Co-operative Holidays Association

The Co-operative Holidays Association: origins

By common consent, the CHA originated in 1891 when T A Leonard, Minister of the Dockray Square Congregational Church in Colne, Lancashire, took 32 members of the church’s social guild on a four day’s holiday to Smallwood House on Compston Road, Ambleside in the Lake District.  Leonard sought to dissuade the young workers of Colne from going in droves during ‘Wakes Week’ to Blackpool, Morecambe or the Isle of Man and introduce them instead to the pleasures of the wilds of Pendle Hill, Ribblesdale and the Lake District.  [See photograph of that first holiday group taken from ‘A Hundred Years of Holidays’ edited by Robert Speake, a long serving CHA Member, and published to celebrate the centenary of the CHA in 1993.]  

“It were champion” was the verdict of the thirty-two men who had walked the fells, heard talks on flowers and trees and the contours of the mountain scene, listened to the poetry of Wordsworth, and learned the pleasures of fellowship.  The details are described in Leonard’s book Adventures in Holiday Making.  

After an equally successful trip to Caernarvon in North Wales in 1892, Dr J B Paton, Leonard’s tutor at the Nottingham Congregational Institute, encouraged Leonard to expand his holiday programme under the auspices of the National Home Reading Union (NHRU), which Paton had founded in 1889.  “Do it for thousands” he is reported to have said.  From 1893, holidays followed to an increasing number of destinations with a voluntary committee with Paton as Chairman and Leonard as Secretary.  Holidays under the auspices of the NHRU continued until 1897 when the Co-operative Holidays Association was formally constituted with Paton as President and Leonard as General Secretary.  

The objects of the CHA, as set out by T A Leonard were:

"To provide simple and strenuous recreative and educational holidays and to promote friendship and fellowship amid the beauty of the natural world.”

The early years

Thomas Arthur Leonard, founder of the Co-operative Holidays Association and Holiday Fellowship was born at 50 Tabernacle Walk, Finsbury, London on 12th March 1864. He died at his home ‘Wayside’ in Conwy, North Wales on 19th July 1948.

By common consent, the CHA originated in 1891 when T A Leonard, Minister of the Dockray Square Congregational Church in Colne, Lancashire, took 32 members of the church’s social guild on a four day’s holiday to Ambleside in the English Lake District.

T A Leonard resigned from the CHA in 1913 to form the Holiday Fellowship in a renewed effort to establish holidays that would be genuinely working-class in appeal and composition. The split with the CHA was amicable and there was no thought of competition between the two organisations.

There is a wide-ranging bibliography of books, Government reports, journal articles, theses and dissertations relevant to the study of ‘Rational’ holidays and the history of the Co-operative Holidays Association and Holiday Fellowship.