Following the formation of the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) of England and Wales in 1931 it was soon apparent of the scope and interest for local YHA members to form local groups. It was thanks to Lawrence Morris that our group became one of the first local YHA groups in the UK. The forming of the Harrow, Wembley and Watford YHA group was first conceived in 1934, before starting in 1936. During the war, the area covered by our group was reduced when members from Watford set up their own group.
- Our inaugural meeting was held on March 14th 1936 in the YWCA Hall, Station Road, Harrow. About 50 members of the YHA attended and Sid Whiteley was elected Chairman, with Lawrence Morris becoming first secretary.
- Our first Committee meeting was held on March 24th 1936 and a programme of hostel weekends, walks and working parties was arranged.
- Our first walk took place on March 29th 1936 when 24 members of our group travelled to Chorleywood (1/4d return) and walked through Chenies along the Chess Valley to Latimer and Leyhill for lunch, returning through Flaunden and Sarratt.
- Our first working party was held at Noake Mill hostel where members of our group were introduced to whitewashing and some of the whitewash itself! (Working parties involved members of YHA local groups providing voluntary support to the YHA and hostels)
In June 1936 members of our group noticed a large empty house in the village of Ivinghoe, near Tring in Buckinghamshire. It was owned by Benskins of Watford, who had closed the adjacent brewery and left the house empty. After a long period of negotiations (which resulted in a rent of 5/- a year being accepted), and many working parties through the following winter and spring, the house was renovated by members of our group and became a YHA hostel opening its doors for the first time at Easter 1937.
Bob, Muriel, John W, Bernard and Jack - Ivinghoe, November 1953
Since 1936 the group has used a few venues for its weekly Thursday evening meet.
- The first regular meeting place for our group was the Scout hut in Blawith Road, Harrow. With so many members, a move to the Victoria Hall, Station Road, Harrow was soon arranged. When war broke out the Victoria Hall was used as a 'British Restaurant' and while our group was looking for a new meeting place it was held together by some meetings being held in a member's flat.
- A move to the Scout hut in Ranelagh Road, Wembley saw our group celebrate its first 10 years in 1946; with a rich fruit cake, made despite severe rationing, by a mother of one of the members.
- During the early fifties our group moved several times. Barham School and the Café of Vale Farm being amongst them, until in August 1956 a more permanent location was found. This was Perrin Road School, Sudbury, where our group remained for the next 34 years.
- After a number of unaffordable rises in the price of the hall at Perrin Road School, Sudbury, our group moved in June 1990. Our new venue was Wykeham Hall, St Michaels and All Angels Church, Bishop Ken Road, Harrow Weald.
- By 1997 our group had moved again to the YWCA Hall in Sheepcote Road, Harrow. In 2005 we were informed the YWCA Hall was to be sold. A very thorough review to find the best possible venue for our group paid off.
- In November 2005 we moved to a fantastic new modern venue in central Harrow, the hall of Our Lady & St Thomas Of Canterbury R C Church, 22 Roxborough Park, Harrow, HA1 3BE.
The immediate post war years saw a great boom in cycling and many weekends were spent awheel. Our members enjoyed events such as digging the cess pit at Jordans and Christmas parties at Hemel Hempstead. Members also started a group magazine, the Wemrow Wayfarer, that continued into the nineties until computers, the internet and email became commonplace. Joy Connell provides an insight into our post war group (banned magazine articles, anal processes, overnight stays in police cells, "creeping in at midnight", and strip poker) and our magazine in Those Were The Days. Ralph Chenery describes cycling, the 1951 Festival of Britain and our range of activities in The Roaring 40's and Gay 50's. Joyce Slade presents a very detailed account of our groups first complete post war decade in The Fifties. All first hand accounts.
In 1951 a young man joined our group who was to provide a back wheel and a helpful push to many members who proclaimed them selves to be cyclists. To date Reg Dean is probably our groups most loyal of members being active with us well into the eighties and a life member until he passed away in 1997. Reg Dean wrote about some of his key experiences with our group in the fifties and sixties in A Quarter of A Century with Harrow and Wembley YHA Group.
1957 saw our groups 21st birthday with 120 members celebrating our 'Coming of Age Dinner and Dance' at the Century Hotel, Wembley. Our group, however, split afterwards over money problems and it wasn't until 1961 that membership was strong again, luckily in time for our 25th birthday dinner and dance at the Railway Hotel, Wealdstone. The group continued to prosper for most of the sixties with busy membership, entry and success in many YHA events and many hostelling weekends for its active walkers and cyclists. The group remained 'happening' until the end of the sixties. Robert Ford describes the era in The Swinging Sixties.
With our first 25 years behind us, a period of success and strength in numbers seemed to prevail. In 1962/63 our group won the YHA London Region Bednight Shield for the first time. Since that first success our group has won the shield on every occasion that it has entered. We distinguished ourselves in many YHA events during the sixties with successful rides in the Milford '100' Reliability Rides, sore but successful feet in the Tanners Hatch and Ridgeway Marathons, and good finishes in the West of London Groups Rally at Ivinghoe which is an event started by members of our group. Travel to hostels was usually in the back of a 'big blue van' and if you ever got the train home when cycling you were never allowed to forget it, were you Bob and John! Over the years of course the YHA and its hostels have changed. Trevor Key remembers some of his hostelling and YHA experiences in Gone, But Not Forgotten.
Hartington Hall Youth Hostel - 1973
With the end of the sixties and the departure of many long established members, our group went through some hard times with membership dropping to 35 and as few as 8 people turning up on a Thursday evening. 'Avoiding the Treasurer' became a hard game to win. But with a lot of effort from a small number of people better times came again and within 4 years our membership was back to over 100 and the group once again become one of the strongest in the country. The 1979 AGM records a paid membership figure of 113.
New cyclists weekend held at Lee Gate 1975
1976 saw our groups 40th Dinner and Dance at the Headstone Hotel. 160 people attended with the YHA Chairman John Parfitt being the guest speaker. Following this our group had its fair share of success with its first victory in the Ivinghoe (West of London) Groups Rally and continued success all the Bednight trophies. The washroom at YHA Jordans was refurbished with money largely raised by our group and in 1986 a 50th birthday BBQ was held there. Dave Ford reminisces about the group in the late sixties and seventies in Towards 2001. Mark Grant recalls the late seventies and early eighties in Wemrow in the 1980s - Any Different to the 1930s?.
Ivinghoe Rally - 1981
Throughout the eighties membership started to fall again with 59 paid members recorded at the AGM in 1989. This trend appears to have continued throughout the nineties falling to a recent low of 42 at the AGM in 1998. However a good push from a number of people in the new century led to membership increasing again. At the October 2005 AGM paid membership of our group had crossed the hundred-barrier for the first time in 25 years, with 105 paid members.
Lake District - 1983
Current (2011) membership of our group reflects the changes in our local communities of North-West London. Our group is ethnically diverse and has equal numbers of girls and guys with a common aim of enjoying a range of outdoor activities in the company of others. Walking, weekends away and weeks away form the core of our groups outdoor activities and after 12 months all members are required to contribute to our two events programmes each year.
Our group is still involved with the YHA although our relationship has changed considerably since the seventies. The 'working groups' of volunteer members doing work at hostels have gone and hostels (YHA and independent) are now only one source of accommodation our members choose to stay at. During the nineties our group, like many other original YHA groups, gained independence from the YHA. Our relationship with the YHA is now entirely voluntary and flexible, hopefully to the continued benefit of both. Our group is still affiliated to the YHA (AFG 1053). Steve Redmond highlights the changes in the group throughout the first decade of the 21st century in Post-YHA, a new century and the Internet.
Finally, here are some quotes from our past 70 years or so.