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. He was heavily involved in the foundation of the YHA, Ramblers or the CHA and HF and other organisations as well as a prime mover in the national park movement. 

Douglas has kindly authored and provided us with an article detailing the life of T A Leonard.

Thomas Arthur Leonard (1864-1948): Visionary and pioneer.

The founding fathers of Friends of the Lake District were quite rightly described as people with vision and the commitment to protect and enhance the character of the Cumbria landscape. Thomas Arthur Leonard was one such visionary. 

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 at 50 Tabernacle Walk, near John Wesley’s first chapel on City Road.  Leonard’s father was a clockmaker; his mother was the daughter of an eminent congregational minister, John Campbell. Tragically, his father died when he was five years old and, brought up solely by his mother it is no surprise that Leonard should enroll for the congregational ministry.  Following a childhood in Hackney and teenage years in Eastbourne, in 1884 he joined the Nottingham Congregational Institute, whose principal was Dr. J B Paton, founder of the National Home Reading Union (NHRU) and pioneer of educational and social reform, a man who would have a profound influence on Leonard. 

After three years at the Nottingham Congregational Institute, Leonard took up his first pastorate at the Abbey Road Congregational Church 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.  However, his progressive ideas did not go down well with the church deacons and in June 1890 he moved to take charge of Dockray Square Congregational Church in Colne, Lancashire.  At this time, Colne was a hotbed of socialism and, continuing his efforts started at Barrow to improve the social and spiritual well-being of his flock, 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, Ribblesdale and the Pennine moorlands around Haworth 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, and encouraged by J B Paton, Leonard established the Co-operative Holidays Association (CHA) under the auspices of the NHRU 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 was strongly influenced by contemporary social, philosophical and political thought; the writings of Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin, William Morris and William Wordsworth.  He often quoted John Ruskin in his sermons.  The idealized pastoral vision of Ruskin and Morris and the rural imagery of Wordsworth and the Lake Poets were the foundations of the CHA’s guiding principles of friendship and fellowship and the model for its holidays.  It was from the poetry of Wordsworth that Leonard took the motto for the CHA “Joy in widest commonalty spread”. 

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 left Colne in 1894 to concentrate on running the CHA and became its first General Secretary when it was formally constituted in 1895.  J. B. Paton was its first Chairman.  By 1913, with offices in Manchester, the CHA had 13 British centres spread throughout the UK, including Newlands Mill at Stair and Stanley Ghyll House in Eskdale in the Lake District.  CHA holiday groups also stayed at ‘Greenbank’, Charlotte Mason’s “House of Education” in Ambleside during the summer months. 

After occupying the role of General Secretary with the CHA for 20 years, Leonard left in 1913 to form the Holiday Fellowship (HF), which had similar aims to the CHA, and established its headquarters in Conwy in North Wales.  The CHA’s centre, Newlands Mill at Stair, was transferred to the new organisation and continued as a HF Centre until 1987.  Leonard, as General Secretary, oversaw the establishment and expansion of this new organisation from its centre ‘Bryn Corach’ in Conwy until he retired in 1931, by which time the HF had 26 holiday centres, including Newlands Mill, Hawse End, on Derwentwater, and Wall End Farm Camp in Langdale. A new centre, Derwent Bank at Portinscale, replaced Hawse End in 1938 and Monk Coniston was leased from the National Trust in 1945. 

After the First World War, the CHA continued to expand; in the Lake District, Forest Side at Grasmere was acquired in 1925 and the Glaramara Centre in Borrowdale was constructed and opened in 1935.  Bassenfell, a former school above Bassenthwaite Lake was acquired during the Second World War, followed by Loughrigg Brow, a large property on the slopes of Loughrigg overlooking Ambleside. 

During the post-war period, the CHA and the HF played 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.  These organisations pioneered reasonably priced walking holidays for working people based on the principles of friendship and fellowship.  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 when its last centre, Stanley Ghyll House in Eskdale, closed.  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, living in Conwy from 1914 until his death in 1948, he became a long standing member of the Merseyside Ramblers, based in Liverpool. He was a founder member of the Liverpool and District Ramblers’ Federation (L&DRF), formed in 1922, and would become its President.  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 at the HF’s centre, Longshaw in the Derbyshire Peak District in September 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 Central Hall, 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 the FoLD was formed.  Leonard was also a strong enthusiast for the Pennine way and presided over the conference of open-air organisations in 1938 at which the Pennine Way Association was formed. 

Leonard was also instrumental in the establishment of the YHA. He was an advocate for many years for the establishment in Britain of an organisation similar to the Verband fur Deutsche Jugendherbergen (federation of German Youth Hostels – the DJH) originated by Richard Schirmann in 1910.  The HF organised “Lakeland Tours” in 1929, prompted by members of the L&DRF who had holidayed on the continent with the DJH. Leonard chaired the meeting of interested groups at which the British Youth Hostels Association (Merseyside Group) was formed in 1930.  When the YHA (England and Wales) was established in 1931 and George Macaulay Trevelyan was elected as President, Leonard was invited to be the first Vice-President. When Leonard retired from the HF in 1931, the CHA and HF decided to mark his contribution to the open-air movement with a painting of him in oils. Not to his taste, he was instead gifted Goldrill House in Patterdale which he promptly let to the YHA at a nominal rent.  It was purchased by the YHA in 1945 and remained in use until 1967 when it was demolished and replaced by a Scandanavian style new hostel, which still continues to operate. 

Leonard’s devotion to social service, education and the outdoors was recognised in the 1937 Coronation Honours with the award of an OBE.  He died in Conwy on 19 July 1948 at his home “Wayside” where he had lived since 1926.  On his death, he was hailed as the “Founder of co-operative and communal holidays” and “Father of the open-air movement in this country”.  Memorial plaques were erected in his honour on the northern slopes of Catbells, above Derwentwater, and on a small hill above the Conwy valley in North Wales. 

There were other notable access campaigners and champions of walker’s rights at the end of the nineteenth century, such as Octavia Hill, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and H. H. Symonds. In the early part of the twentieth century G. H. B. Ward in Sheffield, Benny Rothman in Manchester and Tom Stephenson would rise to prominence in the “freedom to roam” movement.  But it was Leonard who established the principle of “recreational and educational” holidays in the countryside by providing reasonably priced accommodation long before the YHA and local education authorities, thus opening up the countryside as a leisure space to be enjoyed by all, irrespective of class, creed, age or gender and laid the foundations of the spirit of friendship and fellowship that characterises rambling today.  For this, Leonard deserves to be remembered as a most significant personality in the landscape conservation movement. 

Douglas G Hope