Winchester City Mill and the YHA recollections

Ladies bathing place at Winchester City Mill

The City Mill became the first youth hostel for the London Region of the Association on 13th June 1931 and heralded the establishment of a chain of hostels for the Pilgrims Way running from Winchester to Canterbury. The hostel remained for 74 years until 2005, when the Mill was restored to full working order.

The Second World War was to change the lives of everyone but it would seem that the hostel managed to function throughout the duration of the conflict. In fact, Youth Hostel Association membership doubled during the war years. Despite rationing and bombing, the hostel offered respite, relaxation and some return to normality for those who stayed at the Mill during the war…

" The Old City Mill became a haven of rest for countless members from the areas worst hit by the war and on many occasions, over 100 were accommodated. "
- 1940, William H. Love
" A meal was provided for very little money but we had to wash up and clean the place before we left in the morning after the boys, but not the girls, had dived in the water to wash. Happy days! We walked from Southampton through the meadows. "
- 1940, Doris Whettingsteel, Salisbury
" When on guard there we slept for a while within the water mill. The rushing water made it terribly noisy, you were bewildered when you first awoke and had to collect your wits. "
- 1940-41, Rifleman A. V. Woodhouse, Regiment 'Rifle Brigade' Winchester Barracks
" Stayed here with a cycling friend for two nights so that we could visit Salisbury (no hostel nearer). We carried some food and ration cards that were valid in shops where you were not registered. We relied on YH breakfasts and suppers. We got the washing up job twice; the porridge saucepans were enormous things and needed a lot of 'elbow grease'. For washing, males baled with their wash bowl from the millrace, a job needing care, or the bowl was swept down the river. Very cold was the water. We thought Winchester a good hostel. "
- 1943, Anonymous

Despite the ending of the War, a time of austerity would continue for some time and rationing was not phased out until the early 1950s. However, young people, either those returning from service or those who grew up during the dark days of the war, were looking to widen their horizons and to enjoy their relaxation time. Rambling clubs and cycling clubs enjoyed a renaissance in the mid to late 40s. To compliment this, youth hostels offered cheap overnight accommodation so travel was within the reach of all young people…

" Stayed in this mill on a cycling holiday. I walked over the beam in the washroom, bent down and my diary fell out of the pocket of my school blazer – but retrieved it downstream, still floating but rather wet! "
- 1946, Sheila Brough
" This was the first Youth Hostel I stayed in. The thing I remember best was washing and shaving in the river – a unique experience. "
- 1947, Sidney Brailsford, Swansea
" I am one who 'swam' or 'bathed' in the millstream, hanging onto a rope. It was very stimulating and quite up to the best adventure playground experience! What happened to 'health & safety' in those days? But I am still here to tell the tale. "
- 1947, Bishop John Dennis
" Four of us cycling from London to Cornwall and back. Remember the’ Men’s Wash' with hanging to get your washing water in plastic bowls straight from the river. Happy days long gone – but not forgotten. "
- 1962, David Parker, Ilford

If you have any photos or memories you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you. Please email us at winchestercitymill@nationaltrust.org.uk