2nd Friern Barnet

The 2nd Friern Barnet, originally the 186th North London, was one of 5 Groups that joined Finchley on the 1st April 1964. From then the District became Finchley and Friern Barnet.

The records covering the period up to 1964 are a bit thin but we have tried to detail what we have been able to find out about the 186th.

The Group began life in 1926 and met in the Whetstone Congregational Church Hall. It is not currently known who instigated its formation but it is known that Melville Balsillie was the Group Scout Master (GSM) from 1930 until about 1946. He had initially been a Scout with the 63rd North London from the age of 11 and after gaining his King’s Scout badge became an Assistant Cub Master. 

In 1938, John (Jack) Quinton, who was also a King’s Scout and had been to the 1937 World Jamboree in the Netherlands, led the Troop to a camp in Kandersteg, Switzerland. Unfortunately no other information about this camp is known. That year also saw Melville being awarded the Medal of Merit.

When war broke out Melville joined the Fire Service and then the Royal Air Force. Initially he was able to continue his role as GSM and from September 1939 he issued monthly news bulletins and also provided snippets for the County Newsletter. In 1941 he was awarded the Silver Acorn. 

Like Melville, Jack Quinton also joined the RAF and when Melville was posted to Canada Jim Widgery looked after the Group. The Quinton family were in fact heavily involved with the Group: both of Jack’s brothers, Ken and Mike were also in the Troop, and during the war his father Charles looked after Rovers. Many other families also stepped up to help keep the Group going; Margaret Finch helped with the Cubs and remained the leader for a while after the war, Eric Crouch, Ron Eames and Leslie Knowles are noted as having been leaders with the Troop.

Matters were not helped with the Church Hall being requisitioned by the Army resulting in meetings taking place in a variety of places, including a room in the All Saints’ Vicarage and the TOC-H hut on the High Street, while members’ houses were used for patrol meetings. During the war the Troop ran messages for the Air Raid Precaution Wardens.

During July 1945 Margaret Finch, who was running the Cub Pack, married John (Jack) Widgery, also in the RAF and brother of Jim. In fact Margaret’s two brothers, Roland and Norman, were also Scouts with the Group and subsequently members of the RAF.

By the end of the war Melville was a Squadron Leader, and on his return to civilian life he immediately returned to Scouting at the 186th NL. In September 1945 he issued the monthly bulletin and tried to list all the Group members that were members of the Services as well as those who carried out essential work at home. That list sadly included the names of thirteen men who had lost their lives. They were Dick Adcock, Gordon Allan, Bob Baumber, Harry Brown, Charles Bushford, Ken Carlo, Alan Cross, Edwin Davey, Dick Dormer, Eric Hale, Alan Kelland, Bill Willis and Sid Willis.

The newsletter also contained a report of the Scouts’ summer camp that had taken place, during July that year, close to the River Wye on the estate of Col. Thorneycroft in Hereford. This enabled them to do canoeing and plenty of swimming. There was also climbing in the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons as well as visits to Chepstow Castle and Tintern Abbey.

Melville was then asked to become a member of the Scout Association’s Post-War Commission to study the future pattern of Scouting. In undertaking this task he played a key role in the introduction of Senior Scouts in 1946. Shortly after this his employer the Clydesdale Bank transferred him to Scotland and he became the ACC (Rover Scouts) in Midlothian.

When Melville left the Group Jim Widgery took over the role of GSM. However, it is not known how long he held that position or indeed how long Margaret Widgery remained in charge of the Cubs. A note has been found that says that Brian Douglas helped Eric Allan to run the Cubs. 

It is perhaps interesting to note that in April 1948 Roland Finch, Margaret’s brother, married Molly Widgery, the sister of her husband Jack.

Upon Melville’s move back to London he lived in Barnet and then started a long and distinguished association with Hertfordshire District Scouts. Whilst in Scotland though he tested his long held theories on the development of the older Scout, through adventurous activities, by organising Mountain-craft and Leadership Courses. He also wrote a number of books on Scouting. The first of them, “Running a Senior Scout Troop” became a textbook for Senior Scouts. As a result of his reputation he became the ACC (Senior Scouts) and in 1957 he was awarded the Silver Wolf ‘In recognition of service of the most exceptional character in Hertfordshire and London over a period of 30 years’.

On the 28th July 1951 the Scouts travelled to Torre in Devon for their summer camp and returned on the 12th August. Unfortunately there is no report.

During 1951 Jack Quinton left the Group and re-joined the RAF. During the war he was constantly rated exceptional and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1944, flying Mosquitos with No 604 Squadron. However, on the 13th August while on a training exercise his aircraft collided with another plane causing a hole in the fuselage. Jack was in the rear and through quick thinking he managed to get the only parachute close to hand and hook it onto the 16 year old cadet he was with and force him out of the plane. This act of heroism was acknowledged by the King and Jack was posthumously awarded the George Cross. His medals, the George Cross, the DFC and four campaign medals are currently (2023) on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

The story of his death was subsequently published in an article in the 1962 Scout Annual entitled “He Lived – and Died – by the Scout Law” which was written by Leslie Hunt who had served with Jack during the war.

We do not currently have any records that cover the years that followed, up to 1964, when the Group was renamed the 2nd Friern Barnet upon joining the newly created District of Finchley and Friern Barnet.

At that time Ted Gordon was in charge of the Rover Scouts, Dave Burgess the Scouts and Mabel Gordon the Cubs. Keith Burgess, who had been helping Ted with the Rovers, was acting as the GSM. Other Scouters known to be with the Group at that time were Jim Foster and Mike Burgess, Keith’s twin brother. Brian and Millie Chester Smith were also regular helpers with the Group going.

Bernard Clow became an Assistant Scoutmaster (ASM) later that year and Keith’s warrant as GSM was approved. During that year the Scouts held their camp in Holkham, Norfolk but again there are no details.

In January 1965 a warrant was approved for Reg Dickins as an ASM and in April, Robert (Bob) Foster became the Senior Scout Leader. The census figures for that year were 13 Cubs, 12 Scouts, 4 Senior Scouts, 6 Rovers and 9 Scouters.

The 1965 summer camp lasted a fortnight and was held in Dunwich, Suffolk. Like many other Groups the boys travelled with all their camping gear in the back of a removal lorry. Again there is no formal record of the camp or the activities that took place.

By the time of the 1966 census the number of Cubs in the Pack had doubled while the other figures remained about the same.

Over the years the Group had a close connection with the 4th FB who met round the corner at St. Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church. To that end the Rovers met jointly under the guidance of Ted Gordon (Bos’n). The Scouts held a joint summer camp and spent two weeks at The Pludds, a hamlet in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Again there is no report although it is known that they travelled down on the 30th July and listened to the World Cup final on the radio while setting up their site, and we have been told that it rained every day.

In November the Group celebrated their 40th anniversary by holding a reunion dinner in the church hall. Among the 130 past and present members who attended were Melville Balsillie and Bill Thompson who was at the time Assistant County Commissioner for Greater London North. After the meal the guests were shown slides, photographs and a film of the Group’s activities since its inception. The following morning the Group paraded at the church’s Remembrance Day service that was also attended by Cyril Allen, the District Commissioner, and Tom & Audrey Marshall, the ADCs for Scouts and Cubs.

During 1967 the Group started to make the changes necessary following the Advance Party Report of 1966. Around the same time resignations were received from Keith Burgess, the GSM, and Bob Foster, the Senior Scout Leader. Jim Foster took over as the Group Scout Leader (GSL {previously GSM}).

In March both Ted and Mabel Gordon were awarded the Medal of Merit and a month or so later Jim Foster received a Long Service Award.

The Scouts put out a challenge to any Group that wanted to take part in a Trek Cart obstacle race at the Finchley Carnival but it is not known if anyone accepted. What is known is that their Trek Cart still carried the 186th livery.

In July, the 5th Friern Barnet, who met at the Manor Drive Methodist Church, could no longer continue and the decision was made to merge the Group with the 2nd. Their resources were combined but the Group continued under the name of the 2nd Friern Barnet.


More to follow.


To view associated photographs and press cuttings click here.


My time with the 186 was just before and until shortly after the war. I arrived just as Melville Balsillie left for Canada and Jim Widgery took over. At the time I lived in Oakleigh Road North, opposite the Russell Road opening. Beyond our garden was a relatively large triangular area filled with fruit trees, allotments, and grass. This was mostly owned by the Allan family of Loring Road. Stanley, one of the sons, was a Scout and he introduced my brother and me to the Group. 

Gordon, an older brother of Stanley, who was a Rover, became an RAF bomber pilot at the outbreak of war and later ‘Missing in Action’ in North Africa. Another of his brothers, who had been an RAF pilot, was also killed in a plane accident in Egypt before the war. As for Stanley, he and his younger sister were evacuated to the Los Angeles area.

During the war while the church hall was being used by the Army we met in various places, including a room in the All Saints’ Vicarage and the TOC-H hut on the High Street while members’ houses were used for patrol meetings. During the war the troop ran messages for the Air Raid Precaution Wardens.

During the war we did not do a lot of camping but I remember later many enjoyable trips to Northaw and Braughing in Herts. Later we camped at Hereford on Lt. Col. Thorneycroft’s estate with Balsillie nearby at an RAF training camp. One Easter we went to the Lake District. I also remember the Trek Cart that we pushed all the way to Scout Park in Bounds Green.

When I transferred to the Scouts, my first patrol leader was Tony Bluett from Totteridge. Our association was brief, as that same day Tony was selected to be the first leader of a newly formed Air Scouts Troop. He later became a member of the RAF Air Display Team and was sadly killed in a collision with another member.

Other boys and leaders I remember from my time with the 186 are:

  • Arnold Brett and Ray Arnold, Both patrol leaders. Ray was a notable miler at Christ College and trained for the ministry. 
  • Eric Crouch, a Troop Leader, and his father. Eric had the distinction of being drafted to work in the mines instead of the military, resulting in some jokes.
  • Stewart Hastead and Arthur Dale. Stewart went to a Merchant Navy College, joined the merchant navy, and I believe earned his mates ticket. He then developed a successful advertising agency. Arthur worked in his parent’s butcher shop and died at an early age.
  • Another troop leader – Leslie Knowles, who also joined the navy and then worked in his father’s engineering firm.
  • Phil Clark, Denis Plater, and troop leader Brian Cross who all lived in St Margaret’s Avenue. While at Finchley County School, Brian had two bouts in the boxing booth at the Barnet Fair. Eventually he became an ordained minister. Denis was in both the Cubs and Scouts and trained in the RAF as a photographer. Phil, along with George Hoare, transferred from another troop about 1944. Both became surveyors. 
  • Contemporaries of mine included Leslie Sharp, Mike Emery, Paul Dunford, and Frank & Arthur Weatherby. Leslie became a professional soldier and lost an eye in Korea. Weatherby’s father assisted with the running of the troop during the war, as did Gerald Pye’s father.

As for myself, I trained as an accountant in the City, becoming a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Later I decided on an academic life, doing graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Colorado. I taught at universities in the Midwestern US and with the United Nations in Africa (Tanzania and Malawi). After returning from Africa, I prepared examinations for the American Institute of CPAS (Certified Public Accountants) where I was also a member. I retired at 65 and have been living in Colorado ever since.

Alan Smith – 186th North London

(Extracts from a letter written in December 2014)

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I joined the 186th North London Scout Group, based at the Congregational Church in Oakleigh Road, Whetstone, as a Wolf Cub in 1961, when I was eight. Akela was Mabel Gordon. Her husband, Ted, was Bos’n. I was in the White Six and got my Second Star and five proficiency badges, which meant I also qualified for the Leaping Wolf badge. The District had a list of approved examiners, so when you were put forward for a proficiency badge you had to go and see one of them to be tested! Brian Chester Smith used to come to help at Cubs, his Pack name, I think, was Kaa. Brian and his wife Millie were involved with the Group for many years to come.

I can’t remember if I did any camping as a Cub, but I certainly did when I moved up to Scouts. The leaders were Dave Burgess, Bernard Clow and Reg Dickins, with occasional help from Roy Davidson, Colin Davidson, George Dickins, and others. As is the case today, Scouting was often a family affair, and we had Jim Foster and his sons Bob and Brian, as well as Dave Burgess’ twin brothers Mike and Keith. There were good links with the 187th North London, who were based at St Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Athenaeum Road. 

My first summer camp was in Dunwich, Suffolk (1965). It was a full fortnight away, we travelled in the back of a removal lorry with all the camping kit, I had a bedroll and blanket pins, and in those days, as well as a wet pit, we dug a dry pit for disposal of cans, which would all rust away (“Burn ‘em, Bash ‘em, Bury ‘em”). The Scout Leaders would build “The Palace”: two Explorer patrol tents pitched end to end, with a gap in between, covered by a third overlapping flysheet which was raised at the front to allow access. The stores went in one tent, the leaders slept in the other, and there was a table and seats under the central flysheet for them to eat at. My Patrol Leader was Steve Bury, a (to me) fearsome character, who nevertheless had a daily routine of washing his feet and then dusting them with Lily of the Valley talcum powder. Strange, the things you remember. Other summer camps were in Monmouthshire, County Wicklow in Ireland, Guernsey and Dorset. A few memories from the Monmouthshire camp, which was in 1966: we unloaded the kit on the day we arrived at the site (The Pludds), while listening to the World Cup final on a transistor radio which was placed on one of the tea chests; it rained every day for two weeks and we ended up moving our altar fire, which was on a sheet of corrugated iron, under the dining shelter so that we could get the fire going; it was an area with a history of mining, so we enlisted help from some local lads to dig the toilet pits (I think we may have paid them sixpence). 

There were also Whitsun camps, and I recall taking the trek cart to a site at the White Fathers in Totteridge Lane. That may have been the occasion when one of the wheels came off the cart as we pulled it round the corner at Whetstone traffic lights… (Incidentally, the 186th North London trek cart still exists, having been lovingly repainted, and we now look after it at the 6th Friern Barnet.) I won a couple of pennants for 20 Nights camping in a year and they are still on my camp blanket.

I’m sure that in those days, two weeks’ annual holiday from work was the norm, so our Scout Leaders must have used all their allowance on summer camp. I’m amazed, and grateful, that they did.

During my time the age range for Scouts was 11 to 15, with Senior Scouts from 15 to 18 and Rovers after that. But during my time in the Troop, things changed. The Group became the 2nd Friern Barnet, the District, Finchley, Friern Barnet and Golders Green, and Venture Scouts were introduced. The badge system also changed, which meant that I got my Second Class, but not the First Class Scout badge. The adventurous summer camp venues show that it was a very active Troop, but proficiency badges did not feature much – the only one I remember anyone getting was Glyn Jones gaining the Bookbinder! I was in the Hawks Patrol and eventually became the Patrol Leader. David Blaney was also in the Troop and in a few years’ time he would become the Scout Leader, with me as ASL.

Malcolm Rush – 2nd Friern Barnet

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I was introduced to the 186th North London in 1958/9 by Geoffrey Tomkins, a school friend of mine from Woodhouse Grammar. I was put into the Eagle Patrol and Ian Varcoe was the Patrol Leader.

I remember going on a training weekend at The Spinney in Mill Hill and later in 1959 to a camp in Torquay. I can’t remember much about it, apart from scaring some of the younger boys in our tent, with ghost stories. We also had to empty the latrines, which were large oil drum, with wooden toilet seats. A Group from Glasgow arrived in the 2nd week and scared a few of us, as some of them had tattoos and we were told they had grabbed some boys and ducked them in the toilets.

When Ian left I was made Patrol Leader. There was one boy there who had suffered from polio and was very good at playing British Bulldog as his arms were very strong, compensating for his weak legs.

That’s about all I can remember, after more than 50 years.

David Colyer – 186th North London

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