Pontins Brean Sands - A brief history

Originally opened in the 1936 this small 9-acre camp was used during the war as a US army base. Fred Pontin bought the site in 1946 from the Dean family for £23,000 using a hefty bank loan along with investment from a consortium of friends and city investors.

It became the first ever Pontins holiday camp, with a capacity of 200 guests in 101 small wooden chalets. A few months later Pontin purchased his second camp, also from the Dean family, this time at Osmington Bay in Weymouth. The camp was mostly furnished and equipped with war surplus furniture and equipment.

Pontins Brean Sands Holiday Camp

Pontins Brean Sands Holiday Camp

Facilities at Brean during that first year included the Tudor dining hall, a dance hall and a billiards room. Outside was a bowling green, putting green and two tennis courts. Chalets were equipped with electric lighting, lino floors and a hand basin with cold running water. Four meals a day were provided - breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner - and a week in August, fully inclusive, cost 5.5 guineas per adult (£5.77 which is approx £300 today). During the 1950s an outdoor swimming pool was built.

During the mid-1960s the camp underwent a massive expansion, growing from 9 to 33 acres. Blocks of new apartments were built and a new indoor swimming pool and ballroom were opened in 1966 (the old ballroom became a supermarket).

It became the first of the Pontin mega-camps, huge self catering sites accommodating 2000-3000 people in two-storey self-catering blocks. This was soon followed by similar camps at Prestatyn, Camber Sands, Hemsby and Southport. These mega-camps lacked the charm and character of the smaller sites and most ended up looking more like council estates, but from a business perspective they were highly successful.

The map below shows the original camp in relation to the later expansion. The blue dot shows the location of the old tennis courts while the red dot shows the site of the old outdoor pool, both since removed. 

pontins brean sands holiday camp

Each of the 735 apartments had a kitchen, bathroom, lounge and one or two bedrooms. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s an apartment in August would consistently rent for the equivalent of around £500 per week in today's money. 

Electricity and heating was supplied via a coin meter, along with coin-operated TVs. The showers had a button that had to be pressed every few seconds to keep the water flowing, a feature that remained on most apartments until the very end. The apartment meters also remained but were later converted to accept prepaid cards.

Facilities included a large indoor swimming pool, boating lake, huge ballroom, several bars, outdoor playground, a kids nursery with resident nanny, games room, launderette, hairdressers and a first aid surgery with registered nurse.

pontins chalet

By the 1990s, and in response to the declining holiday camp industry, Pontins cut back on investment and seemed more interested in selling off the assets. 12 camps were sold or closed that decade. Brean was retained but started suffering from a lack of investment. By the 2010s this neglect was plainly obvious with the camp looking very rundown. Instead of fixing the issues the company simply went after the budget end of the market with all kinds of deals and special discounts. 

pontins deals and discounts

The company was acquired by Britannia Hotels in 2011 and they’ve since been blamed for everything that's gone wrong. In reality they inherited a bunch of rundown camps which had been starved of investment for years. The previous owners had gone bankrupt. To rebuild everything would have cost a fortune, and wouldn't have made any financial sense. To their credit they did invest several million pounds and most of the chalets, including those at Brean, were refurbished with new furniture, paint, windows and flooring. 

Britannia continued aiming the camps at the budget end of the market. For example an apartment in August 1990 was £259 a week but 25 years later that same apartment in August 2015 was £209 per week. So they were basically charging 1980s prices in the 2010s. Plus, they too were offering all kinds of deals and discounts so most people ended up paying even less.

But they were fighting a losing battle as the low prices didn't leave much left over for cleaning, maintenance or future investment. The reality is that people only kept going because it was dirt cheap, not because it was nice. The reviews were very negative and they received a lot of bad press. 

They eventually threw in the towel in November 2023 by announcing the closures of the mega-camps at Camber Sands and Prestatyn, followed by Southport in January 2024. In 2023 it was announced that the camp at Brean Sands would be closing to the public for 3 years in order to house 900 workers for the Hinckley Point C nuclear project. It's long term future is unknown.

 

Click here to see our Pontins Brean Sands photos. All available to buy as posters and canvas prints with free delivery anywhere in the world

Back to blog

Leave a comment