Whernside House - Kettlewell Youth Hostel

Compiled by the YHA volunteer archivist, John Martin, 01/04/2019

Like all the larger Dales hostels: Malham, Linton, Ingleton, Stainforth, Dentdale, Aysgarth, Grinton Lodge and later Haworth and Hawes, Kettlewell owed much of its success from the mid-twentieth century to reliable regular bookings by school parties especially, though not exclusively, from the northern towns. Kettlewell also benefited from an extended period of wardenship, by Graham and Lesley Chamberlain, who arrived in 1970 and steered the hostel through considerable growth and change for some thirty years until the year 2000.

8,000 and 9,000 annual overnights became commonplace in the 1970s and 1980s, and the 10,000 figure was breached in 1989. Graham assumed sole warden responsibility from about 1985. He introduced many improvements at Kettlewell. The front of the hostel was tidied up by the removal of the shop bay and steps, and the fire escape was rebuilt with
flighted steps rather than the precarious ladder system. Showers were created at the back of the ground floor, and later moved to the upper floors.

The rearrangement came about mainly through the sacrifice of one large dormitory to the right rear of the first floor to create a much-needed lounge space, at the expense of 10 beds.

kettlewell hostel - 1975

A later photograph revealing the removal of the shop bay. The YHA triangle is now more permanently affixed to the left of the main entrance, with the cast plate showing the Association’s objectives to the right (YHA Archive) (Above)

colour postcard of YHA Kettlewell

A smart coloured postcard published by YHA, dating from the later twentieth century (author’s collection) (Above)

During the 1990s the hostel experienced a gradual reduction in the numbers staying, along with most of the neighbouring Dales hostels, as markets changed and family hostelling and smaller groups took on greater significance compared with schools use. Hostels were modernising and individual comfort, privacy and the loosening of traditional YHA rules, seen as stiff by some, were now of prime importance. The loosening of YHA’s internal strictures on wardens living in the hostel was also being tested at this time; the Chamberlains were able to move out of their own hostel quarters, an extended cottage on the lane to the left of Whernside House, thus creating new space for use by families and smaller groups. This extra accommodation, for 10, was in use from 1992 to 1998. Several other initiatives were introduced at this time by Graham, including proactive visits to schools and opening the hostel to conferences, both to encourage patronage. This kind of pioneering thinking led to many developments that are taken for granted in today’s YHA.

The bed capacity at Kettlewell was 58 in 1992, including the bonus of the 10-bedded annexe, and then 54 by the end of the century. Some larger dormitories were split into smaller rooms during 1993. In 1997 there was further refurbishment and a general reorganisation of the ground floor, by removing the wall between common room in the right hand corner and the small dining room behind it, to create a more flexible space.

Judith Mallams took over the managership of the hostel in the new millennium, and beds were further reduced to 43 in 2001 and 40 in 2007. YHA was hit very significantly by the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, especially in the Lake District and the Pennines. The financial repercussions were very marked over a long period, and the provision of so many large hostels in a small geographical area was questioned. Linton and Kettlewell, barely 7 miles apart, were compared for viability and in 2002 the closure of both simultaneously was considered.

However, YHA was open to some imaginative suggestions at that time for maintaining hostel presence while reducing financial burden; Kettlewell hostel was reprieved under a widely-praised scheme to integrate the village post office within the hostel. Kettlewell Post Office was officially opened in its new form in July 2004. Thus two rural facilities were saved in one move.

After the 2002 reprieve, Whernside House remained under full YHA management for a further dozen years, and the opportunity was taken to invite funding donations from members to assist with hostel improvements.

Hostel plans, dated February 2007. By this time the family annexe at the top of the plan had reverted to staff quarters. The Post Office counter has also served as hostel reception, the earlier hostel office arrangement being a space to the rear of the hallway. Rooms 9 and 10 seen here have since become part of the managers’ block. On floor 2 there are now 8 small rooms (YHA Archive) (Right)

hostel map
yha kettlewell postcard

A smart coloured postcard published by YHA, dating from the later twentieth century (author’s collection) (Above)

In 2014 the hostel was placed on the closure list, but would survive in its original form into early 2015. Peter Ingle, then Ellie Parkinson, were the final managers under YHA full ownership.

The sale was completed on 16th January 2015 to Saul and Floss Ward, who wished to continue seamlessly with a YHA Enterprise hostel and to keep running the village’s Post Office facility. The Post Office closed late in 2018, but a new one-day-opening arrangement was planned for 2019.

Whernside House hostel was extensively refurbished by the new owners in 2017-18. There are now 42 beds in eleven bedrooms, with former Rooms 5, 6 and 8 on the second floor each divided into two to create eight small rooms on that level, now numbered 4-11. Further enhancement came with modernised toilets and showers, new rooflights to the upper bedrooms and a much friendlier slope to the rear garden space.