The Fifties

The fifties was a decade marked by outstanding achievements, which commenced with the Festival of Britain in 1951. This exhibition showed the world the achievements Britain had made since the end of the war. The Queen was crowned in 1953 and Britain conquered Everest as well as winning the Ashes from Australia. Roger Bannister ran a mile in four minutes in 1954 - another considerable achievement.

The Russians, who before the war were decades behind the world in her living standards, shocked everyone by launching Sputnik 1 into space in 1957. Russia proved that she too could compete with the great nations of the world.

New faces appeared on the political scene. In Russia, Stalin, who had brought down the Iron Curtain across Europe, died in March 1953, which resulted in Kruschev coming to power. De Gaulle was elected President of France, and in the USA, Truman had succeeded Roosevelt. Although Labour had sought to build a new Britain after the War, they lost to the Conservatives in 1951. Churchill resigned later in favour of Anthony Eden, but as a result of the Suez Crisis, he too was forced to retire as Prime Minister and was succeeded by Harold McMillan.

These may have been some of the faces on the political scene in fifties, but who were the hostellers on the 'Wemrow' front. When Mary O'Donovan and I first joined the Wembley Group, the members were very dubious about these two 'Bobby Soxers'. However it was not long before we were helping out on the committee in one way or another.

My first recollection of a weekend hostelling was to Henley-on-Thames. Derek Bonner, Kath Stern, Mary O'Donovan, Marian Ward, Suzanne Woodward, John Butler, my brother and myself. The first Christmas Party was held at Hemel Hempstead Hostel, the home of Pop and Mrs Crane. Pop Crane retired after this! Playing sardines over an area about a mile square and 'rugby' were but two of the games that were played. And who was the member who was always taking the females to see the moon!

The scout hall at Ranelagh Road became more crowded every week and many new faces appeared. Tony Tomlin, Ivan Abbott, John Slingsby, Betty Locke, Patsy Culverille, Don Miles, Alan Sticklings, Arthur Beale, Peter to name but a few. Later came Dennis Read, Vic Paler, Dave Hughes, John Welsh, Reg Dean, Bob Morgan, Derek Taylor, Bernard Howlett, Barbara Hoskins, Robin Daysh, Ginger Nesbitt, Alec Osborne, Barbara Crowhurst, Mike Walker, Molly Sutton and many others.

Making forty pancakes on a primus stove was but one of the happy memories of the Ranelagh Road scout hut. Highlights of the fifties decade were:

And who remembers John Slingsby taking photographs at 1am - big flash of smoke from his powder flash - with everyone cycling off leaving John to listen to some man shouting from his window! Working parties at Nazeing, Hindhead, Tanners and Jordans. Who remembers that very hot day digging a trench for the cable to be laid at Jordans?

Many enjoyable camping weekends will be remembered at Marlow, Hurley, Isle of Wight, and many other places. Ralph Chenery arrived one weekend with a new tent, construction he said could be completed in 5 minutes. It only took 5 males from our party half an hour to construct! On another occasion we arrived at our camping site in the dark. Ralph was all right, he had a nice piece of grass. Next morning we found him on the edge of the cliff the wrong side of the fence!

Our first Christmas Weekend was full of fun, with dancing on Lewes platform and Brighton front. Not only do people swim in the Serpentine on Christmas Day, but the male members of our party were swimming in the sea at Seaford followed, of course, by a good swig of rum. The other memorable Christmas Weekend was at Whitwell, on the Isle of Wight. We danced all the time on the ferry, and was it a pub or a hostel we went to? With the bottles of spirits on the sideboard it looked more like the former!

When Princess Elizabeth became our new Queen, her Coronation was a joyful affair. Although it rained all day, and people waited for hours to see the Queen's Coronation procession, they were not disappointed as she passed by in her golden coach. For the first time millions of people were able to watch the Coronation on the television. We celebrated the occasion by cycling the Coronation route on the Sunday before the event. With our bicycles decorated with red, white and blue, and lots of flags flying from them, we looked a gay group. We were stopped in Trafalgar Square by a photographer who took many pictures of us with our colourful bicycles. Although we searched the papers each day, our photograph was eventually spotted by Derek's cousin in Australia, in their paper under the headlines, "How Londoners Celebrated the Coronation"

The Coronation was also crowned with the event of Britain conquering Everest. Edmund Hilary, a New Zealander, and Sherpa Tensin, under Colonel John Hunts leadership climbed the highest mountain in the world - 29,020 ft. The group had its first group holiday that year, travelling to the Swiss Alps. We too climbed a mountain - Les Diablerets. It was no easy climb and although we only climbed a height of 12,000 ft, we felt as though we had conquered Everest! Cries of 'le fatique' were often heard and when Molly went off with the Botanist, we thought we heard other cries. The men raced back as fast as their legs could carry them - it was only Arthur, however, he had left his ice pick behind! Mike didn't even have the strength to cry 'le fatique' after that.

The fifties was the age of rock and roll, and for the first time music was created for teenagers. "We're going to rock around the clock tonight", we succeeded many a time. Taking the male members of the group to dancing lessons in preparation for our Annual Dance was quite some effort. They had been used to the 'Hooligan Hold' and never seemed quite the same again! However it was all quite worth it for the groups Annual Fancy Dress Dance. Bumble appeared almost as a spider on one occasion and succeeded in almost hanging from the ceiling so that she could take the unusual photos. John Slade came as a Sheik with a banner saying: 'Lost, 7000 wives'. Sticklings appeared as a 'Man from Outer Space', and was recognised by his boots. We attended many other groups' dances so that they would come to ours. Travelling half the way across London to attend other group's dances was most peculiar way of recruiting people for our events but they were all good fun.

The 'screaming era' began in the fifties with girls swooning over their latest pop idol. On our cycling runs, Olive Rous would rush into every café to play the latest Johnny Ray record on the Juke Box.

John Slingsby's Record Evenings were well attended, the only condition being was that we had to listen. John Welsh's Record Sessions were entirely different, there was so much chit-chat that you couldn't hear them.

We mustn't forget however, John Welsh's harmonica, which helped to pass away many an evening at the hostel. We eventually had quite a harmonica band and not forgetting bumble with hers.

The groups Matrimonial Bureau's Problem was cured with the tandem. Tandems appeared on many cycling events and many tandem partners paired off. Sue and Vic, Mary and Derek, and Barbara and Dave. Other marriages that took place were Nicky and Tony, Brenda and Dennis, Rose and Dave, Ginger and Amara, Kath and Mike, and Patsy and Reg.

Cycling was a popular sport in the fifties and my red corduroy shorts were hard wearing and ideal. Gradually 'short shorts' were introduced and it was always interesting to see who wore the shortest 'shorts' on a weekend. No one however, could beat Maureen Cutt's short shorts, which raised many an eyebrow. Little did we realise that we were the pioneers for the fashion field, and that they would be introduced as 'Hot Pants' and worn in the offices in the sixties.

The sports field has long seen the introduction of clothes for the fashion field. The emancipated woman wanted to dress in a carefree way which, whether it was flying, motoring, cycling, swimming or ski-ing, they dressed for the active life they led. The trousers we wore then have today become an accepted part of a woman's wardrobe.

Colour first made its appearance on the sports field. Green tents were out and tents were seen with practically all the colours of the rainbow. Was it Robyn Daysh who first pioneered colour in the group. First orange tents appeared, then blue tents. Anoracks became colourful and gone were the black pants and black anoracks. In the sixties, our psychedelic colours were seen in the fashion field. Little did we realise that we were pioneering the colours of the future.

The fifties was indeed a decade of fun, challenge and achievements, and we visited many countries which were undreamed of a decade ago. It has only been possible to reminisce about a few events, but I hope this article will enable many members to recall their pleasant memories of this decade.

Account by Joyce Slade