Mr Arthur Gardner built his first caravan in 1919. It was actually a motor caravan converted from an army ambulance. Arthur and his wife Joyce, our late President, spent their honeymoon in it. However, the shortcomings of such a vehicle were soon apparent to Arthur, and he felt that, if there was to be a future in caravanning, it must surely lay in trailer caravans. Convinced of this he set about building a trailer caravan from scratch, including the chassis. This was the beginning of what, through the pursuit of an ambition to produce the ideal caravan, ultimately led to the Cheltenham models bearing Antelope names that form our Club today. The use of Antelope names was suggested by a South African customer in 1937 and adopted in the following year's production.
Throughout their development, all new models were road and site tested extensively before production for sale, by the Gardner family themselves. once on the market, every opportunity was taken to obtain feedback from the new owners in order to identify any design faults or where there might be room for improvement. At caravanning events, particularly Internationals, they generously entertained all the Cheltenham owners on site and invited them, indeed encouraged them, to make candid comment about their vans. A close relationship with the owners developed, and among the owners, with each other. This gave Joy and Arthur the idea of starting an owners club, which would be unique.
Arthur and Joy lived at Southfields Manor, Cheltenham, and owned the adjoining farm. They spread the word among Cheltenham owners by every means at their disposal that there would be a free meet at Southfields Farm the following September. This was successful in gathering together a number of owners and 55 vans.
The Gardner Family entertained everybody to a splendid dinner in a marquee. The proposition that a club, called the Cheltenham Owner's Club, should be formed was put to the assembly by the host for the weekend, Mr Arthur Gardner. This was received with enthusiasm and carried unanimously. It was decided that the new Club should have activities complimentary to the National Clubs and not vie with them in any way. The Cheltenham Caravan Co., Ltd., had organised this meet, but in future the Club's activities should be entirely organised by a committee appointed by the members. Mr Gardner offered the club the use of a site on Southfields Farm for an annual rally.
The Club having been formed, the first Officers and Committee were then duly elected:-
Chairman Mr Ralph Lee
Secretary Mr C. H. Gardner
Treasurer Mrs J. K. Gardner
Committee Mr F Gurney, Mrs Marjorie Nest, Mr R. J. Frost, Mr C.B. Offley
Mr Arthur Gardner agreed to be President of the Club.
It was suggested that the next meet should be held in September in the following year but there was a counter proposal for June which was carried by a large majority. Since then, successive committees have held, what soon became known as the 'Cheltenham Weekend', annually in June. The meetings were all held at Southfield Farm, until the Cheltenham caravan Company ceased trading in 1975. It is recorded that during this period that attendance at these meetings rose to a peak in excess of 300 vans. In 1962 a rally was held in the Autumn at Hexham, Northumberland, which was the first of the 'Rallies of the North' that have continued ever since.
Thankfully, the closing of the Company was not the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning. A new venue for the Cheltenham Weekend was found at the Frogmill Inn, Skipton, Andoversford and it was possible to obtain spares for the vans from Messrs Stephens and West of Cirencester.
An anonymous contributor to an early Newsletter wrote - "There exists among us a fellowship, a family spirit, a feeling of belonging, a responsibility towards each other. It is almost a marriage between owners, who stick together 'in sickness and in health', as those who have been unfortunate enough to experience ill health will testify".
A significant factor in the development of such a club was the early appointment of our very own Chaplin, and the willingness of the Reverend Charles Peers, Vicar of Holy Apostles Church, Cheltenham, to take the Office. He wrote the Cheltenham Owners Hymn, and his Services at Cheltenham Weekends were set at just the right level to be appreciated by a very mixed congregation.
Information from newsletters
1951 - the club members entertained the Gardner Family to a luncheon at the Chateau Impney, near Worcester and presented them with an Illuminated Address signed by most of the members; this was an expression of appreciation for the generous hospitality extended to Cheltenham owners for many years, from long before the Club was formed. This was the first of the now familiar and ever popular Winter Luncheons
1961 - saw the production of the first Newsletter. It consisted of four sides of A4. In it the President wrote that the Membership was in excess of 1000 and that since the Club started in 1950, a total of thirty-six thousand members and their families had attended the annual Rally at Southfield. Also in 1961, the Club obtained, after an uphill struggle, a Certificate of Exemption from the Minister of Housing and local Government under the 1960 Caravan Act. We were the first Club to obtain such a Certificate.
1964 - The Irish Division of the Cheltenham Owners Club was formed at a rally on the site of the Orchard Caravan Co., Donaghee. Its aims were the same as those of the parent club and a rally for the following year was planned.
1968 - The President was unable through illness to attend the Winter Luncheon, but members were pleased to hear that he was progressing well after a serious operation. Sadly, he relapsed and died before the Cheltenham Weekend. Mrs Joyce Gardner was elected President at the AGM and Mr Cecil's wife Pat was elected as joint Treasurer with Mrs Gardner.
1970 - The year of the 21st Cheltenham Weekend, the inauguration meeting being counted as the first. 570 Cheltenhams attended and 470 sat down to dinner. The distributors of Cheltenham caravans wished to mark the anniversary and presented the Club with the Chairman's Badge which is now worn by our Chairmen on formal occasions.
1975 - The Cheltenham Caravan Company ceased trading
1976 - The Cheltenham Weekend moved to the Frogmill Inn. During the period following the closure of the Company membership fell steadily until 1980 when it began to pick up.
1980 or thereabouts - John and Tina Bradley started renovating Cheltenhams which has made a vital contribution to the survival of so many vans and the consequent revival and continued success of the Club.
1982 - The Cheltenham Weekend moved to Cheltenham Racecourse for one year and in 1983 it moved to Cowley Manor.
1986 - At the AGM it was announced that the President, Mrs Joyce Gardner, the Secretary, Mr Cecil Gardner, and the Treasurers, Mrs Joyce and Mrs Pat Gardner, having held office for 36 years, did not wish their names to go forward for re-election. The members heard this news with dismay, but received it with understanding. However, it was proposed that Mrs Joyce Gardner should be appointed the Life President and Mr Cecil Gardner Vice President. Mrs Jean Etheridge was elected Secretary and Mr Rupert Pilkington, Treasurer.
1987 - The Cheltenham Weekend moved to Hatherley Manor Hotel. After leaving the Frogmill Inn it was difficult to find a suitable home for the Club to settle. Hatherley Manor was not as successful as was hoped and yet another search for a suitable site led us to Norton in 1988, where we stayed until the move to Eastnor Castle in 1999, in anticipation of the 50th Anniversary in 2000.
1998 - The Vice-President, Mr Ceci1 Gardner, announced that he did not wish to continue as the Vice-President. He had spent almost a quarter of a century designing and manufacturing caravans and served as Hon. Secretary for 36 years from the founding of the Club until he was elected Vice Chairmen in 1986. He said he had enjoyed the hospitality and friendships of the Club but it was time to make room for others.
2000 – it was sad that Mrs Joyce Gardner who, with her husband Arthur, was instrumental in founding the Club, and our President for so many years, died just before the 50th Anniversary celebrations.