Note: In 2019 the 15th Finchley published a book entitled ‘Our Story’, a history of the Group’s first 100 years. We are grateful to them for allowing us to use some of the content, which has been supplemented with other material, to produce this article.
The 15th Finchley started life as a Scout Troop in 1919 and was originally known as the 15th Finchley and Hendon BP Scout Group. The first Scout Master was Mr McNeill who was assisted by Mr Theo E Schmidt. However, the man behind the idea, their founder and the first Group Scout Master (GSM), was the Curate at Christ Church, North Finchley: Rev. F. S. ‘Pa’ Lee.
It did not take long for the Group to get going. There was a camp during the first year, held at Hale, Mill Hill, which was attended by 24 Scouts. A drum and bugle band was formed, with fifes being added later, and the Vicar of Christ Church bought them a trek cart that they collected from the Elephant and Castle and pushed back to Finchley.
In 1920 they found their first headquarters in the Lyndene Stable, Woodside Park Road but Mr McNeill their leader went to Palestine. Theo Schmidt took over as the leader, a position he was to hold until 1927 when he departed.
The camp in 1920 was at Cross Oaks Farm, Shenley, this time with 30 Scouts, and in 1921 they went to Hadleigh, near Leigh on Sea. During 1922 they had to leave the Stables but fortunately the Vicar of Christ Church offered them a small plot in his garden on which they built a small hut they named ‘Porte Hole’.
A couple of years later they needed more space and moved again, this time to a room over stables in Hutton Grove. It was named ‘Utopia’. Three Scouts (Theodore Schmidt, Edward “Ted” Fensome and Wilf Hewitt) represented the Group at the World Jamboree held in Denmark n 1924. Many international links grew from that camp including a visit in 1936 from a Danish Group.
There was always a Summer Camp and in 1925 the Scouts went to Sheringham in Norfolk. They had lovely weather and were warmly welcomed by everyone, including the local Sea Scouts.
Major changes took place in 1927. After Theo Schmidt had departed and with ‘Pa’ Lee leaving for Bristol Mr McKeown (known as Mac) took over the vacant roles. Additionally the Group started Wolf Cubs.
The troop had also been through a lean period with the number of Scouts, at one stage, being reduced to 10, and with the Band being disbanded. However, they persevered with regular camps and the troop began to grow again.
Although the Hutton Grove HQ served the Group well, even to the extent of holding Jumble Sales, Socials and a Revue it was apparent, in the late 20s and early 30s, that better premises were needed, so the Group were again on the look-out for a new HQ.
In 1932 Mac left and Charlie Roberts, a founder member, took on the role of GSM and Gedda Game became the Scoutmaster. As a reward for the hard work that Mac had done for the Group the District conferred upon him the title of Honorary GSM.
About the same time Charlie found a suitable plot of land in Grove Road on which they wanted to build. It was purchased for £175 but more funds were required to cover the cost of the building. Interestingly there were rumours that the Group were to build a Dance Hall and Charlie had to make it clear that they were building a home for the Scouts not a hall for the public.
Following lengthy negotiations with the planning authorities building operations on the new ‘Utopia’ finally commenced in 1934. The guiding light and director of the building project was Ted Fensome, yet another founder member. He and his family were the key construction team but when it came to the interior and exterior decoration there were many willing helpers. The bank helped financially but there were several donations and an issue of £1 shares that was oversubscribed.
The building was complete and ready for use by the end of the year. The opening ceremony, which was extensively covered by the press, was performed by their founder ‘Pa’ Lee, who had returned to Finchley for the occasion, and Mr Goodyear who had for a long time been the Group Treasurer, and supporter who had ensured the early success of the Group. According to the press “The Rev. F S Lee and Mr Goodyear then together inserted a key in the lock of the main doors and formally opened them for the public to enter.”
More to follow.