A brief history of the 28th Croydon Scout Group
As we have recently celebrated our 60th (Diamond) Anniversary I thought it would be timely to write a brief history of the Group. One day, when time allows, perhaps I will get around to writing a more concise history. Having been involved in the Group since I joined as a Cub some 44 years ago, I am writing this so that you too can understand and share in the knowledge of how we got to where we are today, i.e a very large, successful and thriving Group, one of the largest in our Croydon District and quite possibly one of the largest catholic Groups in the country.
Records show that, in fact, the present 28th Croydon are not the first Group to hold that name. We are actually the third! The very first 28th Croydon was in fact attached to a College for the Blind in Upper Norwood and was registered in September 1928. Their Group Scout Master was a W J Merridan. The Group was evacuated to Shrewsbury during the second world war and was re-registered as the 18th Shrewsbury in April 1947. The second 28th Croydon was apparently based in Sandown Road, SouthNorwood, but it appears to only have had a very short existence, sometime between 1947 and 1951.
60 years young!
The present 28th Croydon Scout Group was formed (registered) on 23rd May 1951, and sponsored by Fr John McKenna. Prior to 1951, the 58th Croydon (St Chads) met in Addiscombe, as their church hall had suffered bomb damage in the war and so had no meeting place. Their Group Scout Master (GSM) was the well known Mr G S Kibble, (known to everyone as “Kim”), who conducted the choir of many Croydon Scout Shows. In 1951, the 58th moved back to South and Upper Norwood Division and ceased to use the church hall which was located next to our church which formerly stood at the corner of Lower Addiscombe Road and Brockenhurst Road, where Sidda House now stands.
As many members of the 58th were from Addiscombe and in order to keep a catholic Scout Group in the area a new Group was formed with Mr R Collins as Scout Master and Mr D McCarthy as Cub Master, together with 15 wolf Cubs and 15 Scouts. The first Group Scout Master was Mr Reg Darnley who joined the Group in 1957 and who kept the Group going for several years despite growing numbers of boys and very few leaders. During these early years, summer camps were held at Wonersh (1953), Worth Priory (1955) and Shamley Green (1956).
An extract from the Eastern Croydon Division Scouting Jubilee Handbook in 1957 states, ”it is only a small Group but the scouts are keen and full of enthusiasm, likewise the cubs. Although on the young side, the troop has entered the camping competition most years and gained experience from this, taking 2nd place this year. It is hoped that eventually more help will be forthcoming as far as Scouters are concerned and that a Senior Troop will be started plus – one never knows – a Rover Crew.
Cubs and Scouts outside new Church Hall, 1958. Mr Reg Darnley (GSM) far right.
By 1959, there were 27 wolf cubs, 17 scouts but only 2 leaders running the Group.
The early 1960’s saw summer camps with the 58th at Oxford in 1962 and the first camp abroad in Luxembourg from 26th August to 2nd September 1963. The party consisted of 19 scouts, 3 senior scouts, and was led by their Scout Master Tom Knight, assisted by E. Healy. In the handbook that was produced for the camp, Group Scout Master Reg Darnley wrote “ For the first time, the royal blue scarf with the yellow tip will be seen outside the shores of Great Britain. For most boys, going abroad will be no novelty but it will be the first time as scouts. I have no doubts concerning the standards which will be maintained, It will be of the highest”. I have been unable to find out anything about the cost of this first camp abroad but it would be interesting to find out to see how it compares to today’s costs.
By 1964 there were 28 Wolf Cubs, 25 Scouts and 8 senior Scouts, a total of 61 boys, but only 4 leaders with Mr Tom Knight as Group Scout Master and the Group held it first Scout Gang Show in the church hall. The following year Fr Patrick Best arrived in Addiscombe as assistant priest to Fr John McKenna and he very soon took a keen and active interest in the Group, becoming Group Scout Leader in 1966.Over the next few years they set about building up the Group Leadership team, recruiting young, youthful and energetic leaders such as Mr David Freegard, Mrs Kathleen Gunner and Miss Bernadette Gorman (now Mrs Bernadette Moynihan). The Group’s own Senior Scout Section (for 15 to 18 year olds) was formed and the following year (1966) saw the Senior Scout summer camp at Murrisk, CoMayo,Irelandas well as a Group Show in our church hall (Babes in the Wood) with the Guides from our parish.
The year of 1967 could easily be said to be a very eventful and notable year in the history of the Group. Apart from it being the year that I joined the Group as a Cub (ha ha), there really were 4 very notable events that year. Firstly, Robin Thompson, Senior Scout, became the first member of the Group to gain the Queen’s Scout Award, the highest award in Scouting and the presentation took place in the church hall on Friday 19th May. Secondly, in July that year, the Group relocated to its current premises in Craven Road, (more about that below). Thirdly, Fr Pat Best (GSL) and Dave Freegard (Scout Leader) led a party of 12 Scouts and 7 Senior Scouts, to Solligarde in Norway for Summer camp from 8th to 23 August. Finally in October that year, our 2nd Cub Pack was opened and after careful consideration it was decided to give the names of Bede and Becket to the 2 Packs after the two saints.
Our Headquarters at Craven Road
So how did we end up at Craven Road, where we have now been for the past 44 years? And why is there a Scout Headquarters there anyway, tucked away between the houses, with no vehicle access?
The houses in Craven Road and the surrounding roads, were built in the early 1920’s. The plot of land where we now reside was originally a tennis court (with kitchen and changing rooms) before the 2nd world war. Whether this facility was for residents or whether it was a private tennis club we don’t know.
What we do know is that the tennis court fell into disrepair probably during wartime due to lack of use and then soon after the war the site was acquired by the Boy Scouts Association (now Scout Association) and occupied by the 66th Croydon Sea Scouts from 1948 onwards. The meeting hall was a Nissen Hut which was located on the concrete area next to where our present building stands. The hut was made of black corrugated metal sheeting and must have been an eyesore for the neighbours. The 66th Croydon Sea Scout Group closed in 1966 and the land and premises was taken back by the Boy Scout Association.
At this time, our Group were meeting at the Church Hall but with numbers rising and increasing demands on the use of the church halls, Fr Best and the Group Committee obtained permission to take over the site in Craven Road. The first Cub meeting was held there on Monday 3rd July 1967 and the first Scout meeting the following Friday. In his letter to Parents announcing the move to Craven Rd, Fr Best wrote “This is a great step forward in the history of the Group and one, which I feel sure, will be of great benefit to it”.
Fundraising to replace the Nissen Hut
Although the hut was in a very poor state of repair when we took possession, much work was done by a small team of parents and leaders to make it “habitable”, with funds being raised through jumble sales, the sale of Christmas cards, and the annual Group Dinner in the Church Hall, for which in October 1967, the cost was set at 12/6d or £1 per couple!
It soon became clear that the old Nissen Hut was reaching the end of its life and that a new Headquarters would soon be required. In 1971 Planning permission was sought and obtained for a new much larger building to be built alongside the old hut. A building fund was set up to raise the £12,000 required. The main source of income was to be from collecting wastepaper and on Saturday 20th March 1971 a Grand Sponsored Paperchase was held. Cubs, Scouts, Brownies, Guides, Leaders and Helpers were asked to collect wastepaper from anyone they could in the preceding weeks and then bring it along to the headquarters on that Saturday to be weighed and then taken away by lorry.
The target was to collect 10 tons of wastepaper that day but in fact 14 tons were collected! This story made the front page of the Croydon Advertiser dated 26th March 1971. Collecting wastepaper in those days was very profitable and at it’s peak we were getting in the region of £35 to £40 per ton. Further waste paper collections were held over the next couple of years, along with jumble sales to raise money and in 1973, work finally commenced on the new building. The base and drainage was laid and the shell of the building was erected in spring of 1973 with all the materials (steel frame and precast concrete sections) being brought in via the Compton Road entrance!
In fact it is probably worth noting that most of the money for the new HQ building was raised through the collection of wastepaper. The Group accounts for 1974/75 show that £1025 was received in income from this scheme alone! In today’s money that’s actually equivalent to £9,112 !! A staggering amount by any means.
The new HQ opens in June 1974
It would be another 15 months before the new building was officially opened as further funds were raised as it needed to be fitted out inside. Largely due to the efforts of Dave Freegard and a very small team of helpers this work progressed slowly. Even though not completely finished inside, the new Headquarters was officially opened by Fr John McKenna, our Parish Priest and Sponsoring Authority, on Saturday 1st June 1974.
Mass was concelebrated inside a very packed main hall to mark the occasion. There is a plaque on the wall just inside the main door to commemorate this event. The old nissen hut was eventually demolished in 1975 as one of the conditions of the planning consent. All that remains of it today is the concrete base which you see in front of you as you enter our gate.
Whilst all this work was going on, the uniformed side of the Group continued to function. The Group celebrated it’s 21st birthday with a Thanksgiving Mass on Whit Sunday, 21st May 1972, with photographs of each of the Sections being taken in the church garden afterwards. The following weekend, Group Camp (Camp 21) was held. The Scout’s summer camp that year was held on Brownsea Island inPoole Harbour on the site of BP’s experimental camp that started the scout movement back in 1907. Further Group Camps were held every year from 1974 onwards in various parts of Surrey, Kent and Sussex with some notable very hot ones (Cernes Farm 1978) and equally very wet ones (Broadstone Warren 1979). We celebrated the Queens Silver Jubilee in 1977 with a 4 day Group Camp at Rusper inWest Sussex. The cost of our weekend Group Camp (CampSaxon) in 1974 at Horsham was £4.50 per person!
The Group in 1972 on it’s 21st Birthday. Photo taken in church garden.
Fr Best Departs
After 7 years as GSL, Fr Best was appointed Parish Priest at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppy in 1973 and so sadly left the Group. He was later appointed our first Group President. It was through Fr Best’s enthusiasm, determination and energy that the Group developed so successfully during this time under his leadership and the part he played in helping to get the Group to where it is today is very worthy of mention.
By the time Fr Best left the Group it had more than doubled in size, he had recruited more leaders to run the sections, he had set up a Group Committee and we had our own Headquarters.
The 70’s & 80’s
Following Fr Best would be a hard act to follow but under Dave Freegard as GSL the Group continued to flourish. The Group celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1976, again with a special Mass of Thanksgiving, Section photographs and Group Camp at Outwood inSurrey. At this time the Group had 48 Cubs, 30 Scouts, 7 Venture Scouts, 8 Leaders and 3 Instructors making a total of 96 members During the 1980’s Group Camps were held every year at the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. The camp in 1980 was at Outwood inSurrey and cost £7.00 for the weekend.
Subsequent Group camps took place at Crowhurst, Four Elms, Chiddingstone Hoath and West Humble near Dorking. It is worth noting that most venues for Group Camps back in the 1970’s and 80’s were farmer’s fields, with water being available from an outside tap at the farmhouse! This also meant of course that latrines had to be dug, and then filled in afterwards! A far cry from the facilities that we use at many campsites today!!
In 1983 the Group broke new ground by becoming the first Group in the Eastern Croydon District to open a Beaver Scout Colony for 6 to 8 year olds. This was run by Maria Beasley (Rusty) and Angela Bovingdon (Tic Tac)and the first meeting was held on Friday 17th June 1983. The Colony soon filled up which showed that the younger boys were keen to join the Scout movement. The addition of the Beaver Colony brought the Group’s membership total up to 112 in 1985.
During the 1970’s and up to the mid 1980’s the main source of income for the Group was from collecting wastepaper, jumble sales and the sale of Christmas cards and gifts from the Web Ivory catalogue. We also had the occasional race night and barn dance and family disco. All these events were organised the Group Executive Committee, a very small band of parents who worked tirelessly to raise funds for the Group.
Another big fundraiser that is worth mentioning is the Easter Fayre that was held in our church hall in 1977. Over £700 was raised in one afternoon and the proceeds were put towards the purchase of a minibus to replace the old white Ford Transit van that had rusted to pieces! A Commer Bus was purchased which had bench seats down each side in the back. These could be folded back when not transporting people to make more room for equipment. You could even stand up inside the back so there was plenty of space.
The Green Goddess
The bus soon became affectionately known as “The Green Goddess” due to its “ministry green” colour. Even though the idea of a complete respray to smarten it up was talked about this was never done! The Green Goddess served the needs of the Group very well for several years despite having numerous mechanical problems. These included a complete engine rebuild the week before the Venture Unit Summer expedition to the Yorkshire Dales led by Andy Parr (Unit Leader) in 1980. I believe it took 19 hours to get there and 17 hours to get back as the bus broke down several times on the way.
Despite these problems the Green Goddess provided the Group with another fundraising initiative which was Marquee Hire. The Group owned some ex-army (brown) marquees which were hired out for school fetes and other events during the summer months. For several years we had “regular bookings” and many summer evenings were spent out and about erecting and then dismantling the marquees, and enjoying a pint or two at local hostelries afterwards!
During the early part of 1984 the Group suffered two major setbacks. Firstly the Green Goddess was stolen and later found burnt out on the old South Norwood sewage farm site, nowSouthNorwoodCountryPark. The bus was a total write off. Then 2 months later we had a fire at the Headquarters which badly damaged the outbuildings that housed our collected wastepaper plus the toilet. (There were no toilets inside the main building at that time.) Both losses were subject of insurance claims which took some time to settle but in the mean time the Group carried on. Incidently, the Group has not owned another van or minibus since that time.
Andy Parr – carrying out roadside repairs The remains of the Green Goddess after
to the Green Goddess (circa 1981) being stolen and found burnt out (1984)
In 1989, Paul Moynihan became GSL following the resignation of Dave Freegard. Dave had been GSL for some 16 years but had been actively involved in the Group as a leader for some 24 years. Under Paul’s leadership, improvements were made to the Headquarters in the early 1990’s with the conversion of the old equipment store into toilets and storage facilities. Two garages were also built to house the Group’s camping equipment. This building project ran into all sorts of problems and setbacks but it was eventually completed much to the relief of all concerned! The Group celebrated it’s 40th birthday in 1991 with a Group Dinner in the Church Hall which was attended by many former members.
The Group continued to grow in size and by the mid 90’s we had around 123 members. When in 1997 it was realised that the main hall floor covering was in urgent need of replacing, Geoff Huntingdon, Group Chairman, came up with the idea of a Sponsored Bike Ride from John O’Groats to Lands End – on exercise bikes. This event took place in the centre of Croydon outside the entrance to the Whitgift Centre on a warm spring-like Saturday in mid February! Buckets were shaken and money collected from passers by whilst the beavers, cubs and scouts pedalled away on the bikes on a stage specially set up for the event. Together with the sponsorship money, the total sum raised that weekend was £3,200. Quite an achievement! The following year a second bike ride was organised along the same lines to raise money for renewing the roof covering on the main building and again it was successful raising £1800 towards the cost.
The turn of the millennium saw further major refurbishment work to the Headquarters (central heating, new ceilings, new kitchen, complete redecoration) thanks to a lottery grant and a very generous donation from the Parish. The Group also attended the District Millenium Camp at Coombe Farm over a very wet May Bank Holiday weekend. It was certainly a memorable weekend – a case of mud, mud, glorious mud!! We celebrated our 50th Anniversary with a Group Camp at Blackland Farm in 2001 and a celebration dinner at Shirley Park Golf Club attended by current and former members .The Scouting Centenary Camp in May 2007, again a District organised one, at Coombe Lodge Playing Field in Croydon will also be remembered for the extremes weather, with gale force winds, rain and low temperatures causing many Groups to pack up early including ourselves. Is there a pattern emerging here somewhere?
Recent years have seen the Group continue to grow with the addition of our second Beaver Colony in 2002 and then last year, 2010, our second Scout Troop. Group membership now stands at around 175 in total, comprising of 150 young people and 25 leaders and helpers. Our Headquarters is now used on every night of the week for section meetings and quite often there is some Scouting activity going on there at the weekends as well.
The Group at 60th Anniversary Camp, May 2011 at Blackland Farm – 60 Years Young!
The Group has come a long way in its 60 years. it is very different now to what it was back in 1951. The reason why we are still here today is that so many people have given their time and support so generously for the benefit of our young people over the past 60 years. Thanks to you all. Long may it continue.
Group Scout Leader