by Vic Miller
The first record of scouting in Wootton Bassett was on Saturday 19th March 1910 when a public meeting was called in the assembly room of the Angel Hotel to form a scout group. Following this on Wednesday 23rd March, 45 boys were enrolled with Mr J. Brown as Scout Master and Messrs Beaucham and Smith as Assistants. The Meeting place was the assembly room of the Angel Hotel. It is of interest that in those early days, Scout Masters received payment to encourage them to come forward and offer their services to the Group.
First and Second World Wars
Troop Meetings then moved to a small room at 23 Wood Street which was known as the “Depot”. Numbers fell and the Group struggled during the First World War but letters and food parcels were sent to former scouts serving overseas. A Role of Honour of Wootton Bassett Scouts who served in the War is in our present Headquarters. After the War, scouting in Wootton Bassett was given new impetus by the arrival of Mr G. Franklin. The meeting place then was at a small building known as the “Gym” in Sparrow Lane behind Mr Franklin’s shop. This building is now incorporated into the present British Legion Headquarters and when it was recently refurbished two wooden panels bearing the names of nine Wootton Bassett Scouts who gave their lives in the First World War were taken down from a position over the fire place and presented to the Group by Percy Miles. During 1921, Mr E.W. (Ted) Parke joined the troop as Assistant Scout Master and the Group then entered a very successful and active period. The late Bob Hart joined as a young scout during this period and maintained his connection with the Group until his death in May 1992. During 1931, Mr Val Griffiths became the Scoutmaster and sometime during this period, the Group took over a Nissan hut in the grounds of the Manor House as their Headquarters. The coming of the Second World War 1939 led to the suspension of activities.
Post World War Two
On 13th September 1944, the Group was re-established when Mrs Joan Spencer assisted by Miss Joyce Norris and Miss M.Hatch revived the Wolf Cub Pack with a meeting at the Social Centre. 36 boys attended this first meeting. During 1946, arrangements were made to restart the Scout Troop by amalgamation with the Lydiard Tregoze Group and on 13th June 30 boys attended the first troop meeting held at the National School in Station Road. Ted Parke was the Scout Master with Eric Ball and Mr J.Fennell as assistants. Mr F.G.Sheldon was District Commissioner at that time and was closely associated with the recommencement of scouting activities in Wootton Bassett following World War Two.
The Group moved back into the old Nissan Hut at the Manor House on 23rd January 1947 and shortly after this Jim Giles joined the Group and became Senior Scout Master. In 1949, Ted Parke was Group Scout Master, Eric Ball was Scout Master and a Rover Crew had been formed who met in a loft at the Vicarage. Don Cannon took over as Scout Master in 1952.
In April 1953, the Group received notice that it would have to leave the Manor House Nissan Hut. Jim Giles who was then Group Scout Master, contacted the Parish Council to negotiate the rent of a portion of the Manor House Paddock for the erection of a new scout hut. During December, the Council agreed to let a plot for £2.00 per year and applications were made to the County Council through Fred Sheldon for a grant towards the cost of the new hut. By May 1954, clearance work had started on the site and fund raising was under way. Mr Hobbs and Mr Allen were appointed Trustees for the land. During October 1953, the County Council told the Group that the Paddock would not after all be available to the Group because the land would be required for the new comprehensive school. The search for an alternative site then commenced which included an approach to Major Buxton to request if a plot on the NW corner of the new sports field could be purchased or rented.
On 19th October 1956, Jim Giles advised the Group Council that Mr Richard Parsons had given the Group a plot of land in the corner of Donnington Mead in Muddy Lane for the erection of a new Scout Hut. It was decided at this meeting that the Boy Scouts Association would be appointed Trustees for the land. Later in the year, Miss Curry of the Wiltshire County Council and Fred Sheldon advised the Group Council on grant procedures following which an application was made. The estimated cost of a wooden hut was £100.
Site clearance started in May 1957 and following advice from the County Council that no grant could be given, it was decided to erect a smaller hut than originally planned. By 9th December 1957, the new hut had been erected by Jim Giles assisted by some scouts. This was formally opened by Lt. Col. S.M.C. Theyre JP, the County Commissioner on 11th December 1959.
Interior fitting out was commenced and it was suggested that old scouts and others should be approached for donations towards the cost of chairs. A grant of £30 was received from the County Council towards the cost of interior fittings. By 1960, the Scout Hut was not big enough to accommodate the expanding Group so an extension was planned and erected by June 1963. A second cub pack was started in January 1970 by Miss Audrey Spragg. During 1971, a small precast concrete building was erected at the rear of the Scout Hut to accommodate Group equipment. During these years many other improvements were made to the building under the direction of Jim Giles but by the early 70’s, it was realised that the building was totally inadequate for a modern scout group.
Jim Giles resigned as Group Scout Leader at the Group AGM on 13th June 1972 when Bob Hart took over this position. At the Group Council meeting on 13th October 1972, it was suggested that surplus funds be invested to build up cash to eventually replace the building. The third cub pack was started in November 1973 by Christine Curtis with Vic Miller and Bill Dryden as assistants. They decided to call it Explorer Pack and sought permission to use this name at the next leaders meeting. This being agreed, it was decided to adopt names for the other sections as well. The names Apache and Pathfinder were chosen for the other cub packs and Pegasus for the Scout Troop. No Venture Scout Unit existed at that time.
Over the next three years several attempts were made to get a Headquarters redevelopment programme started until on 16th September 1975, a Building Sub Committee was formed under the chairmanship of Don Batt. Sirius Troop was formed during January 1976 with Alan Newbery as Scout Leader and Carl Tyler as assistant and meeting in Longleaze School. By June 1976, the Building Sub Committee had produced a plan for a prefabricated concrete building for the existing site however through the generosity of adjacent land owners, the site had been extended to measure 35 feet by 75 feet. During November 1976, outline planning permission was received from North Wilts District Council. The estimated basic cost of a Compton prefabricated building at £6,500 was agreed by the Group Executive and applications for grant aid were made through the Wiltshire County Council. The rebuilding project was then well publicised and direct requests for assistance made to the Town Council, local voluntary fund raising organisations and leading businesses. As the result, several contributions were received including agreement for an interest free loan from the Hambro Life Charitable Trust fund to be repaid over two years.
After a frustrating wait of several months, the Group Executive was advised on 8th August 1978 that 75% grant aid amounting to £8,080 had been agreed. The Group Executive agreed to proceed and the order was placed for the new building. By 19th September 1978, the old hut had been sold to farmer Don Smith of Lanes Farm, demolished and the site levelled. During this period the Troops met at the Youth Centre, Noremarsh and Longleaze Schools and the Cub Packs at the Old Court Play Centre. By this time the Group had a small number of Venture Scouts with Alan Curtis as their leader but they were not particularly active. The contractors commenced work on the foundations during November but unfortunately due to severe weather conditions, this work was not finished until the following Spring. Bob Hart having reached the scouting retirement age handed over as Group Scout Leader to Paul Randle at the Group AGM on 24th April 1979. The basic Compton building was delivered in April and was erected the following month. There then followed months of hard work by a few volunteers lead by Don Batt to get the building finished which was essentially achieved by the end of 1979.
All sections of the Group commenced using its new Headquarters at the beginning of 1980 however a period of uncertainty in the Groups administration following the resignation of the Chairman Alan Wharton through ill health delayed any formal opening arrangements. Vic Miller was asked to become Group Scout Leader at a special meeting in October 1980 following the resignation of Paul Randle because of his business commitments. Chris Wannell then agreed to be the new Group Chairman. Preparations were made for the formal opening ceremony on Saturday 4th July 1981 by Fred Sheldon before all members of the Group and many invited guests representing the various organisations involved in the financing, supply and construction of the new building.
To be continued