This too will pass, The Chalet on Ivythorn Hill
Released On 19th Apr 2020
Remembering stories of Street Youth Hostel during WWII.
So I am writing this during the lockdown of Covid 19, every evening Brett and I go for a walk, leaving our home in the centre of Street we do a 5 mile route which includes walking along the top of the Polden Ridge, know locally as Street Hill or Ivythorn Hill, during that walk we go past the Youth Hostel Chalet which is perched on the on top overlooking Street village a mile or so below.
At the moment there is a sign on the locked gates advising of the temporary closure. That made me sad for the obvious reason, but also it made me slightly maudlin as it focused me to remember my mothers amusing stories of when the Youth Hostel was closed during World War 2, Jean (my mum) lived there at the time with her parents Harold and Mabel and her older brother Sydney.
Harold and Mabel Pinder had moved to Somerset from Lancashire in the mid 1920's looking for work and a better life, they came to live originally with the very gruff looking man (George Hannam) in the photo above, (this photo is taken in the gardens of the Youth Hostel "café" in about 1936).
Whilst living with Uncle George and working as a milkman bread delivery man (horse & cart!), a position came vacant for caretaker manager of the Youth Hostel on Ivythorn Hill, Grandad (and Grandma) was fortunate enough to get the job, a very lucky break for 2 "outsiders".
I will never know whether the said George Hannam who worked in a foreman role at C&J Clarks had pulled some strings, but I do know he favoured my grandma (his sister) and my mother (bequeathing Jean his house after his death) whilst, he never really liked the 2 Pinder men, and I believe he was very keen to move them along !
A little bit of background on the Youth Hostel that they were moving into :
"The Chalet" built as a summer house for the Impey family in 1914. Sometime after that it was taken over by The Chalet Trust (through the Society of Friends, in which the Clark family were very influential) this is when it was repurposed to provide a holiday and rest home to local people of limited means, plus those suffering from illness could use it for convalescence.
As the National Trust had noted Ivythorn Hill as a beauty spot, refreshment rooms became available between 1923 and 1931 to cater for the extra tourism and visitors wanting to appreciate the beauty spot and stunning views across the Mendips in the distance.
In 1931 it was leased to the Youth Hostel Association, around the same time YHA was making its national appearance. Around a month later, the building was leased to YHA, officially making Street the first hostel to be established by YHA England and Wales in its pioneering year. 1931 saw 455 visitors, which tripled to 1,262 by 1933 due to its popularity.
So this was a very important venue for Grandma and Grandad to be "in charge" of, and they did so for many years, including during the Second World War, when much like now it was closed to holiday makers and visitors but was repurposed to take in evacuees sent from London during the blitz.
There were on average about a dozen lads living with my grandparents, Jean & Syd at any one time, and I think for Jean and Syd especially it was a bit of a culture shock.
Jean was 10 at the outbreak of war, so obviously just 15 when it ended, prior to the evacuees her life was very tranquil working with gran cleaning and tending the hostel, serving the café visitors all very polite and enjoyable. Then came 12 rambunctious lads from London, who didn't know each other and didn't know sleepy old Somerset, you can imagine there was a lot of tears, tempers and testosterone, and Jean witnessed it, both as a child and as a growing young woman.
The things she would recall the most were the noise and squabbles, we are quite a gentle family, arguments and fights don't happen much in our house, so boys running, fighting shouting and arguing especially over chores was an eyeopener.
The chore that seemed to provide the most action was the retrieving of water from the tanks at the back of the hostel, I don't know the extent of the plumbing, but I am guessing in 1930's/40's an isolated chalet on the top of the hill was not blessed with too much in the way of H&C upstairs and downstairs.
The boys were tasked with fetching in water from two large tanks that had to be "de-iced" in winter.
Boys ended up being dumped in the tanks, ensuing chases happened and with the construction of the chalet the temptation to climb as a means of escape was a tempting if dangerous endeavour.
However, the view's from the upper rooms where spectacular, Jean recalls sitting out with a virtually uninterrupted 360 view, hearing the planes flying overhead and seeing the lights in the night sky as bombs dropped over Bridgwater to the West, Yeovil in the South and Bristol in the North.
Her older brother Sydney, inspired by this and perhaps motivated to get away from the chaos at home, signed up to serve during the war with the RAF as soon as he was old enough.
The point of this piece... well I guess, to reassure myself that "this to will pass", as it did for my mum and her family during the war, life changed unimaginably but eventually the youth hostel reopened and life got back to normal, and when she looked back she remembered "fondly" the stories of their difficult times during the rationing and influx of strangers into her young life.
This too will pass.….xxx
Images below are the Youth Hostel on Street Hill Today (shut but only temporarily)….
And actually just been refurbished so when you do visit it will be even better than before....https://bit.ly/3ewD72F
Category: Cindi's Journal