Penny miles, camping trips and long walks - a happy guiding life

AS GIRL Guiding in England approaches its 100th birthday, Lesley Coates and Hilda Anderson have told the POST what it was like being a guide in 1930s Chadwell Heath. Just about every girl I knew then was in the guides says 88-year-old Lesley, who joined

AS GIRL Guiding in England approaches its 100th birthday, Lesley Coates and Hilda Anderson have told the POST what it was like being a guide in 1930s Chadwell Heath.

"Just about every girl I knew then was in the guides" says 88-year-old Lesley, who joined the 1st Chadwell Heath Guides around 1931. "You have to remember that in those days there weren't any other clubs to join or much else to do really. Not like there is today. So the boys joined the scouts and the girls joined the guides."

Lesley isn't too sure when the 1st Chadwell Heath Guides formed, but she thinks it may have been shortly after the 1st Chadwell Heath Scouts was started in 1909.

"I don't know much about the group's history. But when I joined they were based at Saint Chad's church in St Chad's Road. We were there for a couple of years, but when a new vicar took over the church there was a big falling out.

"He decided his wife would run the guides, but we weren't having that. We wanted to keep our leader, so in the end we had to leave Saint Chad's."

For some time the group met at the Chadwell Mixed School in High Road, between Chadwell Heath and Goodmayes.

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During this time they helped raise funds to build a new hall for the 1st Chadwell Heath Scouts, who were and are still based in Cecil Road.

"I remember we collected a mile of pennies, which was about �240. Each girl would be given a strip, which had lots of little pockets on it.

"You would go around to everyone you knew and try to get the strip filled with as many pennies as possible."

After the new hall was completed the scouts offered the guides the use of their building, called Catterall Hall, and from then on it became their permanent base.

Lesley, who lived in Whalebone Lane North and later Tenvy Road as a child, says the girls would meet once a week for their girl guide meetings.

"We did the normal guide things: learnt our Guide Laws and collected the guide badges.

I also remember practising to tie knots, memorising the world flags and learning what made up the Union Jack."

And of course any girl guide experience wouldn't be complete without the adventurous camping trips.

"The camping trips I recall were to Frinton-on-Sea, Essex and cost �1 for the whole week.

"We would all be taken there in a lorry. We'd sit in the back, with all the tents and the food, which I think might break a few health and safety rules now."

"When we arrived we'd usually set up camp in a farmer's field. You could camp in just about any field, as long as you checked with the farmer first."

Lesley's friend and fellow Chadwell Heath Guide Hilda, also 88, shared some of her memories of the trips.

"I remember going for a lot of walks. And when it was time to eat we'd collect bits of twig for the camp fire and taking it in turns to cook - often sausages and boiled potatoes.

"We didn't have mattresses. Instead we'd bring a mattress cover and fill it with straw. It was a bit lumpy but we didn't care. We were happy."

Lesley added: "There was always a lot of singing around the camp fire.

"None of us could sing, but we all loved to do it anyway. One of our favourite songs was 'Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree.'"

As the guides got older they joined the rangers and would get together with the Scout's equivalent, the rovers, for a weekly walk.

"Every Sunday after church communion we would meet up with a group from the scouts and go for a long walk somewhere.

"Chadwell Heath was pretty countrified in those days so there were plenty of places to go. Once we lost our way and walked for 25 miles!"

After one of these walks the group decided to dress up as tramps and hold a tramp supper at Catterall Hall.

"The supper was just a picnic really, but we thought it would be fun to dress up. Not long after that photo was taken the war broke out.

"All those boys you can see in the photo were soon off fighting. I know two of the Chadwell Heath scouts were killed."

Both Lesley and Hilda left the Guides in the late 30s. They both got married (Lesley to a 1st Chadwell Heath Scout!), had children and later moved out of the area. But after all these years they still remain good friends.

1st Chadwell Heath Guides, however, disbanded a few years ago, and only the scouts remain.

Lesley has sent the POST a photo of her guide group and hopes someone may recognise themselves or friend or family member.