In 1946 as a young man, I joined the YHA, and I hope that many of you reading this article are not misled into thinking that we went hostelling on Penny Farthing bikes.
On many of the trips, in my early hostelling days, I had the company of several friends, including Bob Morgan, Les Strickland and Dave Hughes, and it was through my friendship with Bob Morgan that I was introduced to the Harrow and Wembley Group in 1949. The meetings at this time were held in a wooden shack in Ranelagh Road, and as a result of that meeting I accompanied the group on a few runs out at weekends.
In 1951 I joined the group. Bob Morgan was leading the first weekend I went on, and the rest of the pack included Les Strickland, Dave Hughes, Big Dennis and Henry. No distance seemed too far or too short. At most weekend's group members could be found in hostels from Land's End to John O'Groats.
The group became more ambitious and between 1954 and 1964 tours on the continent took place. I'm sure Bob, Les, Henry and Dennis will remember hostelling in France, when to our surprise, we were put in a unisex dormitory. After making our beds in the best observation point we were moved out because we were British! Also after crossing the Pyrenees into Spain and setting up tents in a field we were woken the next morning by the sound of shell fire. We had made camp in an artillery range! Not to forget the tour of Norway from Bergen to Oslo mainly on dirt road and tracks.
Membership increased and in 1957 the committee organised a 21st year celebration dinner and dance at the Century Hotel. The committee's decision to subsidise the cost for the members certainly encouraged a good attendance - about 120 members attended. Sadly the celebrations were short lived. The committee had under estimated the cost of the function and were left with a group to run, no funds and debts to pay. Suggestions to pay levies, hold raffles and increase group membership fees were unacceptable to many of the members who consequently left the group. Although the group was now badly deflated, the remaining members and committee continued a regular programme of hostelling. By 1961 the membership had been rebuilt and as this was the group's 25th year, another dinner and dance was arranged. This was a great success. Over 100 members attended and thanks to our professional money handler Trevor and no subsidy to find the group had no wounds to lick.
The group continued its programme of weekend hostelling and in 1962-63 the group won the London Region Bednight Shield for the first time. Looking back the group probably only beat Dartford by 1 bed night and you couldn't get much closer than that.
Winter 1962-63 was one of the most severe on record. The group had planned a trip to Saffron Walden (Essex)) and had arranged to meet at Staple's Corner. Only 3 members had turned up. Gerald B, Allen the fireman and Reg. They cycled most of the way to Saffron Walden before being hit by a snow storm 15 miles before the village. Carrying their bikes and following a snow plough they finally reached the hostel only to find the door blocked up with snow! The warden, who was not too happy to see them, passed out a shovel so that they could dig their way in. They were the only hostellers there that weekend and matters were not helped when they asked what time dinner would be served. They moved into the girl's dormitory that weekend as it was the warmer of the two. In the morning the warden asked them to leave saying that they were breaking too many rules. They willingly dug their way out of the hostel.
The icing on the cake (or snow if you exclude the pun) is that this effort made the difference in winning the London Region Bednight Shield. On 7 consecutive years the group won the Southern and Eastern Shield. The group then gave up and withdrew from the competition for 2 years.
Reg served on the committee from 1954 to 1964 as Chair and Outdoor Secretary. He resigned from the committee after hearing that 2 young guys, who had been invited to the group as they were due to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, said the group was not for them as "two old codgers had hogged the whole evening talking about their holidays". As one of those old codgers, Reg decided it was time for him to move on for some of the younger members.
In 1966, George and Sheila, a couple who met through the group, and became wardens at Kemsing hostel (Kent), hosted the group's 30th anniversary celebrations.
Account by Reg Dean