For a period of forty years, from 1922 until 1961, the Friendship Holidays Association (FHA) provided holidays based on communal and co-operative principles similar to those pursued by two much better-known organisations, the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) and the Holiday Fellowship, founded by Thomas Arthur Leonard in 1893 and 1913, respectively. FHA holidays followed a similar format to those of the CHA and the Holiday Fellowship, with a weekly programme of led walks and excursions, and communal evening entertainment organised by the host and hostess, who were volunteer members. The form and content of its holiday brochures replicated those of the CHA and Holiday Fellowship.
The FHA was founded in 1922 by Henry C White, a self-made man and staunch Methodist. Henry C White was born in 1875, the son of Charles White, a general labourer from Buckinghamshire and his wife Elizabeth. He started work at Waterloo Station as a newsboy with Messrs. W.H. Smith and Son at the age of 13 years. When his brother, who was in charge of the Charing Cross Station bookstall, was transferred to Penrith, Henry C White accompanied him. After working there for three years, and then in Preston, Manchester and Liverpool, he became the manager of the W.H. Smith bookstall at Poulton-le-Fylde Station, near Blackpool, in 1896.
He successfully ran the Poulton-le-Fylde bookstall for 20 years until 1916 when he left to become a commercial traveller with the Nestlé Company and then with Barker & Dobson, the Liverpool sweet manufacturer. Married to Jessie Wells in 1911, and with two daughters, Marjorie and Dorothy, the family moved to Kents Bank, near Grange-over-Sands on the edge of the English Lake District in 1916.
After the First World War, dissatisfied with his life as a commercial traveller, Henry C White gave up his job and the family moved to Prestatyn in North Wales. There, inspired and guided by T.A. Leonard, who lived close by at the Holiday Fellowship’s centre in Conwy, he rented a boarding school in Penmaenmawr with accommodation for 40 people, for 6 weeks during the summer and advertised it as holiday accommodation. T.A. Leonard willingly offered Henry C White help and advice about expanding his holiday enterprise without fearing the competition.
The FHA Story
The success of this first venture persuaded Henry C White to rent other properties in Llandudno, Pwllheli and Conwy in North Wales, and the Friendship Holidays Association was born. The first ‘official’ brochure, for 1922, advertises six guest houses; at Llandudno, Pwllheli and Conwy in North Wales, Seaford Bay near Eastbourne in Sussex, Bray in Ireland, and a hotel in London. The holidays provided basic accommodation at a cost of 70/- (£3.50) per week.
By the middle of the 1930s, the FHA operated over twenty centres, accommodating some 10,000 guests each year, with guest houses stretching from Paignton in the south-west of England to Ardentinny on the shores of Loch Long in Argyllshire, Scotland. Most were substantial villas and country houses. Glyn Garth, situated on the banks of the Menai Straits was one of the FHA’s most prestigious guest houses. Built in 1851 for wealthy German-born businessman and philanthropist, Salias Schwabe, this imposing building became the official residence of the Bishop of Bangor, Watkin Herbert Williams, in 1899, when it became known as ‘The Bishop’s Palace’. When he retired in November 1924, the Bishop’s Palace was put up for sale and was purchased by the FHA. It continued as an FHA centre until 1961 except for a break during the Second World War when it was requisitioned for war purposes. Its use as an FHA centre ceased on the death of H C White in 1961 and was demolished in 1964 to make way for a block of flats.
The outbreak of the Second World War had a profound effect on the FHA. With one exception, all the guest houses were requisitioned and were out of commission for the duration of the war; the Bishop’s Palace on Anglesey was still in Government hands in 1947. The Autumn 1947 newsletter, the first for nine years, welcomed guests to a new dawn for the FHA. The FHA operated successfully during the 1950s with some thirteen guest houses in Britain and organised holidays to ten destinations in Europe; Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. Many centres were in traditional seaside holiday resorts such as Colwyn Bay, Folkestone, Hornsea, Kingswear, North Berwick, Seaford Bay and Ventnor. Although originally based on walking holidays and established to ‘foster the love of the open air and countryside’, the emphasis of holidays from the 1950s onwards was very much on excursions to local attractions; castles, abbeys, historic villages, gardens and houses. However, “Friendship” remained a cornerstone of the FHA’s philosophy. As holiday programmes state:
At all our centres, guests are asked to assist in maintaining the atmosphere of friendliness, which is one of the principal features of our guest houses. Games, dancing and impromptu concerts are arranged in the evenings and the Host and Hostess will welcome volunteers to play and sing. Bring your music with you. Whist drives also arranged.
The 1960s was a period of dramatic social, economic and cultural change. The liberalisation of British society, increasing mobility and the phenomenal rise in cheap foreign package holidays posed a serious threat to organisations such as the FHA, which provided holidays based on full board accommodation, as well as to the traditional seaside resorts where many of the FHA’s properties were located. Increasing regulation and demands for improved facilities threatened the viability of the FHA’s centres. On the death of Henry C White in 1961, his daughter Dorothy decided that she was unable, on her own, to continue to run the business. Centres were sold-off to be converted into hotels and apartments or demolished.
On the death of Henry C White in 1961, obituaries echo the generally held view of the membership that he succeeded in his aim of providing holidays that: ‘are opportunities to enrich the mind and develop the personality, and above all expand happiness through friendship’. Few people now remember Henry C White and the organisation he founded and ran for over forty years but the contribution of the FHA to the growing outdoor holiday industry during the inter-war period and the years immediately following the Second World War should not be under-estimated. The FHA played a not-insignificant role in providing opportunities for ordinary working people to explore the British countryside in an atmosphere of friendship and fellowship and, in so doing, helped to foster a love of the open-air and countryside amongst an increasingly urban population.
Note: I am indebted to Elizabeth Brooking, H C White’s grand-daughter for providing me with access to the records of the Friendship Holidays Association, on which this article is based.