We were delighted to be contacted by Douglas G Hope earlier this year, author of the book ‘Thomas Arthur Leonard and the Co-operative Holidays Association’.

Leonard was an influential pioneer of the outdoors and a conservationist. A founder member of Friends of the Lake District, he was also heavily involved in the foundation of the YHA, Ramblers or the CHA and HF as well as a prime mover in the national park movement.

Douglas kindly authored and provided us with an article detailing the life of T A Leonard. A summary follows; his full article is available on our website:


Leonard is most commonly associated with Colne in Lancashire, where he was a Congregational Minister in the 1890s.  Leonard, however, was not a Lancastrian.  He was born in Finsbury, London in March 1864.  

Following a childhood in Hackney and teenage years in Eastbourne, in 1884 he joined the Nottingham Congregational Institute. After three years at the Institute, Leonard took up his first pastorate in Barrow-in-Furness in 1887. 

At that time, Barrow was expanding fast with widespread squalor, sickness and conflict between migrant communities. Leonard sought to improve the social as well as the spiritual health of his flock and took the younger members of his congregation on organised rambles in the Lake District.  

In 1890 he moved to take charge of Dockray Square Congregational Church in Colne, Lancashire. Continuing his efforts started at Barrow, he soon formed a social guild for his young members with a programme of evening classes and a rambling club. 

The rambling club explored the wilds of Pendle Hill and the Pennine moorlands until, in June 1891, he embarked on his first trip to the Lake District when 32 members of his social guild, all mill workers, took a five day holiday staying at a small boarding house, Smallwood House Hotel, in Ambleside. 

Following subsequent holidays in Keswick and Ambleside, Leonard established the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) in 1893 to provide simple and strenuous recreative and educational holidays in the countryside by offering reasonably priced accommodation and promote friendship and fellowship amid the beauty of the natural world. 

Leonard had wider ambitions beyond the confines of north-east Lancashire and the CHA began to attract a wider client base from throughout the United Kingdom; white collar workers, clerks and teachers.  It proved particularly attractive to women.  

He became the CHA’s first General Secretary when it was formally constituted in 1895. Serving for 20 years, he left the role in 1913 to form the Holiday Fellowship (HF), which had similar aims to the CHA, establishing its headquarters in Conwy in North Wales.  

During the post-war period the CHA continued to expand;  the CHA and the HF playing an important part in opening up the countryside as a leisure space for working people. By the 1960s, the CHA had 28 centres catering for over 30,000 visitors per annum; the HF had 40 centres catering for some 60,000 visitors per annum.  

Re-named Countrywide Holidays Association in 1964, but always affectionately known as the CHA, the Co-operative Holidays Association became a national and international provider of outdoor holidays based on healthy recreation and quiet enjoyment until its demise as an independent provider of holidays in 2002.  

The Holiday Fellowship continues to trade as HF Holidays with 20 guest houses scattered across England, Wales and Scotland, including Derwent Bank and Monk Coniston in the Lake District. 

Leonard was an active walker throughout his life, and a founder member and President of the Liverpool and District Ramblers’ Federation (L&DRF), formed in 1922.  

It was as President of the L&DRF that he was invited to chair the conference attended by the ten ramblers’ federations existing at that time held in the Peak District in 1931 to consider the establishment of a national body to represent ramblers.  He was duly elected Chairman of the National Council of Ramblers’ Federations established at that meeting, an office he held until 1935 when the National Council was re-constituted as the Ramblers’ Association (RA) and he was elected the RA’s first President. 

Under Leonard’s influence, the National Council was strongly committed to the setting up of national parks and Leonard chaired the meeting of voluntary bodies held in Westminster in December 1935 which decided on the formation of a Standing Committee on National Parks, with members drawn from a wide range of outdoor and conservation bodies.  

It was in his capacity as Chairman of the National Council of Ramblers’ Federations, that Leonard was invited to be a founder member of the Friends of the Lake District.  Along with Sir Charles Trevelyan, Patrick Abercrombie and Henry H Symonds, he spoke at the rally in Fitz Park, Keswick in June 1934 at which it was formed.  

Douglas G Hope