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Emma Dent writes:

A small collection amidst the Christian Brethren archive is that of the Cardiff Assemblies’ Sunday School Holiday Camps.

Although Cardiff Assemblies’ Sunday School holiday camps began in 1948, records held at the archive begin when the camps grew in popularity and size in the 1960s. The collection is far from a complete record, but offers many glimpses into how and why the camps were devised and run.

It is not entirely clear if the camp attendees were gathered entirely from families attending Brethren assemblies or also from other churches or chapels in the local area. Lists of camp attendees from the 1960s do indicate that campers from Baptist churches also sometimes attended but this appears to have changed in later years, with camp attendance entirely drawn from Brethren assemblies.

What is evident is that the camps were immediately popular and soon began publishing their own prospectuses and even a camp tie was manufactured at one point. Camp song sheets and poems were produced. (Sample lyrics “Camping stories start in 1947” and “I love to go a camping, down at Oxwich Bay”.

Dozens of young people attended the camps in the 1960s and 70s, with some becoming oversubscribed. The average age of a camper was around 13 or 14, though some children as young as 11 or as old as 18 attended. In later years senior camps were established to cater for the older camper.

Such camps were not unique, as evidenced by a report from delegates on a 1969 conference to study the ‘problems and objectives of Christian Youth Camps’ which was attended by delegates from various Christian backgrounds.

One of the more unusual items is sets of slides from early days of the camps, in 1966, depicting, variously, groups of campers playing games or washing up, workers shaving and most intriguingly of all, a ‘camp wedding’. Disappointingly there are no further items to describe whether this was a real wedding or some kind of elaborate dressing up situation!

Much of the collection though is made up of the kind of paperwork that makes up the planning of any such event – such as finding a suitable location to hold the camps, or cost-effective transport.

Anyone who has run a committee will recognise the tone of the letters seeking new membership for the Assemblies’ camp committee – though many committee members were long standing and the chairs and secretaries in particular seem to have stayed in post for years, if not decades.

Preparing a camper for baptism seems to have been a key aim. Several letters in the collection ask for prayers for boys who have “professed their faith” at camp and conversely also for those who “resisted the claims of the Saviour”.

As would be expected, religion was key to daily camp life, with timetabled worship and prayer times. Religion was also key to much of the planned ‘fun’ activities, such as quizzes on Bible quotes and what was badged as Quiet Time was essentially time put aside for Bible study. A padre or spiritual leader was appointed to each camp and religious literature was available for free and for sale.

It was not all prayer, however. Camps held Sports Days to which parents were invited; though a 1966 camp had the misfortune to be poorly attended as it was on the same day as the World Cup Final (let’s hope that none of the campers that year were big football fans).

Intriguingly, letters in the 1970s refers to the camp “moving away from the fervent evangelical ‘get them saved at all costs’ approach because ‘professions’ are all too easily obtained in camp atmosphere. For this reason the emphasis in the morning talks has been practical Christian living.” Frustratingly, whether or not this approach was continued and in what way, in future years of the camp, is not documented.
In the mid-1990s the camp underwent several rebranding exercises but although the cessation of the camps is not recorded in the items, they appear to have dwindled out around this time.

With many thanks to Christian Brethren Archivist Jess Smith for the opportunity to work on this small but intriguing look at Brethren life.