The first meeting place was a building on Metropolitan Water Board land off the Portsmouth Road opposite what are now Kingston University halls of residence. The second was a wooden barge called MINCA. The name MINCA stood for ‘Made IN CAnada’. Our boat, MINCA 195, was one of many hundred such barges prefabricated in Canada and assembled by Wates the builder for use during the war as landing craft and pontoons. This was replaced in 1951 by an ex World War II Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB No. 747 ‘Ajax II’). Both of these boats were moored just upstream of where the Thames Ditton Marina river access gates are now located. Sadly, the MTB succumbed to dry rot in the late 1950s.
Coincidentally, the MTB was towed to the scrapyard by the tug Sheen with George Barber’s dad at the helm. He would have found it a lot easier if a member of Ajax had not illicitly removed the ship’s wheel, which now has pride of place on the fo’c’sle wall! The flag mast on the quarterdeck is also from the MTB.
This is an edited excerpt of George Barber’s “70 Years of Ajax and 65 Years an Ajaccio”, first published in the 2018 Ajax Group Annual Report
Our next HQ was a second-hand wooden hut erected at the west end of the Thames Ditton Marina. The original plan was to expand this into an H shape with the addition of two more wooden huts. However in 1957, before the additional huts were added, a more spacious piece of Water Board land became available to lease. This was located where the houses overlooking the river in Ditton Reach now stand.
On the new Water Board plot, throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, hardworking members and parents headed by Senior Scout Leader Doug Fenner built a substantial “H” shaped brick building which was completed in 1974. With each of the Group’s HQs a little further upstream, Ajax eventually crossed the border between Surbiton and Esher Scout Districts and transitioned from the 4th Surbiton to the 4th Thames Ditton ‘Ajax’ Sea Scouts.
Our lease from the Metropolitan Water Board was relatively short but that had not been a concern because they were never known to sell off land. However, in 1973 the MWB became part of Thames Water and in 1977 our plot was sold to developers with only four years remaining on our lease.
To get us off the site as quickly as possible, the developers offered to build us a comparable HQ if we could find a suitable riverside site on which to build it. Fortune clearly favoured Ajax since there was a perfect piece of land right next door on the old coal wharf site owned by Elmbridge Borough Council. Councillors were very supportive and voted to lease part of this land to Ajax with the rest being used to construct City Wharf House and to provide space for the trailer park behind our building. Beyond the length of the lease, one real advantage of this move was that we would have access to a slipway whereas previously our boats had to be hauled laboriously up the steep riverside bank. With Ajax trustee Shady Lane taking the lead, the developers were ultimately persuaded to provide us with a completed building ready for occupation rather than the external shell originally on offer.
The Group has much to thank the Council for as well as Shady Lane whose outstanding negotiating skills helped deliver us from several more years of fundraising and volunteer toil that would have been necessary if we had taken delivery of an uncompleted shell. We can be justly proud of our present building, the ‘Chiefy Sharman Water Activities Centre’, which remains one of the finest Scout facilities in the area.