Written by Don Gibbons in 2001 Some of the names mentioned are no longer with us including Don who sadly passed away in 2016 and he sadly never got round to updating this piece.
The 201st. North London Group was founded in 1921, at St.Judes Church in Mildmay Grove, Islington as a Cub Pack under the guidance of a certain Alice BUGG and a Miss DAVIES.
Two of the original Cubs are still around – Jim HARVEY, who was for many years a successful ‘Akela’ of the Cub Pack, and Chris WILKINS who serves the Group as Treasurer to this day!
The Group continued to thrive and by the 1930’s a Scout Group had been formed led by the Scout Leader – Les NORTON ably assisted by his brother Eric and Fred HAYDEN. There were three Patrols – Bulldogs, whose Patrol Leader was Syd THOMPSON, the Seagulls led by Tommy CASTLE and the Woodpigeons under the guidance of Eddie PRESSLEY. Incidentally, Syd THOMPSON is still alive down in Boscombe. Around 1937 because so many of the activities involved water and boating, the decision was made to change to a Sea Scout Group. A ‘Jollyboat’ was purchased and some of the lads made two kayaks out of wood and canvas.
Numbers continued to increase and another Patrol was formed with Jim HARVEY as the P.L. and in order to cater for some of the older members of the Troop a ‘Senior’ Patrol was formed with ‘Dusty’ MILLER, Cliff RANKIN and Albert BOWLES as the original members. There were also new Patrol Leaders ~ Frank MUNNS took over the Bulldogs, Don GIBBONS the Wood pigeons and Albert FULLER the Seagulls All the usual Scouting activities were carried out. We had an excellent name in the District for all the sporting events and the football team played regularly on a Saturday afternoon on Hackney Marshes. There were also a number of social events organised – The Lord Mayors Banquet and various Concerts which we took round the area and there was even a Three Ring Circus!
The earliest camp I can recall was at Arkley when the equipment was taken to the site by Harveys lorry and the rest took the tram to High Barnet and walked the rest of the way! Another favourite venue was Bridge House, Twyford, the home of Col. H.E.VEREY where we were allowed to use a piece of land between two tributaries of the River
Loddon familiarly known as ‘The Peninsular’. Generations of boys became familiar with this idyllic spot where canoeing, punting and rafting were favourite pastimes and who will ever forget taking part in the Battle of the Loddon! We had to give up the site when the estate was sold some years backs when the old Colonel died. There have always been memorable Summer camps -Those at Twyford, Isle of Wight and even more exciting a trip to Switzerland, and a trip round the Thames Estuary to Burnham on Crouch in the Jollyboat!
The war was looming and many of the older members were called up into the Forces, and even the older Scouts served as messengers lit the A.R.P. at Newington Green Wardens Post. The Group carried on for some time but with less people to run things, the Jollyboat was taken up to Twyford to be laid up and the Group was finally forced to close down in 1940. Many of the Group served with distinction in the Forces and only one Scout failed to return – Reg GIBBONS, who lost his life on the beaches of Normandy.
At the conclusion of hostilities some of the members held a reunion camp at Les NORTON’s place at Chinnor and it was decided to resurrect the Group. One of the products of this meeting was the introduction of the ‘Phoenix’ badge that we still wear on our scarves to this day – ‘Out of the flames of war arose a new creature!’ Eric NORTON took over as Scout Leader with Cliff RANKIN and Don GIBBONS as Assistants. We still had to find some where to meet and were fortunate to be given an area at the back of Highbury New Park familiarly known as the ‘Green Gates’. This was followed by the purchase of a Nissen Hut which was brought from Thames Ditton and erected in Highbury for the Troop Room and two Carter Paterson Containers which were used as Patrol dens.
There followed Summer and Easter camps at Burnham where we spent one Summer camp aboard an old tug which filled up with the sea at Spring tides! We also used an ex-M.T.B. owned by the Naval Association. We also moved up river to Creeksea and Canewdon where we attended the Essex International Jamboree. Around this time due to incapacity of Eric NORTON, Albert ELLISON ran the Troop until his untimely death. Cliff RANKIN took over as Scout Leader assisted by Don GIBBONS – two “old boys” who rallied to the cause!
There followed a series of outstanding events in the history of the Group. We were obliged to leave the Green Gates and moved into the Hall of St.Augustines Church when again we were forced to move after a short period, in which time we managed to blow up the boiler, but thats another story! We moved up to Christ Church Highbury where we amalgamated with the 24th Cub Pack run by Joan Crouchman who assisted Jim HARVEY. It was within the space of a few years that we were required to move again because of the property developers taking over the Hall at Highbury and we took over the 14th Islington down at Highbury Quadrant. There being no Scouts we acquired a new Group Scout Leader in the person of Ron BOUGHTON and Alvis and Anne HILL who were the Cub Scouters. So we ended up with the Mohicans at Highbury and the Cherokees at the Highbury Quadrant!
There was an administrative change in the District at this time when the old ‘North London’ grouping was changed to District areas and we were told that we would have to change our title! But our leaders at the time never did like being told what to do and decided to remain the ‘201st’ much to the annoyance of the hierarchy and it has remained so ever since!
It had always been our ambition to own our own boat and in the early sixties courtesy of Harveys again, we were given an Ex Admiralty tender with no engines, the twin engines normally fitted having been removed. In their mistaken generosity they purchased the engine out of an American landing craft, fitted with an automatic gearbox. After much hacking and chopping managed to install it in the boat. The only snag was that the twin rudders were on each side and the thrust from the engine went through the middle, and the only way you could steer was by having a boy on each corner with a pole to steer round the corners, and being restricted to 5 mph on the canal the engine never got out of bottom gear! One of our major disasters!
Undeterred, we went and purchased an ex-ships lifeboat with a single cylinder diesel engine which was the devils own job to start. We did several trips, one being on the Grand Union Canal for one Summer Camp when we were visited by the Cubs. Unfortunately, the boat was struck by a barge on the River Lea and seriously damaged. We subsequently sold the hull for scrap, sold the engine and collected the Insurance which financed the purchase of another lifeboat, a fibre glass hull with a three cylinder diesel engine which was converted into a six berth cruiser and did several trips down the Estuary and to Chatham.
During this period we were a well known and respected Group in London and attended several Sea Scout Meets and Easter Camps at the Royal Naval base at Chatham organised by Cliff RANKIN.
We had by this time acquired three ‘Mirror and six ‘Enterprise’ sailing dinghies and up to twenty canoes all of which were towed behind the Scouters private cars – up to six in a convoy at times! The group was up to full strength now with four Patrols, two Cub Packs and a Venture Unit of around eighteen. Training weekends were spent on board R.R.S.Discovery and other venues and to raise funds the older boys did waiter service at weddings etc. and they still get together to this day as “The Old Boys”. The big function of the year was the Annual Venture Unit Dinner when certain dignitaries of the District and County were invited to a formal dinner with speeches etc. – an occasion much enjoyed by all who had the privilege to be invited. At this time we were invited by Harveys to spend our Summer Camp at Rhossili on the Gower Peninsular, a wonderful site enjoyed by Cubs and Scouts alike with, hikes on the Gower and Venture hikes on the Black Mountains all from this established base which was one of the outhouses which was familiarly known as ‘The Barn’. How many boys hold fond memories of happy days spent on the Gower!
The Group was also contributing to the running of the County and District with the Secretary of the Dockland Scout Project at its formation, Asst.District Commissioner for Venture Scouts and the Asst.District Commissioner for Cub Scouts as well as being in charge of the Training programme for Scouters. One of the Scouts went to the Jamboree in Japan in 1970, and the older members of the Group did service as Mates and Watch Officers on the London Sailing Project and there were few years when a member of the 201st was not taking part in the Tall Ships Races.
Two Venture Scouts also sailed accross the Atlantic to take part in the Americas bi-centenary celebrations. In 1982 the Rt.Hon.Viscount St Davids, more familiarly known to us as ‘Colwynne’, was for a brief time the District commissioner for Islington and both his sons were members of the group and on his retirement as D.C. he consented to become President of the Group, a position he has held for nearly twenty years supporting us in many ways. Around this time we had acquired a plot of land alongside the River Lea at Waltham Abbey known to all as ‘the Island’.This again involved moving a hut from the Dockland Scout Project and erecting it on the Island. This was found to be an ideal base for canoeing and rowing and with ample space for camping and pioneering.
After the sad death of Ron BOUGHTON there had to be changes once again. Alan THOMPSON, who had been an assistant Scout leader, took over as Group Scout Leader, Stan PRIDE took over as Scout Leader and Don GIBBONS became Venture Scout Leader again. Due to the departure of Jim HARVEY, Alvis HILL took over as Cub Leader of both packs. He then became ADC Cub Scouts and handed over the guidance of the Cub Pack to Mark DARLOW one of the ex Venture Scouts. He was assisted by Robin LAWRENCE. After the Cubs moved to Highbury Quadrant School , Robin left and Brian PEARS became assistant Cub Scout Leader and eventually took over as Cub leader. We were deprived of the camp site at Rhossili but were able to find an excellent alternative at Llangenider in the Brecon Beacons on the river Usk and for a number of years we did our water activities on this river.
Once again, due to the departure of Stan PRIDE, Don GIBBONS again took over the Scout Troop assisted by his son Geoff and Richard BULLIMORE. Brian PEARS had moved to Cambridgeshire so Mark DARLOW once again took over as Cub Leader assisted by Judith Gardner and later Stephen GOODWIN.
In 1987 due to enforced retirement Don GIBBONS had to step down and was replaced by Geoff Gibbons, ably Assisted by Mark THOMPSON. The Beaver colony was started in 1994 under the guidance of Maggie Bryn Jolfson and Jean Rawlings who became the Beaver Leader with varying fortunes. Many have now moved on to Cubs and Scouts. Lesley Bugg our present Chairperson became a parent Helper. Judith Gardner took over as Beaver Leader in 2000 on the departure of Jean RAWLINGS for pastures new.
In 2001 we had to have a ratification of our equipment. Having been affiliated to the Dockland Scout Project, we did most of our boating down at the Docks, but the authorities decided that we had to move our boats and equipment so we were without a water activities base. Also, due to maintenance problems, we were obliged to sell ‘ the Phoenix’. There were compensations of course – we had a number of excellent weekends sailing down at Aldborough on the East Coast.
We are still under threat at Highbury Quadrant which is due for redevelopment which would mean moving all our equipment; a major problem.
Because of work commitments Geoff Gibbons had to step down and Mark THOMPSON took over as Scout leader. Fortunately we have found an alternative Headquarters at Aubert Court Community Centre next door to the Arsenal Football Club. Stephen GOODWIN has taken over as the Cub Scout Leader so that Mark DARLOW can assist where most needed, helping with the Cubs, Scouts and also running the Ventures.
We have always had a strong Group Executive indeed some of the members have been with us longer than I care to contemplate, their sons having grown up and having children of their own and with Don GIBBONS and Chris WILKINS as the ‘power behind the throne’ we know they will continue to flourish. in 1999 it was decided to let girls into the group and they are three of the four sections Beavers Cubs and Scouts. We have not encountered any problems as yet but we need to find some female leaders to look after their diverse interests.
A fantastic summer camp took place in August of 2000 when the Cubs, Scouts and Venture scout went off to Nijmegen in Holland. Only the second time the group has been abroad, the first being Switzerland. Alan THOMPSON has the fame of being on both camps as man and boy only this time the travel was more modern.The group was awarded the International Friendship Award shortly after the Holland trip for it’s work with the Dutch Scouts.Only three groups in Greater London Central have the honour of this award. We have always had a strong Group Executive indeed some of the members have been with us longer than I care to contemplate, their sons having grown up and having children of their own and with Don GIBBONS and Chris WILKINS as the ‘power behind the throne’ we know they will continue to flourish. in 1999 it was decided to let girls into the group and they are in three of the four sections Beavers Cubs and Scouts. We have not encountered any problems as yet but we need to find some female leaders to look after their diverse interests.
A fantastic summer camp took place in August of 2000 when the Cubs, Scouts and Venture scout went off to Nijmegen in Holland. Only the second time the group has been abroad, the first being Switzerland. Alan THOMPSON has the fame of being on both camps as man and boy only this time the travel was more modern.The group was awarded the International Friendship Award shortly after the Holland trip for it’s work with the Dutch Scouts. Only three groups in Greater London Central have the honour of this award.
The 201st has survived for eighty years! I have not contemplated the future because who knows what the future holds, merely looking back to the past. I appreciate that this article is probably not chronologically correct but the mind plays tricks and the memory is not what it was. Should the reader recall any incident or occurrences that I have forgotten I would be grateful if you would make a note of it and I will include it at some later date