Memories of Top Camp, by Graham Webster

My name is Graham Webster.

I am a Bideford boy with my childhood dating back to the mid fifties. I now live in Bristol but often think back to my early teens in and around Westward Ho.

When I saw the photos of Top Camp it all came back to me as I spent many many years working there as a porter, and on the entertainment staff.

For a young teenager of fifteen it was a very well paid part time job earning around £10 in tips carrying cases to and from the accommodation blocks.

When all the out going holiday makers had departed we were ready for the incoming guest many had come from the Birmingham area by train and road.

When most had arrived by 4,o clock I would start to show the first film in the dance hall which was the same one week after week, The Wizard of OZ.

In the evening mainly Saturdays and Sundays when the dance bands would entertain the new guest we would do a baby sitting patrol. This meant we would walk around the camp and when we heard a baby crying we would run back to reception and tell who ever was manning the desk.

I could go on regarding many stories on the goings on in and around the camp. So as I said he was looking for porters. We were so excited but had to convince our parents first. Any way we were taken up for an interviews through which we were told that management would not tolerate bad behavior as they remember us from when we were caught on the camp. We all had a three week trial and that’s when it all started for us.

We started at 07:30 on a Saturday morning and with in an hour the three of us wondered what hit us. I can remember working in the dinning hall for breakfast, setting up tables with staff from Liverpool which did I remember bring its problems.

As they lived on the camp there was a lot of heavy drinking done after working hours and quite often we were sent to get them up the next morning before the dinning hall manager arrived, they were in quite a state sometimes.

Breakfast would finish at around 09:00 and we had to make ready a section of the dinning hall for the guest departure, this is where they collected their cases.

We started our porting duties at around 09:30. We had a large four wheel pull trolley and a two wheel upright trolley which we had to guard with our lives as it would vanish. Most of the chalets were some distance from reception and that was the closes cars could get. We would knock on the chalet door and ask if they wanted a porter or pick the cases up outside the chalets. Most holiday makers were good tippers and we could earn up to £10 each which was a lot of money then. Again porting had its down sides because if the weather was bad we would get quite wet and also cases had to be in the dining hall on time for the bus link to the railway station. There was only a two hour gap before the arriving guest would start turning up. We often a mad rush around 14,30 when the holiday makers from the Midlands started arriving, that’s when the fun started. They would often arrive in large families tired and demanding.

Some times it was sheer frustration settling the guest in as quite often the chalets were not to their liking our they would try it on stating they asked for chalets next to each other. Most guest were settled in by 1600 and that’s when the entertainment normally started. My job was to show the Saturday film which was either The Wizard of OZ or Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday. I can still remember scenes word by word.

Table Tennis, Ball games and Bingo were all played leading up to the first dinning session but most people had made there way down to the beach area to play the slot machines or explore. Westward Ho would be alive with holiday makers playing putting on the green and sitting on the beach weather permitting.

One very strong memory is one Friday evening. The weather had been playing tricks in the area that day with a very warm humid atmosphere most typical of threaten thunder storms. As the evening drew in you could see lightning flashing over Lundy island. With in an hour you could smell the wet moisture in the air. At around 08,30 the weather hit the camp with vengeance. The wind reached around 70 mph along with hail stones, thunder and lightning to which I had never seen before. The chalets on the outer side of the camp over looking Kipling Tours took a direct hit slightly dislodging the roofs and causing tremendous damage. 

In Bideford Kenwith Valley flooded and the stream running next to Kingsley Rd burst its banks causing flooding in and around Newton Rd where I lived.

At that young age we could not wait for Friday and Saturday nights when the camp would come alive. I can remember the dance hall so well because of the heavy drinking families along with the cigarette smoke. Quite 
often the local police had to sort out drinking issues on the camp but most of all the dance bands made a strong impact on me. There was the resident band along with visiting bands playing the hits of that time such as the Swinging Blue Jeans, Freddy and the Dreamers and many other Mersey bands.

I was involved with the camp for three years when i guess immaturity set in. We that’s me and one of my close mates had got to know a group of young girls that had been staying for two weeks. At that age you did anything to impress the girls so that’s what we did. On a Friday night which was always the good bye dance evening for the Saturday departing guest and we were on baby patrol . Because there were only a small amount of baby’s on the camp we were quite happy to go for a good bye kiss and cuddle down the tours but to our cost. Yes the baby’s started crying and we could not be found. I will let you guess on the outcome.

Any way to finish up I left school and went into the Shipyard, I did return to Top Camp only on invited functions. The last time i saw the place is when the reception building was under the bulldozer.

Looking back I feel Westward Ho will never regain the feel it had in them good old days.