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News > Archives & History > The 3rd Finsbury (Owen's School) Scout Troop

The 3rd Finsbury (Owen's School) Scout Troop

"For a 12-yr-old from suburban London, who had never travelled abroad nor tasted curry or pizza, French cuisine and, more especially French sanitation, was unexpected & not a little worrying."
Youlbury campers in their transport, the back of a lorry.
Youlbury campers in their transport, the back of a lorry.

For many years in the fifties and sixties, there was a flourishing and adventurous Scout Troop in the school at the Angel. This little note is intended to ensure that it is not forgotten and sincerely thank, sadly posthumously, the leaders, Mr Puddephat and Mr Gowing, and the original Senior Scout Leaders who I hardly knew, Mr Darby and Mr Strong.

I arrived at the school in 1958 just as my elder brother Steve (1954-1961) advanced to the Senior Scout Troop.  Later I would be joined by my younger brother John (1961-1968) and, after I had left, was followed by my cousin Colin.  All of us had an aptitude for numbers, superbly developed by the Maths department of the school, that stood us well in our future careers.

On entry I immediately joined the School Scouts, who were planning a summer camp in France (Blois) having previously taken the Troop to Corsica. In those days foreign trips were exceptional and one needed to use rail and ferry. For Corsica, that had meant train Victoria to Newhaven, ferry Newhaven-Dieppe; Dieppe to Paris, overnight in a hostel, train Paris to Marseille and ferry to Corsica. All the heavy gear needed to be transported, sometimes with a hand hauled trek cart, seats were often wooden slats, and the trains were hauled by steam locos. I salute the masters’ for their courage!

For a 12-year-old from suburban London, who had never travelled abroad and who had never tasted curry or pizza, French cuisine and, more especially French sanitation, was unexpected and not a little worrying. But we survived and I developed a love of the outdoors and exploration that persists to this day. In the following years, in addition to Easter and Weekend camps on the scout sites surrounding London, we had summer camps in the Goyt Valley in the Peak District, Kingsdown on the white cliffs of Dover, Symonds Yat on the River Wye, Clovelly in Cornwall and Youlbury in Oxfordshire. The attached photo shows the Youlbury campers in their transport, the back of a lorry.

When I was 15, I moved on up to the Senior Scouts. The senior scoutmaster had been promoted to another job in Liverpool, which left us primarily to do our own thing. The summer after the Wye Valley camp, inspired by Barry Clifton we organised our first trip. This involved train to Dover, night ferry to Dunkirk, train to Strasbourg, local train then a hike in the Black Forest. We then hitch-hiked to Waldmunchen on the Czech Border via Switzerland. Why Waldmunchen? It was the home of Barry’s female pen-pal. In the interests of science I experimented with German Beer, only to resolve in the morning never to touch another drop. A hitch hike back to Munich and then the train, ferry, train in reverse home.

Sadly, such an unsupervised trip by an under 18 group using hitch-hiking to get around, would today be considered far too risky and would not be allowed by the Scout Association.

In reality our expedition the next summer was probably more dangerous. It started with a week of adventurous activities organised by Northumberland Scouts that introduced me to rock climbing and to kayaking; both of which became a big part of my later life. We then set out to walk the newly developed Pennine Way from North to South. On Cross Fell we were caught out by a blizzard, got hopelessly lost in thick mist, had no food or water and could easily have perished.  When we did eventually find our way into the valley, half the group went home.

I spent the rest of the summer working at a Scout camp site in Sussex and completely missed the Cuban Missile Crisis. By this time, I had become very political (Aldermaston marches etc). Around the old school in Islington and places like Farringdon, there were families, often immigrants from Ireland and Cyprus, living in fairly desperate conditions. Most of us middle-class boys from the suburbs never went near these areas, but our Scout District had some really struggling local groups which the older, keener Scouts assisted. The injustice of the inequality struck me hard, and this feeling persists.

The final summer we went to Norway using a newly started overnight air service to Stavanger. The previous month a school group had been killed at Stavanger, when the plane overshot the runway and hit the adjacent mountain. As we approached the landing strip the pilot took fright and at the very last moment he pulled the plane up. This rather upset the passengers! 

When we did eventually land, we were met by the 4 of our number who had hitchhiked through Holland, Germany, Denmark and Norway. From Stavanger we took a ferry up the Lysefjord and spent the next week hiking over the Rogaland-Vidda to the town of Odda. A serious expedition.

Scout HQ had put us in touch with the Scouts in Odda who took us up over the Glacier using ropes, ice axes and crampons for the first time. Another amazing experience. Then we travelled on via Voss to Bergen and back by Hydrofoil to Stavanger for the return air trip. On the hydrofoil we were joined by the Crown Prince (now King) who proved to be a trip hazard for one of our number. An introduction to the Scandinavian Monarchy.

Before racing off the University we decided to form “The Brewers Own Rover Crew”. We met once or twice but our interest had shifted. Within two years the Rover Section had disappeared as the Scout Association restructured, and I lost touch with Scouts and school. After seven years (Degree and PhD in Economics and Statistics) and marriage, I was asked to go back as a Leader and have stayed in numerous different roles in the older sections ever since.    

In my dotage I would love to know about when the Troop started (evacuation to Bedford?) and when it finished (with the move out to Potters Bar?), to hear from past scouts about their experiences and to find out what happened to my contemporaries. Some names from those days: Chris Black (the only contact I have), Barry Clifton, Tony Hunt, David Alexander, Bernie Green, Andrew (?) Barnet, Andrew Gowing, Alan Jelf, Norman Wakeling.

If you do have any information, please email geoff1.riddington@gmail.com. Thank you for listening.

Geoff Riddington

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