I came across this photo recently dated 1956 which I believe would have been taken at one of the Isle of Wight camps, because by this time the club had done a couple of trips to Deal in Kent. I also remember going to Poole, Dorset one year.
I have noticed several references to the Harrow Club on this site recently and decided that I must share the photo as I am sure it will bring back many memories of those happy times and it contains lots of recognisable faces. I can name about seventeen or so, not least of all Lew Ashman the club manage, Mrs Pithers (Mrs P) who used to do all the cooking and make large mugs of cocoa for us before bedtime. To the left of Lew is someone we had to call Padre John and of course at the back is good old Eric, one of the old Harrovians who used to ferry us about in his little Morris Minor to various club activities. Lew used to wake us in the morning singing songs from the show Oklahoma; he had a particular affection for Oklahoma as he’d been based there during his service with the RAF. He was a no nonsense club manager who would not tolerate any bad language and I can remember him packing one boy off on the train home for using the F word. He considered it to be an unnecessary vile adjective…how times have changed!! We certainly knew where we stood with Lew and he commanded a great deal of respect. He was a terrific bloke.
Apart from the camping, the Harrow Club on Bard Road, offered us kids great opportunities to enjoy, ranging from snooker, billiards, table tennis, a gym in the basement, to carpentry and first aid lessons, sailing and of course swimming, football and cricket. And let’s not forget fishing, with Lew taking groups in the old bone shaking Land Rover to places like Taplow and Henley to fish the Thames. I joined the first aid class one year with a few others and it came up real trumps as at that year’s camp four of us “first aiders” had the first aid tent to ourselves. The tents were large bell tents normally occupied by six to eight boys. I was also a member of the swimming team and one year we won the team relay event in a London Federation of Boys’ Clubs gala. As a reward we were taken by Lew to a cinema in Leicester Square to see the film Oklahoma. His choice!
Like Eric there were several volunteers and other public spirited individuals offering their help. In the carpentry group under the guidance of the instructor whose name I can’t remember, we made a canoe. It was made of a wooden framework clad with canvas. I seem to remember hearing some years later that the modernised Harrow Club developed a canoeing section so our craft may well have been the inspiration for it! At about that time one of the volunteers was an ex naval officer named Desmond Hoare and he had connections with a cadet unit on an island in the middle of the Thames called the Training Ship Neptune. He took a group of us there with our canoe and we were amazed when it actually worked, didn’t sink and became a great hit with the cadets. But I remember what really excited us the most was learning to sail in the 12 foot long single sail Heron dinghies which were available to us. What amazing fun we kids from the back streets of Notting Hill had sailing and swimming in the Thames on those magical summer Sundays when the sun always seemed to shine every time we went there. The “Training Ship Neptune” island is now called Ravens Ait (its original name I think) along the Portsmouth Road, near Kingston. It’s an area now very familiar to me, but in those distant days past I would never have dreamed that I would eventually settle in that part of London. I read several years later that Desmond Hoare became the commander of an Outward Bound Centre in Scotland.
There were a number of boys’ clubs in the London area sponsored by public schools e.g. Harrow, Rugby, Stowe and Eton. Our club’s association with the Harrow School was very real and many of the volunteers were themselves old Harrovians. A couple of the chaps in the camp photo were Harrow School boys. We played cricket against them at their school playing fields and had the use at times of their open air swimming pool called the “Ducker” which had the tradition of compulsory nude bathing. I remember us going there one Sunday morning and arriving early we swam in trunks. But when the school boys arrived we were reminded of the rule, and our swimming instructor who had brought his wife and young son along, was very soon politely asked to leave. A further example of the close links that existed between the club and the school was when one of the club members called Dave Saunders from Bard Road was included as part of the Harrow School team taking part in a popular BBC television panel game.
And what about the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst !! How we got to go there I do not know but we did, and completed a section (probably a very small section) of the assault course. What I do remember though were the freezing cold showers we were made to take afterwards.
As has been said by a number of contributors to the North Kensington Histories site in various blog postings, the area was not one of the best places in which to grow up but we didn’t know any different. But to have had a facility like the Harrow club in those hard times offering recreational activities and introduction to the experiences we enjoyed was priceless. Lew Ashman was the manager throughout my time with the club and I often wonder what happened to him. I am glad I had the opportunity to have been a member because without it, apart from everything else, I would never have had the chance to go to Sandhurst!
This one of two postings on the Harrow Club, one by Brian Iles and another by Alan Bateman.