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The 8th of March marked the 55th anniversary of the death of a much-valued member of the St Margarets community whose name and contribution is now largely forgotten.

In the summer of 1919 a local man, Arthur William Lawrence, came to the conclusion that the only thing St Margarets needed to turn it into an earthly paradise – all the other necessary attributes being in place – was a Scout Troop, so on Monday, November 24th he started one. He cunningly called it the “1st St Margarets” and himself, being the leader, “Skipper”.

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He was born in London on the 11th September 1878. After a rather ‘do-it-yourself’ education, at the age of 15, he joined the Northampton Polytechnic Gymnasium in Clerkenwell. There he became a master of the Indian clubs winning the all-England open Indian Club swinging championship.

Basic Indian Club exercises

Indian Club swinging, which incidentally originated in Persia, is no longer as popular as it was in Victorian times when it was seen as a sure-fire way to improve health, posture and strength. The wooden clubs were used in choreographed group routines led by an instructor in the front, similar to modern aerobics and zumba classes. Men’s club swinging formed part of the 1904 Summer Olympics programme.

As a young man ‘Skipper’ Lawrence served as gymnastics instructor to the 66th Kentish Town Boys Brigade Company. When he moved with his wife to Sunbury he became the scoutmaster of the 1st Sunbury Scout Troop. In 1918 he moved again to St Margarets where he joined the 1st St Margarets Troop first as a gymnastic instructor and first aider and then Scout master.

‘Skipper’ Lawrence was a keen and tireless supporter of both the Scouts and the Boys Brigade - apparently unbothered by the friendly rivalry between the two associations…

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"Here comes the Boys Brigade,
All covered in marmalade.
The marmalade is mouldy,
And so is the Boys Brigade."

A SCOUT SONG OF THE TIME

Here come the Brussel Sprouts,
The dirty lot of louts.
With tuppenny ha'penny broomsticks,
Here comes the smelly Scouts!

A BOYS BRIGADE SOME OF THE TIME

The story has it that the first meetings of the 1st St Margarets Scout Group were held under a gaslight on a street corner. Nearly 100 years on the Scout Troop is still in St Margarets along with their junior sections, the Beavers and the Cubs. The only difference is that the gas-lit street corner has been replaced by the hall at St. Stephens School where the group is based today.

Just after Christmas 1963, at the age of 85, ‘Skipper’ slipped on a patch of ice and broke his thigh and an arm. Although he appeared to be recovering from his injuries he died on Friday 8th March 1963. An obituary published at the time remembered…

“…how much his guidance meant and our personal debt to him. We have a deep appreciation for his life with us: an example and real service to young people and their fellow-men.”

Skipper Lawrence was involved with the troop and Twickenham scouts for over 35 years, ending up as District Commissioner. He was typical of many thousands of men and women throughout the UK who give their lives to scouting, setting an example for young people to follow, building their characters and widening their view of the world. Without people like Arthur William Lawrence Scouting and its associated movements would end, leaving the world a poorer place. As Socrates once said…

“No man goeth about a more godly purpose than he who is mindful of the right upbringing not only of his own, but of other men’s children.”

– from Martyn Day