For this month’s Throwback Thursday, we’re looking at the history of another of YHA’s most iconic hostels.
Bovey Combe House; situated in the heart of the little village of Beer was an attractive Arts and Crafts country house made up of honey-coloured stone. It was built around the beginning of the 20th century for Charles Bartlett, a popular artist around this time. Bartlett set off on a round-the-world trip in 1913 before settling in the far east. The house stood isolated on high ground at the north-west corner of the village, about ¾ miles from the coast and with a stunning view of it.
The 1961 annual report for the Devon and Cornwall region announced the opening of the new hostel. The hostel opening was rushed and disorganised; only 24 beds were available at first as a temporary set-up, and there were planks, ladders and the smell of paint everywhere. Despite this, the hostel proved to be popular. The Devon and Cornwall annual report expressed a hope to increase beds before the 1962 season, therefore meaning more profit for YHA.
From 25th March 1963, thorough construction began. The hostel received a generous grant aid from the Department of Education and the YHA Trust took on the lease. The renovation of the building was a success, achieved by converting the house’s garage, a simple L-shaped timber outbuilding to the left of the house, into a dorm room making more room for additional beds..
The year of 1969 soon came around and Clinton Estates offered to sell Bovey Combe to YHA. The following year, the Trustees of Clinton Devon Estates accepted an offer of £42,050 for the building and finally, on 5th January 1975, the hostel belonged to YHA.
In November 1973, YHA outlined a plan to extend the building to feature a new common room, dining room, dorm room with five beds and warden’s office. Further plans in 1978 were not pursued; instead the garage to the left of the house was rebuilt and extended in 1979 to continue serving as a men’s dorm room. The 1979 hostel reconfiguration led to an improved layout and six additional beds to take the total to 46.
Overnights at YHA Beer remained steady for its first 35 years, at 4000-5000 per year, but with the 1995 improvements came a rapid expansion that has continued since. In the 2000s, high 6000s were the norm, and when Gwen Owen took the reins as hostel manager in 2013, 7000. In 2015 camping and glamping in bell tents were added as accommodation options atYHA Beer, and the dizzy heights of 9000 overnights were reached in 2016.
Today, this Arts and Crafts property with child-friendly facilities on the edge of the village of Beer is a great accommodation choice for cheap family holidays and school trips. This YHA is located on the stunningly beautiful Jurassic coast, now listed as a world heritage site.
It’s great for geology, rock pools and fossil hunting, and of course, both walking and photography. The hostel has extensive and attractive private grounds for you to explore, and the surrounding area is populated with local legends about smugglers and pirates.