The Old School, School Hill, Kettlewell, Skipton, Yorkshire

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

On 12th December 1933 the old West Riding region of the Youth Hostels Association opened a medium-sized hostel in the redundant former Church of England school in Kettlewell. The typically Victorian building of 1895 featured a bell turret and high-pitched roof and was built on a hillside on the north edge of the village, at the side of the steep School Hill. It had a chequered history; a Friends’ meeting house was built in this elevated spot in 1683, but fell into ruin. The school and schoolhouse incorporated its datestone into the building. Kettlewell was a stronghold of non-conformism, however, and its inhabitants did not support the Church of England school, which was quickly abandoned while another village school was built. It saw a period of neglect until YHA’s tenancy.

kettlewell hostel - old school photo

A rare postcard of the Old School youth hostel, viewed from the steep School Hill, sometimes called Cam Gill Road. (Above)

Miss Maggie Jacques hostel warden

A lovely photograph of Miss Jacques taking delivery of the hostels’ bread supplies. It was reported in 1942 that hostel meals were taken at her home; this may have been the pattern from the beginning (Author’s Collection). (Above)

The warden was Miss Maggie Jacques from almost the outset until her retirement in 1942; she lived in Wear’s Cottage, a few minutes from the hostel to the south of the stream. After that date there were volunteer wardens. Miss Jacques died in 1949.

The entry in the YHA’s 1936 Durham and Yorkshire Regional Guide included this useful sketch map and gave the following advice: beds for 16 men, 10 women. North-east end of village, on shoulder of hill leading to Park Rash. Warden, Miss Jacques, Wear’s Cottage – across the stream (5 mins by the bridge, 3 mins by the stepping stones). Station: none. Bus 3 mins. Store 3 mins. Good rough tramping all round. Buckden Pike (2,302 ft.), Great Whernside (2,310 ft.) Hostel Distances: Horton 15 m., Askrigg 17 m., Dacre Banks 22 m. (Above)

A timber hut was acquired in 1937 and placed in the garden at the east end of the building. It had 10 places for men, boosting the hostel’s capacity from 26 to 38. In December 1938 the West Riding region undertook a frank assessment of its hostels and reported that both the hut and the main building leaked.

The Old School was able to operate during the war, though no doubt plagued by short-term requisitions. A new 3-year tenancy arrangement with the Trustees of Kettlewell School had been established on 30th September 1939, at £14pa, and on 20th January 1941 this seems to have passed to the YHA Trust, presumably from the regional group. There are no extant records of bednight figures for summer 1940, but a national notice of 8th October 1940 advised that the hostel was operating. Hostel usage continued in 1941-42.

Over the previous four or five years the hostel had been attracting increasing numbers, in line with YHA’s widespread success. When the chance of owning a larger property presented itself with a substantial house in the village, YHA was keen to take up the offer. Whernside House was negotiated in 1942 and opened the following year, though the committee thought it would be wise to keep the old school available on a quarterly tenancy to help with overflows at peak times, an arrangement that lasted through 1943 and 1944, by which time organisational complexities were proving too troublesome.

This two-property solution to overcrowding was also used in Derbyshire for a couple of seasons in the early 1930s at Hartington and in the 1940s at Castleton. Confusingly, a YHA newsletter of July 1942 described how the Parish Hall was set up as an overflow. Perhaps this meant the Old School, though the Village Hall was certainly used later. After YHA left, the property carried on as a private outdoor activities hostel mainly catering for church groups. In recent years it has become two separate dwellings, somewhat altered externally.

the newly built men’s dormitory hut

The newly built men’s dormitory hut; (Above)

Ready for some tough weather: members of a local YHA group stand at the entrance door (author’s collection) (Above)