Basil Yeaxlee, lifelong learning and informal education

YMCA Hut - Christmas 1917. Image Processed by Distribued Proofreaders as part of the e-book creation process for Project Gutenberg title I was there. Author: Baldridge, Cryus Leroy (1889-1977). Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
C LeRoy Baldridge: Far from Broadway – Christmas 1917 at a YMCA Hut | I was there – Project Gutenburg

A key, but overlooked figure, Basil Yeaxlee wrote the first book on lifelong education; argued that informal education was as significant as formal; and explored the spiritual nature of education

contents: introduction and life · the YMCA and the huts · the 1919 report · spiritual values in adult education · Basil Yeaxlee, lifelong education and informal education · Basil Yeaxlee and religious education · the final years’ · conclusion · further reading and references · how to cite this piece

Basil Alfred Yeaxlee (1883–1967) was born on December 2, 1883, at 29 Oxford Street, Southampton. He was the eldest son of Alfred Yeaxlee, a pastry cook and confectioner, and his wife, Lila Lavinia Read (Marriot 2004). Alfred Yeaxlee was also known locally as a nonconformist preacher. The family appears to have moved to Lewisham in south London where his sister (Lavinia) and brother (Clarence) were born. However, within a couple of years, they were back in Hampshire in St James Road, Portsea (1891 Census). It was close to Portsmouth’s Royal Dockyard, the barracks linked to it and a large amount of slum housing (which started to be cleared at the turn of the century). As might be expected, the local population included a significant number of skilled working-class families with members working in the dockyards but also many poorer individuals and families. 

St James Road was on the borders of Southsea – a more affluent area – and Basil was sent to a small private school there. Mr John Smyth’s School (later known as Chivers in 1904 and then Esplanade House) appears to have specialised in training students to enter the civil service (which given the naval presence, was a significant local employer) (see, for example, the Portsmouth Evening News June 25, 1886) and preparation for apprenticeships and matriculation exams (see Cooper undated). Chiver’s School had, apparently, the worrying motto Quae nocent docent (What pains us, trains us). In 1905 Basil joined Oxford University as a non-collegiate and was attached to Mansfield College – the first nonconformist college at the university). At this time they only took male students (females began to be admitted for external degrees from 1913).

Yeaxlee went on to New College, London, to prepare for the Congregational ministry (The Times, 24 Aug 1967) and then to serve in Bootle as an assistant minister. He appears to have been based at Bootle Emmanuel Congregational Church on Balloil Road and lodged for a time with a family just a street away (1911 Census). While the town had initially developed from a hamlet into a bathing resort, it now was home to major docks plus their associated industries. Non-conformist chapels had developed alongside an influx of workers from Wales. Basil Yeaxlee lived in what was ‘Bootle Village’ – an area of larger houses. A couple of blocks away were the cramped streets next to the docks where many of the causal dockworkers lived. It was a situation similar to Yeaxlee’s teenage years in Portsmouth.

Basil Yeaxlee’s roots in Congregationalism coloured his later work in adult education, as well as his approach to religious education. As John Field (2007) has noted, ‘Congregationalism was distinctly low in comparison with Anglicanism, but was more pluralistic than many other nonconformist traditions’. It was also more liberal in outlook. Congregationalists and Quakers were only English churches to admit women to training and ordination in their ministries (op. cit. and see also Yeaxlee 1925b, 176). At a local level, they also worked for church unity and ‘collaborated frequently with the Quakers, particularly on educational matters, but also sought to bring together other Christian churches on issues of shared concern’ (Field 2007). In London, the Congregationalist Browning Hall under the influence of another forgotten figure – Herbert Stead – had been at the forefront of the fight for old-age pensions and been home to residents such as James Keir Hardie and Tom Bryan.

In 1912, Yeaxlee moved to London and became an educational assistant to the London Missionary Society. He was also the editor to the United Council for Missionary Education. A year later – just before Christmas – Basil married Annie Julie Mary Leadbeater at St George’s in Hanover Square. Although Annie was born in Stepney, she had been brought up in Portsmouth and Southsea. Her father was a doctor (described as a physician surgeon in the 1901 census) in London and Portsmouth. However, it appears that he was separated from his wife Agnes – and Annie lived with her (1901 census) and then locally with an aunt (1911 census). Presumably, Basil and Annie met in Portsmouth. By the time their daughters were born – Joan Margaret (1914-1976) and Romola Hope (1916-1993) – the couple were living in Caterham Road, Lewisham.

The YMCA and the huts

Late in 1915, Basil Yeaxlee joined the staff of the YMCA. The National Council of YMCAs had established a committee to organize educational facilities for the wartime army. As secretary to the committee, Yeaxlee’s job was to recruit civilian lecturers (often people associated with the universities), to give talks, and lead classes in military locations at home and abroad. Often these classes and groups were held in the massive network of huts close to the front line in France run by the YMCA. The huts were places where soldiers could get a hot drink and food – and could find ‘a touch of home’. [The significance of the huts to soldiers is revealed in the various moving contributions to Young Men’s Christian Association (1916) book (see, also, Yapp 1927)]. This concern with home and hearth is reflected in the title that was given to the 1500 huts built in France by the American YMCAs for the French armies – Foyers du Soldat. They provided a ‘center of warmth and refuge’, a place that soldiers could name as their own. ‘To read, to write, to smoke, to talk, away from the insistent reminders of conflict – that was the real thing’ (Harris et al 1922: 349).

YMCA hut - from Yapp 2018

Picture: One of the YMCA huts built under shell-fire – Yapp 1918

Much of the success of the huts lay in the fact that things were not over-organized around the men – considerable efforts were made to create an atmosphere where people could simply be. This was greatly helped by the commitment and skills of the workers – who were mostly women. By the end of the war, some 40,000 women had undertaken war work in the huts. Basil Yeaxlee had direct experience of the work and described the atmosphere in one hut:

Soon the long room was crowded with men, the bar was besieged by buyers of “Woodbines” and consumers of coffee. The air grew mellow with smoke; but the most striking part of the scene was the sudden fever of letter-writing that took universal possession of the battalion. Some – but they were few – scribbled a gay sentence on a picture postcard. Others found a sheet too little for the sudden flow of ideas, and reached out for a second, and yet a third. Dozens of men made a start, stopped, wrote a line or two more, reflected and tore up the paper, and tried again. (Basil Yeaxlee in YMCA 1916: 214-5)

British Army World War I medal roll index card

Into this situation, talks and discussions could be introduced for those that wanted them – and a substantial number did. Subsequently, Marriott (2004) reports H. A. L. Fisher, president of the Board of Education, as saying that this network had ‘the credit of introducing and developing the largest scheme of adult education which has ever at any time been launched from the country’. Marriot also quotes from an obituarist who suggests that Yeaxlee’s work with the YMCA ‘was a calming influence in a situation where the uncertainties of world politics, and lack of information, were producing considerable unease among the troops’ (The Times, 28 Aug 1967). Any impact in this direction probably grew initially from the space that the huts gave for relaxation and respite rather than the more formal education programmes provided.

In addition to organizing educational provision for the troops, Basil Yeaxlee was also the editor of the YMCA’s weekly newspaper the YM British Empire Weekly from 1915-1917. It became the monthly journal The Red Triangle in 1917 (see acknowledgements).

The 1919 Report and beyond

Basil Yeaxlee’s achievements and reputation were such that in 1917 he was appointed to the membership of the national inquiry into adult education, sponsored by the Ministry of Reconstruction. Other members included Albert Mansbridge and R. H. Tawney. The Committee produced the famous 1919 Report – and was ‘the first and is still, the most comprehensive survey of the history and organization of adult education in this country’ (Kelly 1970: 267). It made the case for substantial development in adult education and the devotion of public funds to it. The report famously argued that:

… adult education must not be regarded as a luxury for a few exceptional persons here and there, nor as a thing which concerns only a short span of early manhood, but that adult educa­tion is a permanent national necessity, an inseparable aspect of citizenship, and there­fore should be both universal and life­long.

The opportunity for adult education should be spread uniformly and systemati­cally over the whole community, as a primary obligation on that community in its own in­terest and as a chief part of its duty to its individual members, and therefore every encouragement and assistance should be given to voluntary organizations, so that their work, now necessarily sporadic and disconnected, may be developed and find its place in the national educational system. (1919: 5)

The YMCA Education Committee became the YMCA Universities Committee in 1918 as the involvement in army education began to decline and in 1919/1920.

Basil Yeaxlee moved on to be the joint secretary to the newly formed Educational Settlements Association (ESA – see educational settlements). This is Yeaxlee talking about ‘the modern adult education movement’ in 1928:

Educational Settlements arose during and after the War and have established a new type of non-residential, self-governing, comprehensive centre of adult education where all kinds of work are carried on by the various adult educational organizations and a corporate life among students and tutors becomes possible. The Churches have begun to make important and successful experiments in adult education and the political parties are setting out on a similar course. Residential Colleges for working men and women, of which the first was Ruskin (founded in 1909), are growing in number. (Common Cause, April 13, 1928)

The Association had free-church connections (Marriott 2004) as well as links into the Quakers. As joint secretary of the ESA, Yeaxlee was recruited to the Board of Education’s new advisory committee on adult education in 1921.

Yeaxlee’s time as secretary to the ESA was not marked by substantial developments with regard to the organization. This may have been a reflection of the educational settlements movement at that point, it may have derived in part from what has been seen as Yeaxlee’s apparent emphasis upon adult education and individual development rather than social activism (Thomas and Elsey 1984: 664). Certainly, Yeaxlee was critical of the broad orientation and approach to adult education taken by the Central Labour College and local labour colleges.

The Labour Colleges illustrate the paradox that any effort in the name of freedom to indoctrinate men and women with preconceived philosophies and formula, instead of giving them the material for arriving at their own interpretation of experience, must end in putting both mind and spirit in chains. The Labour College is a secular counterpart in the sphere of education of the dogmatic authority exerted by certain Churches, Roman and Protestant— the more subtle because without sanctions. (Yeaxlee 1929: 79)

Basil Yeaxlee’s judgement concerning the nature of these educational programmes can be questioned, and he did criticize certain forms of social activism. However, the key to understanding Yeaxlee is recognizing that he looked to individual development and social solidarity (see below). His work for educational settlements was seen by him as social activism. He was part of a movement.

Spiritual values in adult education

Whilst working for the Educational Settlements Association, Yeaxlee was undertaking research for his PhD and had refocused his areas of interest. His doctoral thesis, published in two volumes as Spiritual Values in Adult Education, 1925a + b), examined the place of spirituality and religion in adult education. It involved a significant historical survey, a survey of current provision and thinking; and some key areas for further exploration and action including increased cooperation, developments in training, and changes in policy and programmes. While all this entailed looking back, Basil Yeaxlee was concerned about recent events and their contemporary impact. He focused on the human and material cost of the First World War; the extent to which there had questioning and bewilderment about spiritual values; and a breakdown in social solidarity (1925a 3-5). As John Field (2007) has noted, Yeaxlee’s understanding of spiritual values was broad and distinguished from religious faith. He defined them by function. Spiritual values are those which:

… belong to the human person in common with the universe also known as personal. They do not detach him from the physical, the intellectual, the moral in his daily round. They interpret and ennoble these -his bodily functions and pleasures, his intellectual pursuits, his work, his privileges and duties in relation to his kith and kin, his place in the life of the city, the state, the world of nations – by placing them in a universal setting (Yeaxlee 1925a, 33).

The liberal theology of Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was an important influence here. Personality emerges and develops and contains, Yeaxlee argues, ‘something infinite and universal, realizing itself in the concrete human life of the individual, the transcendent becoming immanent’ (1925: 24). He saw spiritual values as the basis for ‘real’ learning so that we may be at home in the world. Daniel Moulin-Stozek notes that this represented a ‘divergence of spiritual development as an educational goal compared with a historic, more strictly religious meaning’. He continues:

It does not rest upon a dualist metaphysics of a “spirit/soul” and “body” but on a philosophical resolution of this tension, compatible with a material account of mind. Although continual, dynamic, and transcendent, spiritual development is a natural psychological process. (2020: 509-10)

Spiritual Values in Adult Education was, according to Moulin-Stozek, ‘the first comprehensive articulation of the idea of spiritual development in the era of mass education in Britain’ (2020: 508). He also argues that the significance of Yeaxlee’s work has, with the exception of Jack Priestley (his successor at Westhill – see below), been ‘overlooked by scholars even though it has had a long-lasting influence on policy’.

Basil Yeaxlee’s work in adult education, his concern with spiritual development and his work as a Congregational minister meant that he was much in demand as a speaker. It also helped that he had a reputation for engaging talks. As a result, he travelled widely across England talking to church groups (especially Congregational and Methodist) and to organizations linked to the Educational Settlement Association. A search of the British Newspaper Archives returned over 250 reports by local papers of talks he had given around the UK. This, for example, is a report of him talking at the Bristol Folk House in 1925:

All the pioneers had something to give, but no one movement in the education of adults would meet the whole needs of the whole man, or of the whole community. That was why the Guild, Folk House, or Educational Movement sprang up so that people of all conditions and points of view might meet to share wisdom, knowledge, and a sense of comradeship in the service of the community. They were not out to make education serve the end of any particular enterprise, whether economic, political, or religious. Education was a larger thing than that. Its business was to make man at home in his world, sympathetic with his fellows and creature in service. That meant the cultivation not only of the intellect, but of the imagination, and therefore the developed drama, music, the study of nature, as well as the study of history, literature, economics, and philosophy. As Lord Eustace Percy said: “Education is the disciple of common life, teaching men how to live together.” The common room of the Folk House was the place where that could be done. (Western Daily Press 24 October 1925)

click to see the work of Bristol Folk House today

Lifelong Education and informal education

By the time that Lifelong Education was published in 1929, Basil, Annie and the girls were living at Laneside (close by Letchworth Hall) in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. Later that year it was announced that he would be the next principal of Westhill College, Selly Oak, Birmingham with the Birmingham Daily Gazette (14/11/1929) describing him as an ‘educational pioneer’.

Lifelong Education was a significant addition to the literature of adult education. Here I want to highlight three key aspects.

Lifelong education as a philosophy and way of living

The book was one of the first texts to explicitly embrace and explore the ‘universal and lifelong’ education that the 1919 Report had advocated. Subtitled ‘A sketch of the range and significance of the adult education movement’, it located activity within the lifelong process of ‘growing up’. This is how F. R. Swan, writing in the Daily Herald (22/08/1929) described the main idea:

Education is for life – not so much life for education – though in the vital sense and inclining understood by Mr. Yeaxlee, the whole of life is a process of and in and for education. The development of soul, mind, emotions, will, imagination, and the enrichment of personality is not a matter simply for the primary or secondary school, with its set books and official teachers – it is a co-operative culture in which the whole of life’s variety, its work, conditions, social pleasures, political and domestic interests, have their vital influence.

Yeaxlee’s vision of education was holistic – recognizing that people are social animals, with a complex web of experiences and relationships in the world – and beyond. It also looked to wholeness. The aim of education was a ‘philosophy and a way of living, an insight, and a joyous purpose, with some power of achieving it’. The method was a ‘discipline and a fellow­ship, a training of the mind and a quickening of human sympathies’ (ibid: 165). In building this vision, Basil Yeaxlee drew strongly on the work of John Dewey and Eduard Lindeman. He looked to one of the former’s definitions of education as ‘the enterprise of supplying the conditions which ensure growth, or adequacy of life, irrespective of age’ (Yeaxlee 1929: 38) and to Lindeman’s argument that adult education is humanist at the core because it is concerned more with people and with ‘situations’ than with ‘subjects’ (ibid: 47).

[A]dult education, rightly interpreted, is as inseparable from normal living as food and physical exercise. Life, to be vivid, strong, and creative, demands constant reflection upon experience, so that action may be guided by wisdom, and service be the other aspect of self-expression, while work and leisure are blended in perfect exercise of body, mind and spirit, personality attaining completion in society. (Yeaxlee 1929: 28)

Balancing informal and formal education

According to Angela Cross-Durrant (1987: 39), Lifelong Education ‘represents the first formal attempt this century to combine the whole of the educational enterprise under a set of guiding principles with each phase of agency (formal, informal and non-formal) enjoying equal esteem’. While we might question whether these terms refer to different phases of agency, there is no doubting Basil Yeaxlee’s appreciation of the role and significance of informal education.

Attention must especially be given to elementary and informal types of adult education. Insignificant and troublesome to the expert, these have a charm for the common man he can appreciate them just because they are not elaborate and advanced – they meet him where he is, and do not demand that he shall take a long journey, or make a violent and unnatural effort, to reach them. They are the only recruiting ground for higher educa­tional adventures on anything beyond the present small scale. But also, they are the only ground wherein a very large number of people will ever find themselves at home at all.

Much adult education will never know itself as such, and will be recognized only by leaders and teachers of real insight. It will go on in clubs, churches, cinemas, theatres, concert rooms, trade unions, political societies, and in the homes of the people where there are books, newspapers, music, wireless sets, workshops, gardens— and groups of friends. But it will have its impetus in our more definitely organized agencies of education— Schools, Colleges and Universities, W.E.A. branches, Adult Schools, Women’s Institutes, Y.M.C.A.’s and Y.W.C.A.’s and Settlements. The need is that these should realize the possibilities of it, and set themselves to foster it and minister to it. (1929: 155)

It was another 18 years before the first book-length exploration of informal education appeared (Josephine Macalister Brew’s Informal Education) and 21 years for a similar study of adult informal education (Malcolm Knowles 1950). Sadly, little or no progress has been made in the intervening years in terms of creating educational policies and schooling systems that properly recognize and support both formal and informal education. 

Institutions that facilitated social solidarity and lifelong education

Basil Yeaxlee had a strong sense of the sort of institution that facilitated social solidarity and lifelong education. He had seen it within Congregational churches, the YMCA huts in World War One, and in educational settlements. ‘Community centres of adult education’, he wrote, ‘should be a hundred times more widespread than they are now’ 1929: 155). He continues:

Making provision for all forms of adult education, from the simplest to the most advanced, they attract all sorts of people who do not at first even realize that what they want is education: they only know that the life and atmosphere of such a place attracts them. (ibid.: 156)

Such centres:

… must teach many things which a university would not include within its purview and by methods which the university would never dream of adopting among undergraduates… Thus, for example, it is beyond question that multitudes of men and women will never learn much, if anything, from books. They are not built that way. They gain far more, aesthetically and intellectually, as well as socially and morally, by the use of their hands than by any other means. It will not do to brush aside handicrafts, hobbies, and other media of education which have been shown to possess such intrinsic value by the work of  Women’s Institutes, for example, or the London Men’s Institutes, or the East London Art Club in Whitechapel which recently astonished the world by its exhibition of two bundled pictures painted by working men artists. For adult education must provide not only for the people who have had secondary and university education, or who would have profited by the alternative if it had fallen to then lot, but also for those who, if the highroad had been flung wide open, neither would nor could have set foot upon it.

Yet, if a community is truly democratic, these are every whit as much needed in making up the common life as the others. They have as distinctive a contribution to make to the community’s well-being, happiness and progress. They cannot make that contribution unless they too attain their own way to freedom and responsibility. Difference is not necessarily inferiority. Painting, music, drama, are recognized as methods of self-expression for which people must be prepared in a way quite other than that appropriate to the Law or the Church, trade or com­merce, industry or agriculture. Why then should not those other forms of educative activity be regarded in a similar light? Terence uttered no apology when he wrote the oft quoted Nihil humanum a me alienum pulo. Humanistic studies for men and women must surely include all that for them lends living a deeper signific­ance and a more abiding joy, whichever of the senses or of the areas m the grey matter of the brain may happen to be the gateways whereby it finds entry. (152-3)

[The full quote is Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto – I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me. (Terrence 163BC)]

His vision draws upon initiatives such as Danish Folk High Schools, Robert Owen’s New Lanark Institute and schools, as well as the educational settlements, huts and community groups he was familiar with.

Religious education

In 1930 Basil Yeaxlee became principal of Westhill College, Birmingham and the family moved a couple of minutes walk away to a house close by Fircroft College (an adult college with connections to Congregationalism) (1020 Bristol Road, Selly Oak). Westhill College had been founded some 23 years before by the Quaker, George Cadbury and an American lumber merchant and advocate of Sunday schools, George Hamilton Archibald. Archibald had been influenced by John Dewey’s vision of progressive schooling, with its focus on activity, exploration and student-centred learning. Their aim in setting up Westhill College was to train Sunday School teachers – largely female – to ensure that ‘ordinary people could receive Christian education’ (Priestley 2007). Archibald became the principal of the College and his initial efforts were aided by young men and women from another nearby Selly Oak college – Woodbrook – who were training to be Quaker missionaries.

By the time that Archibald retired and Yeaxlee arrived in 1930, there were also a number of Froebel students in residence, ‘working for their teaching cer­tificates. and receiving practical train­ing in the kindergarten attached to the college’ (Birmingham Daily Gazette 14/11/1929). This was the start of what would become a major expansion into teacher training for schools. The College also later became a centre for the training of youth workers, community workers and social workers. It retained a strong focus on religious education and concern for progressive education. Yeaxlee’s philosophy of education and emphasis on spiritual development made him an obvious candidate for the principalship.

Whilst at Westhill Yeaxlee developed an interest in psychology and its relationship to religious development in young people. This resulted in The Approach to Religious Education (published in 1931) and later Religion and the Growing Mind (1939). As well as writing, Yeaxlee helped to found the Institute of Christian Education (later absorbed into the Christian Education Movement) and became a member of its Council and Executive Committee, and of its Library and Study and Research Committees (Sladden 1967). He was the editor of the journal Religion in Education from 1935 to 1959 – and the Reviews Editor of its successor Learning for Living up until he died.

Basil Yeaxlee’s work in religious education and learning brought an appointment in the department of education at Oxford University (1935–49), and a fellowship of the British Psychological Society (Marriott 2004). Basil, Annie and Joan moved into a house opposite what is now St Anthony’s College on Woodstock Road – just a 10-minute walk from the Department of Education and 15 minutes from Mansfield College. His work at Oxford was interrupted during the Second World War by a request to join and became Secretary of the Central Advisory Council for Adult Education in HM Forces.

The final years

In recognition of his work, Yeaxlee was first awarded an OBE and later, in 1946 following his time with the Central Advisory Board, he became a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). Retiring in 1949, Basil remained actively involved with Mansfield College, continued to edit Religion in Education, and was involved with other bodies such as the British Council of Churches and the Institute of Christian Education. He and Annie had moved a short distance to Chalfont Road, Oxford. Annie Yeaxlee died in 1955.

Three years later Basil Yeaxlee remarried. His wife was Margaret Tatham (1912-1995), the sister of Tom Tatham the editor of Whittaker’s Almanac from 1950-1980. Basil and Margaret lived at Church Cottage, Islip, Oxfordshire along with Margaret’s mother until she died in 1963. Basil was to die at the cottage four years later on 23 August 1967 and was buried with his first wife at Wolvercote. Margaret later moved back to Kent and died in Tunbridge Wells in 1995.

Basil Yeaxlee had remained active and committed to the development of education and religious understanding. Behind this was, Juliet Sladden (1967: 7) commented:

… an active and lively personality, deeply committed to the Christian faith, and to his belief in the vital importance of sound Christian education, not in the narrow sense of Scripture teaching in school, but in the wide context of the needs and problems of the rising generation set in an increasingly complex and disturbing, yet challenging world situation and seeking, whether consciously or unconsciously, a faith by which to live and the right kind of guidance to help them on their way.


Today Basil Yeaxlee is a largely forgotten figure. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the history of adult education has tended to be written by people not necessarily sympathetic to the liberal Christian perspective he represented (see Field 2007). Second, while Lifelong Education could be described in 1930 as ‘a brightly written, so easy to read, very stimulating, and especially valuable in its practical suggestions’ (F. R. Swan), it now can seem rather quaint when compared to, for example, Lindeman’s The Meaning of Adult Education. Third, I rather suspect that many of those approaching a book with the title ‘Lifelong education’ in the last forty years or so have been looking for something quite specific related to lifelong learning. Like many readers closer to the time of publication, they may have missed the significance of Yeaxlee’s weaving together of lifelong education, informal education, ethics and spirituality. Similarly, the neglect of his work on spiritual development by academics and others is a matter for some sorrow – but at least it did have an unacknowledged impact on policy (see Moulin-Stozek 2020).

Yeaxlee’s books may not be regarded as adult education or lifelong learning or spiritual development ‘classics’, but just under a century later their neglect remains a sign of how badly wrong many concerned with developing educational policy and practice have got things, and how easily they have been sidetracked from their fundamental purpose. We leave the last words to Basil Yeaxlee (and to Robert Peers):

Professor Robert Peers writes in The Schools of England concerning adult education “Its business is to help the mature student to weave the isolated bits of knowledge into the web of his experience, to find for himself a philosophy of life and a harmonious way of living, and to make the best contribution of which he is capable to the common life ” There all the distinctive notes of lifelong education are struck—knowledge, experience, wisdom, harmony, the giving of self in service. All of them are rooted in the practical affairs of ordinary men and women. Each of them reaches out into the infinite. They are meaningless apart from the growth and the activities of the individual personality. They are impossible unless that personality is in perpetual living relationship to the whole—the whole of truth and the whole of life, immediate reality and ultimate. (Yeaxlee 1929: 165).

Further reading and references

Yeaxlee, Basil A. (1925a + b). Spiritual Values in Adult Education. A study of a neglected aspect. Volumes 1 and 2, London: Oxford University Press. Vol 1.: 320 + xiv pages; Vol 2: 455 + xii pages. Volume 1 contains a review of the history of adult education. Opening chapters look at education as a spiritual activity; the relationship of adult education to religion etc. Part two examines the nineteenth-century background; the main movements of the nineteenth century and commentary on theory and practice. Volume 2: looks at the ‘current situation (1900 – 1924); adult education in the churches; adult education in movements akin to the churches; the possibilities of co-operation; the provision and training of leaders and teachers; policy and programme; and finishes with a detailed survey of adult education activities in churches and kindred organisations.

Yeaxlee, Basil A. (1929). Lifelong Education, London: Cassell. 166 pages. The first full statement of lifelong education including a concern for everyday and informal education and learning. Chapters look to growing up; the permanent need for education; student; the process of learning from life; nineteenth-century prophets and pioneers; the adult education movement in the twentieth century; possible developments; emerging problems; and wisdom and understanding. The final chapter ‘Wanting is – what?’ is of particular interest with its exploration of informal education and association. Download the book from The Internet Archive.

Yeaxlee, Basil A. (1939). Religion and the Growing Mind, London: Nisbett and Co. (Republished 1952). Download the book from The Internet Archive.

Other books by Basil Yeaxlee:

Yeaxlee, B. A. (1920). An Educated Nation, with a preface by A.L. Smith, London: Oxford University Press. 80 pages. Download the book from The Internet Archive.

Yeaxlee, Basil A. (1921). Working out the Fisher Act, the human aspect of the continuation schools. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Download the book from The Internet Archive.

Yeaxlee, B. A. (1926). Towards a Full Grown Man, The John Clifford Lecture, London: The Brotherhood Movement.

Yeaxlee, B. A. (1928). The Handbook and Directory of Adult Education 1928-1929, London: British Institute of Adult Education/Deane and Son.

Yeaxlee, B. A. (1931). The approach to religious education in Sunday school and day school, London, Student Christian Movement Press. 143 pages. A short course of lectures delivered in the University of Birmingham during winter 1930-31.

Yeaxlee, B. A. (1933, 1939). Handbook of Christian teaching for use with agreed syllabuses /forewords by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Rev. J. Scott Lidgett, London: Sheldon Press. 533 + xxvii pages.


Brew, J. Macalister (1946). Informal Education. Adventures and reflections. London: Faber.

British Ministry of Reconstruction, Adult Education Committee (1919). Final Report (Chaired by Arthur L. Smith and commonly known as ‘The 1919 Report’) Cmnd 321.  London: HMSO. [Available on Google Books. Click to read].

Cooper, M. (undated). Chivers, also known as Esplanade House School [ Retrieved: September 25, 2020] 

Cross-Durrant, A. (1987). ‘Basil Yeaxlee and the origins of lifelong education’, in P. Jarvis in P. Jarvis (ed.) Twentieth-century thinkers in adult education. Beckenham: Croom Helm.

Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education, New York: The Macmillan Company.

Field, J. (2007). Fellowship, truth and religion in Basil Yeaxlee’s writings on spiritual values in adult education, in R. Koerrenz, E. Meilhammer and K. Schneider (eds.) Wegwiesende Werke zur Erwachsenenbildung, Jena: Edition
Paideia. pp. 287-99.

Harris, F., Kent, F. Houston, and Newlin, W. J. (1922). Service with Fighting Men. An account of the American Young Men’s Christian Associations in the World War (2 volumes), New York: Association Press.

Hull, J. M. (1991). ‘Religion, education and madness. An Inaugural Lecture delivered in the School of Education, University of Birmingham on 26th February 1991’ Educational Review vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 347-361. [Also available at, Education and Madness.html. Accessed July 2, 2007].

Knowles, M. S. (1950). Informal Adult Education. New York: Association Press.

Lindeman, E. C. (1926). (1926) The Meaning of Adult Education. New York: New Republic, republished in 1989 by Oklahoma Research Center for Continuing Professional and Higher Education.

Marriott, S. (2004). ‘‘Yeaxlee, Basil Alfred (1883–1967)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [, accessed 2 July 2007].

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Priestley, J. (2007). ‘The Lumber Merchant and the Chocolate King: The Contributions of George Hamilton Archibald and George Cadbury to the Sunday School Movement in England and Wales’ in S. Orchard and J.H.Y. Briggs (eds.) The Sunday Movement: Studies in the Growth and Decline of Sunday Schools. Milton Keynes: Paternoster. [ Accessed July 2, 2007].

Sladden, J. (1968) Basil Yeaxlee, Learning for Living 5.

Terrence (163BC | 2010) Heauton Timorumenos [The Self Tormentor] can be viewed at the Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge MA.: Harvard University Press. [ Retrieved October 6, 2020]

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White, K. (2020). Finding ‘The Dairy’: Locating the YMCA’s Huts in the Ypres Salient, Katherine’s History Blog [ Retrieved September 24, 2020].

Yapp, A. K. (1918). The Romance of the Red Triangle. London: Hodder and Stoughton. Download from Project Gutenberg:

Yapp, A. (1927). In the Service of Youth. London: Nisbet and Co.

Young Men’s Christian Association (1916). Told in the Huts. The YMCA Gift Book. Contributed by soldiers and war workers. London: Jarrold and Sons. [Edited by Arthur Yapp].

Acknowledgement: The picture of a concert party at a YMCA Hut – Christmas 1917: image processed by Distributed Proofreaders as part of the e-book creation process for Project Gutenberg title I was there. Author: Baldridge, Cryus Leroy (1889-1977). I was there – Project Gutenburg

The picture of the YMCA hut is taken from page 16 of Yapp, A. K. (1918). The romance of the red triangle. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Thanks also to Kathryn White for additional information about Basil Yeaxlee and the YMCA.

How to cite this piece: Smith, M. K. (2007, 2020). Basil Yeaxlee, lifelong learning and informal education, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education. [ Retrieved: insert date].

© Mark K. Smith 1999, 2007, 2020

Last Updated on November 28, 2020 by