Boys' Brigade Uniforms: Activities

Figure 1.--This is a scene at a Boys Brigade camp in England during 1904. The boys are fetting up out of their tents for a wash. The boys look to be rather formally dressed for a camp. Click on the image to see the rest of the photograph.

The Boys’ Brigade as conceived by founder Scottish Sir William Smith in 1883 was to instill discipline and provide religious instruction to the Boys of his day. As such closer order drill was an important early activity, which may explain the adoption of military style uniforms. The Boys' Brigade saw close order martial drill as good discipline for the boys. Roudiness and illdescipline were factors in Smith's idea to found a youth group so that he could channel the energies of local boys in more positive directions. Religious instruction was another important early activity and continues to this day. Scouting at the turn of the 20th century was proposed as an activity or unit within the Boys' Brigade. The more secular appeal of Scouting soon eclipsed the Boys' Brigade in membership numbers. Gradually many Scout-like activities were added to the program, in part to compete with the more secular Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts in fact proved so successful because boys wanted a more secular activities based program than offered by the Brigade at the turn of the 20th century. The Boys' Brigade today offers many of the same activities pursued in Scouting, including games and camping. The Brigade continues, however, the stress religious activities. Brigade units are organized by churches. One enduring activity pursued by early Brigaders are marching bands, including pipe bands.


One popular activity for the British Boys' Brigade band competitions. Most of the bands in these competitions are Scout groups. The Boys' Brigade, however, also sponsors marching bands. Almost surely Boys' Brigade bands predate the first Scout band as the Brigade was organized many years before Baden Powell's Scouts. English Boys' Brigade units have some active bands. I resume there are also groups in Scotland, but have no information at this time. The Brigade is a smaller organization than the Scouts so there are fewer Brigade bands. The ones we have seen, however, appaer to go in for spit and polish, more so than some Scout bands. We have also noted some Brigade pipe bands, especially in Brigade units outside Britain which tend to be smaller and thus able to form full marching bands. The pipe bands also testify to the Scottish roots of the organization.


The Boys' Brigade was very keen on taking city boys away to the wholesome air of the countryside. That was one reason that the Brigade considered making Scouting a unit of the organization. But what is fascinating is that the boys on the camping expeditions appear to ahve dressed up in best suits! Indeed for all that we can tell they look to be their best suits, often three-piece suits. We do note that Eton collars are not as common as we woiuld have expected. Perhaps they were not deemed appropriate for camping. We have only a limited number of Boy's Brigade camping images, but they show the boys wearing suits even at camp. Now as a camper and camp counselor, I find that almost inconceivable, but that appears to have been exactly what the Boys' Brigade did. We can't help but thinking what mum must have said when those boys came back home after camping in their suits.



We have noted only a few youth groups that have done gymnastics. Our information is limited, there may be more than we have noted up until now. One of the groups that has done gymnastics is the Boys' Brigade. We have , however, only limited information on the program. We do note that they give public demonstrations and presumably participate in a variety of competitions. We are unsure how long the gymnastics program has been activity. The group wears an activity uniform of blue "T"-shirts and blue drawstring shorts.

Military Drill


Religion has been an part of boys' youth groups from the earliest days. The Boys' Brigade, the first uniformed boys' group, was organized as a Christian organization by Sir William Smith in Glasgow, Scotland in 1883 with the expressed purpose of instilling instilling discipline and providing religious instruction to the boys of his day. The Brigade since its foundation has been organized around churches and propagation of the protestant Christain faith was the primary reason for the group. The Boys' Brigade continues to be primarily focused on a boy's religious life, although they have adopted many secular activities like the Scouts. It also continues to promote protestant Christianity. As Brigade units are organized by individual churches, the boys in any given unit will primarily be of one denomination.


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Created: June 11, 2002
Last updated: August 9, 2004