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.

Basil Yeaxlee, lifelong learning and informal education. A key figure in the development of adult education, Yeaxlee wrote the first book on lifelong education. He also made a significant contribution to our appreciation of the process of religious education.

Contents: introduction and life ·Basil Yeaxlee and lifelong education · Basil Yeaxlee, associational life and informal education · conclusion · further reading and references · how to cite this piece

Basil Alfred Yeaxlee (1883–1967) was born and brought up in Southampton. He was the eldest son of Alfred Yeaxlee, a pastry cook and confectioner, and his wife, Lila Lavinia Read (Marriot 2004). Little or nothing is known of his early years other than he went to Smyth’s school, Southsea, and then, from 1905 to 1909, to Oxford University (Mansfield College). He then went on to New College, London, to prepare for the Congregational ministry (The Times, 24 Aug 1967). Afterwards Basil Yeaxlee served in Bootle as an assistant Congregational minister and, in 1912, became an educational assistant to the London Missionary Society. He was also the editor to the United Council for Missionary Education. A year later he married Annie Julie Mary Leadbeater (who died in 1955). They had two daughters (Marriott 2004).

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 run by the YMCA. The huts were places where soldiers could get a hot drink and food – and where they 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) (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).

Much of the success of the huts lay in the fact that things were not 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 has 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 post cased. 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)

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’.

Basil Yeaxlee’s achievements and reputation was 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 include 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 a substantial development in adult education and the devotion of public funds to it.

The YMCA Education Committee became the YMCA Universities Committee in 1918 as the involvement in army education began to decline. In 1919/1920 Basil Yeaxlee moved on to be joint secretary to the newly formed Educational Settlements Association (ESA – see educational settlements). 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. Basil 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). Basil Yeaxlee was, at the time, undertaking a significant amount of research for his PhD, and had refocused his areas of interest. His doctoral thesis, published as Spiritual Values in Adult Education, 1925) examined the place of 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.

Basil Yeaxlee’s place in the canon of adult education was achieved, however, through the publication in 1929 of Lifelong Education. This book, according to Angela Cross-Durrant (1987: 39), ‘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’.

In 1930 Basil Yeaxlee became principal of Westhill College, Birmingham. The College, had been founded some 23 years before by George Cadbury and American George Hamilton Archibald. Their aim was, initially, to train Sunday School leaders; to ensure that ‘ordinary people could receive Christian education (Priestley 2007). The College developed during the 1920s and 1930s with courses in youth service and later community work. Whilst at Westhill he developed his 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). His work in this area brought an appointment in the department of education at Oxford University (1935–49), and a fellowship of the British Psychological Society (Marriott 2004). Whilst at Oxford (and during the Second World War) Basil Yeaxlee joined the central advisory council for adult education as secretary.

Yeaxlee retired in 1949 – but he remained involved with Mansfield College, and other bodies such as the British Council of Churches and the Institute of Christian Education. His wife died in 1955, Three years later he married Margaret Tatham. He died at home (Church Cottage, Islip, Oxfordshire) on 23 August 1967 (Marriott 2004).

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Further reading and references

Yeaxlee, Basil A. (1925) 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 is 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 a 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.

Yeaxlee, Basil A. (1939) Religion and the Growing Mind, London: Nisbett and Co. (Republished 1952).

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

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 the 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.


British Ministry of Reconstruction, Adult Education Committee (1919) Final Report (Chaired by Arthur L. Smith and commonly known as ‘The 1919 Report’) Cmnd 321 (1919), London: HMSO.

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.

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]

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

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]

Thomas, J. E. and Elsey, B. (eds.) (1985) International biography of adult education. Nottingham: University of Nottingham.

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.

Acknowledgement: The picture of a concert party at a 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.

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

© Mark K. Smith 1999, 2007.

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