A new and illustrated edition
Events change, times move and the up to date becomes old news. We all face the slow fade of what was new and exciting into rubbed, dull life so it’s inevitable to want to revive and renew when time has passed.
Open to All was published four years ago. Readers have appreciated it, many of whom have loved the memories the book evoked. Others were pleased to get a fresh understanding of the heritage of YHA.
So when a colleague suggested I should revise the book I was dismayed. Researching and writing the book had been work, fun and full of exciting discoveries but, all the same, hard work. Just because it was a few years old didn’t seem to be much reason for taking the book apart and rewriting it.
I worried that it would be like tearing something precious to pieces and that, when that was done, it would be impossible to put the whole thing back together again; I would have no king, no horses and no kings’ men.
But when I reluctantly looked at the book I began to realise that, more than the fade of the new into the worn and accustomed, there were some very good reasons for revising that first edition. The passage of time changed my mind.
History in two parts
When I had finished the writing, YHA was reaching the end of a period of modernisation that had begun as far back as 1950. Since I published the book, those changes had culminated in the end of a federalist democracy and its replacement by a direct democracy, coinciding with the launch of renewed vision for the future.
I saw how the history of youth hostels in England and Wales had become a story in two parts and how the book might reflect that. The radical early years up to 1950 had been followed by a long struggle to modernise, to catch up with the spirit youth hostels had unleashed, and to adapt to the role of an established charity, weighted with assets and resources.
The results of some long research into the life of Jack Catchpool, first secretary of YHA, had also given me new understandings of the history of YHA in the years from 1930 and 1950. Others had taken up their own studies of the association and their work also gave me a fresh basis for my own understandings.
When I had first published the book, I was learning the art of designing a book from start to finish, hampered by my lack of skill with the tools now available to anyone entering the world of independent publishing.
Those limitations meant that, despite plans to include images, I was unable to arm wrestle pictures into the text. Images were discarded. Having learned the necessary skills, this was one area where I was confident and could see a new edition of the book would benefit.
A fresh look and a new front
So I made the decision and embarked on my revisions. The arrival of the pandemic and all of us staying at home from March 2020, gave me the time and space to carry out the work, fortunate that I had completed the extra research I needed just in time.
I had to hand all my notebooks, plus many digitised records from the YHA archive and a vast photo library, both courtesy of John Martin, YHA’s honorary archivist.
Craig, from Square 1 Creative in Derby, designed a new and distinctive cover, in line with the images of the interior pages.
Then James Blake, YHA’s chief executive, kindly wrote a foreword for the book, bringing the story up to date with his observations on the importance of history as a guide to the work of YHA.
He also brought the story up to date by including references to the pandemic and its impact on YHA, ensuring that the book is not just a polished up version of the earlier book but a fuller and more complete record of YHA from 1930 to 2020.
Myths and illusions
The book now includes 34 images from the YHA Archive at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, and other sources.
I’ve rewritten chapters to ensure that, in addition to an examination of ideas – like the development of professionalism, changes to rules and the evolution of democracy in YHA – as a focus for each chapter, the chronology of the movement from 1930 to the present day is also emphasised.
I’ve continued to focus on the early years of youth hostels, the formative years, where the ideals of the movement were laid down and the direction of travel decided. Half the book focuses on the first twenty years.
I’ve incorporated relevant research from my investigations into the life of Jack Catchpool, YHA’s first national secretary.
I’ve incorporated new learning, about the impact of Quakers, the war years and the pragmatism of YHA, into this new edition. The greater results of that research remain in my biography of Catchpool, Youth Hostel Pioneer.
Continued research and the work of others has shown me that everywhere I look I find myths and illusions about youth hostels. That is the nature of any historical investigation.
Youth hostels are more different and more complicated than I ever expected.
They always have benefitted from a fresh polish and fresh revision to keep them alive. A book about their history should be no different.