In The Beginning FRIDAY night, Friday night let's go out on the town! These were the sentiments of most people following a hard week's work. However, what if you were only a youngster, what could you look forward to? Society in 1947 was completely different to today.
W.W.II had just finished and most people were trying to get back to a normal life. For children this meant a shortage of sweets and ice-cream and you ate what was put on your plate because that was all. No, 'What do you want for your tea tonight?' Everything was fresh and the frozen food era had not begun. Your Gran knitted your jumpers and socks and hand me downs were in order. So, why did some of us look forward to Friday nights? Children were far more creative as activities had to be found. No switching the TV on, or I-Pods, no mobile phones to amuse oneself.
One of the organisations which several boys belonged to was the local Scout group.
But before Friday nights loomed in my life Tuesday was the important night as it was Cub night. My brother and I asked our mom to find us a group. She belonged to the St Francis Church in Laurel Road, Dudley, so we joined their cub pack. We didn't enjoy this, so before we threw our caps into the ring we were persuaded to find another group (uniforms cost money!) Again, mom came to the rescue as she knew that some boys from a family named Pearson, who lived in The Broadway belonged to the 7th Dudley Scout Group. The Pearsons had three boys, John, the eldest, Colin, the middle one and Robert, the youngest.
Colin was my age so off we trotted to our new group.
We caught the D2 bus and got off in New Street. Then it was a short walk passing The Albion Inn and Burton's on your left before entering Hall Street, a narrow one way street leading into King Street which is now the Churchill Precinct. I remember it well as when I left school I was employed by George Masons the grocers, who had a shop in Hall Street. At the top of Hall Street one crossed King Street. Here the M.E.B had a showroom with a transformer station attached. To the right going up Hall Street was a sweet shop and The Alma pub.
Oakeywell Street ran from King Street to Constitution Hill. Parkes motorbike shop was on the other corner.
We were then taken down Oakeywell Street and up a dark alley to the H.Q. What a surprise! No church hall but an old malting house behind a pub - talk about Dickensian times. Apparently just after the war the group had no HQ.
Mr Tom Hanson of Hanson's Brewery (where Asda is now in High Street) became group patron and allowed them to use the building. This was situated behind the Alma pub in Hall Street. The HQ was a double storey building. The lower floor was approximately 15 feet high with the top floor above it. The cub pack met in the lower room and the scouts met in the upper room which was accessed by two sets of stairs through a mezzanine floor. The final entrance to the Scoutroom was through a hole in the wall (Fagin had nothing on us).
Facilities - where? There was no water, no toilets and the building was lit with gaslights.
Two old gas fires supplied the heating. Members used the Alma pub toilets if they were desperate. This HQ was unique in the scout world as when a cub went into the scouts he literally went 'up' as there was a trap door in the floor of the scout room which would open. The scout leader would then descend on a rope and the poor unfortunate cub would hold on for dear life as he was hauled up into the scout room (Health and Safety I hear you say).
I spent a happy two years in the Cub pack. Mrs Edwards was the cub scout leader, she was great fun but if you stepped over the line one glaring look over her glasses soon brought you back.
Each year there would a District Cub competition held at the Dudley Grammar School.
I can remember sitting on the floor of the hall awaiting instructions for the next test.
Mr D.C. Temple was head teacher at the time and he allowed the district to hold several events at the school.
The hallowed playing fields were used for the Annual Athletic Sports. The grounds man didn't particularly like it.
Sometimes Mr Temple, who was a little eccentric, would invite anyone to take a dip in the open air swimming pool.
The troop used it once and I fell off a lilo and nearly drowned. Malcolm Turner jumped in and saved me. Soon after I learnt to swim.
Fred Davies was Scout Leader who travelled around on a BSA 650 Golden Flash motorcycle with sidecar. Mrs Edwards sat in the sidecar while her husband, George Edwards, rode pillion. He was a character having worked on the Titanic chains at Hingley's, then booked on the boat on her maiden voyage only to cancel same at the last minute.
He then emigrated to Canada where he became a lumber jack before returning home.
He is the only person I've seen split a match lengthways using a felling axe.
When I was ten and a half it was time for a group of us to ascend through the trapdoor to scouts. This brought my time in the cub pack to an end but what was awaiting us? Scout Troop Well, we had arrived and were ready for the first meeting.
This was the start of our Friday night adventures. By now a group of us would walk to scouts or go by bus. Three old pennies would cover the bus fare, one penny subs and a bag of scratchings from the fish shop in New Street as we walked home. Our parents had to buy us yet another uniform which lasted ages because as you grew older the only thing that changed was the distance from the top of your socks to the bottom of your short trousers! !Flogger" I was put in Owl Patrol which was led by Flogger Davies who lived in The Broadway. No he didn't 'flog' us and I never knew how he got his nickname.
The troop consisted of about 24 boys all packed into one small room. Great fun was had and to my knowledge no one was injured during meetings which could get a little rough if British Bulldog was on the agenda! As mentioned before Fred Davies was the scout leader and Ernie Banks A.S.L. Both were very conscientious and believed in the 'out' in scouting.
There was strong competition between groups as there were five groups within one mile radius. It is best to list them as follows:- Group; HQ; Leader; Neckerchief - 1st Dudley DGS, Grammar School, Maurice Bridges, Light-dark blue.
2nd Dudley, Douglas Road, Peter Watkins, Red/Black.
7th Dudley, Oakeywell Street, Fred Davies, Red.
8th Dudley, St Thomas Church, Fred Edwards, Blue.
20th Dudley, St James Eve Hill, Stan Whitehouse, Red/White.
22nd Dudley, Dixons Grn Methodist, Bill Green, Yellow/ Green/ As I write this article 7th Dudley is the only group left in Dudley Central. All these used to compete in the main events throughout the year.
These being Swimming Sports, Athletic Sports, and Watsons Colour Camping Competition.
Camping was the main outdoor occupation. This consisted of weekend camps usually at Kinver Scout Camp plus an annual camp. Very few parents had cars in those days so it was a marathon to get to Kinver. All our kit which included tents, cooking equipment and our kit bags had to be transported by bus. Double deckers had an open rear entrance on which we would rest the tea chest. The patrol tents would be heaved upstairs and stored somewhere while our kit bags rested in front of us. The bus left Dudley and stopped at Stourbridge whereupon all the equipment had to be unloaded and reloaded onto the Kinver bus. Arriving at Kinver High Street all the equipment had to be unloaded and carried half a mile to the campsite.
The conductors loved us!, especially as there was a reverse journey to be made on Sunday. The camp cost 2/6 (12p). The cost today is £30 and all the equipment and members are transported.
Fred Davies arranged Annual Camp which was held during the Summer school holidays. One of my first was at Illmington in the Cotswolds.
For this a coach from Kendrick's was hired on which everything was loaded. It was an old Bedford and had seen the best of days. It struggled to Illmington but the campsite was up a steep hill on which the coach gave up the ghost and refused to go any further.
Mr Phipps, the farmer, saved the day as he came with a tractor and towed the coach up the hill.
Camp was pitched and the week was looked forward to.
Unfortunately, the farmer reported that myxomatosis was rife and could we help him by disposing of the infected rabbits. The plan was to lie in wait on one side of the field for the rabbits to come out.
Those who were not severely infected would run off when we made a noise. The disease affects their eyes and ears so the most severe would continue munching away as we crept up on them and struck them over the head, killing them. You may think this cruel but it was for the best. The deceased would be duly carried on a shovel and placed in a grave in the woods with a flower at his head. I believe nearly 20 rabbits were disposed of during the week.
Later on, the farmer moved to Brompton Regis in Somerset where another enjoyable camp was help. This time we had a different coach company and arrived intact. During the week several things occurred John, the farmer's son had to go away for a couple of days and asked us if we would milk his pet goat. Of course we agreed, not really knowing what to expect (nor did the goat!) So, four of us went to attempt the impossible.
It's easy, John said, just to get the rhythm and the milk will be expelled. Joke. One held the goat's head, two held its back legs whilst those that were left did the deed. Eventually milk was extracted and we only had to do it on two days which was enough time not to do serious damage to the goat! Eggs had to be obtained from a farm up the lane. The farmer loaned us an old bicycle so each day one of us would pedal up the lane to get the eggs. My turn came and off I went, collected the eggs and was having a great ride down the hill. Feet off the pedals and really going until I rounded a bend and there approaching me was a milk wagon. It filled the lane and I frantically applied the brakes. These were rod brakes which I pulled up to the handlebars with no effect whatsoever. The lorry just stopped awaiting the inevitable but I took evasive action and suddenly swerved straight into the hedge of brambles and the like. Eggs were everywhere. The driver slowly wound down his window and gave me a cursing using words I'd never heard before (perhaps it was the country lingo). I was only wearing a tee shirt, shorts and pumps so my legs were not in the best shape when I returned to camp.
Other camps were held at Saundersfoot, (South Wales), Dyffryn by Barmouth and Brendon (Somerset), all with tales to tell! Gang shows Fred Davies wanted the group to do a 'Gang show.' These were made famous by Ralph Reader who produced the London Gang shows. For several years Kendrick's, our friendly coach company, would transport members to London for a look around and then return to Golders Green Hippodrome for the show.
Ralph Reader allowed groups to use his material.
Our first effort was a joint venture in 1951 with the 1st Netherton Scout Group. The show was held at the Netherton Arts Centre and generally was a success. However, we wanted to produce our own shows, the first of many being held at Titchbourne Street Schoolrooms, now a Health Centre. Over the next 20 years shows took place at Sir Gilbert Claughton Grammar School, and Dudley Grammar School.
These were very enjoyable and provided fun and an extra income for the group.
The Future Progress was made and several of us became Queen Scouts, venturing to Gilwell Park for the presentation.
Senior Scouts followed which ended our formative years in the scout movement. It's surprising how many people joined the scout movement in their youth and can remember the happy and exciting time they had. Today the scout movement is still the largest youth movement in the world thanks to those adults who freely give their time in the service of others and yes, it all stemmed from Friday nights!