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Historic caravan mysteryappeal to Black Country readers

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 22, 2014

By John Butterworth

  • The caravan in 1975 before its restoration

  • The restored caravan today

  • The inside of the caravan in 1975

  • The restored inside of the caravan

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A RESEARCH consultant has appealed to Bugle readers for help in solving the mystery of an antique caravan which has been restored in a 30-year project.

Karen Nield, a former Kidderminster girl now living in Hertfordshire, is trying to piece together the story of this late 1920s Eccles Showman Living Wagon, which was manufactured in the West Midlands and had been bought by a circus strongman in the 1950s as a love gift for his wife, a former tightrope walker.

Karen is hoping some Bugle readers may have known someone who worked at the Eccles caravan factory. She said this unique Eccles was almost certainly a one-off production, hand-built in the style of a showman's caravan or fortune teller's wagon.

Readers may know for whom it was built, more details on how it was made, who might have been the owners over the years, how it ended up in the Netherlands, or any other relevant information.

Eccles Motor Transport Ltd was founded by Bill Riley Sr. in 1919 in Gosta Green Birmingham. The first person to order an Eccles caravan was Dowager Countess Rhonda and by the late 1920s the factory had outgrown its premises and moved to a four-acre site in Hazelwell Lane, Stirchley, Birmingham.

Caravan production flourished there from 1927 until 1961. Eccles caravans were much sought after by VIPs, maharajahs, companies and organisations across the world.

According to a caravan historian, some of the Eccles most exacting clientele were showmen and gypsies. Therefore, these ornate showman trailers were of a very high standard and fittings and craftsmanship were of the highest order.

The latest chapter of the story starts in the 1970s, when Richard D. Peterson and Colette Peterson-Bruvry, having moved from California to the Netherlands, were exploring the countryside by bicycle.

The Eccles was spotted in a field outside town and they discovered it was owned by the former circus performer, Wim Truggelaar, intended as a gift for his wife. She was also a Traveller, having worked for the Belgian-Dutch Circus van Beveren.

The owners told them stories of supporting the Resistance during World War II, by helping refugees from Nazism to escape from Holland – by way of "lifelines" – to freedom in Britain.

Proud of their role in the war, they told Richard and Colette about letters of distinction from General Marshall thanking her for her efforts, as well as a letter from Winston Churchill praising her bravery.

Wim Truggelaar agreed to sell the caravan to the American couple in 1975.

A high-quality sympathetic restoration was planned with originality paramount to the project. Karen Nield said: "The Petersons have used only the highest quality mahogany, lacquers, gold leaf and such, in returning this magnificent vehicle to its full splendour. The drawbar, bumpers and fittings have been re-chromed and the coal-burning stove has been re-nickelled by one of the few remaining firms that do this labour-intensive work. The embossed leather seats have been lovingly restored by two experts from South America who specialise in antique leather."

Andrew Jenkinson, the UK's leading caravan historian and journalist, said: "This is an excellent example of an early Eccles Showman's Wagon from around 1930. Very few have survived so this is a rare piece of caravan history, carefully and perfectly restored." John Pockett, who has restored more than 200 gypsy and showman caravans, including a gypsy caravan that belonged to Beatles John Lennon and Ringo Starr, said of the Eccles caravan: "The Petersons are making a truly beautiful job of the restoration."

The restoration is now complete, thanks to a master Dutch craftsman, Rob Stolker, and to fine art restorer, Hiromi Tanimura. Now the couple wish to find out more about the caravan's history, and through a mutual friend, they contacted research consultant, Karen.

Do you know any relevant stories about such Eccles living wagons?

If you can help, please contact editor@blackcountryugle.co.uk or write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, and we will pass all the information on to the Petersons.

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