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  Ethel in the pram, Edith, George & Willie 1908/10
  Ethel Milner
The Beginning
By Alan Micklethwaite

By 1938 there were two Butlin’s Holiday camps. The first was Skegness, which opened its gates to holidaymakers in 1936, followed by the camp at Clacton, which opened in 1938. It was in 1938 that Billy Butlin began his search for a third site in the North of England. The picturesque Filey bay seemed to be the ideal spot.

The very moment that Butlin’s Filey was conceived is vividly remembered by Ethel Milner, who was in her late twenties when her father sold land to Billy Butlin in 1938. Ethel’s family lived in the farmhouse ‘Moor Farm’ at Hunmanby Gap and her father farmed the land where the camp was eventually built. Now ninety-seven and still living nearby at Hunmanby, Ethel recalls Billy’s visit to the nearby Primrose Valley caravan site: “Billy Butlin came to Primrose Valley thinking he could buy a plot of land for a camp. He walked round with the boss of Primrose valley who said he had no spare land because it was all taken up with caravans. Billy looked over a hedge and said ‘there’s some lovely land here, who does this belong to?”

Informed that the land belonged to Mr Milner, Billy Butlin then sent his agent to make an offer to buy the land: “Father didn’t know whether he wanted to sell the land or not. He thought ‘well, it would be so much less to work.’ He told him ‘come back in a month and I will tell you.’ He came back in a month and father told him ‘yes’ he would sell him the land.”

Billy Butlin bought 120 acres of land at £100 per acre, paying a total of £12,000 to Mr George Milner - a considerable sum of money in 1938: “We’d never had such money! My father had been a farm worker all his life and never had a lot of money. When he was a lad I don’t suppose he would have as much as three shillings a week. We didn’t celebrate - we didn’t do anything daft like that!” laughs Ethel.

In the meantime Billy Butlin had to apply for permission to build the camp and the land stood unused for the next year: “We got the grain off it and then left it. From 1938 to 40 it grew a lot of rubbish - it was awful really - father was worried about it.”

A special meeting was held by Filey Town council in April 1939, where plans for the new camp were presented by Butlin. The plans were approved by the council and it was agreed that building work could commence. Unfortunately, shortly after the work began, war broke out and Billy Butlin’s plans were thrown into turmoil; on September 12th 1939, the day after war was declared with Germany, all three Butlin’s holiday camps were requisitioned by the government. However, Ethel recalls that things did not turn out so bad for Billy Butlin despite this setback: “That’s how he got it built. They built it as if they were doing it for Butlin’s, you know. It wasn’t built for an army camp at all, it was built with chalets. The government built it for him.”

Skegness camp was taken over by the Royal Navy, Clacton by the Army and Filey camp became home to the RAF regiment: “They built the camp in 1940 and the RAF moved in.”

This caused some worry for Ethel and her family: “When the military were in they used to get up early in the morning and put all the lights on and go out to work and leave them on. We thought, well, we’re too near, because we were near - a stray plane could come over and drop a bomb on it - I thought they were a bit hazy really, going out to work and leaving lights on.”

However, it was not long before the young airmen became part of local life: “My sister and I had a café down at Hunmanby Gap and we used to serve them. We got permission to have some extra lard and sugar and things and my sister used to bake. In the morning they had a break with a mug of tea and a bun - we used to charge tuppence for a mug of tea and a penny for a bun.”

The war went on and the RAF settled in but towards the end, the camp’s use began to change: “The RAF moved in and they were in all the war except, I think, the last year of the war, they let half of it to visitors and then the RAF moved out after the war and Butlin’s moved in and never looked back until 1983.”

Ethel recalls the influx of tourists to Butlins Filey after the war: “He bought this field from another farm and built the railway station and linked the line to the main Hull to Scarborough line and made a tunnel under the road, so they could travel to the camp without crossing the road. On a Saturday they used to bring a trainload of visitors in and take a trainload out.”

As the camp became an established and busy holiday resort, so it became part of daily life for local people such as Ethel, who would use the camp as a local leisure amenity: “They always had a dance on a Saturday night and we used to go to the dance. It was lovely, we used to go the back way - we used to go through the field. We sneaked in the back. Well, they wouldn’t have minded ‘cause there was a lot of local people who used to go through the front gate - it was nearer for us to go through this field and through the hole!”

When asked if she was glad that Billy Butlin bought their land, Ethel considers carefully and replies: “Well I don’t know really, we were in a way because it was a lot of hard work. My two eldest brothers, it was hard work for them working it. I had two brothers who were just older than me and they left school when they were twelve and they went to field with horses - just imagine a little lad going to field with two big horses and getting behind a plough and going down the field! We didn’t have so much land to work when Billy Butlin came along. You see it made it easier. We had 309 acres until he came along and took 120 acres. It was a lot better - a lot easier to work.”



Disclaimer - This site is dedicated to preserving the memories and heritage of the Filey Butlins camp. It has no connection whatsoever with Butlins, Bourne Leisure or any associated companies, nor has it been endorsed by them.

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copyright images - Sarah Daniels