Seeing new buildings going up at Colwyn, 331 Chartridge Lane in Chesham made me reflect on its original use at a youth hostel, Neil Rees.
The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) was established in England in 1930. The idea was to make the countryside available and affordable to stay in, for Britain’s growing young urban population. Youth Hostels are typically used by individual walkers, cycling clubs, walking groups and young travellers from overseas. Despite its name, old people are welcome too. The network of Youth Hostels grew in the 1930s with over 200 by 1939. In 1935, a national office was opened in Welwyn Garden City. All hostels provided accommodation in single-sex dormitories, usually with bunk beds. Each hostel had a warden on site, and travellers had to muck in with cleaning duties. Travellers met up with other fellow hostellers in the common room. The ethos continues today.
Hostels in the Chilterns
Since the beginning the Chiltern Hills were an area where hostels were established. The oldest ones in Bucks were established at Jordans and at Amersham in 1933. Then there were hostels opened in 1934 at Saunderton (closed in 1937) and Chesham. In 1937 hostels were opened at Speen (closed 1954), and in a former brewery in Ivinghoe (closed 2007). In 1942 hostels were opened at Chalfont St Giles (closed 1943) and Wheeler End (closed 1946). The only one still functioning in south Bucks is at Jordans.
Amersham Youth Hostel
The youth hostel at Amersham was briefly open from 1933 to 1934. It was in a school building at St Hilda’s School in Parkfield Avenue in Amersham-on-the-Hill. St Hilda’s was a Parents’ National Education Union (P.N.E.U.) private school for girls which started in about 1925. From 1935 St Hilda’s was known as the Chiltern School. Amersham Youth Hostel was replaced by a new youth hostel in Chesham.
Chesham Youth Hostel
The hostel at Chesham was opened in November 1934, at a specially built bungalow. It was named Colwyn, and was at 331 Chartridge Lane in Chesham. The warden was Mr L. Colin. By August 1935 it had been used by 400 people. It had double decker bunk beds in the sleeping rooms, wash basins, with cooking facilities, which were upgraded in 1937. The hostel briefly closed when the war started but had reopened by April 1940. One report in 1945 described it as “pleasantly situated near the village of Chartridge and commands a fine view to the north over country which is well served with quiet lanes and footpaths.” It closed at the end of 1945. It then reverted to being a residential bungalow, still called Colwyn. Later the house was extended. However in 2019 it was demolished, and now two new houses are being built upon the site.
New Chiltern Hostels 1965
From 1958 the Youth Hostel Association looked for new locations in the Chilterns. In 1965 2 news hostels were opened in the Chilterns: an 18 bed hostel opened in the former school in Bradenham (closed in 2006) and a new hostel at Lee Gate. These 2 hostels were partly paid for by the Youth Hostel Association, from the sale of a hostel at Chaldon in Surrey.
Lee Gate Youth Hostel
Chartridge Lane continues and becomes Chesham Lane at the Lee on the way to Wendover. In August 1962, the Youth Hostel Association purchased a half acre plot at Chesham Lane in Lee Gate, and got planning permission to build a new hostel there. It was just over 3 miles from the former hostel in Chesham. The hostel had cost £15,000 to build with half from a Department of Education grant.
The new hostel was a purpose-built Norwegian style chalet-type building, built of brick and prefabricated timber units. It was designed by Alec Flinders, a member of the Association and a keen cyclist who enjoyed off-road biking in the Chilterns. The hostel was designed to have beds for 40 people, in four dormitories. The male dormitories were at the front and the female dormitories were at the end. There was a common room and a common kitchen in the middle, by the entrance hall. The hostel stood on a sloping site, and had steps upto the entrance. The front was built on lower land and included a garage and cycle shed under the hostel.
Mr and Mrs S. S. Evans were the first wardens. They moved in on 5th March 1965 during a blizzard. They had been Youth Hostel wardens since 1954, and had moved to Lee Gate from Salisbury Youth Hostel. The hostel opened and took its first guests on 28th May 1965. The official opening ceremony by Sir George Langley-Taylor took place on 25th September 1965, by which time it had already had a 1,000 hostellers.
As time went on it became apparent that the hostel suffered from poor drainage and needed underpinning to make it safe. In 1983 the Youth Hostel Association applied for planning permission to knock it down and rebuild it with a car park. This was turned down. The alternative was to spend an estimated £30,000 to restore and underpin the building. The Eastern Region of the Youth Hostels Association decided to close the hostel because it could not afford the work required. The last warden David Lloyd, left on 7th November 1983 and the hostel remained open until 17th December 1983. Then it closed and remained empty whilst it was up for sale.
In 1984 the Chesham Jehovah’s Witnesses considered buying and converting it into a place of worship (called a Kingdom Hall) but permission was refused. Planning permission to convert it to a dwelling was requested in 1985, and it was sold in 1986. Today the old youth hostel building is still there. It is called Thornby Lodge and divided into small flats.
If you have any more information about these hostels please get in touch. Contact Neil Rees on [email protected] or 01494 258328.