Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales), Records of

Scope and Content

Records of the Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales) including minutes of the National Council and its committees, annual reports, handbooks, magazines and other publications, financial records, hostel and other property files, press cuttings and artefacts; minutes and other records of the YHA Trust; minutes, annual reports, handbooks, magazines and other records of the regions; personal archives of members, wardens and others relating to the association and its hostels including photographs, log books and YHA ephemera.

The formal administrative records of the YHA include its general minute books, which survive as a complete sequence from 1930. These contain minutes not only of meetings of the National Council and Executive Committee, but also of those of other committees set up to deal with all aspects of the running of the Association, the earliest of which included Finance, Publicity, Hostels Management, General Development and General Purposes Committees. There was also a London Hostels Committee set up: as these hostels were so expensive to run that they were not under the control of the London Region, but under a special committee of the National Executive. The International and Countryside Committees were established immediately after the war; while the Education (and Home Tours), Membership, Hostel Standards, John Adam Street and Services Management Committees are all products of the late 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The minutes of the committees reflect the growing development and complexity of organisation of the YHA and, moreover, its increasingly wide span of interests and concerns. The archive also includes a complete set of the association's annual reports and handbooks and and an almost complete set of its membership magazines, principally 'The Rucksack', later 'Youth Hosteller Magazine', 1932-72 and 'Hostelling News Magazine', 1972-85. These printed materials are an invaluable source for any research about the YHA and its activities and its wider role in working with young people and in providing access to the countryside. Similarly, a series of presscutting albums for the period 1950-72 are an important resource about the history of the national organisation. The records of the YHA Trust and the sequence of property files provide much information about the acquisition and management of its hostels.

The records of the individual regions vary in both extent and coverage for the period up to their reorganisation in 1965. Annual reports for the regions are almost complete and the records of a number of regions include runs of minutes, copies of magazines and more ephemeral materials. The records of the Birmingham and Mid Wales, London, Northumberland and Tyneside, Warwickshire, West Riding of Yorkshire regions are particularly significant. Not all the records of the post 1965 regions have yet been deposited but there are currently significant sequences of records from the Midland, Southern and Yorkshire regions, 1965-86.

The collections accumulated by YHA members and hostel wardens complement the official archives of the YHA and provide a more personal element to the collection. This material includes log books and visitors books from a number of hostels, accounts of hostelling holidays and membership ephemera including badges and cards.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Youth Hostels Association is one of the largest youth organisations in England and Wales. It was established in 1930 'to help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, particularly by providing hostels or other simple accommodation for them on their travels'.

In the last years of the nineteenth century and in the early part of the twentieth numerous organisations were set up in Britain, all with the principal aim of providing enjoyment of the countryside. These included such bodies as the Co-operative Holiday Association (1891), Holiday Fellowship (1913), Cyclists Touring Club (1878), School Journey Association, Federation of Rambling Clubs and the Camping Club. By the later 1920s, some of these organisations (and others) had already introduced schemes to provide cheap holiday accommodation - bodies such as the Holiday Fellowship, and the Northumbrian Trampers' Guild. But there was a growing awareness of the need for more widespread provision of such accommodation. German developments were very important in influencing movements elsewhere in Europe. There, youth hostels had been developed from the 1910s on the initiative of a schoolteacher, Richard Schirrmann; and by 1913 the growing movement in various parts of the country had been organised into the Federation of German Youth Hostels. It enjoyed nation-wide popularity and, by 1928, had opened 2187 hostels. Subsequently the idea spread to other countries, and during the 1920s youth hostels were established in France and Holland.

In England there was an increasing awareness of continental developments. Bodies such as the Liverpool and District Ramblers' Association and the British Youth Council became interested in the movement in the later 1920s, the former setting up the Merseyside Centre of the British Youth Hostels Association under the chairmanship of the Rev H. H. Symonds and the latter a Wayfarers' Hostels Association Provisional Committee. They began by collecting information and listing places suitable for use as hostels. By 1929-1930 there were many other signs of interest in hostels in England. Early in 1930 the National Council of Social Services was approached by a number of organisations, including the British Youth Council, and agreed to hold a preliminary conference of all bodies interested in a national Association for Youth Hostels. A further meeting was held in April 1930, where it was unanimously agreed to form such a National Association to promote youth hostels in Britain. Early influential officers have included T. A. Leonard (Vice-President of the YHA and founder of the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship), Dr G. M .Trevelyan (first President of the YHA, and of the National Trust), Professor Patrick Abercrombie (Vice-President) and Dr William Temple (also Vice-President and later to become Archbishop of Canterbury). The first Chairman was Mr Barclay Baron of TocH. Mr E. St J. Catchpool was the first appointed Honorary Secretary and in 1934 became full-time Secretary. He was also President of the International Youth Hostel Federation for a number of years.

The duties of the first elected National Executive Committee were to establish Regional Groups, to determine conditions governing hostels and accommodation standards, to provide information and to co-ordinate the work of Regional Groups. By 1935, nineteen such Regional Groups had been established. These Regional Groups were made responsible for establishing and running hostels in their own areas and each hostel was managed by a warden. The numbers of regional groups was reduced to 10 in 1964.

By the end of 1931 there were already 73 hostels open to the 6000 members of the YHA. During the 1930s, the national membership of the YHA rose continuously; by 1939 it had topped 83,000. Furthermore, a network of youth hostels was rapidly being created, with 224 more open by 1939. In 1933 the Youth Hostel Trust was established as a legal body able to hold properties on behalf of the Regions. Nearly all Regional Groups invested their properties in the Trust. Also in 1933, the YHA was recognised as a charity and consequently exempt from income and property tax. In 1935, a national office was opened in Welwyn Garden City.

During the war many hostels were requisitioned but some were saved for their normal use by allowing them to serve other purposes as well. The Association also managed to open new hostels and membership rose significantly during the whole war period. By 1943, the highest pre-war figure had been topped and a membership of 100,000 reached for the first time. By the end of the war membership figures had reached 150,000 with an even sharper rise in 1948 to 230,000. The number of hostels increased to over 300 by 1950.

Following the war, the YHA continued to expand its hostels and to develop their use to include provision of facilities for educational purposes such as 'school journey parties', the introduction of adventure holidays and 'Countryside Discovery Weeks'. By the later 1960s, members were also allowed to arrive at hostels by car. In the mid 1980s, the YHA introduced a professional management structure which took over responsibility for the management of its hostels from the regional committees which were reformed into four regional councils. This enabled the upgrading of facilities and substantial refurbishment and modernisation of hostels in response to members wishes for less spartan accommodation. In more recent years a number of hostels have been sold and this has allowed investment in existing and new hostels. In 2005 the original objective of the association was changed to 'help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, and appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities, particularly by providing youth hostels or other accommodation for them in their travels, and thus to promote their health recreation and education'.

Sources: Youth Hostels Association publications; O. Coburn, Youth Hostel Story, 1950


This collection has been arranged and catalogued by the YHA's volunteer archivist into a number of sections, using a numerical reference system, prefixed by the letter Y. This arrangement and the numbering of items within each section has been retained.

The various sections comprise as follows:

Section Y000 Catalogue listings; Section Y050 Images and texts relating to individual hostels, properties and hostelling; Section Y100 Postcard albums; Section Y150 Regional handbooks; Section Y200 Regional YHA archives to 1965; Section Y300 Regional YHA archives 1965-1986; Section Y360 Regional YHA archives 1986-present; Section Y400 National YHA archives: printed items; Section Y500 National YHA archives: magazines and publicity; Section Y600 YHA members, wardens, personnel, ephemera; Section Y700 National YHA archives: governance archives, property, ownership; Section Y750 Property records; Section Y800 YHA films, video and other media (currently held at the Yorkshire Film Archive); Section Y900 Digital study aids provided by the YHA Archivists (available below as PDF links in the 'Document' field); Section Y999 Closed files.

Each section has then been further subdivided within its own number range and each item has been allocated a unique six figure number for cataloguing and retrieval purposes.

Access Information

Open, but subject to some access restrictions

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the Youth Hostels Association, November 2010; additional deposits were received in July 2011, April 2012, August 2013, September 2016

Other Finding Aids

Please see full catalogue for further details. This catalogue is very heavily based on the work of the YHA Honorary Archivist, John Martin.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Director of Special Collections (email: ). Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Special Collections will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material


The major part of the Assocation's archive was received in November 2010. The second deposit - which includes all the postcards, the majority of the 1965-86 regional archives, the bulk of the YHA promotional and publicity materials - arrived in July 2011. Additional deposits were made during 2012 and 2013.

Related Material

Records of YHA regions and groups are held by other archive services:

records of the Bradford Sub-Regional Group, 1944-94, are deposited at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford; records of the Ipswich Sub-Group, 1958-66 are held at the Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch; records of the Luton Youth Hostel Association, 1938-86 are held at Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Record Service; records of the Norwich local group, mid 20th cent are held at Norfolk Record Office; a log book of Wooler Youth Hostel, 1932-83, is held at Berwick-upon-Tweed Record Office.

The YHA has deposited its films with the Yorkshire Film Archive

Papers relating to Jack Catchpool, YHA's first national secretary, are held at Hertfordshire Archives