During the fifties, sixties and seventies a considerable number of new hostels were opened, a lot of them 'purpose built', others converted to YHA standards, but it is the hostels that were closed during this period that are the subject of this article.
Hostels like Marlborough, Milford, Hannington and Kings Cliffe, all large houses situated in various parts of the country. Others like Goodings, a nunnery, and Loswithiel, once a monastery, were hostels of a particular design, Goodings especially, as this was once an all women's hostel, no sex discrimination act in force in those days. A few hostels associated with drinking were also closed, how many of you remember Whitwell (Herts), an old brewery, Long Whittenham, once a public house called the 'Three Poplars' and Puckeridge, an old inn. Members of the group sometimes wondered whether the 'Chiefs of Staff' at YHA National Office were a band of abstainers.
A number of hostels that opened just after the war were situated in disused or abandoned military accommodations, rented from local councils, one of note was Ely hostel, in the village of Witchford, about a mile or so from the town. This was at one time an RAF hospital and was rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of a war time pilot who died there.
Other hostels included Bradwell-on-Sea, once an RAF station in Stocksbridge, an army isolation hospital, and Balamacara, on the west coast of Scotland, which at one time was an RAF training station. Most of these hostels were pretty cold, especially in the winter, and Ely hostel, just before it closed, was noted for the way one had to move one's bed around to prevent the rain that poured through the corrugated tin roof soaking the blankets. The first members there made sure of a bottom bunk. Even so, a military establishment that is still open as a hostel is Greens Norton, near Towcester, Northamptonshire, but again this too can be cold in winter.
There have been converted barns, one of the best was High Roding, Essex, this was a very pleasant hostel, it even had a thatched roof, another was Cudham near Biggin Hill, there the men's dormitories were in the roof of the barn itself.
Among the other hostels that were closed during the fifties, sixties and seventies were the village hall at Lasham in Berkshire and a railway station at Thetford Bridge in East Anglia. Thetford Bridge was a delightful place where in the summer months members used to eat their meals out on the platform - British Rail catering wasn't a patch on the bacon and eggs that used to be cooked at that hostel.
Since the early fifties, over 30 hostels were closed, some because the property was leased and when the lease expired it could not be renewed, others fell into disrepair and the cost of the renovation was too high. Yet more were accommodation hostels run by occupiers of their own property and who charged the YHA for usage, they of course had to be deleted from the handbook if the owner died or sold the property.
A few of the more interesting hostels and their attractions (or lack of them), closed during the fifties, sixties and seventies, deserve a mention. Mansions, farm houses and large manor houses, seem to have played major parts in hostel buildings, this, because of their size and cost of upkeep, may have caused their downfall. Those that come to mind are Hanwell, near Banbury; Cowes on the Isle of Wight; Litchfield; Broom Hall, East Marden, Spleen, Rudyard Lake, Derbyshire; Ashton Keynes; and Chaldon (Tolsworth Manor), nor far from Merstham, Surrey. This last hostel had an enormous fireplace on which one could place logs 6 feet long, if desired, or if one was roasting an ox. Unfortunately hostel provided meals never reached these proportions.
The hostel at Milton Abbas, in Dorset, was at one time a farm house and the farmer kept goats. It was reported that the men's dormitory was once over the goats' sleeping quarters. One can imagine the aroma, "Parfume á la Chèvre".
There were even the converted stables used as hostels, notably those at Hockley, in Essex, which adjoined the vicarage, and also Stony Stratford, Bucks, which at one time was an old coaching inn, and whose stables offered shelter as the hostel. Was this closed because of YHA National Office's strive for abstinence? Who knows? They even closed the tiny cottage hostel at Nazeing, mind you, the postal address was, SMALLDRINKS, Nazeing, Essex.
Account by Trevor Key