The democratisation of tourism in the English Lake District: the role of the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship

A view down to Bassenthwaite (Image by Louise Platt)

We are pleased to share the work of Dr. Douglas Hope, University of Cumbria, here on the LSA blog, winner of the 2016 John K. Walton Prize

Douglas has summarised his paper for us but to read the full article please click the link above.

Against the background of the changing perception of the English Lake District from literary landscape to national playground, the article explores the role of the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) and the Holiday Fellowship in the democratisation of the English Lake District as a destination for outdoor holidays and sport tourism.  The CHA and the Holiday Fellowship, two organisations founded in 1893 and 1913 respectively by Thomas Arthur Leonard, a Congregationalist minister in Colne, Lancashire during the 1890s, pioneered the provision of ‘rational’ holidays for working people at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.  They were established to provide ‘simple and strenuous recreative and educational holidays’, which offered ‘reasonably priced accommodation’ and promoted ‘friendship and fellowship amid the beauty of the natural world’.

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A CHA group outside Glaramara Guest House in Borrowdale, 1935 (Image by: Countrywide Holiday Association)


In founding the CHA, Leonard’s approach to holiday making was strongly influenced by contemporary social, philosophical and political thought.  He has been described as a Christian Socialist and disciple of Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin, both of whom he quoted in his sermons.  It was the idealised pastoral vision of Ruskin and William Morris and the rural imagery of William Wordsworth and the Lake Poets that were the foundations of the CHA’s guiding principles and the model for its holidays.  The Co-operative Holidays Association, which was re-named the Countrywide Holidays Association in 1964 but was always known affectionately as the CHA, operated as an independent provider of outdoor holidays until 2002. The Holiday Fellowship continues to trade as HF Holidays with twenty country houses scattered across England, Scotland and Wales.

The first holidays organised by the Co-operative Holidays Association in 1893 were to Ambleside and Keswick and, over the next 100 years, the Lake District was the destination for thousands of CHA and Holiday Fellowship holidays and the location of some of their most notable guest houses.  The role of the CHA and the Holiday Fellowship in making the Lake District more accessible to working people is a microcosm of the changes and continuities in the development of these organisations nationally.  They provided a range of accommodation in the Lake District; both ‘simple and strenuous’ centres such as at Newlands Mill, near Keswick and Stanley Ghyll House in Eskdale, and ‘country-house’ style guest houses such as Forest Side in Grasmere and Monk Coniston near Coniston, as well as youth centres and camps such as the hutted Wall End Farm Youth Centre in Great Langdale.  Through the provision of a range of affordable accommodation, the CHA and Holiday Fellowship opened up the Lake District to a wider public at a time when the ranks of commerce, industry and the professions and the more prosperous middle classes were the mainstay of the tourist economy. They pioneered the provision of outdoor accommodation for young people well in advance of the establishment of the YHA in 1931.  They also catered for youth groups and school parties long before it became the responsibility of local education authorities.

Although the first holidays were for mill workers, as the CHA and Holiday Fellowship broadened their appeal, the clientele widened to include workers from a range of manual, clerical and professional occupations. Indeed, from the First World War onwards, both organisations represented themselves as being open to all people, regardless of class, creed, gender and age.  In sharp contrast to the established rambling and climbing clubs, the CHA and Holiday Fellowship attracted women in large numbers.  Their acceptance of women on the basis of equality reflected their communal ideology.

During the inter-war period, the CHA and Holiday Fellowship dominated the provision of recreative and educational holidays in the Lake District. Until the establishment of youth hostels, from 1930 onwards, there were few other providers of cheap accommodation for outdoor activities specifically, other than the huts possessed by some climbing clubs and the Cyclist Touring Club’s network of bed and breakfast establishments.  After the Second World War, as the mantle of providing outdoor holidays for young people was gradually taken up by the YHA, local education authorities and a range of voluntary and charitable organisations, the CHA and Holiday Fellowship focused on the provision of walking holidays for an older clientele.  For much of the twentieth century, the holiday experience at CHA and Holiday Fellowship centres strongly reflected Leonard’s original ideals with communal walking and social activities.  Both organisations subscribed to the literary and landscape associations attached to the Lake District, which helped to shape their approach to holiday making.  Through the provision of recreative and educational holidays, they sought to encourage the greater knowledge and understanding of the countryside and they both supported the designation of the Lake District as a national park.

The article shows that the outstanding contribution of the CHA and Holiday fellowship to the increasing popularity of the English Lake District was in making the area more accessible to lower middle-class and working-class holiday-makers with a focus on healthy recreation and the quiet enjoyment of the countryside.  It also shows that, in providing simple, affordable and non-exclusive accommodation and promoting greater access to the countryside, they laid the foundations for the spirit of fellowship that characterises walking and rambling.

Biographical note: Doug Hope graduated from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1964 with an Honours degree in geography and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1965.  He became a Chartered Town Planner in 1970 and has pursued a career in town and country planning.  He has walked and climbed in the English Lake District for over fifty years.  In 2008, he gained an MA in Lake District Studies, with distinction, at the University of Lancaster.  Since then, he has been researching the activities of the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) and Holiday Fellowship in Britain and Europe and obtained a PhD in Cultural History in February 2015.  Doug has presented papers on his research at conferences organised by the Leisure Studies Association and the British Society of Sports History and his biography of T A Leonard, the founder of the CHA and the Holiday Fellowship, appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Doug is writing a book on T.A. Leonard and the CHA, entitled “Joy in widest Commonality Spread”, to be published early in 2017.

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