To provide for the healthy enjoyment of leisure
To encourage the love of the open air
To promote social and international friendship
To organize holiday making and other activities with these objects
The creation of The Holiday Fellowship is down to one man, and one man alone. Social reformer Thomas Arthur Leonard (1864-1948) was the driving force behind many organisations that sought to give people in towns and cities a taste of outdoors life. He believed that such experience was good for the soul, for health, and ultimately the community by bringing people together in shared outdoor circumstance.
Leonard had formed a rambling club in 1891 and 32 members of the Dockray Square Congregational Church in Colne, a Lancashire Mill Town, joined him on a four night rambling holiday in Ambleside. Such was the success of this early venture that they became an eagerly looked forward to annual event. The Congregational Minister looked to further ways to get greater numbers in to the countryside. This led to the foundation of the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) in 1897. The CHA sought to provide- “recreative and educational holidays“. Laudable that the association was, by 1912, Leonard was at loggerheads with the CHA General Committee who, he felt, sought to appeal more to the middle class than working class. Additionally, he felt that a more international outlook was required. He announced his leaving the CHA to set up the Holiday Fellowship.
A former pencil mill in the English Lake District, known as Newlands, had been leased from 1905, and was later bought, for £1,270 by the Holiday Fellowship. Purchased by three local businessmen in 1989, outdoor activities are still provided, by another commercial venture from the same location today. This centre saw thousands of holiday makers pass through and provided a base for group walks up in to the surrounding hills. Such was the experience that many holidaymakers would set up walking groups on their return home.
From their earliest incarnations, both the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship encouraged the interaction of sexes, within limits. Accommodations remained separate but sexes met socially for dining, singing, discourse and outdoor activities. This was regarded by many as scandalous and was not the norm. Many other organisations, such as Scouting, Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade, church groups and worker’s societies discouraged such mixing. Early holiday camps were careful to remain single sex or took great steps to prevent promiscuous activity, largely to avoid external criticism and local outrage. Social norms were only now being broken down by the Holiday Fellowship and just a handful of other organisations. Following demand, in 1920 the Holiday Fellowship began Over the Hills, priced at 4d per copy, the magazine was published two or three times a year and lasted until 1982.
“and hear glad laughter and sweet speech
and friendly voices’ cadence reach
the ear in soft, caressing waves, and meet free men that are not slaves
of city toil and city hire,
but know Earth’s call and nature’s fire”
poetry extract from holiday centre programme
While Leonard favoured more spartan accommodation in remote areas, he was often at odds on this with his colleagues on the Holiday Fellowship committee, who largely preferred more comfortable facilities. Each holiday centre had a programme detailing the local arrangements and organised excursions. The Holiday Fellowship were well aware of the lives that many of their clients were escaping, albeit momentarily, and extolled the benefits of fresh air, camaraderie and worthy excursions for activities such as bathing, boating, rock climbing and walking. Holidaymakers were advised to bring simple first-aid, rucksack and nailed footwear ‘for safety’. Visitors were also encouraged to bring music if they could sing or play.
In common with the Co-operative Holidays Association (not surprisingly, as it was also created by Leonard) group song was a large feature of life with the Holiday Fellowship. So much so that, right from its foundation, small songbooks were both published and purchased in large numbers. Songs included: Jerusalem, John Peel, Oh dear! what can the matter be?, Early one morning, Dixie Land, Clementine and On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at.
“don’t start a sing-song with a new tune; have two or three well-known songs first, just to open the pipes… If a lack of interest is shown, stimulate the company by introducing a competitive spirit, men against women, or half the room against the other half “
Flying in the face of outward prejudice, the Holiday Fellowship encouraged house-parties to form into groups of new friends- regardless of class, creed or colour.
Published in June 1935, the song book illustrated above is a revised edition of the second produced by the Holiday Fellowship and contains 78 songs or part songs including rounds. Certain songs had fallen ‘out of favour’ hence the revised edition.
Walking arm in arm through towns and country, singing loudly, much to the occasional annoyance of locals, groups of Holiday Fellowship walkers enjoyed access to beautiful parts of the countryside that dour magazines and newspapers only hinted at. Badges and patches proclaimed their allegiance to not only their new-found comrades but an outdoor life that they often embraced long after their week away.
Alongside Newlands, the Holiday Fellowship also had another centre when it started up. Their headquarters was situated at Bryn Coarach near Conway, in North Wales. Leonard was General Secretary of the Holiday Fellowship until 1925 when headquarters relocated to London,
Surrounded by mountains, the associated holiday camp at Conway provided a wonderful opportunity to escape to the hills in the company of like minded souls. Many of these ramblers were enjoying a paid holiday as only a recently granted privilege.
“The centres are chosen with an eye to local interest and surrounding beauty, whether by mountain, lake or sea and, as well as the beauty and quiet of the natural scene and the attractions of local arts and crafts and local history and customs, there will be a genial welcome from the local inhabitants- all factors conducive to an atmosphere of relaxation, tolerance and friendliness among members of the house-party enjoying an H.F. holiday”
Leonard’s influence with many walking and outdoor organisations is largely unrecognised today. He doesn’t even appear on the Wikipedia page for Colne, the birthplace of his radical social reform. When the YHA was formally founded in 1930, Leonard became one of it’s four vice-presidents. He was also a founding member of the Friends of the Lake District in 1934. The Grey Court Fellowship, with Leonard as president, was founded in 1935 to provide holidays for the unemployed and disadvantaged workers and their families from north-east Lancashire. He was president of the Merseyside Ramblers’ Association, first chairman of the National Council of Rambler’s Federations and first president of the Rambler’s Association. Leonard was awarded the OBE in 1937 for his work in outdoor activity, no doubt this also took account of much unsung work, such as his founding of the Family Holidays Association set up after the Second World War to make former training camps available as holiday homes.
Leonard remained the Holiday Fellowship’s International Secretary until 1930. On his retirement in 1932, the Holiday Fellowship gave him a house in Patterdale, eastern Lake District. He became their President in 1938. Ever one to look at opportunity, Leonard lent Goldrill House to the YHA as one of its first hostels. He died in 1948, the organisations he had founded continued.
The Holiday Fellowship always had the aim of promoting social and international friendship and their number of UK based guest houses quickly expanded beyond their initial two at Conwy and Newlands, by the 1960s they owned 32 Centres in the UK and dozens more based in hotels or pensions in twelve countries across Europe.
In common with many other organisations (other than the YHA which remains an anomaly), the Holiday Fellowship underwent a rebranding exercise in 1982 and is now called HF Holidays. It remains one of the largest providers of outdoor holidays in the UK. Proudly stating that they remain the UK’s only co-operative holiday provider, HF Holidays continues the outward ethos propagated by Leonard and arranges international holidays, encouraging comradeship across borders.
Three Points of the Compass has never holidayed with HF Holidays, it is not particularly ‘my thing’. I much prefer independent travel, or to at least make my own arrangements when ‘on the ground’. However, since its inception, this organisation has facilitated over five million people in getting outdoors, experiencing new found comradeship and international travel that they may never had enjoyed otherwise. It is to their credit that the company continues today, albeit as a commercial model in direct competition to the many hundreds of rival providers that have followed, quite literally, in their footsteps.
There is a timeline of many of the other most important or influential UK outdoor organisations over on my main website. I will occasionally write on a few more of these over the coming months.