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The story of CLOG – after the War part 1

The story of CLOG – after the War part 1
By Bob C

The previous two parts about how CLOG started and the War were based on a pamphlet called “The First 10 Years” written by Len Brown, one of CLOG’s first chairs and presidents.
The next four parts (covering 1947 to 1987) are based on my interpretation of “CLG – 50 years young (a history of the Central London YHA Group)”. This was a booklet published for CLOG’s 50th birthday (in 1987). It was edited by John Stebbings (who was then President) and co-written by myself and several others. Those of us who wrote it were mostly relatively recent members (I had joined in 1984 so was effectively still on probation!) This meant that we had to base it on our reading of old News Sheets.

In 1987 several of CLOG’s founding members were still alive though no longer members. However a small number of people who were around in the 50s and 60s were still members in 1987. These were Doreen Coben, Dick Parker, Bert Bonner, Barbara Bonner (nee Markwell), Barbara Mainwaring and Ellen Felton. I only dimly remember a couple of them.  Nevertheless I have mentioned some of them in this article in recognition of their contribution to the group.

The social side
As always, we begin with the social side. CLOG has come a long way since it began on 1 March 1937 and this is illustrated by how it has celebrated its birthday. The 10th anniversary in 1947 was a dinner in London followed by a folk dance wearing trousers, caps and hobnailed boots. Over the years other reunions were held at hostels and hotels across the country. The 25th anniversary included a birthday cake baked by Doreen Coben. Dick Parker swopped his day job as Headmaster to be a Toastmaster, reading out telegrams and tape recorded messages from the President, Len Brown and his wife Mickie (two of the founding members) who had moved to Malta. Remember when a Telegram was not a social media platform?  Remember tape recorders? Remember cassettes? Oh dear, CLOG has been going a long time.

By the end of the war the group was using a flat at 37 Great James Street, Holborn as its clubroom. Unthinkable now that it could ever have been affordable to rent a flat in Central London and only use it once a week. There were weekly social meetings and also external events such as theatre trips. All of this was organised by a social subsection of the committee which met monthly. They also cleaned and repaired the clubroom. This included getting coal for the fire (in short supply in 1950) and sweeping the chimney. In 1952 they were getting rid of rats and keeping the place secure after a break-in.

The social programme included talks on outdoor topics, lots of quizzes, discussions, grumble evenings, record evenings and treasure hunts. One quiz was called the “Brains Trust” but it relied more on trust than brains. There were also slide shows and colour slides were a special treat in the 50s. In 1953 George Wade, Michael Michaels, Bill Tozer and Olive Campbell were some of the instigators of a Photographic Section within the group.  However by 1955 interest had waned and it was wound up the following year. After the speaker, there was tea and then announcements of the forthcoming programme. Until the 70s evenings were run by a host or hostess; after that they were run by a social organiser.
In the 50s Dixie Lee organised a catering committee who cooked dinner in the kitchen of the Great James St flat for about 20 members who arrived early for the weekly meetings. It cost two and a half shillings (12 1/2p). Early arrivals could also play table tennis. At 7.30pm the door was locked and late arrivals had to ring a bell. However the bell was too distracting and had to be replaced by a buzzer. Smoking among the men was commonplace but notices told members that it was banned between 7.30pm and 9pm while speakers were giving talks. The smokers responded by forming an anti-knitting faction.

The main external activity was folk dancing. In 1947 the group went dancing at Ivinghoe hostel in Buckinghamshire, the Regent Street Poly (now the University of Westminster) and in Islington. There were competitions with other YHA local groups and CLOG briefly had its own band. Despite this the Social Sub-Section condemned the number of folk dances and arranged a gramophone recital of ballet music instead.

In 1948 the group danced at Cecil Sharp House in Primrose Hill (the main folk venue in London) and in 1950 it was dancing every week at the Inns of Court and also performed at an international folk festival. Many of these events were outdoors (despite bad weather) but that didn’t stop one member complaining about them to the News Sheet under the name of “keen outdoor type”. By 1956 the group was running folk dancing classes at Cecil Sharp House and making money out of it. In the 1960s membership increased and other events were tried such as boating, pitch & putt and ice skating. Interest in dancing began to wane and it had ceased by the late 70s.

By 1968 the weekly rent of the flat was still only 30 shillings (£1.50) but the group had to move due to redevelopment of the area. Barbara Mainwaring and Doreen Coben organised moving to another smaller but more expensive flat in nearby Red Lion Square. There was no kitchen so the group brought in fish & chips for early arrivals.

After the war, many members got married and weddings within the group were a monthly occurrence. Ellen Felton, who had been a dressmaker for the Queen, made the wedding dress for one member. The News Sheet had a column called Cupid’s Corner. John Stebbings complained about the “deplorable number of engagements” being announced. Many couples spent their honeymoons at hostels walking or cycling and one couple (Edna and Jim Eggleton) decided to become hostel wardens at Ely in Cambridgeshire.

Many couples went on to have families and from 1953 the group held an annual Christmas party for families in the clubroom and later in nearby Coram’s Fields. At their peak over 55 children and many more adults were attending the family parties. Doreen Coben warned the grown-ups that they came at “their own risk”. In 1967 an annual summer party for families started at Hindhead hostel in Surrey. Both of these parties lapsed in the 70s when most of the children had grown up.

How the group was organised
Persuading people to organise events has always been a challenge but in 1955 the AGM voted that all members should organise an outdoor or social event. At this stage there were 102 members and 42 of them organised an event in the following year. In subsequent years committees could only dream of a third of the membership organising events. The committee had additional posts dedicated to working parties, dancing and catering.

The finances
Initially the group sub-let the flat at Great James St to other YHA groups during the week; these included the International Group (a splinter group from CLOG) and other groups of YHA members sharing interests in cinema, farming and forestry. In this way each of these interest groups subsidised CLOG subscriptions so the annual membership fee in 1956 was only £1.30. In the early 60s it was £2.60 and by the end of the 60s it was £5.20.

The news sheet
For many years Clogprints was simply called the News Sheet. It was monthly and produced by stencils on a duplicator until photocopying arrived in the 1980s. There were sometimes spelling mistakes and grammatical errors which letter-writers delighted in pointing out. In the 40s and 50s there were regular adverts for selling equipment to other members such as rucksacks, boots, bicycles, breeches, walking jackets and even an electric razor!

The News Sheet also carried letters from students abroad wanting pen friends in London. There were other letters from members overseas on National Service as well as people simply wanting to air their views. In 1952 there was a letter criticising YHA for opening bigger hostels (such as Alfriston in Sussex) at the expense of closing smaller ones. It may have been written by the editor to provoke a debate but the writer was accused of being a “caveman” and correspondence went on for months about whether hostels should be primitive or luxurious. Fred Short, when editor, preferred writing articles himself as he found them easier to edit!

Next week – walks and trips after the War in the 50s and 60s