Coppice regulars in the 1960’s, but this time delivering a petition to Downing Street. They are Ann Garraway, Jackie Moss, Eddie Adams, Somebody Lowe (anyone remember the name?), Molly Boyd, Val Reardon, Sam Syers, George Bridges, Mod Zeegen, Trevor Hyett and Tony Nicholls.
I guess every generation believes it has discovered sex. Certainly for YCLer’s of the 1960’s enjoyed what was often described as a sexual revolution. Coppice Camp was often the location for such nocturnal manoeuvres.
George Bridges joined Wembley YCL in October l956 becoming its Secretary in l962.
He was London Organiser by l963 and served on the YCL National Committee from l964-1970. As London Secretary from l965 and Editor of Challenge from l970 he was a close observer of Coppice Camp
He first went to Coppice in the early fifties with his communist parents and remembers sleeping in the main hut on straw stuffed mattresses.
Always a man for amusing anecdotes George hasn’t failed us here. He tells us.
“It is interesting to note that the infamous morality patrol of the l950s strictly enforced gender segregation, whereas in the 1960s Coppice Camp was where we did our courting (to use a euphemism).
Coppice was kind of a model for the mass YCL we were striving for – with humour and Micky-taking at the forefront.”
Trev Hyett and I shared a tent with Mhairi Sylvester and Jackie (Bridges, now Heywood) before Jackie and I were married, and to preserve a degree of privacy we put a line of boots and shoes between the two couples, immediately dubbed the “Berlin Wall”.
I also remember an impressive domestic row between one couple who had better remain anonymous. They were sleeping on the stage in the main hall and went to bed early while there was still quite a late night crowd in the body of the hut.
They obviously confused the thin curtain that cut off the stage with a solid and sound-proof wall. When they started a heated row everybody in the hall could hear every word. Worse a badly placed lamp projected their silhouettes on to the curtain for all the world like some experimental Czechoslovak shadow puppet theatre.
Ann Westbury (Now Ann Frost) also has a relevant comment. “There was also another very popular activity at the camp despite the self appointed and often hypocritical ‘morality patrols’. I know there are many men and women in their 40’s today who were conceived on Coppice Camp’s green and pleasant acres.
Although we were all serious revolutionaries there were always a few silly stunts being planned. Letting down tents in the middle of the night was a favourite. Back from the Eagle a happy groups would seek out a tent with someone, preferably a couple, sleeping, or better still not yet sleeping, inside.
Whip out the guy-rope pegs and the tent would collapse in a most amusing manner.
On one occasion in the tent was a young newly married couple. He was YCL Full-timer Bob Allen, she his new wife Ros. As the drunken party surrounded the tent they were delighted to hear satisfyingly erotic noises coming from inside the tent. These suggested that the couple were not yet sleeping but engaged in another popular Coppice activity.
As the noise from inside the tent rose to a natural climax, out came the pegs and down sank the canvas.
The YCL full-timer emerged from the collapsed tent door. He was angry. For once he was almost tongue tied. All he could shout to the assembled crowd now hiding among the trees was “For God’s Sake – I am a married man”. It was a quote that would haunt him for many years.
Here is Bob on a demonstration at the time.
1962 The Communist Party of Great Britain, legal owners of the Camp produced a detailed six page report on Coppice. Among other things it spelt out:-
The land comprising the Trust was transferred by deed of gift to four Trustees appointed by the Communist Party.
The original trustees were Bill Lauchan, Bill Alexander, Reuben Falber and Jimmy Reid all comrades in leading Party positions. Reuben Falber would gain a measure of notoriety as the Party official who organised deliveries of secret Russian Gold over the years. Jimmy Reid was the hero and leader of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders dispute.
The CPGB EC reserved the right to appoint and change trustees but established there must be at least three.
The terms of the Trust are to provide a campsite and the Trustees have the powers to delegate the running and management to any committee appointed by them.
In compliance with the above a camp committee exists which replaces the original committee prior to the gift. It seems that at this time the Trustees organised an appeal for funds to develop the campsite.
The balance of monies raised in response to the appeal for the Harry Pollitt Memorial Fund was made available for the development of the site – particularly with the intention of bringing the toilet facilities up to the required standard.
At the same time the money in the fund has also had to meet other overheads arising during the time for which the camp was not earning income.
The total in the fund in April 1962 was £1,316. From this they paid a Mr F Mildwater (believe to be a local builder) £450 towards work on the toilets and a Brown and Co £137. A further £339 was spent on various bills. The Trust bought a small gypsy caravan for £100. This left the Trust with £280.
The Camp Committee had a small amount of money of its own.
That small and pretty caravan, a bit like the one pictured, would become the most desirable accommodation at the site despite its healthy population of spiders. Couples would vie to claim the luxury accommodation of the caravan.
Sylvia Picton (below), for many years unofficial treasurer for the campsite, and bookeeper at the Morning Star was a regular resident in the caravan.
Mr F Mildwater – a local sympathetic builder – had been working on the toilets for some time but was having difficulties finding labour. Much voluntary work had been done – hedge clearing and trenching but the Camp Committee had been unable to find skilled labour particularly bricklayers. These delays had resulted in some setback such as spoiled cement, frost damage to pipes and collapsed trenches.
It was becoming clear that there was not enough money in the funds to finish both toilets and showers.
A new plan was hatched to finish the toilet block in two stages.
The first covered toilets and washbasins but no showers or hot water and would cost about £250 to £300.
The next stage would provide showers and hot water. This would be another £300 to £500.
Both depended on getting skilled volunteers but if that could be achieved they thought that the work could be finished over seven or eight weekends starting in June of 1962. Like so many other Coppice toilet block plans it never happened.
1962 Sept CPGB EC Minutes thank Dr. Cullen for his gift of Coppice Camp.
1962 Ann Westbury had joined Paddington YCL in 1962. “My best friend Sue Angel (Now Sue Thomas) (pictured below) and I trekked to Coppice by tube, train and bus. We arrived at the Eagle Pub in Kelvedon Hatch.
As young girls from the terraced streets of working class West London getting out to the wide open countryside for the weekend was a revelation and a delight.
Sue and I had left school at 15 and we were both in dead end jobs. I remember the freedom of sitting up late into the night arguing and drinking with free thinking but like minded young people. It opened my horizons to all kinds of new things, and ideas.
I felt so lucky and look back, possibly through rose tinted glasses, to scenes that remind me of TV’s Darling Buds of May.
Those early YCL camps were so stimulating and so exciting. We were so lucky to have them. I just wish there was something like them for young people like my teenage grandchildren today.
1963 John Boyd reported to the CPGB Youth Affairs Committee on work at Coppice Camp but I have not been able to find a copy of this report.