Barton Hall Holiday Camp

This Tudor-style mansion was built in the 1830s, destroyed by fire in 1862 and subsequently rebuilt to become the home of the Brown family. It was requisitioned during the war, initially by Prudential Assurance and then by the National Fire Service as a training ground. After a spell as a Polish resettlement centre it was acquired by John Lloyd in 1946 who opened it as a hotel and bar.

The National Fire Service had left behind some wooden huts so these were repurposed for holiday use and permission was granted for 175 touring caravans within the 48-acre grounds. In 1951 it started advertising itself as Torquay's first holiday camp. The old stables were converted into a games room and ex War Department huts were used for dining and entertainment.

By 1956 the camp had grown dramatically and featured a new ballroom, swimming pool, dining hall, cinema and cafe with a total capacity for 1,096 guests. The chairman of the Devon Licensing Committee, Sir Leonard Costello, said it had become a "glorified Butlin's camp" to which the owner replied "I can assure you this is not a holiday camp at all. It is a holiday resort".

Barton Hall Holiday Camp, Torquay 1970s (Pontins)

It was acquired by Fred Pontin in 1957 for £60,000 but wasn't transferred to Pontins Ltd until a couple of years later. Elsie Brown, Fred's sister and fellow board member, was put in charge. She was never a big fan of traditional camps so she set out to make Barton Hall something special. Within a short space of time the old chalets had been replaced with new brick apartment blocks, some of which adjoined the main house. Capacity was lowered to around 600 guests.

Barton Hall Holiday Camp, Torquay 1970s (Pontins)

The site soon gained an enviable reputation for its fine dining, thanks to the efforts of Mrs Brown. Four and five course meals were served on white linen tablecloths complete with tuxedo-clad wine waiters and piano music, It became a place where people actually dressed for dinner. A few rooms in the main house were converted into upscale 'Imperial' suites attracting a more wealthy clientele. It was described as "an executives holiday camp where Bentley's and Jaguar's are parked alongside Cortina's and Mini's". Lord Ted Willis was a regular visitor. 

Barton Hall Holiday Camp, Torquay 1970s (Pontins)

The first outdoor dry ski slope in the country opened here in 1963 at a cost of £4,000. The caravan site continued in use but was spun off as a separate business.

After 22 remarkable years Elsie Brown retired in 1979 leaving behind an impressive legacy. The camp maintained a good reputation throughout the 1980s and 1990s with prices consistently 20% higher than other camps. The old Imperial suites were later converted into standard family rooms. By the mid-1990s it had become an adults only centre and some of the previously free facilities were now an upcharge, including the swimming pool, snooker room and sauna.

It was sold by Pontins in 1999 but it's still open today as a PGL children's activity centre and everything still looks much the same as it always did, although much of the camp has been refurbished and some of the buildings repurposed. But the dry ski slope is still in regular use, as are the 1960s chalet blocks.

 

Click here to view our gallery of Barton Hall photos all available to purchase as ready-to-hang canvas prints.