Hostel work, Gwen Moffat and Rowen

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Rowen – photo by Gwen Moffat, courtesy YHA Archive at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

While qualifying as a mountain guide, the first British woman to do so, Gwen Moffat worked at the youth hostel at Rowen in North Wales in 1952.

I wrote about her experience in my history of YHA, Open to All, to show what work in a hostel was like in those days when youth hostels had left their pioneering days and were becoming settled and safe, and an extract is below.

Gwen also left her own memories of the time at Rowen especially for the YHA archive and you can read her recollections in this profile of the hostel by John Martin by following this link Y950001-Ro Wen YH Profile 2018-01-01 copy

“Work at youth hostels was often hectic. The work wasn’t light and neither did members do most of it, as the climber and writer, Gwen Moffat, discovered when she worked for the Youth Hostels Association in the 1952.

“Having found no work for an unqualified woman with a small daughter, she went to the youth hostel at Rowen in Wales.

“It was always difficult to keep a warden at that hostel. She remembered in her autobiography that no one wanted to live up there.

The pay was low and the place was lonely. Only a desperate woman who couldn’t get enough of mountains would want to live there.

“The hostel looked straight straight across the Conway valley to the Denbigh moors. She could see the sea to north and outliers of the Carneddau to the south.

“Each morning, after the hostellers left, she cleaned the house properly. She washed sheet sleeping bags used the night before. She repaired Primus stoves, storm lanterns and Tilley lamps almost daily and emptied all the chemical toilets. She put up notices that members should use the toilets ‘only when necessary’ because of the rate at which they filled.

“She shopped in Conwy, carrying all the provisions and equipment for the hostel on her back from the bus stop in the valley up to the hostel.

“But she had a roof over her head and an occasional day for climbing. She considered herself well off, on pay of £1 a week in summer and ten shillings (50p) in the winter. The main draw back to the job was the lack of privacy as she and her daughter shared the common room and cooking arrangements with everyone else.

“She liked Rowen and would sometimes leave hostellers baby-sitting her daughter while she went down to the pub for darts and gossip.

“She and her daughter walked all over the mountain. They kept a cat called Mais non! and battled with rats and mice. Gwen worked for one season at the hostel before she fell critically ill one day and was carried out of the hostel on a stretcher.”

This is an extract from Open to All – how youth hostels changed the world, the definitive history of YHA available for purchase here.

You can read Gwen’s personal account of her time at the hostel, written for YHA’s archive, in John Martin’s profile of the hostel at Rowen. John is YHA’s honorary archivist. These profiles are updated as new information becomes available so they aren’t intended as definitive histories. Read more at Y950001-Ro Wen YH Profile 2018-01-01 copy

The full account of Gwen Moffat’s times at Rowen and her extraordinary life are in her autobiography Space Below My Feet available for purchase here.

Thanks to John Martin for making another of his profiles available here. A set of profiles is available in the YHA archive at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

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