After graduating from university last year, I started volunteering with Archives+ eager to get started on “public history” after three years of essays and exams. After an initial meeting, Archives+ offered me a project digitising holiday photographs c. 1920s. The combination of early travel and early consumer photography was too hard to resist and before I knew it, I was diligently working on the digitisation of over 420 photographs. The collection is wonderful and quietly charming, highlighting the sturdiness and beauty of the countryside. I hope you enjoy.
Against the backdrop of commercial seaside resorts in the late nineteenth century, the Rev. T A Leonard founded the Co-operative Holiday Association (CHA) in 1891 with a focus on countryside touring. Its aim was to provide organised cultural holidays for the working-classes, based on the idea that the countryside was morally and spiritually advantageous against the cities and industry.
These walking tours proved immensely popular, with over 16,000 people holidaying per year. In 1913, however, Leonard felt that the CHA had become too middle-class and amicably split to create the Holiday Fellowship (HF). The history of the CHA and HF point to the burgeoning leisure and tourism industry in the early twentieth century, how social class affected the type of holiday one might enjoy, and to the Romantic idealism of the countryside against the city.
The two organisations were not in competition, with HF offering international holidays – the first British overseas tour operator! Their first international holiday was in Kelkheim, Germany just before the outbreak of war. In 1914, guests were unable to return home and were interned in Germany for the war’s duration. The CHA, on the other hand, focussed on British leisure centres such as the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, and Devon. In the late 1930s, the CHA took sightseers to Denmark and Norway – wandering through picturesque villages, visiting old palaces, lunching at glaciers, and making impressive mountain ascents. These international departures were instrumental in forming and cultivating overseas links.
On each trip, the CHA conducted photography competitions for their guests – a mix of hobbyists and professional photographers. In the archives, there are folders full of beautifully-composed landscapes, intriguing group photos from particularly strenuous hikes, and idyllic lunch spots on the moors. If they were lucky enough, holidayers would see their photographs printed in the CHA’s magazine.
Here is a very small selection of photographs and documents from the archives. You will be able to see more at the Flickr album.
- HF Holidays. ‘Our history’, <http://www.hfholidays.co.uk/about-us/history-hfholidays>
- Hope, Douglas G. ‘Co-operative Holiday Association: origins’, <http://www.douglashope.co.uk/CHA>
- Snape, Robert. ‘The Co-operative Holidays Association and the cultural formation of countryside leisure practice’, Leisure Studies 23 (2004), pp. 143-158.
Behind the Scenes
Digitising the CHA photographs took three stages once a week across six months. The first stage consisted of handling and identification, giving each individual photograph its own identification number. The second stage entailed scanning the photographs into the digital archive. Lastly, the third stage involved inputting each photograph (identification number as given in the first stage, subject, description, type of file e.g. black and white photograph, postcard, and date) into a spreadsheet for later export into the comprehensive image and collections system.