I’ve long been interested in the influence Quakers had on youth hostels. Quakers gave youth hostels an ethos of simplicity and companionship that endured for years and, more tangibly, they ran regions and brought many properties to the infant YHA.
In his memoirs Charles Allen, first regional secretary in Devon and Cornwall, wrote that it did not take him long to realise that the ‘Friends’ played an important part in the pioneering work of hostels in the West, including helping open the youth hostel at Lands End.
He pays tribute to how E StJ ‘Jack’ Catchpool, a Quaker and first national secretary of YHA, “made possible the gathering together of a large number of ‘Friends’… at meetings, where he interested them in the forming of a committee for YH.”
Catchpool repeated this influence in around half the other YHA regions as they began. He worked with friends like Paul D Sturge, who started the Bristol regional group, wrote to and influenced other Quakers.
No other single group of people seems to have had such a widespread influence on the beginning of youth hostels.
The early regions found many youth hostels through Quakers. They leased hostels like Jordans and Street from local Quakers and in some cases used Friends’ meeting houses as youth hostels, clearing beds away to hold Sunday meetings.
Jack Catchpool had suggested using meeting houses in this way before the first world war when he thought meeting houses could be used as summer camps for boys and girls.
Charles Allen’s memoirs also show another youth hostel beginning with Quaker connections. Mr E Williams, a solicitor and a Friend from Camborne, made a very large donation to purchase Letcha Vean, a guest house near St Just, Cornwall, providing that YHA found the remainder of the monies for the freehold of the house.
YHA has owned the hostel, known as Land’s End youth hostel, since then. It now joins the long list of other youth hostels with strong Quaker links.
A full transcript of Charles Allen’s memoirs is available here Y410012 Memoirs of Charles Allen copy 2.
Many thanks to John Martin, YHA’s honorary archivist, for kindly making this transcript available. The original document will be available in the YHA archive at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.