The Harrow Boys’ Club, North Kensington W10 – Brian Iles remembers

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.

Yours truly at the helm with David Prater and Alan Wilkinson crewing. The little lad is Desmond Hoare’s son.

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.

At the Sandhurst assault course. Unfortunately I can’t remember the boy with me.

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!

Our gang during a boozy night out on holiday in Jersey 1958. Kenny Andrews, John Bailey (in background) Ken Carter, Tom Fee, yours truly, Terry Johnston and David Prater. Tony Simpson was also on the holiday but he wasn’t feeling well when the photo was taken.

Brian Iles

This one of two postings on the Harrow Club, one by Brian Iles and another by Alan Bateman.

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13 Responses to The Harrow Boys’ Club, North Kensington W10 – Brian Iles remembers

  1. Roy Farndale says:

    I remember Eric, a real gentleman and thoroughly nice man. I was a member during and before Lew Ashmans reign. I can’t remember his predecessors name, but he was a tall man I think, I believe he moved to Taunton from our club. Of course every one remembers Mrs Pithers, she was a lovely lady, her son Archie used to belong to the club too. My first game of snooker was played up stairs in the billiard room, although it was a balcony to the main hall. I went on to belong to the Old Boys club around the corner, with Mike Cappocci, a taxi driver, Jacko Popplet and his brother Tom, their cousin Something Harrison, Sid Braybrook, a few others I can’t remember the names, but the whole Harrow Club experience left a better man than I would have been otherwise. I think in the picture, the man on the extreme left was an old Harrovian, as I think was the man on the right of the back row. They were really good people, they never ever looked down on us, they were friendly and helpful and full of good advice. Lovely time, I enjoyed my childhood and adolescence growing up in W10, I wish it was still there. Roy Farndale.

    • Brian Allum says:

      You’re right Roy, he was a tall man, his name was Jones and we called him Joner.

      • Roy Farndale says:

        hi Brian, that was it, but we thought it was Jonah like the whale man. According to what I have read from later members of the club, they moved the snooker table down to the main hall. When I went to the club it was up on what we supposed was a balcony, looking over the main hall. The other end of the hall was a Stage, which had a couple of small rooms off of it and we could use those rooms for various projects. I remember a mate and me tried to make an electronic microphone in there with soldered electric parts, tried for weeks on end and we failed. At least I learned how to solder properly, good times at Harrow Club, I will remember it fondly for the rest of my life, (81 now), it certainly was a real asset to our district.

  2. Barney Prendergast says:

    A gentleman I know here in Gloucester, Massachusetts, USA was a volunteer at the club in the sixties and wondered if anyone knows what became of Lew Ashman. Any information would be passed on and, I’m sure, very gratefully received.

    • Bob kirkham says:

      Brian Iles
      The boy with you at Sandhurst is my older
      brother (r.i.p.) Billy Kirkham who was a long and active member of the Harrow Club .
      Desmond Hoare was an Admiral in the Navy and I saw his obituary 6/7 years ago in the Telegraph.
      Billy died 3 years ago aged 73 from mesothelioma
      caused by contact with asbestos in the 60s.
      His son works with me and neither of us had
      ever seen this photo before so many thanks

      Bob Kirkham

      • Brian Iles says:

        Hi Bob
        Thank you for the message and I’m really pleased now that I included the photo in my post. I’m so sorry to hear the sad news about Billy dying of that dreadful disease. I was in the building industry all my working life and have lost many good friends the same way. Of course I now remember the name Billy Kirkham. I didn’t know Desmond Hoare was an Admiral but imagined he must have been pretty high up the ranks because he lived in a very large off Kensington High Street.
        There seems to have been lots of Kirkham families in the area; were you all related? I remember Maureen Kirkham now Phillips, is she a relation of yours?
        If you would like a copy of the photo and can’t download it from this site I’d be pleased to email it to you. I am on Facebook if you want to send me your address.
        Brian

    • Bob kirkham says:

      Lew Ashman died around 10 years ago he had moved to Windsor Berkshire.
      My brother and several other club members were at the funeral

  3. Brian Iles says:

    Hi Roy
    The balcony you refer to was where we had the carpentry shop and made the canoe. One of the rooms off the stage was used for the First Aid lessons. I also remember Jonah and thought that was his real name.
    Brian Iles

    • Roy Farndale says:

      Hi Brian, you must have been a member later than me, I joined in 1945 I think, its a long time ago, I went there with my brother 2 years ago, it was awful seeing the changes made to the club and the church, my parents were married there, I was christened there, there has been a floor fitted in, against the big glass window, now a sports hall, seems tragic when you have so many memories oif how it was.

  4. William Stokes says:

    Dear All
    These certainly sound fantastic memories. I have heard many stories about the Harrow Club. My dad was a member – Bill Stokes ( Latimer rd ). I showed him all the photos. I’ve been down to the club and they have quite a lot on the walls, also the Harrow School archives has a lot. There is a programme with the silver arrow ball in. Would anybody be able to put me in contact with anyone who knows my dad?
    Many thanks, William Stokes

  5. Ken Saunders says:

    Brian/Alan
    What excellent write ups on the Harrow Club.
    I have the same 1956 Bembridge IOW camp photo. I am in the third row without a top on. Also the lad in this row with glasses is an Harrovian. Again, Tony Simpson is missing along with Harry Brasher who shared the same tent with me. In this photo were some outstanding sportsmen some who went on beyond club level. I used to play football alongside Alan Wilkinson who was the Harrow Club team captain when we reached the semi-finals of the federation cup all thanks to Albert Smith and going for trials at QPR. Billy Kirkham who I believe went to St Clement Danes grammar school took up boxing and became a federation champion this again due to the excellent coaches provided by the Harrow club and Harrow school.
    The subs we paid was easily affordable by the poorest family yet today I am sure we are missing sports talent where families are priced out of supporting their child’s sporting ability. I also went sailing with Captain Desmond Hoare and was sailing Wayfarers these skills I never forgot and continued in later life dinghy sailing with my own Fireball.
    Once I put my hand up to learn Squash and remember one evening being driven to Harrow school with a few other boys along with Harry Brasher to Harrow School to be taught by the then Welsh No 2 player. After a quick lesson we were teamed up against some Harrovians who wiped the floor with us.
    Then we went back to the master’s house with the boys to socialise and drink cider when Harry B saw the grand piano that was there and started playing while we sung along to ‘Jimmy Binks’ etc. Of course none of the Harrovians knew any of the words so we kept them in awe singing in our cockney accents and we were really thanked for a jolly good evening.
    The Harrow Club was boys only, but someone decided it would be nice to have ballroom dancing lessons so they allowed girls to attend on a Thursday evening so that the boys could have partners. After a slow start most of us did learn to waltz and then packed it up. I could be wrong but I don’t think anybody won any dancing medals.
    I received a medal playing Draughts for the club. Yes, we had a draughts team. There was three in a team so there were nine games in a match and we got to the final of the FOBC cup up against a Jewish boys club called Brady, a very large organised club in Whitechapel. We went there to play the final. They only had 2 players so it ended up a draw and we were given the trophy by default and Lew was not happy in doing this so insisted a replay at the Harrow Club which we lost to guys who were ringers all in their mid-twenties or more. Lew was seething but was not sure about any age limit.
    We were very lucky and privileged to have the Harrow Club and also the Boys Brigade local to where we lived. I used to go to the People’s Hall Brigade the 33rd middx. Mainly because the hat was not a pill box style like the Latymer Mission 146 used. Here I was taught to play the side drum, and compete in gymnastics, marching and swimming.

  6. Ann Nicholl ,formerly Quirke. says:

    Lovely stories, now I know why the Stowe, Harrow and Rugby Clubs got their names. Ann

  7. James Farndale says:

    I also belonged to the Harrow Club, and used to go to the old boys club. I seem to remember playing table tennis on the balcony, would be about 1955/56.

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