Destinations, History

ThrowbackThursday May edition – YHA Kettlewell

YHA Kettlewell is a well known and loved hostel located in the Yorkshire Dales. With a well-documented history, Kettlewell is a great example of how this hostel and YHA itself has adapted over the many years.

Kettlewell [Old School] Youth Hostel 1933 to 1944

YHA Kettlewell Old School Hostel between 1933 and 1944

1933 saw YHA Kettlewell’s history begin with the opening of a medium-sized hostel in a  former Church of England school. It was originally abandoned as the non-conformist village ceased support of the Church of England in favour of its own village school.

The building, originally built in 1895, was typically Victorian in design, with a high-pitched roof and a bell turret. A timber hut was built in the garden of the hostel in 1937, providing an extra 10 places to sleep in the grounds. It was only two years later that assessments of the two buildings found both to be leaking and improvements were made.

Timber hut at YHA Kettlewell Old School hostel

The tenancy agreement for the Old School location was renewed for a further three years in 1939 at a cost of £14 per year, (equivalent to £899 today). The hostel was able to carry on functioning during World War II.

Popularity of the Old School location steadily rose over the years as YHA gained widespread success throughout the country. YHA looked at ways to expand its network in the area and in, 1942, negotiated the purchase of Whernside House at a price of £1,850 (equivalent to £85,600 today). The new hostel opened the following year, claiming the YHA Kettlewell title. The Old School hostel was kept open as a secondary location, providing overflow support at peak times until its final closure in 1944.

YHA Kettlewell Old School hostel

Kettlewell [Whernside House] Youth Hostel 1943 to present

YHA Kettlewell Whernside House

Whernside House was purpose built in 1915 as a guest house and operated as a guest house, bakers shop and café by the 1940s. The house was set on two main floors with extra rooms in the attic. A unique design element of the house was the shop bay window at the front of the building from its past as a bakery store, something that stayed for over 30 years.

The hostel was overseen by Robert and Doris Gummerson, a veteran couple familiar with hostelling. Their previous experience had seen them in charge of two other hostels before taking on Kettlewell and they went on to run four more hostels in their careers until 1958 and 1964 respectively.

1944-45 saw the first big improvements to YHA Kettlewell as an Aga cooker was installed. They were also able to rebuild the previous Old School hut for use as a cycle shed in the new building as well as transport the previous equipment over thanks to the help and determination of YHA members.
1944 also saw the biggest number of overnight stays at over 7000, a number that would not be matched for over 30 years.

1957 saw the hostel shop refurbished to better supply hostel visitors with amenities during their stay. Just a year later, YHA Kettlewell became the command post for a volunteer led rescue of six YHA members who had become trapped underground. Special thanks were given to Molly and Albert Sutcliffe, who were the wardens at the time of the incident.

A view of the unique shop window front at YHA Kettlewell Whernside House

In the early to mid-60s, the hostel had a major makeover. New bedding, a refurbished common room and improvements to the toilet and washroom facilities were completed. The old hut turned cycle shed was also demolished and a new cycle shed took its place.

Around this time, many Dales hostels including Kettlewell enjoyed great success and growth. This was mostly thanks to regular and reliable bookings from schools in northern towns.

Growth and continued success for YHA Kettlewell continued throughout the 70s and 80s thanks to a long wardenship from Graham and Lesley Chamberlain which spanned three decades until the year 2000.

In 1985, Graham Chamberlain took sole responsibility for the hostel, bringing about many improvements to the building. The shop window and steps were removed from the front, in favour of a more symmetrical look. The fire escape ladders were replaced with stairs to improve safety and showers were added on the ground floor, later moving to the upper floors.

Over the 1990s the hostels numbers dwindled slightly as the market moved from large school groups to more of a focus on small groups and families. During this time, a lounge/quiet room was added at the expense of 10 beds. This gave hostel goers a space to relax and unwind, a welcome addition and an improvement done with the changing market in mind.

Moving the wardens to an extended cottage close to the hostel opened up space for 10 extra beds. Other changes included splitting larger rooms into smaller, more comfortable dorms and creating an open plan space from the common room and dining room.

The Post Office at YHA Kettlewell

Chamberlain was a pioneer in hostel management as the market moved to wanting more comfort and the loosening of certain hostel procedures. Initiatives such as proactive visits to schools and making the hostel available for conferences were significant in their day but something that we take for granted in the present era of hostelling.

Management of the hostel changed in 2001, around the same time as the foot and mouth outbreak. This particularly hit hostels in the Lakes and the Pennines, leading to reduced numbers over the next few years.

In a bid to maintain the hostel’s presence, YHA Kettlewell was given a new lease of life by integrating the village Post Office into the hostel. The hostel remained under full YHA management until 2015.
At this time, ownership of the hostel was transferred to Saul and Floss Ward, who transitioned the hostel seamlessly to enterprise status as well as carrying on the running of the Post Office.

YHA Kettlewell hostel

2017-18 saw the hostel undergo an extensive refurbishment. Three former dorms were split further to create eight smaller rooms on the second floor. Modernised toilets and showers were completed, updated lighting was added to the upper floors and the garden was improved to aid accessibility.

In late 2018, Saul and Floss were awarded the prestigious ROSE Award from Visit England. Their regular hostel improvements and dedication to customer service make them the only hostel ever to be awarded this honour.

Saul and Floss Ward outside YHA Kettlewell with their ROSE Award

We look forward to following the success of YHA Kettlewell and its proud owners throughout 2019 and the many years to come.

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