The Steam Tent Co-operative was set up with the intention of creating encampments with an Old School / Steampunk theme, so, obviously, the type of tentage we use is going to have a big impact on the atmosphere of the camps that we create.
The first thing that springs to mind when thinking about old style camping is cotton canvas rather than modern nylon. Most people will also think along the lines of simple Ridge, Wall or Bell tents as they were the prevalent types of tent used in the Victorian / Edwardian period.
Historically, that would of course be the best place to start and your method of transport and storage space at home will have an impact on the size of tent you can accommodate. Less obviously, you also need to consider the space you have available for drying damp canvas should you return home after a wet weekend. It is very important not to store away cotton canvas that is damp or your lovely tent may simply rot away before the next event.
Canvas tents are bulky, heavy, need care and attention but they are also cosy, dependable and often very spacious, which gives you lots of room to fill with Steampunky treasures. Such tents are also the easiest route to creating the overall look and feel that we want to achieve with our encampments.
Buying new canvas tents can be a substantial outlay but it is often possible to get good tents second hand. Many scout groups are selling on old canvas tents in favour of modern nylon ones that are easier for them to handle. Old re-enanctment tents sometimes turn up on eBay or other such sites. Some military surplus tents are quite suitable for adaptation too.
That is not to say there might not be other kinds of accommodation that would fit into the atmosphere we are trying to create. Steampunk harks to a fantastical world of the weird and wonderful. It also includes concepts such as Mr Wells' marvellous Time Machine.
Why not pitch up a medieval pavilion here or there, perhaps a retro futuristic dome tent could be nestled into the field too if it looks right.
Steampunked caravans or camper vans might also be suitable where site regulations allow. Variations on the theme can certainly be considered but will tend to be on a case by case basis. Creativity will always be the key.
On some camp sites there may be enough room to allow for a separate, "out of character" camping area, which will allow people that may not be able to afford or accommodate an "in character" tent to join in with daily camp life. This may not always be possible of course, but it may provide a way for people to dip their toes in the water before making a bigger investment on "in character canvas". ( For convenience, I will hereafter simply refer to these different areas as the “Plastic camp” and the “Steam camp”. )
In the Steam camp, there will naturally be some tents that are more dressed up than others. Not everyone will have the space, budget or transportation to fill a pavilion with campaign furniture and many people may need modern conveniences such as cool boxes to store their food in. We discussed solutions to that on the Occultation page, but it does mean that you may be asked to set up in different positions in the camp depending on how splendid your set up looks.
This may be for a number of reasons, not least of which is the best use of the available space, perhaps avoiding bad ground in some places. Another reason is to build the stage upon which the camp atmosphere depends. You may have seen pictures of the film sets built for old Westerns. Very often the main street was just a wooden façade held up by scaffolding behind. In our case the façade will be made of canvas and the intention will be to contain the view and shut out distracting details. Just like the building of a film set it will have a foreground, middle ground and background.
The Foreground should effectively be the heart of the camp. We would like it to consist of the best dressed tents, props and furnishings. Sometimes this will be built around a communal fire pit other times it will surround something like a village green. We tend to refer to this as being “Full Steam”.
The better we get at doing this, the more atmospheric and extensive that foreground will become.
The Middle ground may consist of good looking tents but they may not be quite as well dressed out inside. These tents still add to the view and atmosphere when closed up but they may also help conceal parts of the background beyond. This is what we refer to as being “Half Steam”. It’s not a put down, it just recognises that people might be at different stages of the journey.
Please check with whoever is in charge of co-ordinating the camp where to go before starting to pitch your tent.
That background may well consist of elements we have no control over, it might be buildings, vehicles or other groups using the site, it could also include our own Plastic camp, but with careful placement of our tentage we should be able to conceal those elements from the heart of the camp. In an ideal situation we should be able to stand in the centre of the camp, look in any direction and not see anything that seems out of place. That will help create the atmosphere we all want and also look great in photos too.
That is what we are aiming for and with practice and co-operation, I hope we can achieve it.