Membership card no 5

YHA’s archive recently received the kind donation of a rare membership card from 1931 along with valuable information about an early youth hostel in Devon.

The Plymouth and District Regional group issued its card no 5 to Blyth Palk, one of 78 who joined YHA in 1931 in that region. Palk went on to marry one of the four Gard sisters who dragged friends and boyfriends into the movement and later opened a hostel at Bude, in 1937.

The card, a rarity donated by Blyth Palk’s son, John, shows the concerns of the day. The user agreed to abide by YHA’s rules and regulations but also undertook “not to use the Hostels unless I am able to declare … that I have not recently suffered from, nor been in contact with, any infectious disease.”

We would be suspicious of such a simple declaration today. Under Covid regulations, pubs, restaurants and libraries identified us. Officialdoms tested and traced us and certificates were sometimes thought necessary.

Maybe we were more trusting then or those who used youth hostels were more adventurous, willing to risk infection. Jack Catchpool, first secretary of YHA, had survived typhoid in Russia.

Notes on the card show hostels gave priority to anyone under 25 years of age except where accommodation had been booked in advance. That concession to young people didn’t last. It shows up nowhere else except on these very early cards and it isn’t mentioned at all in the national handbooks of 1931.

Preference for young people in youth hostels was controversial at the time. One regional group wanted lower prices for those staying. After wrangling, debate and various local schemes, YHA nationally only lowered prices for young people after 1943.

The card was in effect a ticket, gaining entrance for its holder to hostels around Britain and later around the world.

Blyth Palk got his card from Swarthmore House, Plymouth, where the regional group had its office in the Quaker meeting house and centre. More about the group here

Two of the Gard sisters who had persuaded their friends and colleagues into opening the first hostel at Bude, went on to run four other hostels in the area over 25 years, including hostels in Exeter and at West Hill, Ottery St Mary, Devon. Thanks to information John Palk supplied, the profile of the hostel at Ottery has now been updated and you can read that and other profiles from Devon and Cornwall here.

Many thanks to John Martin for providing the image of the card and to John Palk who donated the rare item which will go to YHA’s archive at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.

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