1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group

This brief history has been compiled by Rex Phare Group Chairman, from various sources, not the least of which being the notes for production of an appeal leaflet produced in the early 1980’s during the fundraising for the current Hall.


Early Days 1924 - 1937

The earliest record of the Midsomer Norton Scout Group is 1924, a date confirmed by the Scout Association Headquarters records.  Scouting itself began in Midsomer Norton some ten years earlier. The photograph below was taken before the First World War by Ernest Chivers who later became Assistant Scout Master with the 1st Midsomer Norton Group. The boys in the group photograph were all choirboys at St. John's and St. Luke's churches. Seated centre in the photograph is Mr. Ted Stenner who was later appointed the first Scout Master of the 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group in January 1924.

Records of the early years are sparse, though undoubtedly, tucked away in an attic somewhere are more than we have managed to obtain.

It is clear in those early days recruiting and holding leaders was as difficult then as it is today, if that is possible, particularly when one considers the number of Groups-in the area. In addition to the 1st Midsomer Norton in 1924, there were the 2nd (1929); the 3rd • Norton Hill School - (1928); the 4th (1931), not forgetting 1st Radstock (1927).

Records show various transfers of leaders, but for the purpose of this history concentration will be mainly on the 1st Midsomer Norton. Following Mr. Ted Stenner as Scout Master came Mr. R. G. F. Box (Jan 1929 • April 1931). Mr. P. H. Knowles (April 1931).

The first record of Cubs in the Group is sometime during 1929 when Miss M. C. Casswell assisted Mr. P. H. Knowles in running a pack.

From August 1933 it has been possible to extract snippets from Group Committee meetings:

Aug. 1933    Meeting held at L. Shearn's, High Street. Proposed amalgamation of 2nd Midsomer Norton Scout Group sponsored by the local Methodist Church with 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group with application to local Scout Association for new Group to be registered as 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group.

Oct. 1933    First committee meeting of new Group held in the Den, a hut at the Standard Check Book Company at Station Road. A balance of £4-4s-11d. in current account. Building fund stood at £2-11s-8d., plus a loan from Mr. W. Harvey, Group chairman, of £40. Parents of Cubs were asked wherever possible to provide own uniform, but where impossible to make a contribution of six shillings towards cost (£60-00 at 2009 prices!).

Oct. 1934 First Garden Party at home of Mr. Edgar Heal raised £21-10s-9d

Oct. 1935    Mr. L. Shearn resigned as Scout Master, Group unable to find Rover Scout Leader. Decided to close Troop temporarily, with all Scouts to return badges
etc.

Oct. 1936 Reported that Troop had restarted with Mr. A. Paget Scout Master and Mr. H. Edwards Assistant Scout Master. The Cub Pack restarted under Mr. F. Pool and Mr. C. Miles and also a Rover Crew with Mr. L. Shearn as Leader.

Sept. 1937 The Scout Hut in Station Road was sold to Standard Check Book Co. for £130, £100 of which was 66 preference Shares in the Company. The Company also agreed to allow the Scouts free use of the hut for 5 years.

The War and Beyond 1937 - 1957

And so the Group continued until the start of the Second World War when, not unexpectedly, the attention of many adults involved with Scouting became diverted to more important matters. In October 1940 the military requisitioned the Scout Hall at Station Road and the Group met for a while at Edwards Chemist shop near the Parish Church.

The minutes of the Group meetings has just one entry for this period:

27th August 1945 — It was reported that Mr. Gwyther had run the Scout Troop single-handed for the past few years."

John Church, who in 2013 still helps with one of our Cub Packs, was a member of the Troop at the time and recalls the period.

In the first half of the 40's the Scoutmaster of the 1st Midsomer Norton was Eddy Gwyther. Both he and his wife, and their son Brian (also in the Troop) were keen cyclists. Mr. and Mrs. Gwyther rode a tandem despite the fact that Eddy only had one hand! Brian had learning difficulties with a speech impediment but could play the piano extremely well. The Gwyther's lived in Northmead Avenue, I believe they moved from London at the outbreak of war for Eddy to work at Purnells”.

“Scout meetings were held in the main hall of the High Street School. The Troop scarf was maroon.” ”At this time the Troop could boast of a Drum and Fife Band. I have no idea where the instruments came from, maybe Eddy brought them from London. I think Mrs. Gwyther could well have taught the scouts to play the flute”.” I well remember a Church Parade at Oakhill when the whole Troop cycled there complete with drums tied on their backs”. “The drums tended to drown the sound of the fife during the march to the church so the non-musicians in the Troop whistled to help out the flautists”!

“When I went to Norton Hill School I joined the 3rd Midsomer Norton. I believe Eddy returned to London at the end of the war and the 1st Midsomer Norton lapsed for a short while until it was restarted by Stan Bruce and then I rejoined the 1st Midsomer Norton Again”.'

Whilst the minutes record the facts of the next ten years the stories of the decade are far too numerous to re-tell in detail, but to help colour the picture it has been possible to include just a few.

Nov. 1946 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group re-registered. Mr. Stan Bruce appointed Scout Master. Standard Check Book Co. requested that Scouts no longer use Hut opposite their works as a headquarters.

Sept. 1947    Mr. Raymond Box prepared to assist Scouts. Voted to pay  £10 to local association in trust for any future Paulton Troop.

Oct. 1947 Two Nissen Huts and two stoves purchased for £63 as new Headquarters.

Dec. 1947   Agreed to sign lease of ground from National Coal Board in field next to recreation field in Rackvernal Road for siting Nissen Huts. Mr. Gay to be asked to act as Assistant Scout Master.

Aug 1948 The Nissen Huts were erected on the new site in Rackvernal Road at a total cost of £260-14s-5d.

The Troop's activities were recorded faithfully in the Somerset Guardian Scout Notes column prepared regularly by 'Skipper', alias Stan Bruce, and true to character, although Stan was the 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Master his column reported the scouting scene for the whole area from Chew Magna, Stratton-on-the-Fosse, Chilcompton, Peasedown to Radstock and others.

From these columns interesting stories emerged:.

September 1948 there was a "Big Do", a Sale of Work and Fete which raised £100 and ended with a highly successful camp fire.

Easter 1948 - Operation Jam Jar got underway in response to an appeal by the Ministry of Food. Collecting empty jam jars raised money for the Troop.

Stan tells of weekend camps at Cricket St. Thomas (near Chard),and  at Greyfield, High Littleton.

A two-weekend Leader Training Course held at Norton Hill School run by Gilwell Park Assistant Camp Chief, Ken Stevens, to the great amusement of the scouts who watched adult leaders struggling with fire-lighting, cooking and general camping techniques which the boys took for granted.

One story tells of a couple of Scouts at Stratton-on-the-Fosse who had an ingenious idea of creosoting a hut with a war-time stirrup pump which resulted in the Troop having a couple of “Friesian” scouts for a couple of weeks.

The first real honour came to the Group when Troop Leader, John Church was selected as a member of the Somerset Patrol to attend the 1947 World Jamboree at Moisson in France. In order to qualify John had to obtain his 1st Class Badge (another first for the Group). Training camps were held at Bath and the whole course of events was reported at length in Stan's newspaper column. It was certainly a proud moment for the Troop.

At the same time as the Jamboree, August 1947, the Troop embarked on the challenge of a 3-week summer camp at Wells-on-Sea, Norfolk, the party of 31 travelled by train from Welton to Bristol, then to Norfolk changing at London. The main camping equipment was sent on in advance, but travelling that distance, which included crossing London with all personal gear, was no mean feat.

The camp itself, the first of its kind for the Group, was highly successful despite set backs such as rats mauling the Sunday joint during the first night. Fortunately locals came to the rescue after an appeal at Church Parade.

During this camp 14 boys learned to swim, a number passed the Athletes Badge and others the Cooks Badge. It is recorded that during the 19 days not one meal was burnt and all boys put on weight.

Waiting for the train connection in London on the return journey gave an opportunity for the older boys to see the sights of London for the first time and a chance for the whole Troop to "Enjoy several rides on an escalator".

In 1949 Mr. 'Bosun' Gay started a Senior Scout Troop, and Mr. George Woolfrey agreed to become Assistant Scout Master to Stan Bruce. All went well for the next year or so, until March 1950 when Mr. Gay and Mr. Woolfrey left. The following year Stan Bruce fell ill and Mr. Townsend from Downside Abbey took over running the Troop.

Stan Bruce died on 30th June 1950 which was a terrible blow to the 1st Midsomer Norton and a great loss to the movement as a whole.  Mr. Vic Wotton, Assistant Scout Master Radstock, volunteered to take over temporarily, a position he was to hold until 1954.

In 1954 Shirley Steel joined the Group as Scout Mistress, and Vic Wotton resigned as Scout Master and although the Group continued for a further 3 years under the leadership of Mr R Box Assistant Scout Master who resigned in August 1956 a permanent replacement was not found. This led to the Group closing at the end of 1957, following unsuccessful attempts to sell the Headquarters to the local rugby club. However this period a period which proved to be one of the most exciting periods for the Group, albeit success was from an associated sport rather than Scouting itself.


The Soapbox Derby years:

Participation in this then extremely popular event took off for the 1st Midsomer Norton in 1952 when N.R.M. (Norton Racing Motor) reached the area finals held at Weston-super-Mare, although failing to qualify for the national finals that year it lay the foundation for future successes.

1953 Southern England Championships at Crystal Palace with N.R.M. II: Cub Driver, Stephen Shipley finished third. Scout Driver, Richard Taylor and Senior Scout Driver, Jim Bruce both qualified for the National Finals at Wembley in September.

The success story continued at Wembley where Richard won his way to the final 12 just failing to qualify in the semi-final. Jim Bruce however reached the Senior Final and finished a very creditable third. The enthusiastic creator of the Norton Racing Motor was Chris Edwards who worked for nine months to perfect the car. It cost £6 and was constructed with technical advice given by Midsomer Norton Motor Co.

1954 Richard Taylor qualified at Crystal Palace in the Scout Section for the National Finals at Scarborough.
Many supporters travelled to Scarborough to see Richard finish 4th best in the British Isles.'

1955 success repeated itself in the a Area Finals at Weston-super-Mare. Richard again qualified for the finals, only this year it was in the Senior Scout section. In the finals held at Morecombe the title of National Champion just eluded Richard who finishing runner-up. So ended an era of challenge and excitement which had started in Chris Edwards' garden shed and carried the name of Midsomer Norton over the whole country.

Closed Again

In 1954 Shirley Steel joined the Group as Scout Mistress, and Vic Wotton resigned as Scout Master and although the Group continued for a further 3 years under the leadership of Mr R Box Assistant Scout Master who resigned in August 1956 a permanent replacement was not found. This led to the Group closing at the end of 1957, following unsuccessful attempts to sell the Headquarters to the local rugby club.

IReborn

1963 An appeal from a church pulpit for help with a Cub Pack in Cambridge in the spring of 1963 provided the spark that signalled the beginning of the present 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group.

David Wilshire, studying at Cambridge University, responded to the appeal and immediately saw in Scouting an organisation which offered a challenge with enormous benefits for the young.

Although spending much of his time at Cambridge, David's roots were firmly in his home town of Midsomer Norton. Inspired by the potential he saw in Scouting he set about forming the Midsomer Norton Wolf Cub Pack with tremendous contributions from Margaret (Weeks) Wilshire, Jean Wilton and the High Street Methodist Church.

The Wolf Cub Pack (sponsored by the Church) was registered on 28th June 1963 had no connection with the previous 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group. The first six boys to proudly wear the now familiar yellow and black scarf were introduced by the Church Sunday School. Meetings were held at the Church Hall on Wednesday evenings.

By November 1963 the Pack (24 boys) was full, half the number from the Church Sunday School.

Between 1963 and 1964 the Group met temporarily at the Church Hall which is now the home of the Salvation Army
In 1964 the Group moved to it’s current site in Radstock Road, occupying the Old Mission Church of St Luke, known locally as the “ Iron Church” or “Metal Mission” because of it’s corrugated iron construction. This was opened on the 9th October 1899, and served as a church until 1920 when it was deconsecrated, from then until 1964 when 1st Midsomer Norton took up residence it was used by the Church of England Men’s Society and later as a Church Institute and Church Hall. To purchase this Hall £1700 was borrowed from local people, mainly on interest free loans.


Picture of St Luke’s Church at the beginning of the 20th Century  (From the Post Card Collection of Bob Allard)


      
                                                                                                          

In 1964 the Group had continued to grow consisting of  a Cub Pack of 24 boys and a Scout Troop of 28, 1965 saw the addition of an extra Six  to the Cub pack making it 30 Boys, and the addition in September of another Scout Troop (B Troop) which was almost immediately fully subscribed. The Group also made provision for older Scouts with the formation of a Seniors Group.

1965 saw the first of the now famous (infamous?) Jumble Sales which raised an astounding £53 for group funds, equivalent to £1700 at 2010 prices.

1966 saw the Group expand even further with the addition of a second Cub Pack (B Pack).

1967 brought a National Report into the future of Scouting known as the “Advance Party Report” and following the recommendations of this report  the Senior Group became known as the Venture Unit, and The Supporters Association was formed.  A milestone was also reached in that half of the loans taken out on the purchase of the Hall had been repaid.

1968 brought full implementation of the Advance Party Report, and the addition of a third Cub Pack (C Pack)

Over the Next 10 years the Group went from strength to strength growing from 8 Cubs to 150 boys in all sections with David Wilshire as Group Scout Leader, Mr H Patterson as Scout Master and Mrs M Wilshire Cub Leader.

Jim Arthur took over as Group Scout Leader in 1974, and with the exception of 1 year in which Tony Lowe held the reins, Jim continued as GSL until his retirement from active Scouting in 2002.

1973 A weekend expedition by PL’s and APL’s to Lundy Island was followed in it’s 10th year since reforming by winning the Somerset County Challenge Flag for Camping Standards, ironically it was the last year that the Group would be part of Somerset  County, being absorbed into the newly formed Avon in 1974.

Also 1973 saw the first Issue of the Groups own magazine “Rag Bag” which was published more or less regularly from then until 2003.

1974 Somerset Jamboree Winners, and the Saxons Venture Unit Norway Camp.

1975 Avon Jamboree Winners - 4 Patrols attending - 4 Gold awards won
Scout District Sports Winners - B Troop
Saxons Venture Unit - Guernsey Camp

1976 Cub District Sport Winners - C Pack
Cub District Swimming Gala Winners - C Pack
Cub Mayo Shield Winners - B Pack

1977 Cub District Swimming Gala Winners - A Pack

1978 Avon Jamboree - 3 Patrols attending - 3 awards won

1979 Venture Unit - Scotland Camp
World Jamboree - Group represented by Adrian Rideout Member of Saxon Venture Unit in Sweden

1980 Avon Jamboree - 3 Patrols
Saxons Venture Unit - Guernsey Camp

1982 World Jamboree - Group represented by Kevin Chard B Troop Scout in Canada.

1983 Avon  Jamboree -  2  Patrols

A New Building

In 1984 an The timber frame and corrugated cladding which had stood the ravages of 100 yrs of use had begun to deteriorate and planning permission had been obtained to rebuild using plastic coated steel cladding on a steel frame. Additionally the kitchen area was to be extended and a new store provided off the side of the main hall. Work was programmed for early 1985 with an anticipated expenditure of £40.000, £25,000 of which was available, and an appeal was launched to raise the remaining funds.

199? First Beaver Scout Colony formed with Holly Wilson as Beaver Scout Leader.

199? Group became co-educational with Girls being admitted to Scouting.

Mark Jones took on the mantle of GSL from 2005 until he left the Group in 2007 to take up a teaching post abroad.

In 2008 the Group suffered three sad losses with the death of Mark Jones in a car accident whilst he was home for Christmas, followed by the death in June after a long illness of Jean Arthur who had been a Cub Scout Leader with C Pack for 30 yrs?, and also the death of Les Leatherbarrow, who had been a stalwart supporter of the group in many roles for over 40 yrs.?

In 2008 Ralph Jefferis was appointed GSL of  the Group, a post which he held until 2012.

Our Current GSL is Clare Spearman who started as Group Secretary, and rapidly decided she wanted to be in Uniform, becoming an assistant Scout Leader, and finally GSLL in 2012 .

Group Shows

March 1969, the first Group Show was presented for parents and friends as part of an Open Evening which included a Going-Up Ceremony. The Show with a cast of 40, comprised of Cubs, Scouts, Venture Scouts and adults, was devised by Colin Harle and Leroy Grubb and written by David Wilshire.

So began the annual show which was, over the next seventeen years, to become a traditional annual showpiece of the 1st Midsomer Norton Group and the envy of many Groups.

In 1970 the show moved to December. Produced by Janet Shearn ran for four performances and included the Rock Hall Guides. Again several items were written by David Wilshire and also included Ralph Reader's Gang Show material.

1971 saw a break from the traditional type of Scout Show material to include several popular 'musical' items. The new stage, together with Stage lighting, backcloths and wings was 'baptised'. Janet Shearn was joined by Colin Harle in the production.

1972 The cast grew to 60, production was taken over by Jack Perkins and music by Olive Goode.

From 1973 the Show improved each year. Production was shared between Jack Perkins and John Church. Music under the direction of Olive Goode set a very high standard. Staging and lighting, under Jack Gearing, became more sophisticated. Costumes by Pauline Moore and Shirley Sellars were exceptional given a very limited budget, particularly considering the cast had grown to 120 by 1977.  The 'highlight* of the shows were the Scouters items which included the Can-Can and Good Ship Lollipop. No challenge was too great; 'Gilbert and Sullivan', 'Oliver' and the Blitz were all attempted and delighted full houses.

By 1978 piano accompaniment had developed into a six piece band. Music standards remained high and Steven Hathway replaced Olive Goode. Later Bernard Wight with Sarah Travis (piano) and a group of musicians from Norton Hill School added a further dimension to the musical content. Popularity remained until 1985.

An enforced break during the building of the new Hall only reinforced the enthusiasm for an eager return in 1987.

Scout Post

In 1983 the Group commenced it’s very popular and successful Christmas Post Service,  Using a stamp designed by a Group member, and undertook to deliver cards in the town and close neighbouring villages at a cost of 10p per card, in that first year 1,500 cards were delivered. There have been may designs of stamp over the years all designed by Group members. The cost of postage stayed the same until  2005 when it was increased to 15p, and in 2010 over 10,000 cards were delivered.  in 2012 a new design of stamp was used, and due to rising costs the price per stamp was increased to 20p,  again over 10,00 cards were delivered More information about the Post Service can be found on John Crabbe’s very informative Scout and Guide Post web site
19 December 1964 the “New” Scout Hall was opened by Assistant District Commissioner Mr R E Powell
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