New Catchpool archive

A hand-list of the papers of Jack Catchpool at Lancaster University library is now available.

Egerton St John Pettifor Catchpool was a Quaker, aid worker and first secretary of the Youth Hostels Association. His papers, deposited at Lancaster University library, have not previously been listed. The hand-list can be downloaded at the end of this article.

His papers include letters and documents relating to his time with the Friends Ambulance Unit in Belgium and the impact of the introduction of conscription on his pacifism. They also contain letters, documents and photos of his time with the Friends War Victims Relief unit in Buzuluk, Russia, with the Lord Mayor’s Fund in Armenia and with the International Red Cross in an attempted hostage exchange.

The papers will be a valuable resource for social historians with an interest in the Religious Society of Friends, the FAU, the War Victims Relief Committee and the Youth Hostels Association. They supplement papers already in the Friends Library, London, and the Cadbury Research Library, at the University of Birmingham.

Jack Catchpool, back row, second from left, in 1951 – photo in the archive at Lancaster University Library.

Catchpool, usually known as Jack or Catch, was born in Leicester in 1890 and grew up on Guernsey, where he attended Guernsey High School before going to Sidcot School, Somerset, in 1904. He studied at Woodbrooke, the Quaker college in Birmingham, and was an early graduate of the University of Birmingham’s social studies course, graduating with a diploma in 1912.

He was secretary to the Friends Social Union which aimed to create a spirit of justice and social service out of the study of social questions among Quakers. Seebohm Rowntree was its chairman.

At the outbreak of the first world war Catchpool moved to London to work among men and women made unemployed by the war. He joined the Friends Ambulance Unit in 1915 and in 1916 became secretary at the Queen Alexandra hospital.

In 1916 he left the FAU, unable to reconcile continued work with the unit once it became an accepted alternative to military service. He joined a Friends War Victims Relief mission to Russia, when refugees fleeing the fighting passed through Moscow to the south east of Russia.

He worked at first among refugees in Moscow and then moved to Buzuluk where the Warvics unit ran hospitals, refuges and work rooms. At the end of 1916 he moved to Armenia to help the Lord Mayor’s Fund with relief efforts among Armenian refugees fleeing the collapsing Ottoman Empire.

After the October revolution and after Russia made peace and Turkey invaded Armenia, Catchpool returned to Moscow. He took part in a failed attempt at a hostage exchange on behalf of the International Red Cross during the Russian civil war. He left Russia via Vladivostok in 1919, travelling to Japan, China and, with a short detour back to Armenia to assist a US relief mission, back to England.

He was sub-warden at Toynbee Hall, the university settlement in the East End of London, before taking up adult education in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. In 1930 he became the first national secretary of the Youth Hostels Association, where he was a crucial influence on the development of the association as a charity to help improve the health and well-being of young people.

He used a wide network of contacts amongst Quakers, writers, journalists, and politicians to ensure that YHA thrived and developed despite the second world war.

He was president of the international federation of youth hostels, from 1938, which ensured that the federation was able to develop and grow after war ended in 1945. He led many international voluntary working groups to held rebuild hostels throughout Europe, promoting reconciliation among the young people of former warring countries.

After his retirement in 1950 he travelled widely, helping develop youth hostels in India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa and the Carribean. He was awarded a CBE in 1951 and died in 1971.

A biography of Jack Catchpool by Duncan M Simpson will be available to coincide with YHA’s 90th anniversary in 2020.

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