People were impatient for youth hostels in Britain by 1930. Germany had started its hostel movement in 1909. But in Britain, it was unclear how youth hostels would open, as different people in different areas took different approaches.
A group on Merseyside was looking for hostels in North Wales while from London, the first secretary of the youth hostels association, was writing to anyone who might have a suitable building to open.
Jack Catchpool, the secretary, wrote that a portion or some rooms in an establishment would be enough, with separate dormitories for men and women and a common room with facilities for simple cooking.
The different approaches worked. By 1938 a handbook of hostels listed 264 hostels available in England and Wales. Of those, YHA owned 24 and held formal leaseholds on another 30. Of the rest, YHA rented some on short term tenancies while in communities local people ran their own hostels, known as adopted hostels.
It’s difficult to be sure how many of those hostels were privately owned and run but as many as 100 probably were. Figures are obscure because agreements made with YHA were varied and sometimes uncertain.
Some owners took all the income from those staying and some took a share, such as 4d in the shilling. Others were paid rent while YHA took the earnings and in some cases paid a wage. On at least one occasion YHA members bought a building and ran it as a youth hostel, before later passing it to YHA. At some no agreement beyond a handshake appears to have existed.
But the benefits were clear. Existing buildings were put to use and members had places to stay while enthusiastic supporters, cafe owners, struggling hoteliers, shopkeepers, farmers’ wives and many others earned an income.
Mrs Jenkins ran one of the earliest youth hostels, at Hollows Farm near Grange, in the Lake District. An unemployed miner’s wife ran a hostel as Gilsand near Carlisle, a “hard-working poor soul” who made frantic efforts to keep her house.
At Kirkby Malzeard, West Yorkshire, a shopkeeper, local entrepreneur and publisher ran another whilst Frank Parrot, an youth hostel enthusiast, was responsible for a hostel at Kirkby Stephen, which opened in the Quaker meeting rooms of the Pennine town.
They and others like them ensured their local communities had an interest in visitors coming to stay among them and glued local ownership into the young association, making them an early example of sustainable tourism long before the term was invented.
The idea endures amongst today’s youth hostels where private owners still operate youth hostels under YHA’s umbrella and in the independent hostel movement that emerged in the early 1990s.
Descriptions – the use of terms to describe property use in YHA is records is often confusing, perhaps reflecting the use of terms in different regions and in different times from our own more legally minded society.
A sample of the terms relating to property use in YHA’s records includes the following: loaned, owned, controlled, leased, tenancy, rented, accommodation hostel, adopted hostel, freehold purchase, sub-tenancy, principle tenancy, short term tenancy, tenancy on a yearly basis, leased at a nominal rent, rented month by month.
None of this work would be possible without the work of John Martin, YHA’s volunteer archivist.
Images courtesy of the YHA archive at the Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham.