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The story of CLOG – how it started and the War*

The story of CLOG – how it started and the War*
*By Bob C based on his interpretation of "The First Ten Years" - our official history published in 1947 (author unknown).
The social side
CLOG (originally the Central London local group of the Youth Hostels Association) was founded on 1 March 1937. It has survived many crises in its 83 years, most notably the Second World War, which broke out only two years after it had been formed and whose restrictions in some ways reflected the current Coronavirus crisis restrictions. So let’s look at how it survived and went on to thrive. This is my interpretation of its history so apologies for any inaccuracies!
It might seem strange to start with the social side of CLOG rather than the outdoor programme but this was always as important as the shared love of the outdoors. It kept the group together through times when outdoor events were difficult and even now in the current Coronavirus crisis, the group is still trying ways of keeping together through social initiatives such as Julie’s virtual quiz which 25 members “attended”.
Until the 21st Century there were weekly social meetings in a regular venue (often referred to as “the Clubroom”). These weekly social meetings were the main way to find out what outdoor events were coming up and to book on trips in those pre-Internet days. They were also a good way to chat to friends and get to know each other.
It began when a meeting was held at the Young Women’s Christian Association, Great Russell St to set up the CLG (Central London Group). An Australian, Phil Victorsen, had asked the regional office of the newly-formed Youth Hostels Association (YHA) in Toynbee Hall, Aldgate if he could set up a local group. They advised him to write to YHA members who lived in Central London. 40 people attended the first meeting and they started by renting a room at Kingly St off Carnaby St.
Social evenings began at 5.30pm with chatting, people playing a piano, table tennis and mini-billiards. At 7.30pm there was a talk by a guest speaker or slides by members of their holidays (later on quizzes became popular). At 9pm Phil jumped on a chair and announced forthcoming events. There was then an interval for tea, biscuits, folk dancing accompanied by the piano and people booking hostel weekends directly with the trip leader. Then there was a sing-song till 10.30pm before adjourning to milk bars (the coffee shops of the day).
At that time the socials were especially to welcome new members who were recorded in a visitors’ book. A photo album of events was shown to all the new members who turned up. People were expected to pay a shilling (5p) a week but this was never insisted on.
A recurrent nightmare for organisers has always been nobody turning up. In January 1938, only one other person turned up for the Yo-Ho Pioneer Glee Club, a singing sub-group of CLOG. It had all started so well with 40 people signing up to learn how to sing. “Ben” Bennett, the organiser, tried to teach them to sing properly but his manner seemed to upset them and they resented being stopped in the middle of a song to be told where they’d gone wrong. Len Brown, the other person who had turned up, took it over and ran it along less Spartan lines, letting people warble along in their own slipshod way. It continued until the war.
Weekly social meetings had started in January 1938 and in the early years were held in many different venues as CLOG tried to find suitable premises. In 1938 they alternated every week between Kingly St (led by the aforementioned singing sub-section) and St Anne’s School, Dean St (also in Soho). By July 1939 this school hall had become too expensive.
The solution was to move to a cheaper school hall in Judd Street, King’s Cross. This involved lots of small children taking the p*** as half a dozen members carried the group’s belongings across Central London. At the time these consisted of a huge blue enamelled kettle, two large china jugs, a magic lantern (slide projector) box full of a motley collection of donated cups and saucers, a duplicator, a typewriter, a noticeboard and lots of camping equipment. Presumably they didn’t take their piano!
When war was declared, large meetings were banned by the Government and most socials were cancelled. The meeting place in Judd St was commandeered but the group continued to hold occasional meetings in Great Ormond St hostel (known as GOSH). The common room was blacked out but they were able to use the front room in the basement instead (one of many basements that the group met in over the years). They were unable to continue with the sing-songs in the hostel.
In 1940 it was taken over by the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) and the group had nowhere to meet. By this stage they were down to half a dozen members as most had been called up or evacuated. They met for a few weeks in Mickie Hartwell’s bedroom in Holland Park while Len Brown, her boyfriend, looked for rooms to rent. He found two rooms with a kitchenette in Holborn at 37 Great James St. Little did they know it at the time but the group was to continue meeting in this flat till 1970.
There was no furniture so the members furnished it themselves. They made benches out of scrap timber, bought half a dozen chairs in a second-hand shop and transported them on the tube. Members donated two settees and several armchairs. From the hostel they rescued camping equipment, crockery, a rug that they had been making and an old organ (which they were restoring!) to accompany sing-songs. However the ARP (air raid wardens) and AFS had nicked their primus stoves.
A New Members’ Evening attracted 20-30 new people but the Blitz forced meetings to switch from Thursday evenings to Saturday afternoons and only 14 people turned up to the next AGM which was inquorate.
In December 1940, the area was badly bombed. The local café and bakery where the group used to buy tea and buns were reduced to heaps of rubble but somehow the flat had miraculously survived. In January 1941 the clubroom doors and windows were blown off, it was repeatedly showered in glass and a burst pipe flooded the kitchen and caused the ceiling to collapse. The blast-damaged windows were boarded up and meetings continued.
When the Blitz ended in 1941 Thursday evening meetings resumed and a social sub-section was set up to run things. Over time, socials started attracting about 30 members again. In May 1944, a New Members’ Evening attracted 60 prospective members of whom 20 joined but this was temporarily reduced again as many dropped out during the flying bombs and rocket attacks. Eventually the Blackout was lifted and the group joined people marking VE Day and VJ Day by celebrating in Piccadilly.
By the summer of 1946, up to 60 people were attending socials in a room which comfortably held only 30 people. The group found a larger clubroom in Holborn Youth Centre, St Giles High St and alternated Thursday evenings between there and 37 Great James St. The group held a Xmas party inviting several former members who had married and now had babies or toddlers. The social programme expanded to include trips to theatres, places of interest and dances.
However they were given notice to quit Great James St following a complaint from a neighbour. Apparently some of “the youths in our charge” had lit a Guy Fawkes bonfire. In fact, they had given the remains of two old decrepit sofas to some small boys for their own bonfire but this was a matter of detail.
The group started looking for another meeting place. They couldn’t move to the Holborn Youth Centre on a weekly basis as their average age (then 23-24 years old!) was above the official youth centre age (14-20 years old). The group wrote to letting agents but their letters went unanswered and in any case many rooms had been made uninhabitable by the Blitz. Finally the landlord relented and allowed them to stay but he did put up the rent!

Next week – the Outdoor Programme