They bought, begged, borrowed and stole

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YHA Tanners Hatch, Surrey.

Volunteers, two thirds of them women, built a hostel from a ruined cottage in the middle of the second world war. Last year the youth hostel, Tanners Hatch in Surrey, celebrated its 70th birthday. It’s a hostel with one of the proudest histories of any of YHA’s and in its location one to equal YHA’s best.

Volunteers bought, begged, borrowed and stole everything needed to rebuild the derelict cottage one of them had found. It’s an amazing tale about people who wanted a youth hostel so much they built it themselves, and a story from a time when we were all a lot more self reliant.

They didn’t wait for funds. They didn’t wait for someone else to do it for them. They did it in the middle of a war.

They carried water, sand, cement, wood and everything else they needed up a muddy track. They dug foundations, laid drains, built walls and created a hostel from ruins. The National Trust, architectural students and volunteers from the International Voluntary Service for Peace, now the IVS, helped too.

Work took three years but eventually when the hostel opened, the war was over. Among the first guests to stay was a young visitor from France. Even after a war, youth hostels continued to play a role in promoting understanding among people from different backgrounds and countries.

Noel Vincent, who had found the original cottage in ruins, recorded the story. Without his record we may have forgotten how the youth hostel came about on the large Polesden Lacy estate, now owned by the National Trust.

You can read the story, one of the many from YHA’s long history, in Open to All.

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