showing a few familiar faces.

      • Hi Kim
        My family first went to Croyde in 1961 when I was one. We continued every summer until 1979 then went back with our own children in later years.
        We were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail & Peter initially and then became musical terms Allegro & Lento would have been your age group (my older sisters)

        I have started a Facebook Group called Nalgo Croyde Bay through the years – feel free to come and join and see all the photos that have been posted – you might spot yourself!

  6. Hi Andrew, I would just like to ask seeing as you have used our image for Nalgo Croyde could we have a return link, thank you very much!! http://postcardnostalgia.co.uk/west_country/croyde_bay/nalgo_holiday_camp.htm

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