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Records of YMCA work in England and the United Kingdom

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-58


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles and other records concerning the YMCA movement in England. Early records include the development of United Kingdom YMCAs. English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish national council reports and yearbooks make up the bulk of this information. Yearbooks are from various locations from within each of the countries, London being the primary location represented. The 1844 founding of the YMCA in London and the Jubilee Celebration of the fifty year anniversary of the London Central YMCA are discussed in pamphlets within the early collection.

Most of the collection discusses war work that the YMCA of the United States and Canada shared with the YMCA of Great Britain but includes work that Great Britain did on their own. Material concerning work during World War I includes discussion of the welfare of American troops, John Mott’s participation in the war work overseas, the National War Work Council, YMCA canteen work overseas, the development of the logo of the red triangle, YMCA work among prisoners of war, WWI War Prisoners Aid and a World War I, War Work Training Program. World War II-era material includes war prisoners aid as well as the discussion of the American Allied Prisoners of War and German War Prisoners. Much of this information focuses on an American controversy involving a 1945 broadcast by Walter Winchell condemning the YMCA’s positive treatment of German POWs. The Red Triangle and the War Emergency Fund are also discussed in the World War II material, as is the Buildings for Brotherhood program and its assistance in rebuilding buildings in London after the Blitz in 1940. The introduction of the YMCA mobile canteen vans is discussed in detail as well throughout the collection, as is this project’s contribution to the well being of the soldiers and civilians in war damaged areas, such as London during the 1940 Blitz.

The Indian Student movement within London, England is discussed a great deal within the collection. The Indian Student movement’s hostel, funding from the North American International Committee and the World Youth Fund as well as the assistance of the Indian National Council, is discussed surrounding information about the YMCA’s response to the Blitz bombing in 1940. The German Y in London is also discussed throughout the collection. This is, however, primarily through annual reports that are mostly in German.

Boys Work and Youth Training Programs are also a large focus of the collection. The Boys work mentioned within the collection starts in the early 1900s with student houses, education and bible camps and develops into work schools, camping programs and war work through the Red Triangle. Most of this material dates from the 1930s and later years of youth work when the British Boys for British Farms training program was developed from a British youth migration program where boys were given agricultural training before being sent overseas to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. YMCA youth training schools also referred to as Youth in Industry through the YMCA education department are discussed as well.

George Williams, the founder of the London YMCA, is discussed in depth within the collection through the North American International Committee’s assistance to the George Williams Memorial building project in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This information is also partly from the opening of the Y Hotel and George Williams House in London in 1976. The North American International Committee, through Buildings for Brotherhood, the World Youth Fund, YMCA World Service, and Y Care International also assisted the United Kingdom YMCAs with other building projects and developmental services. One notable project for this collection was the rebuilding of the Belfast YMCA after a bombing campaign in the mid 1970s. The London Station Project was also designed in the 1970s for Americans aged eighteen to thirty to assist them with overseas travel by offering an aid while they traveled in London and as they traveled elsewhere. This program is discussed within the later correspondence in the collection.

Pamphlets collected by Agnes E. Weston and records of her work as a “devoted friend of sailors,” and with the Army/Navy Temperance Association also take up a significant portion of the collection. While the connection to the rest of the material in this collection, it appears to be related to YMCA work with sailors during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Pamphlets concerning the Society for the Rescue of Young Women and Children can be found among records from the 1870s.

Later material primarily concerns Y Care International and the YMCA World Urban Network. These records describe United States and European assistance with YMCA Youth Hostels in London, assistance with the YMCA in the U.S.S.R., overseas work and the release of Terry Waite, Chairman of Y Care International, from captivity in Lebanon.


  • 1844-1992
  • Majority of material found in ( 1870s-1950s)


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

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The world-wide YMCA movement began in a small room above a shop in London, England. George Williams, a farmer’s son from Somerset, was among the founders and accepted as the main driving force behind the development of the YMCA. From the founding of the YMCA in 1844, YMCA movements believed in the idea of universal Christian brotherhood and the power of their evangelical mission to transcend national boundaries. Outside Britain, the Great Exhibition of 1851 helped forge links with young men’s associations in other countries and in 1855 the first YMCA International Conference was held in Paris. A confederation formed which became the World Alliance of YMCAs. After the expansion of the YMCA into Western Europe, North America and the British Colonies, the missionary movement began and spread the association’s work to Africa, Asia and South America. By 1894, the time of the jubilee of the World Alliance, there were 7,676 YMCAs in forty-five countries with a membership of 707,667. The British and North American YMCA movements shared interests in the development of many national YMCA movements, including but not limited to India, multiple African nations, and eventually China, Russia, and the Caribbean. They assisted each other on many projects and disagreed on many others. Often times the associations chose to clearly define their individual areas of assistance and to stay within these boundaries in order to avoid disagreement.

During the first World War the YMCA came into connection with a much broader section of society. Work with soldiers began in 1890. The YMCA provided activities and support at summer training camps for army volunteers. When war broke out in 1914 the British YMCA immediately put out an appeal to fund emergency war work. The main focus of the British YMCA’s work during the first World War was the YMCA hut, which offered a retreat for soldiers along front lines of French battlefields. These huts supplied food, a place to rest and stationery for letters home. Many national YMCAs, including the North American YMCA, assisted their troops with this sort of work as well, following the progress of the soldiers from their country. Huts, equipment and merchandise were loaned between national YMCAs working within an area in order to assist the troops to the best of their ability. It was understood that the original nation of the troops being assisted would dictate the nationality of the YMCA that was in charge of the service offered. During this period the red triangle was adopted as an easy to recognise emblem of the international YMCA war work movement.

The British YMCA, along with other national YMCAs, including the North American YMCA movement, also worked world-wide with prisoners of war. The work for prisoners of war in Great Britain was first undertaken just after the beginning of the war. The World Alliance of YMCAs coordinated work which included food and medical relief parcels, and religious services for troops of all nationalities and affiliations imprisoned in camps across the world. The primary services within these camps included, social gatherings, sports activities and religious and educational work. The YMCA was very careful not to overlap the work done by various other agencies working for prisoners of war.

In addition to the Y’s original focus on young men, boy’s work expanded after World War I. By 1932 there were 217 Boys Clubs in England, Ireland and Wales. At the same time, YMCA emigration programs sent teenage boys from areas with high unemployment rates to start new lives abroad.These boys were given basic agricultural training before leaving for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. When emigration laws changed, these programs evolved into the British Boys for British Farms scheme, which offered school-leavers agricultural training and a work placement on a farm in Britain. This was the first complete training program run by the YMCA. Financial assistance was issued from the Overseas League, the Fellowship of the British Empire Exhibition, Miners Welfare Committees and the Carnegie Trust. An Indian student hostel, built for the Indian Student Movement in London with a grant from the North American International Committee and the assistance of the Indian National Council, was run by the Indian YMCA in London. This hostel was rebuilt after the 1940s Blitz bombing of London with the financial assistance of the YMCA World Youth Fund with assistance of the North American National Council.

During World War II, the concept of the “tea car” or mobile canteen, a second-hand van fitted with a small kitchen and painted camouflage green, was introduced by the British YMCA. By the end of 1940 there were 500 vans in service with various national YMCAs running them, including the North American YMCA. These vans followed advancing and withdrawing armies, serving tea and selling cigarettes, chocolate, cake, hair cream, toothpaste and stationery. During the Blitz, these mobile canteens aided burning cities, providing food and drink to those made homeless and hungry due to bombings. As the war went on the YMCA developed library vans, entertainment vans, cinema vans and permanent centers for troops. Internationally, the World Alliance of YMCAs expanded its prisoner of war and refugee work. More that 250 secretaries visited camps in 38 countries. In Britain there were large-scale education programs for POWs. One thousand prisoners were trained as primary school teachers, coached to pass university entrance exams or given basic theological training.

After World War II the British YMCA needed to rebuild a great number of their buildings. The World Alliance of YMCAs and the North American International Committee assisted the rebuilding effort in Europe and specifically in the United Kingdom through fundraising activities and grants. Buildings for Brotherhood, the World Youth Fund, YMCA World Service and other developmental services were used to secure financial contributions to these projects.

In the 1970s the North American International committee and the World Alliance of YMCAs assisted rebuilding efforts in Belfast after bombing campaigns that took place within Ireland. The North American International YMCA and the British YMCA remained connected through projects associated with YMCA World Service, Y Care International, the YMCA World Urban Network and through the World Camps Program. These programs sponsored youth and secretary exchanges and world work in the North American, British and other YMCA associations.

Historical information largely adapted and quoted from World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of the United States and Canada, (New York: Association Press, 1957) by Kenneth Scott Latourette, and from the collection.


19.5 Cubic Feet (56 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, journal and newspaper articles and other records concerning the YMCA movement in England. Early records include the development of United Kingdom YMCAs. English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish national council reports and yearbooks, reports and other records from local associations, as well as material related to the YMCA's role during World War I and II make up the bulk of this material.


These documents are organized into the following sections:

  1. Yearbooks
  2. National Council
  3. Local Association Miscellaneous Materials
  4. Local Association Reports
  5. World War I
  6. World War II
  7. Anges E. Weston Files
  8. Miscellaneous Records


Additional records related to YMCA work in Ireland may be found in the Records of YMCA International Work in Miscellaneous Countries, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, March 2009, as collection FP010.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973352504801701

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
Language of description
Script of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area