NEWMARKET may have a global reputation for horse racing and thoroughbred breeding but it was also the birthplace of one of the most famous names in the world of caravanning.
The story of the Sprite caravan has been detailed in a recently published book which has been dedicated by its author Andrew Jenkinson to Sprite creator Sam Alper and the workforce at Newmarket which helped to create it.
Mr Alper, who was later made an OBE, was a towering influence in caravan design, manufacture, marketing and after sales.
Described as a true entrepreneur, he was said to have had a gift for trying out new ideas; some worked well, others didn’t, but he always tried to learn from the mistakes he made.
Andrew Jenkinson’s story begins in the late 1940s when the austerity of post-war Britain meant hotel holidays were out of reach for most and time away in a caravan was one of the few ways to escape the drudgery of day-to-day life and enjoy the freedom of the open road.
In 1947 Alperson Products, the firm started by Sam’s brother Henry, was building caravans in east London.
Sam, an aircraft electrical mechanic during the Second World War, joined his brother in the autumn of that year in his small caravan workshop and immediately began investigating new ideas for caravan body construction.
The next year he was using his ideas and ex-war surplus components, such as the undercarriages of Spitfire planes, to make new caravans.
It was in 1948 that Sam Alper’s association with Newmarket began.
On a cycling tour of Suffolk he spotted a garage in one of the town’s best known streets and wasted no time in converting it into a workshop and office.
Alperson Products now had a new home in The Avenue and 40 men working on its Streamlite Sprit.
In 1949 the four-berth model was launched with a price tag of £199.
In less than a decade the Sprite company became a market leader, not just in the UK, but also abroad. A new factory was built at Oaks Lodge in Fordham Road and by 1957 2,500 caravans a year were being produced.
In 1958, the year Sprite celebrated its 10th birthday in Newmarket, Henry left the firm following a health scare.
With Sam at the helm, Sprite Ltd expanded and acquired other manufacturers both in the UK and abroad.
In 1960 it acquired the Eccles brand. It became known as Caravans International when it merged with Bluebird in 1963 and was Newmarket’s biggest employer outside racing and the most successful caravanning manufacturer in the world.
But the 1970s brought new challenges, as other UK manufacturers began to take some of the market, and the economic squeeze affected sales of higher priced caravans. By the early 1980s, Caravans International had gone into liquidation.
Sam Alper’s 30 years of involvement came to an end, as he turned his back on the caravan industry while several takeovers and buy-outs resulted in the company being renamed the Swift Group, within which Sprites have been further developed.
“I was lucky enough to initially meet Sam Alper and his family 15 years ago, and although his health failed slowly over subsequent years, we met several more times, and he gave me rare promotional material from those halcyon days,” said Mr Jenkinson. “Sam was shrewd, clever, and very approachable – a real pioneer of his time.”
n The Story of Sprite Caravans by Andrew Jenkinson is £14.99 and published by Veloce Publishing Ltd. It is available by order through bookshops or go to www.veloce.co.uk