Those toilets

Throughout the history of Coppice Camp there were always plans to develop and build a proper toilet and shower block. It was never completed.

Elsan bucket-and-chuckit chemical toilets, little more than a galvanised bucket fitted with a varnished mahogany seat did the job over the years. Here is a more sophisticated model.


The contents were first buried in the woods and later tipped away in a manhole leading to the sewers.

George Bridges is one who has memories of them.

“Although they were disgusting, and needed a volunteer squad to empty, Mike Power always reveled in this task which he referred to as sifting and grading the turds.

On one occasion Mike Power managed to empty an entire Elsan bucket on Josie and Brian Green’s lawn using the wrong manhole. He never owned up.

More Personal memories from George Bridges

Sport was always a strong element in the YCL’s use of Coppice in the l960s, the volleyball pitch, without any clear lines, was very popular giving rise to ideological debate about what was in or out.   And we played football regularly on the local village pitch over the road.

There was always a great community spirit at the camp with work rotas being acknowledged – I remember always ended up on breakfast rota the morning after the Eagle sessions, sometimes with Ron Bell – never breaking a fried egg, and Maggie Martin – another of the many young woman comrades given the title the ‘Angel of the Morning’*.

The popularity of the pub, the Eagle, shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly when Trevor Hyett and his fellow musicians came along.  The singsongs there were always a highlight of the weekend.

By the way, Coppice weekends were an important source of finance for the London YCL, and one of the reasons why we managed to maintain regular wages for the full-timers during the 60s.

George concludes with the view that Coppice Camp was kind of a model for the mass YCL we were striving for – with humour and Mickey taking at the forefront.

Some Personal memories from Genia Browning

Genia Browning has many memories of days at Coppice Many weekends were spent in Kelvedon:

It wasn’t so far from Woodford in Essex where my teenage years in the YCL were spent.

Later I was made a member of the Coppice Camp Committee headed by John Boyd and we had committee weekends there. I seem to remember that they were work weekends. It meant I could kip in the Gypsy style caravan – which I remember spring cleaning before using it – lots of spider webs.

However, my favourite accommodation was in the yellow tents. They were a gift from Czechoslovakia, and a marked improvement on our previous provisions. Most importantly they had built in groundsheets, a luxury defence against creepy crawlies. Some were blue, the others yellow. I much preferred the yellow ones as whatever the weather outside, the yellow gave the impression of waking up to sunshine.

There were always a number of tasks to be done at Coppice: not least the digging of latrines. The huts had to be cleaned and meals prepared, cleared and washed up. I got into the habit of making people morning tea – maybe it was just on one or two visits, not more. I do remember getting called ‘Angel of the morning’* one time though as a result.

Some visits were just plain holidaying, others were for study. But whatever the reason for being at Coppice, the evenings was invariably spent strolling across the fields to the pub across the main road. I never thought I’d forget its name, but I have. (The Eagle, still there and now a popular gastropub. Ed).

I seem to remember rather noisy tramps back across those fields. When Josie and Brian Green lived in the caretaker house attached to Coppice, Brian would accompany group singing on his guitar. The woods belonging to Coppice were extensive enough to feel apart even from the camp. I particularly remember swathes of bluebells in the spring.

I suppose the camp was intended to fulfil the role prevalent amongst socialist groups in the early years of the 20th century, that fresh air and country pursuits were health giving and a means of binding collective endeavour. Not only the Boy scouts, the Girl Guides, the Woodcraft Folk and the Forest Schools which remain today as the Forest School camps, as a model for political education it followed the Pioneer, Red Falcon and Komsomol camps of the Socialist states.

Forest School Camps were originally formed by a group of former students and teachers from a radical educational scheme called the Forest School that started in 1930 in the New Forest, which was forced to close at the start of World War II.

*Angel of the Morning

Awarding the ‘Angel of the Morning’ title seemed to be cunning strategy by certain lazy male chauvanists to get tea in bed in the morning. At least three of my female contributors have told this story Ed. All thought they were unique in being given the title.

Do you have your own memories and anecdotes of time spent at Coppice?  Send  them in so we can all share.




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