Tuesday, 5 December 2017
An old postcard reminds me
of ‘Buckingham’s Palace,’
the Youth Hostel in Lichfield
Last night, I bought a postcard of the old Youth Hostel on Birmingham Road, which was on sale on eBay as an unused vintage postcard dated 1946. My attention was drawn to the photograph after a posting on Facebook conversation involving Susan Marie Ward and Kate Rodger.
This was the first house I stayed in when I first visited Lichfield almost 50 years ago, when I was still in my teens. I was in search of the Comerford family connections with Comberford, between Lichfield and Comerford, and I soon found that this house was a welcoming base for me for a few years.
I spent many regular visits to Lichfield here from 1970 until the hostel closed in 1973. From here, I headed off to the Wenlock Edge in Shropshire, to Ilam on the borders of Staffordshire and Derbyshire, to the cathedral in Coventry, and to Stratford-on-Avon in Warwickshire to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and the theatre.
There were weekends with new-found but lasting friends in Lichfield, Brereton and Rugeley, and visits to houses and places once associated with the Comberford family in Tamworth and Wednesbury. In those years, I was training to be a chartered surveyor and studying at the College of Estate Management in Reading. But it was from this house I began contributing as a freelance journalist to the Lichfield Mercury, then based in Bird Street, the Rugeley Mercury and the Tamworth Herald.
There were hitch-hiking trips that took me further to Oxford, London, and my first visit to Cambridge. But I always returned to this house in Lichfield, and it was while I was staying here as a 19-year-old that had a moving experience in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield that was life-changing and eventually, after many decades, led me on the path to ordination.
Redlock House was at 128 Birmingham Road, Lichfield, although when the houses were renumbered later this became 116 Birmingham Road. This was a red-brick house on the west side of Birmingham Road, just south of the A461 roundabout and the railway overbridge.
There may have been a number of YHA (Youth Hostel Association) hostels in Lichfield in the pre-war years, but it seems this hostel first opened in September 1943, bought with partly with the help of a grant from the Ministry of Education to the YHA Trust on 28 February 1944.
The hostel continued to open throughout the rest of World War II. After the war, a Carnegie Trust grant was awarded towards improvements at the hostel, and in 1964 an old stable was converted by volunteers into a modern dining room.
However, industry started to develop in this part of Lichfield in the 1960s. Even though it was close to the open countryside of Staffordshire and twithin walking distance of the Roman site at Wall, the area became less attractive an area for youth hostellers. They were arriving in fewer numbers, and visitor numbers were in decline by the time I was staying here regularly.
At one time, the warden was a Mrs Buckingham, so the hostel became known to many of its regular guests as Buckingham’s Palace. There was Lichfield Youth Hostel badge showing the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral, but that is long gone, along with the rucksack it had become a part of and that disappeared in moves from Wexford to south Dublin later in the 1970s.
Finally, due to declining use, the hostel closed on 12 October 1973. I continued to return to Lichfield regularly, and the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital and Lichfield Cathedral became my spiritual homes. But from then on, I have stayed at a variety of addresses throughout Lichfield.
After the hostel closed, Redlock House became the Midland Regional Office of the Youth Hostel Association. The property was finally sold in in 1987. It was later demolished and became part of the retail site that includes the Magnet premises.
Almost five years ago, in January 2013, Kate Gomez on her Lichfield Lore blog, asked if any readers had information about Lichfield’s Youth Hostels.
Some years ago, in a moment of nostalgia, not realising that Redlock House had been demolished, I went in search of a house that still has fond memories for me. But my memories played tricks on me, and I thought it was 108 Birmingham Road.
I had myself photographed outside the house, and posted the image on Facebook.
I now know I was mistaken. In my mind, I can still hear the trains passing by that house at night. It was a comforting sound, and I have happy memories. Now I’m looking forward to the postcard from Lichfield arriving in the post over the next week.