The St Mary Magdalene Scouts

The Scouts are still going strong and here is a piece of history about their aquisition of a Scout Hall.
The Scout Hut

(These notes were written as a tribute to Phil Baker, who first took out a Scout Warrant with the 19th in 1949,and then, when the Rev. Boylette Stewart left, became G.S.L from 1958 until he was 65. For many years it was Phil’s ambition that the boys should have an Headquarters of their own,and the present Scout Hut stands as a reminder to the efforts put in by Phil, scouters, parents and friends.)

Prior to 1966, the Scout Group based all their activities on the Church Hall. There were sometimes two Cub packs, a large Scout troop followed by a Senior Scout troop and then a flourishing Rover crew. Camping and work with ropes, pulleys and poles to build aerial ropeways and towers etc. always played a large part of the Groups programme, and this involved having a lot of equipment and a place to store it. The old vicarage, next door to the Church, which was built in the early 1880’s, included a stable at the back so that the Vicar could go round his parish in a pony and trap. In later years this stable area was mostly given over to the Scouts and Guides for storage, but the Scout group had the advantage of using the hay loft with an outside access and hoist. This gave the young lads plenty of opportunity to shin up a rope outside, rather than use the inside ladder and meant that the hayloft was exclusively scout territory. The Rovers also had the room at the back of and underneath the stage in the hall, and although it was dark and damp, it was all they had as a place of their own. Being below ground level, the noise from many a boisterous evening was never heard by the nearby houses, nor fortunately by the Vicar.

The running of the Group and maintenance of equipment meant a constant need for funds and the Scout Parent Committee had a regular programme of activities to keep the money coming in. The Committee met monthly mostly in members homes and planned monthly whist drives in the Church Hall, bring and buys, and occasionally gang shows (Phil was always keen on these) together with the occasional summer fetes held in the garden of the house belonging to Mr Arnold, of MK Electrics which is now Cheshire Homes. Money mainly came from jumble sales held two or three times a year in the Church Hall. The street collections for these was done by the boys using parents cars or trek cart, which most troops had in those days. The 19th trek cart was famous and envied by other troops because it had pneumatic tyres constructed on an old car axle. The amount of stuff collected was amazing and even pianos turned up. The tables were piled high and chairs were lashed in front to try and stop the crush on the sellers when the doors opened - it was like manning trenches!

Ideas to make money for a Headquarters, if the opportunity arose,were always sought after, but a new idea came along in the early 1960’s, when the Church introduced a Stewardship scheme, and no longer held a Christmas Bazaar. Wally Gutteridge, chairman of the Parent Committee and Church organist, suggested that it was a fine chance for the Scouts and Guides to get together and run a joint Christmas Bazaar and share whatever profits made. Up to that time there had never been any links between the Scouts and Guides but a joint Bazaar committee was formed and successfully put on the first of several such events.

The actor Peter Jones came along to open the first event, many local firms donated items for sale or raffle, and the Rovers transformed their den into Father Christmas’ cave, complete with Santa himself and an electric train layout to delight boys and dads. It was all a complete success and many of the friendships made on this joint committee survive to this day.The extra money from these events were welcomed by the Scouts but in itself did not bring the Headquarters any nearer. The opportunity to seriously consider this came from a completely different source.

At the beginning of the War, a half battery of four heavy 4.5 anti aircraft guns were installed on the hill at the back of where the Hut now stands, complete with permanent emplacements, control rooms, shelters, ammunition stores, etc. and some 300 yards away a complete army camp of standard army huts, each surrounded by a five foot blast wall,and all linked by a well laid road network. It was a large camp and for some of the time Mary Churchill served there and Winston himself visited the camp in this period. At the end of the War the guns were removed but the huts were all linked together with wooden corridors and changed into an Army record office. By the early 1960’s a permanent building was provided in Whetstone so the entire Camp was closed and the huts put up for sale by auction. The Group heard about this and it was decided to take the plunge and bid at the auction. The Lot chosen was a 72 foot hut, including about 50 foot of corridor, where the Hut had recently had its asbestos roof renewed and was in excellent condition. To everyone’s delight the lot was knocked down to the 19th for less than £300 and suddenly Phil's dream became a reality and it was all systems go. There were immediately two major problems, first there was no where to put it, and secondly, the Hut and corridor had to be dismantled and off site in one month.

The first problem was solved by the Rifle Club, fortuitously located right next to the army camp, who said that the Group could store all the sections etc. on the north of their ground and agreed that during this operation the chain link fencing could be taken down to give access. This generous act by the Rifle Club made the whole exercise possible and the 19th Group should always be grateful for their understanding help.

The solution to the second problem depended on the response of practical help from the Group and Mr. Whitman of Parkside Farm who often allowed week end camps on his land and whose son was in the Troop, offered to help with his tractor and trailer and in this way solved the transportation difficulties. For the next few weeks it was a demolition site with bands of enthusiastic and mostly inexperienced workers of all age groups cheerfully taking the building down. The roof came off first and finished up as a formidable heap of sheeting. Then came the sections of the hut leaving as many units such as trusses, etc. as complete as possible. The corridor was not so easily sectionalised but everything came to bits and resulted in heaps of sections trusses and thousands of feet of matching, which had formed the inside of the corridor. The tongued and grooved floor had to be de-nailed, then the four by two joists, and finally the nine by three main timbers. The Lot also contained about 15 heavy radiators and pipes all in good condition, and a dealer paid £80 for these on site. Finally it was all transported to the Rifle Club, taking considerably more than one month but without paying any penalty. The next stage was to find a permanent site to erect the Hut and for this the Group needed something nearby.

Up to the mid 1930’s a large house called Chase Cottage, or sometimes just the Chase, had stood to the north of Enfield Road, roughly opposite where Bincote road is today. The estate and house which had employed several staff, went up for sale in the mid thirties, and was purchased by Wimpey. After demolition, the new estate was laid out (Trentwood Side, Elmer Close, Grafton Road and the service roads alongside Enfield Road), but Wimpey’s found it difficult to incorporate the Merryhills brook, which ran through the north east corner of the ground. At that time, before the Green Belt, it was planned that Trentwood Side would continue northeastwards and join up with the Ridgeway, so building land seemed to be plentiful, and Wimpey’s came to agreement with the Council that houses in Elmer Close, Grafton Road and some of Enfield Road would have smaller gardens than normal at that time and, in return, that the ground by the brook would be allocated as an open space owned by the Council. The coming of the Second World War, changed the plans for this space and it was changed into allotments. After the War the Green Belt Policy ensured that the allotments continued and still exist today. It was a piece of this land the Group would like but the Council were unhelpful. The local M.P. at that time was Ian Mcleod, whose daughter had been in the guides at St Mary’s, and the Group asked for his help. He took up the case and as a direct result the Council allocated the site, which still exists, with a peppercorn rent (in those days - a lot different today!)

Plans were drawn up for a 60 ft. (five sections) hut with a small side extension incorporating kitchen, toilet and workroom, and in due course submitted and approved by the Council, and it was all systems go again.

The first job was to transport the huge pile of sections and timbers, where it had been stacked for many months, to the new site and to make it secure. Some old telegraph poles were obtained, gates were made and fitted, and chestnut paling tipped with barbed wire put round the site, ready for construction to start.

The original building had been supported by low walls at the side and brick piers in the middle, on which rested the main 9 by 3 beams on which the 4 by 2 joists were laid. It was decided that the new building would be built entirely on brick piers, so some additional 9 by 3 timbers were obtained from the demolition of a church at Crouch Hill, Hornsey. The foundations for the brick piers proved to be very hard as the ground is all gravel, and were put in by Mr Newby of Newby Brothers the builders, whose son was in the troop. The 9 by 3 timbers were then laid length wise and the joists nailed into place. The speed with which this was done, as with all the work, depended on the number of volunteers who turned up at weekends, and occasionally summer evenings. It took a long time for all the tongued and grooved floorboards to be nailed in place,giving a boarded rectangle on which the ends and sides would stand.

The north end of the hut was then put together, using the base as a platform, and the sides and trusses checked and repaired where necessary. Everything was got ready for construction and one of the cub’s father, who had been in the Royal Engineers and had experience of erecting what was, after all, a standard Army hut, agreed to oversee the actual construction.

On a weekend in 1964 a large group of volunteers gathered and using the willow tree at the north of the site as a derrick the first end section was hoisted upright and the first two side sections bolted into place with the trusses already in position. By the end of the weekend the sides and ends of the hut were in position. The purloins and rafters were erected in the following weeks and the roof was ready for the asbestos sheeting. The committee decided to have this done professionally, and when this was done the main fabric was complete. There then followed a long period of making good the interior and exterior, but the work was no longer handicapped by the weather and steady progress was made. Phil, who worked for the North Met, had a 2 phase supply laid on, and a water supply was run inside the old pipe that ran up the camp road. The camp sewer picked up the main sewer that runs along the valley at the back of the camp, so it was decided to have a cesspit put in professionally.

Slowly the hut came together and in October 1966 it was officially opened by Ian Mcleod who had helped to get the site from the Council. At a late stage it was realised that Mrs Mcleod had to use a wheelchair and the concrete ramp up to the main entrance was laid just in time, It was a very happy evening, very well attended, with a great feeling of pride and satisfaction.

At that time before the introduction of the Scout Fellowship, many groups had their own associated B.P. Guilds and Enfield, as a district, had more Guilds than anywhere in the country. As a result of the success of the building of the hut, the Group was approached by the District and asked to form a Guild so that the friendships which had been made could be cemented. It was agreed to do this and the 19th Enfield B.P. Guild was formed. From then on for many years maintenance and work on the hut could be overseen by the Guild.

The Rovers then built their own den in the hut and later the Guild built a tent store. In 1974 they built a committee room linked to the main hut with partitions that could be taken down if necessary to make one large hall. Most Sunday mornings a small group did maintenance and odd jobs to keep the place running. The friendly atmosphere made possible many socials and dances, usually a sell out.

In the 35 years of its existence the Hut has been the home of countless beavers, cubs and scouts, and has been the ideal venue for hundreds of fund raising activities. Phil's dream has been truly realised over the years.

Jack Brown