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Minehead - A personal account by Neil Hilton Back

The following is a personal reflection of the experiences and detail of the camp as fondly remembered by Neil Hilton. Thanks to Neil for sharing this with us.

Butlins Holiday Camp Minehead Somerset recently celebrated it's 40th birthday. Minehead was another family favourite in the Butlins brochure. It is now one of the three Butlins Family Entertainment Resorts remaining.

The Minehead camp was built on a large area of flat land to the east of the town. The flat nature of the landscape provided the ideal opportunity for Sir Billy to lay out the camp exactly as he wanted it with no restrictions due to the terrain. The only problem was drainage but this was overcome by the clever drainage systems installed at the outset.

The front of the camp was the selling point and the camp stretched along the sea front towards the local golf course and club amidst an array of flagpoles and the impressive large boating lake. The usual welcome to Butlins sign was the greeting upon arrival. The large two storey buildings were arranged around the outdoor swimming pool and the monorail looped in a figure of eight around the Princess and Regency buildings crossing over the swimming pool. Along with the fountains and Mississippi river boat on the lake the camp looked very inviting from the outside. The only problem with Minehead was getting there. You had to drive into the centre of Minehead and out to the east along the sea front to one of the two gates. Inevitably there was traffic congestion getting into Minehead and then out towards Butlins. Since nearly everybody was heading for Butlins you could not complain. There is now a new road from Alcombe along the side of Butlins up to the sea front. This cuts out the town of Minehead and gets you straight to the important place, Butlins. The Rank Group sold some land which used to be the day visitors car park to the side of Butlins just before they sold the Holidays Division to Bourne Leisure. This is now a new housing development.

Although sited on flat land the seasoned enthusiast could spot the camp from a distance of about two miles. After the turn off for Dunster you could see North Hill ahead of you in Minehead. If you looked over to the right you could spot the chairlift making its way over the camp from the back to the front. Some of the chalets could be seen at this point especially the self-catering flatlets added in the late 1970's.

The camp was built to accommodate a large number of both self-catering and catered guests. There was a mixture of single storey accommodation and two storey accommodation. The chalets were built in lines but some were arranged in a staggered way so as to be varied. A purpose built mini church was sited within the yellow camp and green camp areas. The dining halls were well located alongside the catered chalets.

In the early 1970's the camp boasted a dry ski slope which was situated at the back close to the miniature railway and south east lake. Most of the entertainment venues were at the front of the camp and a quiet lounge was a feature of the Gaiety Building looking out over the outdoor pool. The amusement park was situated where the outdoor sports area is now sited. The monorail station was situated where the current entrance to the Noddy's Toyland kiddies amusement centre lies. The monorail would often stop over the outdoor pool if the second car on the rails was letting people off / on at the station.

Minehead has been left substantially intact but the monorail, chairlift and miniature railway have all been removed. The old Windsor Building which once housed the Snooker/Billiards Rooms, Holiday Fayre Restaurant and 913 club was the first building to be demolished. This building was ageing and was also surplus to requirements in the new plans. The south chairlift station was the last building to be demolished in the winter of 2000 although the interior fixings had been removed the winter before. The half-board restaurant building and Nursery Centre are still in use. The outdoor pool area is now covered by the remarkable Skyline Pavilion complex. The Odeon Cinema is still at the front but those with a good memory will remember that this building was originally named the Princess Building and contained the indoor roller skating rink that was open to one side at the front. The amusement park was moved to the front of the camp near the west entrance and reopened by Lady Butlin in 1993 during that refurbishment programme.

The main reception is now called 'check-in' as it is at the other two Family Entertainment Resorts and the medical building is still there to the side of it. The self-catering car park on the other side of the camp now accommodates the Butlins concert arena which is erected especially for such events. The Crazy Horse Saloon, another Butlins classic is still there and is still serving drinks. This is the oldest entertainment venue remaining from the original camp construction.

Minehead was always a popular centre due to its location in the South West of England and its extensive facilities. It was well planned, laid out and has benefited from extensive landscaping by Billy Butlin which has now matured. The site has many trees, green areas and the sub tropical shrubs which survive the milder climate in the West of the UK.

I was not surprised that this holiday camp was kept in the portfolio. I hope that Bourne Leisure the new owners will preserve the resort and it will be a successful business for them. I have been back twice since the resort was refurbished in 1998/1999. In my opinion it is the best of what is left of the Butlin empire. The new look Butlins Family Entertainment Resort is an excellent modern day alternative to the old camp and the newly created venues provide a variety of family entertainment including top celebrities. I believe that the management of the Rank Group Holidays Division who masterminded the changes were resolute to keep the Butlin brand name alive in these difficult commercial and competitive times. I regret that the Rank Group sold the holidays business shortly afterwards as I believe they should have given it a little more time. Interestingly some managers have since left Rank and formed their own holiday company, buying back a few of the Haven sites from Bourne Leisure.

As with all the other holiday camps Butlins Minehead was the springboard for many show biz careers. Comedians and television presenters were born here. The big bands who used to fill the theatres and bars with sound have long since gone. Ballroom dancing and live plays are a thing of the past. Even the disco sounds of the 1970's and pop stars of the 1980's now seem dated. Times have changed and we have to move on. However, for those of us who took the Butlin experience to our hearts nobody will ever be able to take away the memories we have of the past and we will always show our gratitude to those who made it all possible. Long live the memory and the monuments of Sir Billy Butlin !

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