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The Saint Mary Magdalene Guides

We once had a Girl Guides troop associated with St Mary Magdalene, which unfortunately has since disbanded. However, here is a very interesting article describing the group.

When Susan was coming up to 7 years of age in 1956, Jean Holderness who lived in Elmer Close and was the Brown Owl of the St. Mary’s Brownies asked Eileen if Susan would like to join .The other nearest company was the 18th (St. Thomas) up at Oakwood but St. Mary’s was nearer so we put her name on the waiting list. Brownie packs were supposed to be restricted to 24 , four teams of six, and although there were some variations it was generally accepted it was best to join when the child was 7 years old.

In due course she attended her first meeting at St. Mary’s Church hall at 5.30pm on a Friday. She enjoyed going and after four weeks we bought a uniform and when she had learnt the Brownie Law, Promise and Motto, she was enrolled with two other little girls at the beginning of a meeting. In front of all the Brownies they said their piece and shook hands with Brown Owl, saluted, and were formally accepted as Brownies. All the meetings were in the Church hall and in those days before Stewardship the Company did not have to pay the Church rental for the hall. Subscriptions were two old pence a week, that is less than 50p a year in modern money and was paid by the children each week. Before the hall was renovated there were a row of cupboards across the bottom of the hall the other end from the stage with tall ones at the side and short ones under the window. Each six was given a name such as Pixies,Gnomes etc and had a small metal box to keep bits and pieces in and the boxes were stored in one of the tall cupboards together with a small green mat and a two piece cardboard brownie toadstool and other general games equipment to run the meetings.

Susan enjoyed her Brownie days and got pleasure like most of the girls from getting badges and ended up with an armful. Most badge tests were taken at George Spicer School on special Saturday afternoons but some like lighting a fire in a grate and cooking had to be done at home. The testers did not make it too easy and often sent the applicants back to try again another time, and this made it more satisfying when they did pass.

Shortly after she joined Jean Holderness moved away and her place was taken by Betty Arkinstall who had moved into a house in the Ridgeway. She, too was popular and the pack continued to thrive. Eileen used to go to the Church to bring Susan home and on cold winter evenings Betty used to tell waiting parents to come into the hall and not wait in the cold. Eileen used to enjoy watching the closing activities and once when she watched the conclusion of a First Aid session she mentioned to Betty that in her Post Office days she had been a qualified First Aider. This prompted Betty to persuade her to come and give a lesson and from there Eileen became a helper and finally a uniformed Guider. When Betty had to leave she found herself Brown Owl and got great satisfaction and pleasure from this It was a lot of work and after about two years when Jane Buckler offered to help as Tawny Owl they made a good team together. They aimed to keep the children’s interest and give a good guiding groundwork ready for when they became guides.They tried to install a sense of duty in the children and although they ran a well ordered meeting the children had lots of high spirits. It was accepted that if Brown Owl raised her right hand order must be restored, and it usually was without the need for a whistle as a last resort.

The Company was supported by a Parent Committee voted in once a year, to help organise funds so that a yearly per head payment could be paid to Guide HQ, to make a yearly donation to the Church and to buy equipment,especially for the Guides and camping. A Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer and committee members were voted in together with somebody willing to go as representative to the Local Association which covered Western Enfield Guide Companies. The biggest fund raiser was the annual jumble sale. All Brownie and Guide parents were asked to collect jumble from friends and neighbours and bring it along to the Church Hall the Friday before the sale. One result of this policy was that the jumble which came in was usually clean and of good quality. The Scouts did door to door collections with trek carts and got a bigger quantity (even pianos!) but some of it was just people wanting to get rid of stuff. Sorting was done on Friday night and tables were arranged round the Hall, often piled high, and chairs were lashed in front to prevent a crush pushing the tables back against the wall. Dealers used to turn up looking for bargains but were usually told to come back on the Saturday. It was found that one dealer liked to get in and look round and if he spotted any small item he fancied he would hide it in ,for example, an old kettle. Then on the day he would offer a guide a penny or two ,knowing that the worthwhile item was inside. On the day of the sale a queue used to form often down to the gate and when the doors opened they came rushing in.At the end there were usually great piles of stuff left over and if you were lucky you found a dealer willing to clear the lot for nothing. They knew the Hall had to be cleared ready for Sunday School the next day so you were in their hands and sometimes had to pay them for their service. Sale profits were about £80 to a £100 and it was always a good way to raise funds but a lot of work for those involved in it.

In December 1963 the Committee were shocked when the Chairwoman, Mrs. Potter, was lost in the Lakonia disaster. For a Christmas treat, the grandfather took Mrs Potter, the two daughters, Julie and Claudie (both Guides) and their young brother together with some older family members on a cruise. The Lakonia was not a new ship and when fire broke out it couldn’t be controlled. When it was decided to abandon ship the old man stayed aboard but the rest of the Potter party were in the first lifeboat away. Unfortunately, as it was being lowered, one of the falls stuck in the pulley block and it was tipped on end, throwing all aboard into the sea. The three children were excellent swimmers but got split up in the water and it was some time before they were rescued by different ships that came to the scene, and only came together later. Sadly, Mrs Potter and the others who had put on heavy clothing to withstand the cold in the lifeboat, were all lost. Another lifeboat was lost at launching and they all had difficulty with the falls. Not everybody went in the boats and the fire continued to rage until the old man and other survivors huddled in the stern of the ship and were finally rescued . In the Enquiry into the loss it was said that in a refit the pulley blocks had been painted too much and a book was published about the disaster called “The Painted Ship”. The amazing sequel to the story was that on the following year the cruise company gave the survivors free tickets for a similar cruise and the old chap took the three children on it. Sadly about 140 people lost their lives in the Lakonia disaster.

One annual function supported and organised by the Local Parent Association was the Western Enfield Guides and Brownies Sports Day in mid summer, held in Merryhills playing fields. In those days, before the Catholic school was built (now demolished and replaced by houses) the fields stretched to Enfield Rd with a gate at that end. The sports were run by Percy Wright, the husband of Dorothy Wright, an Enfield Commissioner. He had done the job for many years and had gathered a large team of helpers some with daughters long since left the guides, and the entire exercise went like clockwork. On the days before a white line marker was borrowed from the Council and lanes etc. were all laid out. A rigid time table was maintained and races were run on top of each other in rapid time and the certificate writers kept at it so that everything was ready for the Prize giving Ceremony without delay. Even so, Percy was for ever trying to cut a few minutes off here and there and it all resulted in a most satisfying day.

Another annual event was the Annual Handicraft Exhibition at George Spicer School organised by the District Association. Enfield had a large number of B.P. guilds at that time and a very experienced team organised all the thousands of exhibits from all Scouts Guides Cubs and Brownies together with certificates for the winners and a programme sold by all groups making a good profit. Eileen used to enter her Brownies for the pack exhibit where they chose a different theme each year. On the year when the popular song was “A mouse lived in a windmill” they made a windmill and lots of mice. It gave the little girls great pleasure and they got a Highly Commended.

Each year the Pack celebrated “Thinking Day” when they were encouraged to think about Brownies all over the world. Each used to bring an old penny polished with metal polish until it shone and all placed in a long line on a large map of the world The money was sent to H.Q. to support overseas units. Another event was a “Penny Fair” when the girls organised lots of side shows all costing a penny to have a go. Rolla penny, guessing the number of marbles in a bottle etc and lots of old favourites with parents and friends coming to join in the fun Another popular fund raising event was a Beetle Drive when the girls invited families and friends and we usually got about a dozen tables. Eileen used to get me to run them and at the beginning I used to explain that we wanted the winners to call out "Beetle" as loud as they could, and for a practice I asked them to call it out as loud as they could altogether. Having done this I would ask the Guiders if it was as loud as earlier Brownies. Of course they would say it wasn’t. When they did it again they raised the roof, I dont know what the neighbours thought. At one stage we could not get the cards so we made our own on the old spirit duplicator, and this did the trick. Beetle drives were always popular.

Also once a year were Brownie Revels, when all Enfield Brownies gathered for the day at Forty Hall or Trent Park. Packs used to contribute things to amuse and one year a parent made about ten hobby horses and another provided a large garden umbrella so that as one stood revolving the umbrella the others with the hobby horses rotated below it. It looked very good and caused a laugh. If the weather was fine Revels was always a good day.

When some of the Guides reached about 15 or 16 they used to like to help with the Brownies at meetings and more especially at outings and other events. Brownie outings were always popular and trips to Whipsnade were always well supported. Taking care of the Brownie age group gave organisers a big head ache and the fear of losing one was always a nightmare. To deal with this Eileen used to seek several helpers, either parents or older Guides so that the pack could be divided into six or seven groups with a reliable person in charge. This took the pressure off the organiser and meant that it was easier to check numbers. At Whipsnade groups could go their own way , to meet up for picnics etc. Going there in a coach meant lots of singsongs, even when they were tired coming home. Once they went to London on public transport but even there, group control on tubes and buses went O.K. Visits to the annual pantomime at the Enfield Technical College caused one of Eileen’s biggest shocks. One of the Brownies had bought a French friend and when the panto was over a count showed the little girl was missing. Luckily she was found at the back of the stage where she had gone to see the actors!

When Eileen started we used to do notices on an old fashioned jelly with duplicating ink. Later we used a spirit duplicator on which we used methylated spirit and this made the notices smell of meths, much to the amusement of the girls. In those days the uniform consisted of a little brown cotton dress, a leather belt, a yellow folded cotton scarf round the neck and folded down to the belt with a little polished brass brownie imp on it. Badges and insignia were then added. Eileen used to encourage leavers to let her have their old uniforms which she would strip and keep in store for newcomers before they became committed.

Each Christmas, Arthur H. Browns, the nursery and shop, used to provide a Christmas tree and the station staff at Enfield Chase station used to set it up for the St. Mary’s Brownies to decorate and then sing carols to the returning commuters in the evenings. They used to hear the trains come in so they knew when to let it rip and get a lot of contributions. It is a sad reflection of those times that some years when there was a fear of I.R.A. activity they were only allowed to put up decorations and fancy parcels were forbidden by the police.

Also at Christmas Eileen used to organise shows to please the parents and they were always well supported. One year they did a dancing display using silk steamers tied to small bamboo canes which were whirled around and looked very professional. Another time they all dressed as toys in a toy shop and some came up with very original home made costumes.

In due course, when Susan was about eleven years old, she joined the Guide Company which was run by Dorothy (always known as Bob or Bobbie to her friends) Hill, who was Captain and Audrey Price who was Lieutenant. They ran a popular and happy Company and tried to instill in the girls a sense of duty and pride in all their endeavours with enough discipline to make the company a credit to the Movement and plenty of activities to keep them interested.

The ceremony of joining the Guides from the Brownies was known as “flying up”. It consisted of the Brownies forming a horseshoe and then the Brownie flying up would shake hands with all her six and then with Brown and Tawnie Owl. Her future Patrol Leader would then come to the horseshoe and take her to the Guides also in horseshoe, to meet Captain and Lieutenant and all her new patrol. At eleven years of age this simple ceremony gave a great sense of achievement.

The Guides took part in Sports Day with the Brownies and also in the annual swimming gala held at Edmonton Baths, which was very popular. The neighbouring company at St Thomas, Oakwood, was much larger and there was always fierce rivalry between them at sports and gala. Like the Brownies there was a large number of badges to be taken, but the greatest attraction of the Guides was the camps which the Company ran each summer. Bob and Audrey were experienced campers and over the years had assimilated, thanks to the fund raising efforts of the Parent Committee, a good range of tents from an old army bell tent to modern patrol tents, sufficient to house the whole company, together with other general camping equipment. Most of it was in good condition and it was always a problem to store it with the limited capacity of the Church Hall. When the Church and Vicarage were built about 1881 the Parish had been semi rural and the Vicar had a pony and trap with a stable at the rear of the Vicarage. This had not been used for years but was still there and the Guides were allowed to store their equipment there along with the Scouts who also had the old hay loft with an outside entrance which they used to access by shinning up a rope, as boys will. It was not all that secure and inclined to be damp which is bad for storing canvas and in the early 1960’s the Church Council agreed the guides could store equipment under the stage if a space could be found. At the rear under the stage there was a semi-basement room with a small window used by the Rovers as a den. There were two small rooms with no windows, very damp and no use for storage, and a corridor to a door opening into an area with steps up to ground level. Under the stage itself on the right there were the remains of the old organ bellows that originally worked the organ. It consisted of a flat base about 4ft by 5ft with a canvas bellows above it fixed to a flat top. When the bellows were pumped up, metal weights were put on it to give the pressure and probably last all through a service. The iron weights consisted of bars about 4ft long and one and a half inches square, were heavy and still stored under the steps. A space opposite was allocated for a Guide store. With the help of one or two Dads we built a partition on a frame work using matching with a door that could be locked and racking designed to take all the tents. It was very small but with careful storage it was a real asset to the Guides and served them for a few years until a hut was built in the garden at the back of the hall.

Lots of preparation went into the planning for the annual camp and in the weeks before all equipment had to be checked. Guides were given a list of things to take and brought them in the week before to be checked over so nothing was left to chance. They were taught how to make effective waterproof bedding rolls with sleeping bags blanket and little pillow all lashed up in the ground sheet, so important to keep bedding dry. Each girl who could collected gadget wood which were pieces of cherry, hazel or similar wood, consisting of straight lengths, curves and pieces with notches or small branches which could be packed and used at camp to made all sorts of camp furniture. I had an allotment right next to the fields with a big hawthorn hedge and I used to cut lots of suitable hawthorn wood with the thorns cut off.

Although Bob and Audrey sometimes went to Guide Camping Sites, they much preferred going to farms and doing their own thing. If they did not already know the farm they had in mind they would reconnoitre beforehand to make sure it was suitable. They liked Buckinghamshire, not too far away but lovely country and lots of suitable farms, where they could get milk and eggs with water not far away and a wooded area for the wood patrol. For transport they hired a furniture van with a flap half way up the back and doors above it, which could be kept open giving lots of light and air. Parents used to help load up and there was always a cheerful farewell with the Guides looking and waving out the back. Such transport arrangements would not be allowed today but then it fitted in very well.

Arriving at the farm, equipment had to be carried to the field that had been booked, not too far from the farm, not under trees, not in damp areas and not where the cows would walk when going for milking. This last point was not always apparent and if you happened to put the tents in a spot which the cows walked through, then they would walk right through the tents, and the only thing to do was move to another spot. Captain used to tell the girls to get a little stick if a cow came their way and wave it in their face and they would give way. Not all the cows were aware of this and an inquisitive cow can be very off putting. A flagpole was rigged and the tents set out in orderly manner and bedding rolls and kit put under cover. The two washing cubicles were set up and the two toilet tents each with a chemical toilet and turf was taken up where the fire would go, with the pieces of turf carefully stacked so that they could be watered during the week and relaid in good condition when camp was over.Two rows of bricks then formed the sides of the grate and metal grids laid across the bricks giving a strong stable base for cooking utensils. A wood patrol would go out and collect wood and build a wood store so that the fire could be kept going when it started, for which dry kindling collected beforehand would be used. Unlike the Scouts who used gas bottles and sometimes portable cookers, the Guides took pride in doing all their cooking on a real fire. A clean galvanised dustbin half full of water was kept on one end of the fire so there was always hot water for cooking, washing etc Sometimes the embers could be rekindled in the morning but usually it had to be relaid and relit, which was not so pleasant first thing on a rainy morning.

When Eileen became a Brownie Guider and Bob and Audrey heard that she was a first-aider, they asked her to go to camp as the First Aider. The first time she did so she found that she really enjoyed the outside environment and from then on was a keen camper. Luckily her first aid knowledge was not put to serious test but there was one incident on a Parents Day that she always remembered. One day of the camp week was nominated as Parents Day when parents and friends were encouraged to come and be fed and entertained by the girls, and it was always popular usually with a game of rounders, Guides against parents to polish things off. On one such day, a Guide who was a much loved only child, got stung by a bee just before the parents arrived. They took her to Eileen and were all startled to see her whole body come up in red blisters, an alarming sight and distressing for the girl. She was obviously allergic to bee stings but before they could get her to hospital the parents arrived and naturally were most concerned. After she was taken to the local hospital they injected an antidote and she quickly returned to normal and came back to camp. However no amount of pleading by the girl, who was having a great time, would persuade the parents to let her stay and insisted she go home with them, which is what she did.

It soon became clear to Eileen that just being First Aider did not amount to much and after volunteering to help with the cooking she became Quartermaster and from then on looked after the food at the camps. She used to carefully plan all the meals in the weeks before camp and prepare lists of groceries, meat etc that could be ordered and delivered to the farm when required. She quickly mastered cooking on an open fire and found the very healthy appetite of the girls, aided no doubt by the open air, was a pleasure to cope with, and many of the old Guides still recall how much they enjoyed camp food. Seconds were always popular and even sausages left over had to be cut up so that every girl got a piece.

Wet weather was always a possibility at camp, and at night the Guiders used to go round after lights out to loosen the guy lines and check they were secure, so that the girls kept dry. At one camp the local village boys crept in after dark and let a lot of guy lines down, causing pandemonium, but it was only a silly prank and no real harm was down. During the day girls were discouraged from running around in bare feet and it was a rule that wellies be worn in wet weather.

A storm shelter was rigged over and round the fire which helped to keep a lot of rain off.

At Guide Camp the minimum of equipment was used, and Guides and Guiders slept in their sleeping bags on a ground sheet and no camp beds were allowed. There were no tables and chairs so meals were in a circle, the girls sitting on ground sheets and it was another rule that nobody walked across the centre. Gadget wood was used for all sorts of things and a lot of ingenuity was shown giving a lot of pleasure.

As Quartermaster, Eileen used to prepare the meals using a few of the girls each day on a rota basis with a previously thought out menu. Healthy young girls of that age group have big appetites and, for example, porridge made with milk was a good start to the day. Pot roasts prepared on an open fire with a good sized joint from the local butcher, smelt delicious and sausages and bacon always filled the bill. Eileen always recalled one rice pudding where she overdid the rice and had to keep adding milk, resulting in a great big pot of hot rice, but it really tasted lovely and it all went.

At the end of camp the aim was to leave the site as they found it. Turfs were replaced and watered on the fire site and all the Guides stretched in a long line and walked the length of the field picking up the smallest pieces of rubbish. The flag was taken down with a little ceremony and camp was over for another year. If the tents were wet they had to be dried in the Church Hall before stowing them away and all the utensils had to be cleaned and checked ready for next year.

In 1970 Calvert Appleby of the St. Mary’s Drama Group agreed to produce a type of Gang Show using all the Guide and Scout Groups and called it “Great to be Young” It took place on two nights in April and was well supported and a great success.One of the Acts was “The Lighthouse Keepers Daughter” in which Rob played the Keeper and in another Eileen played an old Scottish lady and had to do the accent. With no acting skills at all she was a real trooper to go through with it.

In the early 1960’s the Church went in for Stewardship which it hoped would do away with Bazaars etc. and Wally Gutteridge, Church organist and member of the Church Council suggested the Guides and Scouts do a combined Christmas Bazaar. For the first time Guide and Scout Parent Groups came together, a Committee was formed and after a lot of work it was held early one December and was a big success and money maker. Peter Jones, the actor, opened the event and the Rovers transformed their den under the stage into a Father Christmas Cave complete with a train lay out to please all boys, young and old. It was repeated on following years and the friendships made at the Combined Bazaar Committee went on for many years.

Eileen retired in the early 1980’s and Bob and Audrey a few years later. It is sad to realise how difficult it has become to find volunteers willing to give up their spare time to this worth while activity for young people. Sadly after a few years, the “14th” folded and has never been restated.

Eileen Brown