History - Melksham Scout Group
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History

The following text is adapted from the “Melksham Cub Scout Handbook” and was written by Mr Walter Slade a short time after the amalgamation of 1st and 2nd Melksham Groups in 1975.

Scouting, in the form of 1st Melksham Troop, started in Melksham in 1916. Earlier there had been an uncertain start by some lads in the Forest area, led by Mr Dick Watts. This had petered out, and some of these boys, together with Dick Watts and a number of new recruits, formed the official 1st Melksham Troop. The Scoutmaster was Mr Alfred Day, and their meeting place was the Mission Room in Bath Road. This room, now long demolished, was on a site which is now occupied by the Avon Rubber Company office car park.

The boys were known as Boy Scouts, but, because Wolf Cubs (now know as Cub Scouts) had just started nationally, it was decided that the younger boys (8 to 11 years old) should become Wolf Cubs. This resulted in the formation of 1st Melksham Wolf Cub Pack, under the Cubmaster, Mr Johnson. The Cub Pack also met in the Mission Room, and when the official Wolf Cub uniform became available, the lads who were of the appropriate age wore this instead of the Scout uniform.

These were great days, working according to Baden Powell’s books ‘Scouting for Boys’ and the Wolf Cub handbook. The lads made their own fun – learning as they went along. There was no distraction from radio and television in those days. They were proud of their uniforms and, though some outsiders made fun of the uniform, and of the Scout staves that were carried along (calling them ‘broomsticks’) it was all taken in good part.

Beside the indoor activities of knotting, first aid, hygiene, cooking, etc., there was great emphasis on Baden Powell’s idea of doing a ‘good turn’ every day. Then, outdoors there were ‘field days’ – wide games they’re called now. Melksham was much smaller then, and the fields were near at hand. There would be contests between patrols, and sometimes with Scouts from neighbouring towns, bringing in practice in tracking, signalling, (semaphore) and hidden dens. There were Saturday afternoon cycle rides, there was much less road traffic then! And, of course, football matches against other troops and packs.

Then there was camping. In those early days there were camps at Rowde, Chittoe, Holt and Hagg Hill, and the first camp held at Slaughterford was in 1920. Melksham Scouts continued to camp at Slaughterford until the late 1990s.
So, things progressed, and sometime soon after the First World War, the Group left the Mission Room and moved to the Vicarage Stables in Canon Square, the then Vicar, Rev. B. Aston, being Scoutmaster. Later an old army hut was erected in the Vicarage garden, and this became the new HQ – Scouts and Cubs using one half of it and the Guides and Brownies the other half.

During this time, a Rover Scout Section was formed under the leadership of Mr Francis Day, son of the original Scoutmaster. This section dealt with the older boys, from 16 and 17 onwards, and trained them so that eventually many of them became helpers and leaders in the running of the troop and pack.

The next move was to a new timber built headquarters in Lowbourne, on a site which is now the car park behind Peacocks and the Labour Club. This was a fine new building and was declared open in 1927 by the D.C., Mr Impey. Again, the Scouts and Cubs occupied one half, and the Guides and Brownies the other half. This situation remained until 1963, when town development made the group homeless. This position continued for about two years, during which time we were given temporary accommodation by Avon Sports Club, Melksham House, by 2nd Melksham Scouts (which had been formed several years earlier and had their H.Q. at King George’s Field), and finally we had the use of the Baptist Church Schoolroom.

June 1965 found the Group (by reason of great effort by many people in raising funds) in the new purpose built HQ at King George’s Field. After the 2nd Melksham HQ was demolished owing to subsidence, a new building was acquired in 1988. Furbishing this building brought the group to its knees, but eventually, the new building was opened in 1998, the 1965 HQ passing entirely to the Guides.

The 1st and 2nd Melksham Groups were amalgamated in 1975. Cub Scout Packs were rearranged into three – Sherwood, Savernake and Slindon. Two Scout Troops were also formed, Bradon and Blackmore, but both Savernake Cubs and Blackmore Scouts succumbed to a loss of leaders in the mid 1980s. Phoenix Venture Scout Unit also flourished for a time, but again suffered a similar fate. 1992 saw the introduction of Ashdown Beavers, under the leadership of Julie Lavery and Caroline Williams. The Beavers were so successful that a second Colony, Epping, was formed by Theresa Weston and Roger Scull. Epping waned and closed several years later.

Since Melksham sits on the edge of an ancient royal forest (King John often visited the area to hunt, staying in nearby Lacock), the various sections of the group have taken their names of forests from across the country. Ashdown Forest is the home of Winnie the Pooh; Epping contains Gilwell Park, the spiritual home of Scouting; Sherwood (of Robin Hood fame); Slindon, near Chichester; Bra(y)don, near Swindon; and Blackmore, part of Melksham Forest.

Looking back, one thinks of the many and varied activities over the years – camps at Bratton, Ford, Newton Abbot, Shearwater, Savernake Forest, Sidmouth, Dawlish, and the Channel Islands, and many other places, of contingents sent to Jamborees at Arrow Park, Birkenhead, to Hungary, Holland, Austria, France and Greece, to the Golden Jubilee at Kanderstag in 1931.

It is satisfying to know that these widespread camping activities still prevail in the present day.
Present day Scouts and Cubs have a great traditional uphold. It is hoped that they will do this, and thus increase the strength and influence of Scouting in this form for many years to come.