Holiday Fellowship set up by friends in Matlock Bath 100 years ago is still going strong today as HF Holidays
IT was an idea conceived at a meeting of 14 friends at Matlock Bath in 1913.
Now, some 100 years later, the Holiday Fellowship organisation, under the name HF Holidays, is still going strong as a co-operative society with almost 35,000 members.
The friends gathered in the grounds of a property called Woodbank over two days on May 31 and June 1, 1913.
Minutes of their meeting show that five ladies and nine gentlemen attended and agreed to establish the Holiday Fellowship, with the objective of "organising holidaymaking, to promote the healthy enjoyment of leisure, to encourage the love of the outdoors and to promote social and international friendship".
SPONDON CARPETS AND FLOORING LIMITED. Unit 1 Canalgate Park,...View details
Large new showroom offering wide range of flooring.FREE FITTING AND UNDERLAY on most ranges. Call in and browse round and chat to our experienced sales staff. Late night opening on Thursday till 7.30
Contact: 01332 418267
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
Membership was an investment of £1, which is the equivalent of £50 today.
Two years later, in 1915, the company bought Longshaw House in the Peak District. It has since been sold, although the house still remains today. More recently, the company owned Newton House, in Dovedale, which was sold last year.
One of the people present at the 1913 meeting was Thomas Arthur Leonard, along with his wife, Mary.
Widely considered to be the father of the outdoor movement in Britain, Leonard's involvement in the holiday movement had started some years earlier with his desire to offer alternative "healthy" holidays to mill workers in Lancashire.
During the wakes week, the mills closed for maintenance, providing hard-working workers with an opportunity to take a much-needed summer holiday.
Leonard, then living in Colne, wanted to offer these working people an alternative to the usual destinations of Blackpool, Morecambe or, for the more prosperous, the Isle of Man.
He felt workers would benefit from the fresh air, exercise and companionship a walking holiday would offer so he formed a rambling club in 1891 and took 30 people on a four-night break to Ambleside in the Lake District. His walks became an annual event and their popularity grew.
In his book, Adventures in Holiday Making, Leonard reflects: "In those days, we were content with very primitive arrangements, so long as they gave us the joy and freedom of the open fells."
Things are very different now. In the UK alone, HF Holidays now runs 19 country houses with en-suite bedrooms and facilities including heated boot rooms, indoor or outdoor swimming pools, ballrooms, Jacuzzi spas and wifi.
And the company retains its strong links with the Peak District and Derbyshire Dales. In the last year, it has opened a new country house, the 45-bedroom Peveril of the Peak hotel, near Thorpe.
The journey taken since those very early days has been a fascinating one. With the ambition to provide an all-inclusive holiday for the price of an average weekly wage, Leonard set up Holiday Fellowship's headquarters in Conwy, North Wales, not long after the Matlock Bath meeting.
After the war, the Holiday Fellowship continued to prosper and extend the number of its destinations at home and abroad.
In 1920, a membership magazine called Over The Hills was first published and, by 1930, the circulation had reached 21,000 copies. It continued to be published regularly, containing news and views on walking, until 1982.
By the end of the 1920s, the Holiday Fellowship had 23 houses in the UK and nearly 30,000 guests.
At this time, the society received many queries from female guests and even produced a pamphlet on "dress hints for ladies".
It advised female walkers to "wear strong, low-heeled boots, woollen stockings, short skirt, close fitting hat or cap and, in summer, a light scarf or handkerchief for the head, a woollen jumper and light macintosh or poncho".
It adds that "complete changes of underwear and plenty of woollen stockings are essential".
By the end of the 1930s, there were 82 affiliated UK groups (plus two abroad) and the number of guests continued to grow to more than 45,000 by the end of 1938.
The Second World War meant the closure of most of the centres and a difficult time for the Fellowship, with guest numbers plummeting to 14,500 in 1943.
Food has always been an important part of its holiday breaks. Until the early 1960s, the various components of guests' lunches were carried in a number of official rucksacks, which included, on a summer's day, a lettuce rucksack.
The lettuce rucksack was the least popular to carry because, in those pre-clingfilm days, there was no way of preventing the freshly washed contents dripping down your back.
Leonard died, aged 84, at his home in Conwy on July 19, 1948. As a pioneer of open-air holidays, he had also founded the Co-operative Holiday Association in 1897 and had been instrumental in the setting up of the Youth Hostel Association, Ramblers Association (where he became their first president) and the National Trust.
Even at the age of 80, he was looking to set up an organisation to provide family holidays. He was an unorthodox radical who had many interesting ideas, typically trying to buy Mount Snowdon for the nation to commemorate George V's Jubilee – a plan rejected by the locals.
In 1982, the society changed its name from the Holiday Fellowship to HF Holidays. Today, it has its offices in Cumbria and Hertfordshire and is the UK's largest walking holiday company.
It has retained its altruistic heritage. The company currently donates annually to 25 Mountain Rescue Teams and 11 Air Ambulances around the UK and, in 2010, it was the founder corporate member of the Campaign for National Parks and sponsored the first Park Protector Award.
HF Holidays also champions responsible tourism through its own charity, the Pathways Fund. Through donations from guests, the fund helps preserve and improve the amenities and safety of the environment where walks take place, such as erecting signposts, installing kissing gates and improving pathways and walls. The charity also provides assisted holidays for individuals who cannot afford a holiday.
The number of affiliated walking groups now stands at 190, a clear indication that walking as an activity is as popular as ever.
Leonard left a remarkable legacy. Five million people have holidayed with HF Holidays and the company takes more than 50,000 people on holiday every year.
Currently 700 dedicated volunteer leaders follow in Leonard's footsteps, guiding their guests in 113 destinations in 46 countries all over the world from the Cotswolds to Tuscany and the Alps, and from the Scottish Highlands to Nepal and New Zealand.
The co-operative still continues to plough all its profits back into making the holidays better for its guests.
Through all of this, it has never lost Leonard's original ethos of offering fun, friendly, down-to-earth holidays where guests enjoy the outdoors and each other's company in equal measure.