A record of our formation
by John Crowther
Over the past few weeks I have been passed several documents relating to the formation of Ealing Outdoor Club. It is such an interesting story, I thought it should be shared with all members.
A gentleman called Ron Clayden was working at the EMI Research Laboratory in Hayes. In 1935 he met a colleague by the name of Reg Chasmar who, at some time, introduced him to Youth Hostelling. Another colleague, Francis Thomson, encouraged Ron to form a Youth Hostelling group in Ealing. To this end, Ron cycled out to the YHA office which was based at the Kemsing Youth Hostel near Sevenoaks. He spent the weekend laboriously reading their records and collecting all the names and addresses of members who lived in the Ealing area. He had some leaflets typed up and duplicated, before delivering them – mainly by bicycle. The leaflet invited people to attend an inaugural meeting, held at the Congregational Church Hall, Uxbridge Road, Ealing on July 24th 1941. Attendance at this meeting was better than Ron expected, most people arriving by bicycle. Ron acted as organiser, chair and secretary of the meeting. In his address he referred to a previous rambling club in Ealing. This had been so successful as a “marriage bureau” that it had ceased to exist.
At this first meeting there were several offers of help, resulting in the following appointments:
Chair: Tom Bradley
Treasurer: John Moore
Secretary: Ron Clayden
Joint Social & Outdoor Secretaries:
Ken Morrel & Dicky Higgins
Elsie Bradley and Hilary Clayden.
Thus, the Ealing and District
YHA Group was formed.
"the local churches were unwilling to hire out their halls to a group who went rambling on Sundays!"
They now had to find somewhere to hold their weekly meetings. This was a problem, because the local churches were unwilling to hire out their halls to a group who went rambling on Sundays! Eventually Tom Bradley (Chairman) was able to secure the use of the Labour Hall in Southall High Street and this was used for some years for the evening gatherings. Despite meeting out of area, the name of the group did not change, remaining the Ealing and District Group. A former YHA group – the West London Group – had folded by this time, but their records were passed on, so that the Ealing Group could take over.
Details of the early meetings are very scarce but, despite the wishes of its founder Ron Clayden, it seems to have been something of a dating agency! John Moore married Ron’s sister Hilary, Reg Crowther married Joan Trotman before Ted Pink married Hazel Hawes and they emigrated to Australia. At some point Reg Crowther succeeded Tom Bradley as Chairman. Ron Clayden was superseded as secretary by Bill Cutts and Sheila Fox – who married Ron’s brother, David. David was also treasurer at some point.
The group was active socially, at one stage setting up a drama section. They entered the Youth Drama Festival in Southall, acting a play called “Count Albany” by Don Carswell. This play was about Bonnie Prince Charlie. Bill Elbourne was the leading actor and the play won the competition!
Meanwhile, the group moved from the Labour Hall and now met in Southall Youth Centre, near the Odeon cinema – later MFI. After a council reorganisation, these premises became unavailable so the club took up an offer of free evening accommodation at Dormers Wells School in Southall. This site was some distance from good transport connections and group membership started to fall. Once again a search for accommodation took place and the group moved to St Matthew’s Church Hall, Ealing Common. Social evenings were held here for many years. But what happened in these meetings?
Well, these meetings took place once a week. There were speakers, slide shows, folk dancing and fancy dress parties, to name but a few. The members voted also for an outdoor programme, which consisted of a Youth Hostel weekend once a fortnight! On the intervening weekend there would be a Sunday walk and two grades of cycle ride. Membership grew rapidly to around 100 and no member was allowed to organise more than two events each quarter. There was even lobbying to attract votes, to ensure that “your event” got included in the programme. There were specially arranged breaks at Bank Holidays and Christmas. The Christmas Party was always held at a Youth Hostel, where the Warden (manager) provided special catering for a negotiated price. Coaches were hired to take the large numbers to this party.
The club was now established with a committee, a meeting place and a regular programme. For many years the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend was spent on the River Thames on camping skiffs hired at Oxford. In the early 1960s these skiffs were taken onto the Oxford Canal. Later, canal boats were hired from Leighton Buzzard on the Grand Union Canal. Pony trekking and rock climbing were also popular activities at this time. Until now, public transport had been used to get to the start of local walks with coaches being hired for trips further afield. Gradually, Sunday public transport was cut back so members’ cars were used to get to the start of walks.
"For 30 years, from the 1950s, the Club organised working parties at various youth hostels in the Home Counties."
For 30 years, from the 1950s, the Club organised working parties at various youth hostels in the Home Counties. This was done on a voluntary basis and the tasks were varied, ranging from gardening to decorating. It should be remembered that there were far more hostels than today and, in fact, most towns had one. By the 1980s “Health and Safety” had come on the scene and the YHA could not afford the insurance for the volunteer work, so the practice stopped. Many YHA Groups adopted a specific hostel and they were the first people to be called when work needed doing at that hostel. Ealing initially adopted Speen up until around 1960, followed by Ivinghoe, Henley and then Lee Gate near Wendover. The Ealing Group also provided committee members and volunteer wardens at Bradenham YH until it was sold. Gradually the YHA became more commercial, so the unprofitable hostels were closed and many of the country properties were lost. This also meant that less volunteer help was required.
One of the Group’s members moved with his family to Somerset. For many years after the Group camped in his orchard every summer and joined in the Saturday night dance at the village hall. They also enjoyed a walk across Sedgemoor on the Sunday.
By 1998 Group membership had declined. It was thought that by calling ourselves the Ealing YHA Group we gave the impression of being a children’s or youth club, rather than a club with predominantly adult members. As a result, a re-branding exercise went on and “Ealing Outdoor Club” was formed - and the membership increased!
In the 21st century the Club continued to evolve. The cycling section disbanded and what had been weekend trips away twice a month became four or five trips away each year. Social evenings stopped and the Sunday walk became the most popular activity, as it still is today.