Avenue House VSU
The Avenue House Venture Scout Unit was formed directly as a result of the 1966 ‘Advance Party Report’. The key changes, designed to revitalise the Movement, included a new uniform, with long trousers replacing shorts for everyone except Cubs, and a restructuring of the various sections. Senior Scouts were replaced by Venture Scout Units with the upper age increased from 18 to 20, and the Rover Scouts section was done away with.
The 6th Finchley, who met at ‘The Den’ on the Avenue House Estate, had managed to retain its own Senior Scout Troop with a membership declining from about nine in the mid-sixties, and were led by Geoff Pinnells. During the early part of 1967 they continued to operate well with Rowland (Bruno) Jackson gaining his Queen’s Scout Badge and then being selected to represent the District at the World Scout Jamboree in Idaho at the end of July.
However, by September only three original members were still active (Graham Beevor, Bruno and Bob Wall) plus Nick Moss, a friend of Rowland’s who had been recruited. At the same time three members of the 25th Finchley (Terry Russell, Riki Nisi and Gordon Steadman), joined forces, thus strengthening the Unit.
The Senior Scouts, now Venture Scouts from the 9th, 16th and 21st Finchley, had been meeting jointly at the 16th Finchley H.Q. However their Leader, Arthur Fitzjohn, had as a result of the ‘report’ decided that it was time for him to retire. The three remaining members (Peter Cox, Philip Knowles and Roy Turner) then took the opportunity to start meeting with the Venture Scouts of the 6th and 25th Finchley.
Upon their arrival in April 1968 the Group changed their
name to the Avenue House VSU, and in effect became the Venture Scout Unit for the southern half of Finchley. They were close to Church End (or Finchley Central) and within easy access from a number of different bus routes.
Geoff agreed to continue as leader, and the 6th agreed to the continued use of their facilities. In fact the Unit was never actually registered as the Avenue House VSU and were included, for census and insurance purposes as 6th Finchley.
Within a couple of months Phil and Peter gained their Queen’s Scout Badge, managing to complete the requirements under the old system before the new ones became obligatory. Their services were immediately called into use by acting as stewards on the last day of the Lambeth Conference that was being held at the White City Stadium. And, a couple of months later, along with Frank Phillip (15th Finchley), representing the District as part of the Guard of Honour for Princess Margaret when she attended the Scout Gang Show at the Odeon, Temple Fortune.
Although Geoff was the Leader, under the new set-up it became the responsibility of the members to plan their programmes and activities. This worked well and before long a hike in Surrey over the Whitsun weekend had been arranged, that included a climb to the tower at the top of Leith Hill, the highest point in South East England. Shortly after that three more Venture Scouts joined from the 25th (John Howarth and Phil Morecombe and Peter Watson), as well as Graham Hicks who had been in the Scouts at the 6th.
Also during 1968 Bob, Graham and Bruno enjoyed a summer expedition to Perthshire in Scotland that included climbing some Munros including Ben Nevis. A log was produced and they entered the competition for the Jubilee Trophy but did not win.
In April 1969 Peter was one of three Venture Scouts chosen to represent the District at the Windsor parade. Derek Warren ADC (Venture Scouts) was also chosen to lead the North London contingent.
During the summer Bob, Graham B, Bruno, Nick and Geoff ventured abroad by travelling across Switzerland to Liechtenstein and back. They flew to Basel and as well as hiking they used rail, boat and bus during their trek. Upon reaching Liechtenstein they had hoped to meet the Crown Prince, having been given a letter of introduction by ‘Pop’ Barclay (10th Finchley), who is credited with being responsible for the start of Scouting in that country. However, he was not at home when they reached Vaduz. A substantial log of their adventure was produced and they again entered the competition for the Jubilee Trophy. This time they won, jointly with the 15th Finchley, in what turned out to be a two horse race.
In October Peter and Bruno were back on ‘Guard of Honour’ duty, Peter for Princess Alexandra when she came to the Gang Show and Bruno for Lady Baden-Powell when she attended the show. A couple of weeks later Bruno was on duty again, this time at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday.
Bruno continued his heavy workload into 1970. In April he was one of three to represent the District at Windsor and in June he was a steward at Westminster Hall for the 25th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter, where the Queen and other royals were in attendance.
There was a Whitsun hike in 1970 but on this occasion there were only three hikers: Messrs Beevor, Cox and Knowles. They took the train on the Saturday morning to Marden in Kent, then hiked in a southerly direction towards the coast, eventually catching the train home from Hastings on the Monday.
The Unit did take part in other District events, including the Swimming Gala and the Cross Country but without much success. Something they did consider themselves good at though was handball. They used to play almost every week and often had matches against other Units.
During the year Geoff managed to arrange for three of the Unit to go for a flight in a small aircraft from Biggin Hill to Panshanger. Nick, Graham B and Bob had a great time looking down at London from the sky.
A crew was also regularly provided at Frith Grange where there seemed to be a never ending list of tasks that had to be undertaken.
As some Groups started to grow again and were able to form their own Venture Scout Units the younger members returned to their original homes, in particular those from the 25th Finchley, where the Group had merged with the 1st Finchley.
By the autumn of 1970 membership of the unit had fallen dramatically including the loss of Bruno and Bob Wall who went to University, and Nick Moss who moved to Yorkshire. With the remaining members reaching the maximum age for Venture Scouts the Unit was formally closed down on the 14th October 1970.
I recall the summer camps in Scotland (1968) and Switzerland (1969). Only three of us went to Scotland (Bob Wall, Bruno and I) and we stayed at Lochearnhead in Perthshire (not the old railway station owned by Herts Scouts). We climbed two or three Munros and met up with some Dutch Scouts. Wilf Hewitt also paid us a visit and stayed for a few days. While with us he drove us up to Fort William in his Triumph Herald, so we could climb Ben Nevis.
The 1969 trip consisted of two weeks travelling by train, boat and foot, from Basel across Switzerland to Liechtenstein and back. On this occasion I was accompanied by Bob, Bruno and Nick Moss. Geoff Pinnells also came with us this time. We had with us a letter of introduction to the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein because Pop Barclay (10th Finchley) had founded Scouting there. He was away!
Graham Beevor – AHVSU
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There were five of us that went on the Whitsun hike in 1968, as well as myself there was Graham Beevor, Bruno Jackson, Riki Nisi and Roy Turner. Our aim was to climb to the Tower at the top of Leith Hill, the highest point in South East England. I certainly recall our struggle up the hill with our packs, through the wood, using the roots of trees as hand and foot holds. Somebody suggested it was the quickest way up, but it was also the steepest. Roy especially complained about his progress – he was taking three steps forward and then slipping back two. He got little sympathy from everyone else who had hiking boots with a proper tread.
Philip Knowles – AHVSU
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The second AHVSU hike took place in December 1969 when Messrs Beevor, Cox, Haworth, Hicks, Jackson, Knowles and Morecombe set out from Walton Firs National Scout campsite near Cobham in Surrey. Following a route through the villages of Stoke D’Abernon, Fetcham and Bookham we then needed a campsite for the night in the increasingly cold conditions.
A village cricket pitch, out of use at that time of year seemed ideal and the open score hut gave us somewhere dry to store some of our gear. After cooking and eating our evening meal we retired to the local pub for an evening in the warm. Sleeping bags in those days weren’t a patch on modern ones and in sub-freezing temperatures few of us got much sleep. I will always remember getting up next morning to hear Peter complaining from the tent he shared with Phil “we’ve only just found how to keep warm.” Lucky them!
We then had to melt ice to make a cup of tea the mugs for which were frozen to the score hut roof. The tents stood without their poles making packing a challenge. Then making sure we had caused no damage we set off to climb Box Hill, the main target of the weekend. This successfully achieved and feeling much warmer we headed off for the nearest station and a train home.
Graham Beevor – AHVSU
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It was Whitsun 1970 and we decided to do a hike that would see us end up in Hastings. Unfortunately there were only three of us (Beevor, Cox and Knowles) that caught the train on the Saturday morning to Marden Station in Kent. We headed in a mainly southerly direction and passed Benenden School, the only highlight of the day. After a brief conversation about Princess Anne having been there, we continued to Newenden where we spent the night.
The next morning we crossed the River Rother to enter East Sussex. We made good progress and were approaching Hastings ahead of schedule. An inspection of the map revealed a possible campsite – a small wood close to a lake. So, just after Silverdale we pulled off the road and made camp out of sight of the locals.
On the Monday morning there was little else to do but make our way down to Hastings Station and catch the train back to London.
Peter Cox – AHVSU