Billy Butlin was born William Heygate Edmund Colborne Butlin in Cape Town, South Africa.
Contrary to the worldwide biographies of his date of birth being 29 September 1899 in South Africa, my passion for sniffing out the nitty gritty on people, I found that he was baptised on 25th December 1898 at St. Peters Anglican Church in Mowbray, Cape Town, and on further inspection in the Cape Town Archives original birth registers he was born on 29th September 1898 making him a year older than he was. His baptism register at St. Johns one of the witnesses was Gertrude Colborne who came to South Africa briefly and was a younger sister of his grandmother Caroline Butlin born Colborne.
Early Life: Billy Butlin’s parents divorced and he and his mother left for overseas leaving behind his father William Colborne Butlin who was employed as an Engineer with the South African Railways at the time of Billy’s birth.
After his father’s divorce, his father William Colborne Butlin father remarried Ethel Antoinette Charlotte Payne and they moved to live in Orient Road in Lakeside, Cape Town where they both lived until their deaths in 1954 and 1955 respectively.
Growing up in challenging circumstances, Billy learned the value of hard work and perseverance at a young age.
Entrepreneurial Spirit: In his late teens, Billy decided to try his luck in various business ventures. He started with a fairground stall and later ventured into organizing various amusement events. His entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ideas soon led him to establish a successful amusement park in Canada.
The Birth of Butlin’s Holiday Camps: In 1936, Billy Butlin opened his first holiday camp in Skegness, Lincolnshire, England. The camp offered an innovative and affordable holiday experience for working-class families, providing a range of recreational activities and entertainment at reasonable prices. At a time when holidays were considered a luxury for many, Butlin’s camps allowed ordinary people to enjoy time away from their daily routines.
The holiday camps were designed to accommodate thousands of guests at once, providing comfortable and practical accommodations, various dining options, swimming pools, sports facilities, live entertainment, and other fun-filled activities. Billy Butlin’s vision was to create a place where families could relax, bond, and create lasting memories together.
Expansion and Success: The success of the first camp in Skegness led to the rapid expansion of Butlin’s brand across various seaside locations in the UK. By the 1950s and 1960s, Butlin’s holiday camps had become a ubiquitous part of British culture. Millions of people flocked to these camps each year, making them one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country.
Legacy: Billy Butlin’s innovative approach to the holiday industry transformed the way people viewed vacations. He had a keen understanding of what ordinary families desired during their leisure time and offered a solution that catered to those needs. He also played a significant role in boosting the post-war British tourism industry.
Later Years: In 1969, Billy Butlin sold Butlin’s company to an entertainment conglomerate called the Rank Organisation. Despite stepping back from the business, he remained involved in various charitable and philanthropic activities.
Honours and Recognition: In 1964, Billy Butlin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to tourism and charity.
Passing: Sir Billy Butlin passed away on June 12, 1980, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of affordable family holidays and joyful memories cherished by generations of Britons.
Today, Butlin’s holiday resorts continue to operate and offer vacation experiences, although the holiday industry has evolved significantly since Billy Butlin’s time. Nevertheless, his impact on the British tourism sector and his contribution to making holidays accessible to all will always be remembered.
Written and researched by Heather MacAlister Copyright 2023
Sources: Home Affairs Registers HAWC – Cape Town Archives HAWC 1/3/58/3/2
Deceased Estate Files: MOOC 4430/54 + MOOC 1842/55
Anglican Church Registers of St. Peters Mowbray
Cape Town Archives 3/CT 4/2/1/3/838