80 years

The youth hostel at Holmbury St Mary, near Dorking in Surrey, celebrated its 80th birthday this year.  Architect designed, purpose built, the hostel first opened on Monday 13 July 1935.

Howard Leslie Vicars Lobb, a 26 year-old architect and youth hostel member, designed the hostel. 

With its long low lines, facing east and west, the building was intended to be in harmony with its chosen site, among the broad and gently sloping hills, broken by heavy-laden beech trees, near Dorking in Surrey.

Everything was made for simplicity, with men downstairs, women above.  Two rooms, for 24, in 12 double bunks, were portioned into cubicles of four double bunks, to give a sense of privacy. 

Under each window, between each pair of bunks, built-in lockers could also be used as seats.  The lounge, or common room as it was called, opened on a sun terrace with space outside for camping and games.

In the common room, with windows on three sides and a low open fire, Prunella Potts painted a cheerful frieze of characters including walkers, cyclists, herself, the architect and the builder.

On Wednesday 15 July, Lord Allen of Hurtwood, a prominent political figure, officially opened the hostel.

much frequented by visitors or within easy reach of a large population  

The hostel was the south of England’s demonstration hostel.

These hostels would be in places “much frequented by visitors or within easy reach of a large population” designed to show people what a well organised hostel was like.

Other demonstration hostels were; Thorney Howe How, Grasmere, in the Lake District, now an independent hostel; Once Brewed on Hadrian’s Wall and the former Oxford Youth Hostel.

Requisitioned and closed for much of the war, Holmbury St Mary reopened in 1946.

During its long career as a youth hostel it has been extended twice, its bedrooms have been subdivided, new windows fitted, and a fire escape built.

But in essence it remains the hostel Lobb designed, with a well lit, open social space at its heart.

Lobb’s sister, Gwen, managed Holmbury with her husband, Ralph Langford.  Lobb designed a second youth hostel at Ewhurst Green.

In his later career he designed big public works like the Hunterston A nuclear power station, in Ayrshire, the motorway service areas at Frankley, on the M5, and Leicester Forest, on the M1, and racecourse buildings at Newcastle, Newmarket, Goodwood, and Doncaster.

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