This month we’re diving into the history of YHA Ambleside, a hostel close to many peoples hearts. This stunning hostel has a prime spot on the edge of the water and is perfect for fine-weather dining.
Ambleside (Queens Hotel) Youth Hostel – 1946 to 1971
The Queens Hotel building dates back to 1635. The building was first occupied by the army at the start of the Second World War and, between 1940-1945, became the Royal College of Arts after their London location was evacuated.
The Queens Hotel was then bought by YHA in October 1945 for £9000 (around £381,572 today) and opened its doors as YHA Queens Youth Hostel in April 1946 with 134 beds. Repairs and improvements were made gradually over the years with a photo of the hostel in 1951 showing ladders on the front of the building. Bed numbers stayed unchanged through the 1960s and saw a steady growth in overnights, from 16,000 to around 21,000 in 1970.
In 1971, YHA began negotiating the purchase of the Ambleside Hotel. This location would be perfect for developing adventurous activities such as sailing on Windermere. After successful negotiations, YHA Queens Youth Hostel was closed on 25th September 1971 and sold in May 1972.
Ambleside (Waterhead) Youth Hostel – 1971 to Present
Thanks to the railway being built into Windermere Station in 1847, Ambleside rapidly grew to accommodate the new trade that would pass through. Sometime after this, the Esplanade was built. This was the terrace of several small hotels that would eventually become YHA Ambleside. Their original construction was to serve the area made popular by the original Lake Steamers.
On the 4th October 1971, the new YHA Ambleside opened its doors and took over business from the original youth hostel. With 240 beds it was considerably larger than the Queens Hotel building and, at the time, the largest YHA hostel to-date.
The ground floor held public rooms while the dorms took over the first, second and third floors. The building also has a large cellar which originally provided storage space and staff facilities. An interesting secret to Ambleside is the suggestion of a small chapel with stained glass windows also found in the basement.
In 1972, Ambleside managed to gain a fleet of fibreglass board through the Richards Bequest fund, something originally set up to provide hostels with libraries and games. This was also the time that improvements were made to the now iconic jetty.
The new building was an instant hit and saw 33,000 overnights in its first year, 12,000 more than the Queens Hotel’s best year. YHA Ambleside was always popular with walkers, but a wave of cyclists meant a locked cycle shed was built to accommodate the demand.
The 1980s saw improvements in fire precautions as well as meal services. A cafeteria system was created and the kitchen upgraded to improve meals for guests. Around £12,000 was spent on upgrades to the hostel’s fire safety measures, including fire doors on all dorms and an updated fire control panel.
Major improvements were once again made across the 1990s to bring the hostel up to modern standards. The toilets and showers were all replaced as well as a full central heating system added across the entire hostel. The late 90s saw all the bedrooms refurbished and the old staff house at the rear of the hostel replaced with a three-storey stone building.
Being so close to the waters edge has its benefits, but it can also have its drawbacks. In November 2009, the lake’s waters rose beyond normal levels and flooded the basement with several feet of water. This caused significant damage to the hostel’s power supply and forced the hostel to close for several months for repairs. A second flood was caused by Storm Desmond on 5th December 2015, though this had less of an impact on the hostel as any critical systems were moved to the first floor following the first flood.
YHA Ambleside saw its biggest improvements to-date in November 2012. YHA wanted to take full advantage of the hostel’s stunning location by offering a great restaurant and bar to guests, residents and tourists. The result was the Lakeside Restaurant. By opening up the front of the restaurant with French windows and doors, improving the decking area and providing outdoor seating, The Lakeside is now one of the best locations to enjoy fine weather, outside dining or a relaxing drink on the water’s edge.
Over the years the hostel has seen improvements to comfort and refinement especially in the rooms. Because of this, the hostels bed count has risen to 249, only nine extra from its first opening. These beds are now spread over 65 rooms including 11 en-suite offering more room and comfort for guests.
YHA Ambleside is a stunning location to unwind and take in the scenery. You can even gain a sense of nostalgia by taking a trip on one of the Lake Steamers still active to this day! YHA Ambleside is a firm favourite in the eyes of many of our guests, and its easy to see why.