As we enter the summer holiday season many people will be heading coastwards to the seaside, a fine summer holiday tradition. Some will stay in caravans, others in hotels and guest houses, and some will venture to all-inclusive resorts and holiday parks, once more commonly known as holiday camps. Popularised by Butlins and Pontins, this type of affordable and entertainment-packed family holiday became increasingly popular. Billy Butlin had opened the first of his holiday camps at Skegness in 1934, and the first Pontins opened a decade later in 1946 at Brean Sands, Somerset.

The founder of Pontins was Frederick (Fred) Pontin, a Walthamstow-born man whose father was a cabinet maker and also hailed from Walthamstow. Fred was born in 1906 in Highams Park, in the parish of Walthamstow, and spent his formative years in the area; the family were living at Coleridge Road by the time Fred was aged four, before a move to Lloyd Road, and later Gloucester Road. Fred attended a school in the Blackhorse Road area before studying at Sir George Monoux School as a fee-paying pupil, where he excelled at sports, but left aged 15 in 1922 with no qualifications.East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The cover of Fred Pontin's autobiography

Like many locals, Fred’s parents were avid supporters of Walthamstow Avenue Football Club, then based in Higham Hill, and Fred inherited their passion. He became club treasurer and wrote regular match reports for the Walthamstow Guardian, and even met his wife Beatrice Dorothy Mortimer (often known by her middle name) at one of the club’s social events. They married at St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow in July 1929 when Fred was 22, and later set up home in a large house in Forest Glade, Highams Park. Their daughter Patricia was born in 1937.

Whilst at school Fred had developed an interest in the Stock Exchange and after leaving, he embarked upon a successful City career with the intention of becoming a millionaire. He worked for several stockbroker and investment firms, gaining experience of company investments, market dealings and shares. He had a somewhat entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen, and in 1937, the year that his daughter was born, he set up the first of several football pools and bookkeeping businesses.

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A 1948 Pontins brochure

During the Second World War he helped establish hostels for construction workers, and building on this experience, in 1946, he bought a derelict camp at Brean Sands, Somerset, forming a syndicate to raise the necessary £23,000, ensuring a 50 per cent control by obtaining a bank loan for half the money. He transformed the site into the first of many Pontins Holiday Camps, and within 25 years or so there were 22 holiday camps attracting a million visitors a year. In the 1960s Pontins expanded abroad, creating package holidays at several Pontinental Holiday Villages at prime locations including in Spain, Majorca, Ibiza and Greece.

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Fred ran the business with most of his family for more than 30 years before selling it in 1978, although he remained a director for two years before resigning. Fred also found time to be a prolific charity fundraiser, for which he received a knighthood in 1976.

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Never one to remain idle, Fred retained involvement in various businesses in his later years; aged 80 he joined Ponti’s restaurant chain and in the 1990s he was working on a Euro Pontin company to accommodate 3,000 people a week to travel to Eurodisney. Fred had never really retired, nor had he wanted to, proclaiming that “When I take up golf or buy myself a yacht, see that I am certified.”

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He died in Blackpool in 2000, aged 94, leaving a legacy of decades of holiday memories for countless families from all over the country.

Karen Averby is a seaside-loving historian and research consultant specialising in researching histories and stories of buildings, people and places. She researches house histories for private clients and collaborates in community heritage projects ( She is also director of Archangel Heritage Ltd, an historical research consultancy providing research services for the commercial heritage sector ( Also found on Twitter @karenaverby and @archaheritage