The First One Hundred Years
1908 – 2008
Scouting was established by Robert Baden-Powell in 1907 and soon after, in the summer of 1908, a troop was established in Twickenham. Most early Scout troops were sponsored by bodies – often churches – which could provide accommodation and some financial help. The Twickenham troop was founded by the Revd A E T Raven after he had secured the approval of the vicar of St. Mary’s, Prebendary Prosser. The founder was known and loved by members of all denominations, and by many outside the church, in Twickenham. He was often outspoken on social issues, but his sincerity was respected even by those who did not agree with him. The first two patrols were Wolves and Kangaroos, followed shortly by Lions, and by November the troop was 24 strong.
Initial meetings were in the front room of Arragon House, facing St. Mary’s Church, where the Rev A E T Raven lived. Growing numbers made a transfer to the Mission Room and subsequently the Parish Room necessary, but when the latter was re-built in 1913 it was regarded as too good to be used by the Scouts! A series of temporary homes followed for the Scout troop and the Cub pack. In 1918 the pack and then the troop moved to St. Mary’s Schools, not then rebuilt, where there was little space. In 1922 a wooden building was constructed on the site of the old St. Mary’s Hall, eventually housing Scouts, Cubs, Guides and Brownies. In 1932 the hut was sold and the ground used to build the old St. Mary’s Hall. As compensation the Scouts were allowed the free use of St. Mary’s Schools, which had been rebuilt in 1930 and were now more spacious, and also used the Parish Room for games and test evenings.
The provision of a separate headquarters remained a long-term objective. An opportunity came in 1938 when a piece of ground on The Embankment was bought for £200 by the group. WWII put paid to any thoughts of building and funds were still desperately short. In 1956 the Schools had to be vacated by the troop in favour of other users. Scout meetings reverted to the Mission Room, which was far too small for its growing numbers.
In 1958 the Scout group agreed to allow Twickenham Yacht Club to use part of the plot of ground for storage of boats. The same year there was a public exhibition by the Council with a new plan for the Church Street area, which involved the use of the Scout ground. Dr J W T “Doc” Walsh, honorary treasurer and past Scoutmaster and Group Scoutmaster, wrote to the Town Clerk stating that the Scout Group could only abandon the site if an alternative site was made available. In 1959 a piece of ground in Seymour Gardens, belonging to the Council, was identified as being available for exchange. Brian Frankcombe, an architect and ex-Scout, then volunteered to design a headquarters building in 1960 and planning permission was received in April 1961.
Various grants were also applied for and received and in July the building firm of Marley’s erected the concrete framework for the new building. Volunteer labour was to be used as much as possible and it was later estimated that voluntary work had halved the cost of the project, from around £8,000 to around £4,000. “Doc” Walsh was still involved in the project, as was Donald H “Simbo” Simpson who had taken over as Group Scoutmaster from “Doc” Walsh in 1957 and held that position until 1981, along with a small band of dedicated helpers.
The foundation stone was laid by “Doc” Walsh on 24 March 1962 together with some 1962 coins laid by others. Sadly “Doc” Walsh died in July 1962; he had been associated with the group for nearly 50 years and probably saved it from dissolution on two occasions. Building work and fund raising continued but this was not helped by the exceptionally cold winter of 1962-63 with thick snow on the ground for many weeks.
Finally, the new headquarters was opened on 15 June 1963 by J F Colquhoun (Chief Scout’s Commissioner). After 55 years the group finally had a permanent home. In 1970 a new wing, balancing the entrance, was added to provide stores for the Guides and for the group. In 1983 a Beaver Colony was started and girls were also allowed to join the Venture Scouts.
In 2007 the World Scout Jamboree was held in the UK for the first time in 50 years and the site at Hylands Park, Chelmsford, Essex was visited for the day by all the Sections.