The beginning and first years of life of the RSF by H.S. (Bert) Williams

The first mention of a Rough-Stuff Fellowship was made by a letter appearing in the now defunct cycling weekly “The Bicycle” of 27th October 1954. This mention was a letter from W. H. Paul which  was prompted by an article by “Winova”, incidentally, was the nom-de-plume of Winifred Williams, a touring feature writer of the day who also emanated from Liverpool.

Replies to this letter, which invited readers ‘to become members of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship’ were published in the issue of 17th November 1954. The two letters which were published from M.Bamlett of Leeds (Who was not to be heard of again) and the late Ken Walker of Oxford.

These two replies were acknowledged in ‘The Bicycle’ issue of 1st December 1954, in a letter by W. H. Paul, who called for any other ‘rough-stuff’ enthusiast who, should the proposition materialise, would like to be included as a ‘Founder Member’. Ten letters were received by Bill Paul in reply to this call.

Further publicity in “The Bicycle” and “Cycling produced many more enquiries and by 29th December 1954, applications for information in enthusiastic vein number 30 and by 10th January 1955 this had risen to about 70 and applications for membership had been sent out. In the meantime the writer had agreed to act as Publications Editor. By 16th February 1955, Applications for Membership had grown to 110 and it was on this date that a questionnaire was issued to obtain enquirers’ feelings on such matters as subscriptions, magazine, annual gathering and form of a badge

In March 1955,  the writer issued the first ‘RSF News Sheet’. This detailed the results of the questionnaire which had been sent out to prospective members. This then was the acid test put to all enquirers, for it called from those who were interested, the agreed subscription of 5s . 0d (25 pence) per annum. By the end of March 1955, 72 Full Members plus 4 Family Members had joined the ranks and, two weeks later this had reached 102 Full members and 7 Family members. Other items that this New Sheet revealed were; an Entrance Fee of  1s . 0d (5 pence) and a Badge (designed by Bert Williams) for sale to Members at 4s . 0d (20 pence).

In May 1955, just prior to the Inaugural Meeting, the first ‘Rough-Stuff Journal’ was published by the Editor-elect, an issue that set the pattern for the next eight years, A duplicated magazine, this was to be issued primarily as and when required and a publication planned and executed by Bert Williams, who was to hold the Editor's post up to and including issue No 6  of Volume 8 (1963).

The Editor's plan was that, as well as being a magazine mainly to cater for rough routes and information from member to member, it was also to convey to members what was happening within  the Fellowship, especially what was decided within General Meeting - this for the benefit of those members who not attend these functions.

This issue included a message from the President, to whom ‘it gave great pleasure to greet all members through the pages of our Journal’. Seven features appeared in the first pages , from the members and, with grateful thanks to the Editor of “‘The Tyneside Hosteller” and Oldbury C.C.’s magazine “The Spokesman” for permission to publish two articles from their pages.

This issue also contained the first Fellowship Roll, being those members whose names had been provided  by the Honorary Secretary to the Editor by the deadline date set for the receipt of material  for this issue. Although since this issue, these members have been referred to as ‘the first ninety’ they were actually the first 90 members names to be submitted to me for publication in the ‘Journal’.

Things were moving somewhat, for ‘News Sheet’ No 2 contained a further 29 names in the Fellowship Roll. This issue also gave news of the Inaugural Meeting which was to be held  at the ‘Black Swan’ in Leominster on Sunday 29th May 1955, and incorporated the Agenda for the Meeting.

This  Inaugural Meeting was reported upon by the Secretary, Bill Paul. The Yorkshire Area Group stole  a march on everyone else by being the first to get under way, by organising two get - togethers; one a Sunday gathering in May  and the second was a week - end at Ewden Youth Hostel during June. Area Secretary, John Pearson, was thanked as the person responsible. Not to be out - done, the Lancashire Group planned a meeting at Parbold on 17th July.

It is well worth while remembering at this point that this took place before the Rough-Stuff Fellowship was officially formed at the Inaugural Meeting, all the organising having been done by Bill Paul, assisted by Bert Williams.

The membership at deadline at deadline date for News Sheet No 3 (June 1955) was now 150. In News Sheet No 4 (August 1955) members continued to use the pages of the publications for exchange of, and the requesting of news of various crossings. The first Meet of Lancashire members took place in the Parbold area when 19 members met together for lunch and tea.

In this News Sheet volunteers to act as an Area Secretary had been received from Cheshire and North Wales (Vic Ginger); East Midlands (George Powell); South-East (Les Seymour); and Lancashire (Peter Worthington).

News Sheet No 5, issued in November 1955, reported the membership as 165, which ‘extended to the four corners of the county’. The South-East Area  reported a first get - together of 9 members at Wantage in September. Lancashire Group advertised the first Slide Show under the auspices of the Fellowship  to take place on 13th November at the ‘Unicorn’ at Walton-le-Dale. The subject was ‘Scotland and the Drove Roads’ and the presenter would be the Chairman Charlie Chadwick.

Members Bettine and George Bubb made the suggestion that it would be a good idea if the feature writers in the Journal included places where it was possible to ‘drum up’ , so preventing searching  in the wrong spots.

The Slide Show given by the Chairman (mentioned above) was an outstanding success, for no fewer than 30 members and over 50 friends gathered to view and wonder at this classic.

New Sheet No 6 (March 1956) carried  the Annual Report by Bill Paul, who thanked all members for their support and confidence, the membership now standing at 193, and the finances were healthy.

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