Youth Hostels Association Archive

Duncan Simpson, former Head of Corporate Affairs with the Youth Hostels Association and author of several books on the YHA, tells us about the organisation’s archives.

Name of collection: Archive of the Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales), Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham

Tell us a little about one archive collection you have used as part of your research? The Youth Hostels Association (YHA) archive collection includes the minutes of the YHA National Council and its committees from 1929; the various regional groups (which functioned as YHA’s democracy); and annual reports, handbooks, magazines and other publications, press cuttings and personal archives of members, wardens and others relating to the association and its hostels.

What was significant about the collection? How did it benefit your research? The records offer a complete resource so that I was able to research the development of YHA as a voluntary organisation, and its reaction to the changing social, technological and business world in which it operates, from 1929 – 2015. I was able to examine themes such as a changing democracy, attitudes to urban and rural environments, changing attitudes to youth, the impact of the second world war, voluntarism and professionalism, responses to unemployment, and the role of community and social integration.

Do you have any top tips for other researchers accessing this collection? YHA’s honorary archivist and the team at the Cadbury Research Library can offer valuable advice and guidance on the contents of the archive in addition to the existing catalogue. In addition to the official records, the magazines offer a granular view of changing social conditions and attitudes to them. Look beyond the idea of youth hostels for walkers and cyclists and you’ll find the story of a charity which since its founding in 1930 has modernised its approach.

Is there any other information you’d like to provide? The records are a valuable and little-tapped resource which offer a rich resource for study of an important voluntary sector organisation and the development of an important charity.

Further reading

Duncan M Simpson, Open to All: How Youth Hostels Changed the World (Independently published, 2016)

Duncan M Simpson, Richard Schirrmann: The Man who Invented Youth Hostels (Independently published, 2017)

Duncan M Simpson, Youth Hostel Pioneer: peace, travels, adventure and the life of Jack Catchpool (Independently published, 2020)

Simply Hostels

See the full catalogue here.

About Georgina Brewis

Professor of Social History at UCL
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