Camping came early to Clacton and Little Holland, long before any real thoughts of either place being a possible holiday destination. As part of the war against France, in the spring of 1795 a Major Hay, inspecting the local coast, wrote: “The communication at Clacton Wick might be disputed by a Redout”. And it was at the lower end of this communication – namely Wash Lane – that earthworks were immediately put in hand to contain a gun battery. At the same time other batteries were commenced on the mound beyond Holland Gap, to command the sluice.
With the fear of a possible French invasion increasing, in May 1798 a large military camp was established along the cliffs at Great Clacton and Little Holland where up to 3,000 men from various regiments, militia and fencibles, were stationed on detachment from Colchester over a period of some years. Remains of a cooking range which they used were found near York Road. Certain roads were reserved for military movement and various directives were issued for the evacuation of live and dead stock, the latter including at Great Clacton 100 gallons of spirits, 33 gallons of gin, and 100 barrels of beer. Up to three thousand troops were eventually encamped, in tents which extended westward beyond what later became Kings Avenue.
The climax came on 30 September 1801 when Prince Frederick, Duke of York, the Commander in Chief, visited the Clacton battery on his way from Colchester to Harwich, accompanied by the Marquess Cornwallis. The following day peace preliminaries were agreed with the enemy, and Cornwallis proceeded to France where he signed the treaty of Amiens, which brought a short respite to the war.
But a little while later, in May 1803, Britain renewed the war against France, knowing that invasion threatened and in belief that the coast from Clacton northward was favourable for attack. The invasion scare was indeed at its height. Weeley was immediately selected as a centre for the defending troops, and extensive barracks were built there, but for some four years the large encampment was maintained along the cliffs at Little Holland.
There was, however, little joy to be had by the many soldiers camping along the coastal strip and after the real threat of hostilities ended then Little Holland was to return to a more peaceful way of life. One hundred years later, with Clacton establishing itself as a holiday destination, and Little Holland beginning to develop as a residential area, potential was seen for visitors to set up camp; one such site being near Hazlemere Road, and another up at Holland Haven. An area of land that proved particularly popular for camping was between Primrose Road and Brighton Road, land that formed part of Bennetts Farm in York Road, owned by Henry Bridger of Little Clacton but farmed by the tenant Mr W. R. Sparrow. He designated an area for organised camps specifically focusing on groups such as the Boys Brigade and Scout packs. In the 1930’s this form of holiday, reasonably priced and simple, appealed to many ‘inland’ organisations; allowing young people the opportunity for a week or two at the seaside, away from the built-up cities and more densely populated suburbia. As Holland on Sea saw the growth of residential accommodation, and the formal ownership of both the greensward and Brighton Road open space going to Clacton Urban District Council, so the available ‘rough and ready’ camping sites disappeared. This didn’t stop the Boys Brigade from pitching their tents, but just a little further away in the fields that now make-up Holland Country Park, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear the bugle cry “come to the cook-house door boys” still wafting over the area in the 1960’s.