1935 Bertram Hutchings Winchester Deluxe 16'3''

I found this Winchester by accident. A guy was clearing out an estate of someone who'd died and left a big collection of classic vehicles behind in a shed. He advertised a Morris Oxford on Facebook and I spotted just the front profile of the Winchester in the background of the photo. I asked if it was for sale, his response was "that wooden thing?", so I knew he had no idea. Truth be told, I knew it was a Winchester and that was it. The seller reckoned it was "about 14ft long" so I hired a suitable transporter trailer and travelled 150 or so miles to buy it. 

When we turned up, he'd backed his Transit van pick up into the front of it and wiped out the front corner. The Winchester lie nose down in the dirt, uncovered and unloved. Inside appeared to have been ransacked of anything of value and used as a smoking den as there were cigarette ends everywhere. The caravan can't have been loved in the years leading up to it landing here, as everything inside was coated in dirt and dust. Despite all this, I saw it's potential straight away. Sadly, it wasn't as straightfoward as that. The seller was a bit of a chancer and negotiations weren't easy, also, at a quick pace out, the Winchester was 19ft long including the towing frame. After several hours, we eventually had the keys and began to squeeze the Winchester onto the trailer. After a nerve-wracking journey home, we eventually landed back safely in the dark.

We eventually got the Winchester off the trailer and breathed a huge sigh of releif. Safely in our barn, we were free to explore all the nooks and crannies at our leisure, to which there were many to explore. There's a tin bath installed in the floor, various trap doors, secret cupboards, clever adaptive seat designs... a real minefield of interesting features. It didn't take long to assess the damage, it would need a whole new front end and the roof would need re-canvassing. Then the exterior would need a repaint and the interior would need a very good scrub. 

Before I proceeded, I tried to find any reference/significance of the name 'Hutch' written above the door. I knew that Bertram Hutchings was the designer/manufacturer of The Winchester, so logically, this is where the name came from. Would luck have it, but at the bottom of the wardrobe was a 30 year old programme for the Great Dorset Steam Fair and sure enough, '1935 Winchester 16ft 3in 'Deluxe' was listed, next to a familiar name! It turned out, 'Hutch' was owned by the brother of a good friend of ours in the 1970's and 1980's. A quick call to our friend confirmed this, and he put us in touch with his brother, who's now finished with restoring old caravans after a lifetime of bringing beauties like the Winchester back to former glory. He was delighted to hear from us, as he'd long lost contact with 'Hutch' as it changed hands several times since he sold it in the very late 1980's. He revealed that the serial number would be on the end of the stub axle, and he had a friend who posessed the original factory ledgers and could help fill in the gaps of the history of our caravan. 

It turned out, 'Hutch' was ordered new in  October 1935, but not delivered, by the purchaser's preference, until April the following year, when the caravanning season started. A 1928 Car Cruiser was part exchanged. Dora E Eades was the name of the purchaser, which the guy with the factory ledger said was very unusual for the time, for a woman to put her name to buying a caravan. Remember, before the War, you had to be wealthy to own a car, let alone a caravan! Unfortunately, women weren't treated equally back then, so it was even more unusual for a woman to have the finances to purchase the 'Rolls Royce Of Caravans'. Curiously, he suggested that our Winchester would have been used in promotional pieces at the time, as it would have been left in the Winchester factory for several months after it was built in late 1935. It also turned out, 'Hutch' was only one of two 16ft 3in Winchesters built in 1935 with double panel insulation and a full Mollicroft roof. 

Back to the restoration, the front end was stripped of the original damaged hardboard in no time. Annoyingly, though perhaps predicably, absolutely nothing on the caravan is straight. After 80+ years of warping, expanding and repairs, each new piece of wood had to be very carefully tailored to shape. Wetting the hardboard was the best way to get it to take on the huge curve of the front and once dried, the shape would be retained. Deciding not to cut any corners, we decided to renew all of the canvas on the roof. What a job! Every bit of trim had to come off. Now placed eight - ten feet in the air, we had to wrestle the new canvas into place. It's a fast process, painting the wood underneath to allow the canvas to stick to, then quickly going over the top of it with more paint so it all seeps through the canvas and sticks it all together. Once dried, it was absolutely solid! 

One of the harder parts of the restoration was painting 'Hutch'. As it was built using hardboard, spray painting, as we'd traditionally had done to all our aluminium clad caravans, was out of the question. Cue an original 1935 caravanning magazine, detailing the techniques for painting a hardboard caravan! It took lots of practice and many mistakes to master the technique. Strangely, the paint was thinned down by heating it up, rather than using chemical thinners. The end result was satisfactory for a first attempt, but we'd like to do it again in the near future. 

Inside, every last inch was scrubbed and cleaned. The original brown lino had been badly damaged so it had to be removed. Also, the curtains were barely hanging together, so these had to go as well. Luckily, the (believed to be) original uphostery was salvageable, sending it off for expert cleaning. It's made of springs and horse hair! We chose a 1930's inspired pattern for the light cream curtain material and opted to loose fit a beige carpet on the floor, all to make this very dark space lighter and feel more spacious. The damaged lino left behind many small nails which were dangerous for our small dog, so a cheap offcut of carpet fitted the bill perfectly. The beauty of this is that we don't have to worry about people taking their shoes off to view inside the caravan at shows, and can just throw it away and renew it at the end of the season. 

We managed to get the original gas lamp working, though the original 1930's enamel stove had a leak. We keep it in the kitchen for shows, but use a camping stove for cooking. Believe it or not, we do actually use it as a caravan! Outside, the chassis was given a thorough going over. The most expensive part was finding 18" crossply tyres to fit the original disc wheels! 

Once finished, now poised the all important question - how much does 'Hutch' actually weigh? Guesses ranged from 1200kgs to 2000kgs. The only way to be sure was to take it to a weighbridge. Fitted only with the bare camping esssentials and our 1930's China set, 'Hutch' tipped the scales at 1,185kgs; a surprise to us all! 

We really enjoy using 'Hutch'. People are always welcome to come and admire the beauty and craftsmanship of this rare and wonderful caravan. The next job over winter is to have all the bushes renewed in the leaf spring suspension to improve the handling when towing. We'd also one day love to reunite 'Hutch' with the original brass Winchester badge and Winchester china set.

*Click on the photos to enlarge them*

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