August and a visit to the Albert Hall for a prom is becoming a habit.
Sitting in the hall, waiting for Clemency Burton-Hill to introduce The Sixteen, I counted chairs and wondered how much space 5000 people took. That number of people turned up in August 1950 for YHA’s 21st birthday.
The celebrations were lavish. YHA had hosted a conference for delegates, from youth hostels in Europe and the world, the previous week and young people had kicked off the celebrations with a rally at Ashridge in Hertfordshire.
When all was done they went by bus down to London to the Albert Hall for speeches and singing. Lord Baden Powell and John D Rockefeller III, from the US association of youth hostels, made speeches. At the end everyone trooped into Hyde Park where supper was served.
Two people, celebrating their 21st birthdays that year, planted a tree. There was dancing to “amplified music” and a torchlit procession finished the event.
The occasion was momentous. The Times newspaper reported it. YHA had survived for 21 years and prospered.
It was also the moment when the old pioneers stepped back and a new generation took their place. GM Trevelyan and Jack Catchpool, president and national secretary respectively since 1930, resigned and departed.
Catchpool, ever the showman, chose the event at the Albert Hall for his final speech. He looked forward to many more years of success and hoped to see youth hostels do more for young people and then he was gone.
The pioneering years of YHA were over.