John Reed’s researched Christchurch Scouting’s history in 2005-2007. He did an incredible amount of work and uncovered many new facts that had been largely unknown. The driver for the research was to produce a book to celebrate the centenary of Scouting in Christchurch. By the deadline date, without doubt the picture was confusing, exacerbated by missing pieces of info. One item quoted is The Souvenir Programme for Christchurch Scout Week written for the Diamond Jubilee 1967 which said, “the group flourished until 1938 when it joined with Burton Scouts to become the Avon Valley Group. With the closure of this group due to the war, Bransgore Scouts and Cubs combined with the Sopley Group.” Since then, further research and more time to work it out, has led to this understanding of what happened. The history of the three villages needs to be read together and not in isolation of each other.
There is a geographic area to the north of the A35 and out in the country, with sparse populations relative to the town area. The main villages are Sopley which merits a mention in the Domesday book, Burton to the south and along the river valley, then Bransgore to the east, a parish created in 1874 from the lands of Sopley and Christchurch.
Scouting started early in Christchurch and its district and in 1910, troops were started in Sopley and Bransgore, the only two in this geographic area. In 1913, the Sopley troop was extended and became the Sopley, Winkton and Burton troop, a logical grouping of two villages and a hamlet, along a road adjacent to the River Avon. Bransgore being just a little further east, continued with their own scout troop. However, the Sopley, Winkton and Burton troop closed, perhaps during WW1, definitely before 1923.
In 1923 Burton opened its own troop, seemingly ‘ignoring’ Sopley, for reasons we cannot now know. Its unclear where boys from Sopley would have gone, perhaps Burton or perhaps Bransgore. During the 20s and into the 30s, both Burton and Bransgore continued although they both suffered periods without leaders and had to close temporarily.
By 1937 Bransgore had been closed for a year or so when Burton also closed. Then Bransgore re-opened with Ralph Young as Scoutmaster. This was then the only troop in the area of these villages
In May 1938, the DC was faced with Sopley long closed and now Burton closed and nowhere for the boys of these villages to do scouting without the 2 mile travel to Bransgore. An Avon Valley group was proposed which reflected the 1913 Sopley, Winkton and Burton troop, a practical solution for these villages.
It has to be presumed that no leaders were available, or it was the intention to merge Bransgore troop too (although the name wouldn’t have fitted) as it seems that Ralph Young was approached to open the Avon Valley troop which he did. As Bransgore troop continued, Ralph Young must have run both troops for a brief period. By December a new scoutmaster had been found, Major Lake of Winkton and he took over the Avon Valley Troop. Despite what the John Reed book says, this troop met in Winkton not Burton. The first hut was acquired in 1940 and was on the land of Winkton Lodge, very close to Major Lake’s home. As Winkton was between Sopley and Burton, this must have made it easier for more boys to be members. As the war loomed, scouting was back up to strength in the area.
But in 1939, Bransgore won the Sports Day competition in the summer yet by the end of the year, Headquarters lists the troop as closed. Ralph Young had served in WW1 and being in his 40s, perhaps he served in WW2 too in some way. His two sons were still young enough to be in scouting so you might have expected him to continue for their sakes so it seems more likely the significance of the start of the war is the reason for the closure. Or this was the plan, to merge all three villages into one group. During the war, the only group was Avon Valley running from Winkton.
After the war, the Avon Valley group closed in 1946 and as a Burton and Sopley group was also started that year, perhaps this was a strategic move to increase scouting in the area. But why was a troop not also started at Bransgore? There is no evidence that one was started but hearsay says it ran from 1946 with Scoutmaster Don London. But evidence shows that he ran the Sopley troop from the Old School House in Sopley village. Did he run one troop for both villages or did he run two troops and the documents have been lost?
There is a photo of Sopley’s hut with the note ‘Scout hut in 40s and 50s’ and this was on land opposite the ex Sopley post office, presumably where they went after using the Old School House. You have to wonder if this was the hut from Winkton Lodge and why didn’t Burton get it. Burton troop held their meetings in the Coach House Garage in Martins Hill Lane which belonged to their leader so perhaps them having somewhere made the decision. However, when Sopley group closed in 1952, Burton bought their hut and moved it on to the recreation ground the following year.
In 1951, Bransgore Group was opened with Don Dyer as Scoutmaster and now there was a troop in each of the three villages for the first time. But it didn’t last long as Sopley closed the following year, in 1952. Don London is listed in Hampshire’s register as a leader in Bransgore troop from 1952 so he must have moved to this troop. By 1954, the area was down to one troop yet again as Bransgore closed, leaving just Burton open. Sopley never re-opened but from 1959, two successful groups were running in both Burton and Bransgore and have continued until this day. The locations reflect the local population and the changes from the Domesday time of the importance and size of Sopley.
I can see why Avon Valley Group was attributed to Burton Group but it seems based on the recent closure of that group rather than on anything else. Avon Valley ran from Winkton, it was based on the original grouping based on Sopley’s troop, and it ran with new leaders that didn’t end up in Burton. Burton’s history runs back into the early 1920s, if not before, and like Sopley and Bransgore, Avon Valley group was just part of its adjacent history.
Jackie Dawson April 2014
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