Destinations

#ThrowbackThursday November Edition: YHA Whitby

YHA Whitby sits overlooking its namesake fishing town, neighbouring the Whitby Abbey ruins heritage site and is accessible via the iconic 199 steps. YHA Whitby is, and has always been, a firm favourite hostelling destination for families, ramblers and holiday makers over its 85-year history.

The history of hostelling in Whitby is split across two locations. Both very close to each other but couldn’t be more different as hostels. Let’s look at the first location.

YHA Whitby (Abbey Stables Location) – 1934 to 2006

A hostel in Whitby has been a strong talking point from the very beginnings of YHA. When the opportunity arose to take on the Low Stone Stables, a historic building originally used a hospital building for the Abbey, it was jumped upon. The Abbey Stables hostel was due to open in early1932 but was delayed for a further two years due to complications in building and refurbishment.

When it finally opened, the Abbey Stables hostel was an instant hit. Forty beds were increased to 50 in the first season and only rose from there. By 1938 the beds were up to 70 and overnights shot up quickly, passing the 3000 mark. By 1940 the hostel was commandeered for use by British troops as it had a great vantage point across the town and the North Sea. The hostel was returned to YHA in 1945 but wouldn’t open for another year as extensive repairs were necessary to bring the building back to its former glory. The red pantile roof was completely refurbished in 1956.

By the mid-60s, the capacity had been increased again and improvements were made to the building including a small extension and a new kitchen. However, it was becoming quickly apparent that the upkeep of this building was going to be tricky and as such the hostel remained largely unchanged for almost 40 years.

(YHA Archive)

With substantial investment required and little potential for development, the decision was made to look for alternatives. In 2001, during negotiations with the landlords of the current site, talks began about the possibility of leasing Abbey House. This impressive Grade-1 listed building is a former Co-operative Holidays Association (CHF) location that sits among the ruins of Whitby Abbey, next to the information centre that was being built at the time.

Whitby Abbey Stables hostel and garden
(YHA Archive)

The negotiations were successful and the relocation of YHA Whitby was now a reality. The Abbey Stables hostel stayed open until 2006 allowing for a smooth transfer to the new site. When looking carefully, you can still see remnants of the original hostel, a small plaque in the side of the brickwork and the original carved stone entrance with YHA embellished headstone.

YHA Whitby (Abbey House location) – 2007 to present

Abbey House’s history dates right back to around 1580 and there are lots of rebuilds and additions from there. A phase plan of the house shows how the features of the house can be split up over the centuries with some even dating back to medieval times and many materials originating from the abbey ruins.

YHA Whitby Abbey House opening ceremony
(YHA Archive)

In 1896, Abbey House was leased to the Co-operative Holidays association (CHA), founded by Thomas Arthur Leonard just three years earlier. T A Leonard is significant in YHA history as 20 years later he would go on to create the Holiday Fellowship and become a key part of YHA’s creation.

Abbey House was one of their first holiday centres and was turned into a spacious post-Victorian hotel. Additions along the way included the garden conservatory and an extension to house a new restaurant. The CHA would hold the lease for Abbey House throughout the 20th century which was a friendly neighbour to YHA in the Abbey Stables location all the way through to 2004 when the CHA had to cease trading.

Recreated Victorian Conservatory

YHA were already discussing a possible move to Abbey House with Strickland Estates, current landlords of the Abbey Stables and owner of both sites. Following the collapse of the CHA in 2004, a move to Abbey House became almost inevitable, however it would not be a simple process.

Though the building was in reasonably good condition with minimal refurbishment required, more toilets and showers were required to fulfil the needs of YHA. This work began in 2005 with a scheduled completion for 2006, however the uncovering of medieval timbers halted work. These historic timbers were refurbished and displayed.

YHA Whitby with the Whitby Abbey ruins

Abbey House began its £3.5million restoration of the hostel with grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and support from the Strickland Estate. The Victorian conservatory, demolished in CHA’s later years, was to be carefully recreated along with the formal herb gardens in the grounds. Wattle and daub walling and carved staircase panels exposed during construction were preserved behind clear plastic panels for all to enjoy. Lifts were also added for customer convenience.

After almost a year of delays, the hostel finally opened in March 2007 to a very positive reception. The 100 beds allowed 20,000 overnights in the hostels first year, over double the previous site. In 2012, the staff quarters were removed adding another 32 beds. YHA Whitby saw a record year in 2016 with over 28,000 overnights, more than 12 times the number at the previous Abbey Stables location in 1934.

View of Whitby from the gardens

To this day, YHA Whitby remains as popular as ever with plenty of hostelers and conquering the 199 steps to visit the hostel.

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