The Camping Ground – Frith Grange

The Camping Ground, not known as Frith Grange until some years later, was acquired by lease from Finchley Borough Council in 1934.

The site has over the years seen many changes and has been the venue for many camps and District events. It is probably fair to say that every member of the District has at some time been there at least once, with most having spent some time under canvas.

The District is fortunate to have the use of this open space that provides an attractive venue for outdoor Scouting activities of all kinds, and a place that creates happy memories for so many.

After Finchley Lodge was sold in 1990 Frith Grange became the District Headquarters for Finchley, Friern Barnet and Golders Green. Following the 2008 merger it is now the District HQ for Barnet Borough District Scouts.

A local Camping Ground had for some time been an idea in the minds of Finchley Scouters, and in June 1934, through the tireless efforts of Mr G A Ballinger, the District Commissioner at the time, Finchley Council offered a piece of land in Frith Lane to the Association for use as a Camping and Training Ground at a rental of £10 p.a.

The land in question had once been part of the ancient Manor of ‘Frythe’, one of the Manors into which Hendon was divided in the tenth century. All the land was at one time owned by the Westminster Abbey Authorities but was now in the possession of Finchley Borough Council.

It was thought that “In a rapidly-growing town such as Finchley, the facilities for practising the work of backwoodsmen diminished as the housing estates grew. With fields retreating farther away every year it was becoming increasingly difficult to find suitable places for outdoor Scouting.” The ground was also considered to be within walking distance of all of the Finchley Scout Groups’ Headquarters (15 at the time). Despite only having an initial agreement for one year, although future requests for a longer period were thought to be looked upon sympathetically, the Executive Committee accepted the offer.

There was plenty of work to be done in preparing the area, trees to be removed, a pond to be filled, water to be laid on and huts to be built. Rules for its use also had to be drafted.

In September William Kelsall was asked to take on the role of Camp Warden, which he did, undertaking the task enthusiastically. The Executive Committee discussed the cost of the site’s upkeep and eventually suggested that they sought agreement at the Annual General Meeting for a capitation fee to be levied at the rate of 4d per Cub, Scout and Rover. When the matter was debated at the AGM in October it was resolved that the fee would be 2d per Cub, 4d per Scout, 6d per Rover and one shilling per Leader.

Much of the work, under the direction of William Kelsall, was being done by volunteers and in particular Rovers from the District. By January plans for sanitation had been drawn up.

About the same time arrangements were also being made for the Scouts to be involved in King George V’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. The Scouts would light a Beacon, one of thousands across the County during the evening of Jubilee Day. They had initially wanted to perform this task at the Gun Station (previously occupied by the Anti-Aircraft Battery during the war) in Summers Lane, but the Local Council would not provide permission. As a result it was decided that the Beacon would be lit at the Camping Ground – its first major event.

Although some Scouts were already using the Ground, including for camping, there was still much work to be done preparing it to the required standard. Rovers were asked to provide more help, which they did in two ways. The first was by providing manual labour but they also performed a couple of concerts to raise much needed funds.

On the 6th May the Scouts’ Beacon was duly lit, in the presence of more than 1,000 people. After it was lit a certificate was sent to Buckingham Palace that read 

“The Jubilee beacon at Finchley is alight. All’s well. The Scouts of Finchley send loyal greetings to his Majesty.” The event was considered to have been an outstanding occasion, as reported in the District’s Annual Report.

At the end of May the Camping Ground was again to the fore when it was revealed that the cost of providing sanitary accommodation would be in the region of £110. There were lengthy discussions about how this would be paid for. Imperial HQ was prepared to lend £100 over a 3 year period at 4% interest but wanted personal guarantees. Members of the Executive thought this might be an issue and eventually decided to offer shares at £1 each. The idea was that the monies would be paid back over varying periods of 1 – 10 years with each shareholder receiving an additional 2 shillings.

In October it was decided that the Camping Ground would be officially opened on the 23rd May 1936. Although permanent camp sites were available by the end of the year, there was still work to be done, including making the arrangements for the big day.

In March the District Commissioner headed the organising committee and William Kelsall was naturally put in charge of the ground. A number of sub committees were also created covering finance, reception, display, publicity, camp fire, fairground and catering.

Posters were produced and programmes were printed. All Groups agreed to take part in the arena displays and help with the sideshows, and a camp fire was arranged to start at 9 p.m.

The Mayor, Alderman S Pulham, duly declared the Camping Ground open at 3 p.m. in the presence of a large crowd and a good time was had by all. The occasion was widely covered by the press.

At the end of the year it was announced that three Scouters from the District had been awarded the Medal of Merit for their good service to the Movement over a number of years. The recipients were Mr Ballinger the District Commissioner, ‘Pop’ Barclay of the 10th Finchley and William Kelsall the Camp Warden. William was not only the Camp Warden but also a badge examiner and the primary organiser of the annual Cadogan Shield competition. These were the first ever Medals of Merit awarded in Finchley.

During May of 1937 it was decided to buy back ten of the shares that had been issued and a draw was made to determine which ten. In accordance with the agreement each person received back their £1 together with the additional two shillings that had been agreed.

Much behind the scenes work had been taking place with regard to the proposed camping ground lease. Following negotiations between the Council and a local firm of solicitors it was announced, at the beginning of July, that this had finally been formalised with the District being granted a lease for a period of 21 years.

Over the next couple of years all Groups made use of the Camping Ground and improvements to the facilities were continually being made. Showers and a wash table were erected with the District Rovers providing much of the help that was required.

In June 1938 every Group took part in the ‘Good Turn Rally’ that was held at the Camping Ground. This event was held to raise money for the Boy Scouts Fund, opened as a national tribute to the work of the Chief Scout, Lord Baden Powell, so that for all time Scouting would be financially secure. The event was opened by the Mayor of Finchley, Alderman A T Pike and, in addition to a number of sideshows, several Groups put on displays in the arena, before the event closed with a campfire in the evening. The event was considered a great success with £45 being raised; this allowing for inflation would be the equivalent of £2,400 today (2023).

During the National Emergency in 1939 the number of campers dropped, despite a Sixers’ Camp being held that was attended by more than 70 Cubs and Scouters. A table was produced for the District’s annual report that showed the number compared to the previous year.

Shares had continued to be bought back at regular intervals but following a draw made in April 1940, it was announced that due to the current state of the funds repayment would need to be postponed until after the war. Whilst it could be assumed that this did happen, no further mention of the share issue has been found.

The initial impact of the war upon the Camping Ground was twofold. There was for a while a ban on tents that meant there was no camping during 1940 but, due to issues relating to Group meetings taking place in the usual locations there was an increase in the number of weekend meetings at the Camping Ground.

During 1941 the Army requisitioned the Camping Ground but thanks to the cooperation of the local C.O. it was possible to retain use of the huts and a small portion of land. With hindsight this was an excellent outcome as it ensured a presence by Scouters when the Army were not using the Ground and it still provided a place for Groups to meet. This was especially important as the newly formed Air Scouts held their weekly meetings there every Sunday morning.

At the end of 1942 there was sad news. William Kelsall, who had been the Camp Warden for 8 years, died at the age of 75. An obituary expressing the District’s great loss appeared in the local press.

Cyril Allen became the new Camp Warden and, along with some of the Rovers and Scouters who had not been enlisted, spent the remainder of the war trying to repair and limit the damage being caused to the Ground by the Army.

By 1946 the Camping Ground had still not been derequisitioned and much more attention was required to keep it in a viable condition. Although District events were being held there, the number of Groups using the facility had declined. Despite this a Scout Group from Derbyshire used the site for their summer camp.

During 1947 there were rumblings as to whether the District still needed the Camping Ground and after much debate it was decided to send a questionnaire to all the Groups. A copy of the questionnaire and the responses cannot currently be found. When the District Rovers became aware of this they pointed out that, coincidentally, the 4th Finchley Crew had just decided to provide regular service and wanted a list of the tasks that needed to be undertaken.

At the end of the year the District was advised that the Army wished to purchase the majority of the land (2.291 acres) that they had been using. Further discussions took place and after taking into consideration the extensive works that would be needed to repair the land if not sold, the request was agreed. This was subject to conditions, the main ones being that the rights of compensation from the War Department were protected, that fencing on the north boundary was replaced and finally, that to compensate the Association for the loss the Council should lease the copse on the east side of Frith Lane abutting the golf course (approx. 1.6 acres) for the remainder of the Lease granted in September 1937 for 21 years.

By February 1948, following Cyril Allen’s appointment as District Commissioner in 1946, there was still no new Camp Warden. As the 4th Finchley had been providing most of the Crews that were helping Bob Hunt agreed to take on the job for a limited period. However, it was not too long before Edward Amies (Rikki) took over the role on a permanent basis.

At the District AGM in May 1948 a resume was given about the negotiations that had taken place with the following additional remarks:

“It is felt that our Camping Ground will be a much more worthwhile site in the future and gain the renewed enthusiasm and support of all ‘Scouts’ in the District, as sites will now be available from which there are no buildings in sight and the Gas Works will be a welcome loss to the outlook from each tent. 

In obtaining these added facilities for the District the Executive confidently look for the support of all Scouters and particularly the Rovers as it is desirable that the Wardens Crew be reformed as soon as possible to undertake the necessary work on both grounds. We can then look forward to making the full facilities available for use next spring, not only to our own boys but to the Movement as a whole and thereby create a real ‘Good Tum’ to everyone. 

This report would be incomplete without a sincere word of appreciation for the very friendly cooperation of the Town Clerk, the Council and the Finchley Golf Club and it is hoped that their confidence in us will on be further strengthened by the proper regard and care of the facilities which they are entrusting to us.”

In November a letter was received from the Council stating that it was now in order for the Association to take possession of the piece of land on the east side of Frith Lane.

In April 1949 the District announced:  

“A new lease was granted to the Association covering the original one and quarter acre field and about two acres of woodland on the east side of Frith Lane, now known as ‘The Spinney’; a grand place for wide games, nature and woodcraft training and containing variety of trees, many of the oaks are nearly three hundred years old.” 

And, in the annual report there was the following short paragraph:

“A very attractive stretch of woodland adjoining the Golf Club has now been added to the facilities for camping at Frith Lane. Work has commenced on clearing and preparing Troop sites and much healthy and strenuous work lies ahead in making the new ground a first class centre for outdoor Scouting.”

The 2nd July was set as the day for the official opening of The Spinney and Sir Percy Everett, the Deputy Chief Scout, agreed to perform the ceremonial duty. Anyone wanting to attend had to buy a programme in advance at a cost of 6d. There were plenty of sideshows and playlets were performed by the 15th Finchley depicting the early days of Scouting. The 10th Finchley also performed some highland dancing while members of the 4th Finchley and Air Scouts gave a pioneering demonstration. A camp fire in the evening rounded off the event.

The following day a special Scouts’ Own was held at the Camping Ground. It was a Service of Thanksgiving for 40 years of Scouting and the Rev. A Chris Heath, Chaplain of St Paul’s Hammersmith, gave the address.

More to follow.


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Look up your local Scout Group, because you’ve got a safe, practical community who will encourage and support you.'
Bear Grylls, Chief Scout Bear Grylls