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Introduction

The purpose of this multi-part blog is to tell some of the story of an amazing campsite in Essex that for around seventy years was the surprising home to an important part of the British Labour and Communist Movement.

Thousands of Young Communists, and others on the left of British politics, travelled to Kelvedon Hatch in Essex and over the decades they enjoyed life camping in the clean open air close to nature.

The place was Coppice Camp at Kelvedon Hatch near Brentwood Essex. For much of its history it was known as the Harry Pollitt memorial youth camp, taking its name from perhaps the most famous British communist Harry Pollitt (pictured below) who headed the Communist Party in Britain through some of its most successful years.

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The people who came to the camp were involved in the great political events, and arguments, of the day. We put the world to rights, with deep discussions about war and peace, popular, and not so popular, culture, Socialism, dialectical materialism, fashion, and even sex and drugs and rock and roll.

Here at the camp they would chew over the experiences of their lives, these included mass unemployment; the defeat of Moseley and the battle of Cable Street; The International Brigades who went to fight in Spain; The twists and turns of the Second World War; Immigration and the rascism it fostered; The post war ban-the-bomb and wider peace movement; The huge demonstrations against the Vietnam War; The anti-Apartheid struggle; Apprentice strikes; Tenants battles; Trades Union issues: the emergence of feminism and a whole lot more.

They were heady times indeed.

All these issues were discussed late into the night, round camp fires or on rambles in the Essex countryside. We argued as we lay out on the grassy lawn in the summer sun or even, whisper it quietly, over a pint or two in the bar of the local pub – the Eagle.

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I hope this writing will bring back fond and happy memories for those who were lucky enough to experience the same fun, comradeship and political education I did in my many visits to Coppice Camp.

Peter Frost has started to produced this history, not as a definitive work of reference, rather to communicate the fun, inspiration and comradeship that Coppice engenders in those who remember camping there.

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There are still some big holes, but the rich history is starting to come together.

Peter’s main aim in starting to tell the story is to try to bring alive the important place this field in Essex had for the Labour and Communist Movement over some sixty years.

The whole project is very much work in progress, If you can help with any information or just personal memories or particularly any photographs I’d be delighted to hear from you and to add them to the history.

Watch out for further parts of the story that will be added over the next few weeks.

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5 thoughts on “Part One Coppice Camp Start here

  1. Peter – I had a lot to do with Coppice Camp during 1980s-through Essex Education and Landen Temple. I was often asked by Temple to look after groups there – from Russia – and also Cuba – he was on control of it all of the time right up until his death, actually. Any change of ownership would be a paper exercise only I can confirm that. There was a fear that Young Communists might get the Camp back. It was completely demolished by the Winds of 1987 and thereafter, my ex-husband was employed as camp handyman to clear it all up by Temple and he remained there in employ until Temple died. It is sad how much potential was really lost there – it was once a little paradise. Eve.

    • I lived in a house that backed onto the camp as I child in the 90s. I remember some Russian cosmonauts and some Cubans staying in the camp.

  2. Ingatestone Pedallers cycled to Stondon Massey Church last weekend and we discussed various huts in the woods at KH and that my grandfather had told me tales of the nudist goings-on there. I have been looking for history on this and today have found it! I am from a left-wing background myself, ex Labour party member and unionist in the Civil Service and one of those people who think that “Homage to Catalonia” was Orwell’s best book. We still have relatives in the area (Cox family). I will see if I can trawl for any more information from my relatives. Fascinating stuff, and a part of British history between the wars that is almost forgotten, especially when any sort of political involvement now is seen as peculiar.

  3. I Lived in the Village and was friends with Justin and Tim who were the sons of the people who looked after the camp, a beautiful place set in the woods we had many a good night mixing in with foreign exchange students.

    Paul Kerry

  4. I only went to the camp one weekend but it left an indelible memory of camaraderie, freedom and good times. I went with Sam Smith Maggie Tyrrell and John (sorry his surname escapes me but his folks lived on Brixton Hill) from Lambeth YCL and we were there ostensibly to work on the toilet block. Sam was a proper builder and the rest of us were supposed to be helping and although I did manage to trowel some mortar onto a couple of bricks the division of labour was pretty gendered and us girls inevitably, for such were the times, ended up in the kitchen turning out catering sized meals which consisted of mountains of potatoes and carrots which had to be peeled with blunt knives. Maybe that’s why I like building things and hate cooking?

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