My doctoral research at the University of Cumbria focused on two organisations that pioneered the provision of outdoor holidays for working people in the early-twentieth century, the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) and the Holiday Fellowship (HF Holidays).
The Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) and the Holiday Fellowship were founded in 1893 and 1913, respectively, by Thomas Arthur Leonard, a congregational minister in Colne, Lancashire in the 1890s. These two pioneering organisations were at the forefront of the provision of cheap and simple accommodation to serve the growing popularity of active open-air recreation during the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their purpose was:
“to provide simple and strenuous recreative and educational holidays by offering reasonably priced accommodation and to promote friendship and fellowship amid the beauty of the natural world”.
The Co-operative Holidays Association, re-named the Countrywide Holidays Association in 1964 but always affectionately known as the CHA, ceased to operate as a holiday provider in 2004. The Holiday Fellowship, re-branded as HF Holidays in 1982, continues to provide holidays today.
My research at the University of Cumbria sought to establish how these pioneers of recreative and educational holidays for working people dealt with the far-reaching changes in social, economic and cultural conditions during the period 1919-2000. My research explored the ways in which increasing affluence and consumer choice, changing cultural attitudes and expectations, the popularisation of outdoor recreation and the proliferation of competing outdoor holiday providers impacted on the ability of the CHA and Holiday Fellowship to provide simple and cheap recreative and educational holidays. Utilising important original source material, the research analyses the continuities and changes in these two organisations during the period 1919-2000 and the linkages and differences between them.
My research was completed in February 2015 when I was awarded a PhD in Cultural History by the University of Lancaster. My PhD thesis is entitled: Whatever happened to ‘rational’ holidays for working people, c.1919-2000: The competing demands of altruism and commercial necessity in the Co-operative Holidays Association and Holiday Fellowship. The thesis explores the way the CHA and Holiday Fellowship dealt with the often conflicting demands of altruism and commercial necessity as the twentieth century progressed and assesses the extent to which they drifted away from their original ideals in order to combat the challenges of consumerism.
The research takes a cultural history perspective, contextualising both organisations within a wider history of leisure, with specific reference to ‘rational’ recreation and the Victorian principles of respectability, co-operation and collectivism, and voluntarism. It makes a significant original contribution to twentieth-century leisure and tourism history, especially that of the outdoor movement. The research shows that the CHA and Holiday Fellowship were distinguishable from other ‘rational’ holiday providers; they had a distinct rural focus and the emphasis of their holidays was on healthy recreation and quiet enjoyment. They were almost unique in that they were equally attractive to men and women. However, both eventually served the middle classes rather than the working class for whom they were originally intended. Nevertheless, these pioneers of recreative and educational holidays unquestionably made a significant contribution to the democratisation of the countryside as a leisure space.
My book on T.A. Leonard and the CHA, entitled ‘Thomas Arthur Leonard and the Co-operative Holidays Association: Joy in widest commonalty spread’ was published in hardback by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in January 2017. As well as founding the CHA in 1893 and the Holiday Fellowship in 1913, T.A. Leonard was also instrumental in the establishment of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) in 1930 and the formation of the Ramblers’ Association (RA) in 1935, of which he was the first President. He strongly supported the National Trust (NT), founded in 1895, and was a stalwart of the campaign for national parks during the 1930s. He was a founder member of the Friends of the Lake District (FoLD) in 1934 and was connected with a number of other outdoor holiday organisations. Leonard was born in Finsbury, London in 1864 and died in Conwy, North Wales in 1948. On his death, he was hailed as the “Founder of co-operative and communal holidays and Father of the open-air movement in this country”. The book details the life and achievements of this extraordinary man, who rebelled against the conventionality of the 1880s and 1890s and was appalled by the dull and grim lives of artisans and textile workers in the industrial north of England. It also tells the story of the CHA, which pioneered walking holidays in the outdoors for working people, from its foundation in 1893 to its demise in 2004. The book records the genesis, successes, failures and eventual demise of an organisation that lasted for over a century, a century of great social, political and economic upheaval, during which many tens of thousands of guests of the CHA enjoyed the fellowship and camaraderie of a break away from working life.
My attention has now turned to an incident that occurred on one of the earliest CHA holidays, at Barmouth in North Wales. The Barmouth Disaster, as it was known, occurred on 1 August 1894 when ten members of a CHA boating party were drowned on the Mawddach Estuary when two of the three rowing boats they were in were swamped by high waves. The tragedy received national attention in the press at the time but has been largely forgotten. The 1st August 2019 will be the 125th anniversary of the incident and I am working on a book about the incident for publication in early 2019.