3rd Tynemouth

(Ritsons Own) Scout Group

Billy Mill Lane, North Shields, NE29 8LP

Robert "Bob" Robson

Bob’s involvement with the Group started in 1959 when he became Scout Master. Over the years he was also a District Scout Master, a Venture Scout Leader and the Assistant District Commissioner for Venture Scouts.

Bob passed away on the 1st of September 2011. This is his story:

We had to get out of the old headquarters because the corporation was wanting to take over the land. We were approximately 100 yards away and it was an old wooden hut which was dropping to bits but we were told that we had to get out. George Pilgrim was the Group Scout Leader, him and I, we went up and we sat on the roof at 7 o’clock every morning with sledge hammers and we started to knock the place to bits, because not only did we have to get out, we had to clear the land.

The wood on the inside was in beautiful condition but the outside was a shambles (the hut would have been double walled). We had mattresses on the inside because the windows were all stoned in, it had a lining of wood inside (the inner wall) and it was local news that we had started taking it to pieces, and when people found out they would come to try and pinch the wood. I caught a man one day going away with a barrow load of this new wood, I knew him, and said where do you think you are going with that? He said the place was all junk and it was going to waste, so I said no it all belonged to Ritson’s, if you like you can take as much as you want and you can tell your friends, but we expect a donation for where we are going.

I found out that there was three army huts in the haven and one of them was falling to bits. There was a scout leader there, a land scout leader, so I went down to see him and said is there any chance of getting one of your huts as we have got to be out of ours. He said he couldn’t see any reason why not. I became very friendly with him, he was called Bill Cambell, and he ran the troop at St. Oswin’s which was on front street, Tynemouth, it’s the land of green ginger now.

The hut at the Haven was in such a state, it had no locks on the door and it used to get broken into. We had no electricity so we had to use candles when it got dark. All the kids belonged up at Billy Mill and had to get busses down if they didn’t have bikes (Bob had a tandem at the time). We were in there for about four years or so and to lock the doors we had to put 6 inch nails through the frame, there were no windows, they were all boarded up and we had mattresses up to keep people out but it was a great area for playing games.

We had an old cast iron fire in the hut and there was so much driftwood around that we were never short of fuel. There was a ship went aground in the haven about three months after we got in and it was full of coal, so we got loads for the fire. We had some smashing fires outside as well because we could send the Scouts out and they would come back with armfuls of wood.

It was a danger sending the Scouts home on dark nights, they had to walk up that bank at the haven to get a bus. What they did was they went to the chip shop and spent there money on chips and then walk home, which meant they arrived home at a much later time. As Scouters, we got it in the neck for keeping them so late and it wasn’t our fault at all.

I think if it hadn’t been for George Pilgrim and I finding the hut in the haven, we might have just called it a day. We also managed to find a place for the Cubs which was the Balkwell welfare and we had a good Cub leader there, very good, she would have probably have carried on with the Cubs, but the hut was disappearing by the barrow load every day just for five bob pushed into your hand, but it all went to Ritson’s.

My sister, Betty Mercer, and Brother in law, Harry Mercer got a little caravan up on the spanish battery and decided to run a tea place selling cups of tea and pies on a Sunday. Some of the Scout’s parents helped us and there was a sergeant in the police force, Sgt Rowley who spent a lot of time working on the caravan and getting it’s name around and encouraging people to go down there. He is quite a big fella but it was for the sake of his son more than anything, but of course he did it for the troop as well, but he was one of the half dozen who I would say worked really hard to get the caravan going.

It was due to all the money that was raised at the caravan and other things such as the wist drives, which were run in the local YMCA, that they got the money to build the headquarters we have now. When that was built we all moved up there, mind we missed the haven because it was a smashing place to run scouts. Not only did you have the cliffs but there was the sea and we had some smashing wide games.

The move down the Haven gave us breathing space to raise money to build the headquarters where it is now. The leader of the land scouts down there was leaving to do his teacher training.

Eventually we got the use of Billy mill itself, which was used by other parts of the association, Rover Scouts mainly, that was taken over by St. Peters and was used by the home guard during the war, but it wasn’t a very suitable headquarters, you certainly couldn’t play games in it. It made a good watch out because when you climbed up it you could see Tynemouth beach from there.

Quite a lot of Ritson’s Rovers spent a lot of time at weekends and at the nights helping the two professional brickies doing all the brick work, but someone had to mix the cement for them and do all the labouring and we had a good contingent that used to come up. We paid these two brickies to do a good job of it and then later on when we got more funds we added to it the extension because the troop was getting larger.

I remember Barney turning up one night, he’d just moved to Tynemouth from Gateshead and when the Scouts found out he was from Gateshead, they were rolling on the floor laughing saying Gateshead, where’s that? But it was great, he was living on the Broadway and he worked for a big building firm and he got a load of gear to do up the hut.

Tommy Turner came in to help me run the Rovers, we did a lot of work together we worked on old buildings in Northumberland and Tommy helped to keep the Rover group together. We had an old tower through at Rothbury and we used to go through every Sunday and use the tower as a base to go into the country. Some of the lads used to sleep in it sometimes. Tommy kept it going for a little while, he was a good helper.

We had some good camps, we had one camp on the river tweed, on this beautiful campsite and I took them for a hike up the river tweed. The farmer also had his cattle on the same land, so I thought I’d better leave a couple of the Scouts just to keep the cattle out. We set off and did our hike and when we come back there was no camp there, the cattle had stampeded and had just run over everything. All the stuff we had built, slippery poles and such like had gone.

Another time I spotted a building and I thought it would be handy to know about, so I asked a couple of old ladies who said it was the old school house. I asked if we would be able to use it in an emergency and they said yes, anyway the river tweed came up nine foot on the Wednesday, so we got all the troop out and up this really steep hill. As fast as we were taking the tents down, they were drifting down the river tweed, eventually there was only one left so me and Mike Pearson took it down and were nearly cut off because the river had come up behind us. When we got up the hill the lads were quite comfortable so we just stopped there until the end of the week.

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