THE initials YHA within their distinctive green triangular badge have become something of a national institution.

I suppose it is not that surprising really, as the Youth Hostel Association has been a feature in this country for more than 90 years.

Rather surprisingly, however, its origins lie not in the dales and moors of Yorkshire, but in the opening years of 20th Century Germany – in 1909 to be precise.

However, the idea soon took off over here and, during the next 20 or so years, a number of separate associations were formed in the UK.

These all came together in 1930 to establish a more united British Youth Hostels Association, which then became YHA(England and Wales).

Its stated objective (then and now) is “to help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, and appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities, particularly by providing youth hostels or other accommodation for them in their travels, and thus to promote their health, recreation and education”.

The very first hostel in this country was in north Wales and the movement quickly expanded.

By the outbreak of the Second World War there were 297 of them, including one here in Maldon.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Maldon youth hostel (by permission Kevin Fuller)

Some of you might remember the town’s original YHA accommodation. Its official address was West Chase, 42 London Road – a rambling late-Victorian house that stood in its own grounds and occupied an area that is now part of the playground at St Francis' Catholic Primary School.

The building was purchased by the association freehold and the 40-bed Maldon hostel first opened its doors in the Easter of 1938.

Just 17 months later, Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation that Britain was at war with Germany.

I wonder if the hostel had a radio at that time and, if so, did any of the young people staying at Maldon on September 3, 1939, hear that terrible news live?

It marked a downturn in the life of the building as it was soon requisitioned for the duration and closed to visitors.

Wansted County High School initially used it to teach their evacuees, but this arrangement ceased in June 1940, in favour of the children being integrated into Maldon Grammar School.

The hostel was then turned over to the military for other purposes. By the time war was over the building was in a poor condition but, following refurbishment, the YHA opened up again at Easter 1946.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

Maldon youth hostel (by permission Kevin Fuller)

Visitors in the 1950s remember that it was “cheerfully slapdash and rather untidy” and “terribly cold in winter”, but at least it “possessed hot water” (something not all hostels could boast at that time).

Into the 1960s and it was clear the old building had developed serious structural problems and its foundations were failing.

The hostel had been losing money and the association decided it would not be economically viable to rebuild it.

So, finally in September 1971, the YHA reluctantly closed their Maldon hostel. The property was placed on the market and was purchased by the Franciscan Sisters who lived next door at Mount View and ran the school there.

In May 1972 they applied to what was then the borough council to pull it down and, following the granting of relevant permissions, the hostel was duly demolished in preparation for the construction of an infant block and playground.

But that was not before members of the Essex Archaeological Society dug some trenches to see if there were any early remains there.

In 1973 they reported on the discovery of a complex of late Bronze Age to early Iron Age pits and post holes, and part of a timber structure dated to AD100.

The greater part of the site was found to have been extensively quarried in the 15th and later centuries, robbing out any potential Saxon evidence of the ‘Burh’ fortress that was known to have once been located in the area.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

The famous YHA emblem

Meanwhile, the YHA was still keen to run a hostel in town during the summer months and went in search of alternative premises.

On July 1, 1977, they duly occupied 48 Wantz Road (formerly the Middleton Home for the Blind).

It was, however, far from ideal (there was no running water at first) and the hostel closed in 1978 after just one season.

Today there are no YHA hostels in Maldon, but a search of their website reveals a number of them in nearby London, Hertfordshire and Kent, and with beds priced from as little as £13 a night. I wonder if there are still veteran 'hostellers' out there who have fond memories of tramping to Maldon and setting up temporary home in the London Road building during the heady summer months of the 1950s and 60s.