** English boy scout movement: British Boy Scouts

English Boy Scout Movement: British Boy Scouts

Figure 1.--

Americans and Brits tend to think of the Scouts as one united national association. This is not how Scouting developed in many other countries and there were competing associations in both America and Britain. The most significant challenge to Baden Powell's Scout Association was the British Boy Scouts. Few people today have ever heard of the BBS, but for several years the organization posed a major threat to Baden Powell's desire for a unified national Scouting movement. While the BBS through finacial mismanagement was eclipsed by Baden Powell's Scouts, there is substantial historical evidence to suggest that the competition with the BBS significantly changed the nature of the Scouting movement reducing its miliitary orientation and expanding its international outreach.

Military Orientation

Baden Powell in 1909 was still an army officer on active duty and did not work full time with the Scouting movement that he had founded. At the time some early Scout leaders felt that the evolving Boy Scouts Association (BSA) was too much oriented toward the military. After all it had been founded by an army general. Some feared that he movement was being influenced by the National Service League, an organisation which advocated compulsory military conscription.


The Battersea District Scouts, disatisfied with the attitude of national Scout officials and concerned with the close connection of Baden Powell with the military, decided to withdraw from the BSA and form a new Scout association--The British Boy Scouts (BBS). Battersea is a subub of London. A popular boys' publication Chums, decided in 1909 to sponsor the BBS. Chums (Cassell and Co. London) was a boys' paper with comics launched in 1892. The editors had been working with Baden Powell, but when approached by the break-away BBS, they were impressed with the anti-militarism peace message. As a result the editors of Chums decided to promote the BBS. As Chums was read throughout Britain as well as the overseas Dominions, it proved highly successful in spreading the BBS, both within Britain and in British Dominions overseas. Baden Powell's BSA had no comparable overseas outreach.

Break with the BSA

Efforts were made to reconcile the differences between the BBS and BSA, but they failed. The result was that the BSA's Commissioner for all of London, Sir Francis Vane, joined the BBS. He became the BBS President and brought with him most of the London troops and many Birmingham troops. Vane helped to arrange an alliance with the Boys Life Brigade (BLB) in 1910 to create the National Peace Scouts (NPS). The BBS's break with the BSA over militarism was the same issue which caused the Boys' Life Brigade to break off from the Boys' Brigade. The two organizations shared a non-military approach and were closely associated with sponsoring churches. The combined membership in 1910 was about 85,000 boys, about equal numbers from the two organizations. The NPS never developed into an important groups, however, the BLB has a primary religious focus and were not interested in secular Scouting. The BBS, after the brek with the BSA, consituted about one-third of the Scouts in Britain. A major difference with the BSA was that virtually all the BBS troops were sponsored by churches. The BBS under Vane also decided to sponsor Girl Scout troops.

World Order of Scouting

There was also a competing internatioanl Scout group. In fact, the short-lived Order of World Scouts (OWS) founded in 1911 was the earlist international Scouting organization. While the OWS organization was short lived, they made have well played an important role in incouraging Baden Powell's British Scouts to expand their international outreach. For a few years the OWS competed with Baden Powell's Boy Scout Association, but today is little remembered.


The 1910s

The BBS began he decade as a major youth movemnent. Under Vane the BBS in England and in the Empire were known as the 'World Scouts' rather than the BBS, with individual boy members describing themselves as such. [Nock] The aim of this was to get the Scouts to see themselves as international citizens. There were over 500 troops in Britain and some 1,500 troops in the Empire (1911). The membership of the organization may have reached 50,000 biys (1911-12). The BBS collapsed in 1912 when Vane had to declare bankruptsy. Baden Powell's BSA refused any kind of corporate union with the BBS. They insisted that individual BBS troops apply to the local BSA unit for membership. At first only a few did so. After Vane's bankruptcy, membership plummeted. Newspaper reports and BBS records suggest thst some 120 BBS troops continued to function. Most were groups in destincr pockets: London, Birmingham, Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, and Nottinghamshire. These was locations that had district organizations. Isolated troops did exist elsewhere, but information is patchy. The recovery of such information as is now known today, was to painstakingly scour every local newspaper where it was suspected a BBS troop existed, looking for reports on their activities. Before World War I, activities of local troops were considered news worthy, but that is a huge task. The other method was to write to selected local newspapers with a request for ex BBS members to contact the researcher. This was done back in 1983 with good results. However no old boys of the BBS will be alive today to read the request. With the call up for WWI, most troops lost their scoutmasters and thus the troops became inactive. Many of these Scout masters did not return to revive their troops.

The 1920s

After World War I, reports in newspapers become scarce. The BBS entered the 1920s with circa 40-50 troops,

The 1930s

Men who joined as boys in the 1930s were replying, back in 1983. The number of BBS declined to about about 35 troops by 1939. The BBS continued in Australia, certainly in the 1930s and kept in touch with troops in the UK. This continued until the outbreal of World War II.

The 1940s

After World war II, there were only about 25 BBS troops. Troops were ctive in London, Gloucestershire, Yorkshire, and Nottinghamshire.

The 1950s

In the 1950s troops wax and wane, with representation in the four areas as well as a troop in Oxford.

The 1970s

These are conservative estimates, made from what information could be recovered. By the mid 1970s London alone remains with one troop, but by late 1970s, joined by Oxford.

The 1980s

Then in the 1980s Troops are found in London, Gloucestershire, and Nottinghamshire. Counterpart organisations abroad under the title of Order of World Scouts mushroomed from the 1980s onward with 20 other countries involved.

The 1990s

In the 1990s the spread is to Norfolk and Berkshire, then Dorset, with London, and Gloucestershire still represented.

The 2010s

A contributor tells us, "I do not have the current list, but a slow expansion is occurring, with the Chief Commissioner reporting new growth every year. Today in local newspapers very few reports appear giving details of local troop activities for any scouts of any allegiance." [Foster, Email]

Social Class

A major difference betweem the BBS and Baden Powell's BSA organization was the social class organization. The BSA organization was from the beginning a middle-class organization. The BBS was more of aorking-class movement. This ethos can be traced back to Sir Francis Vane, who provided uniform, and the costs to take Scouts on Camp. It is little wonder he became bankrupt as in 1912 he was not bankrolling a Troop, but an Association! The boys in BSA troops had to buy thir own uniforms. A contributor writes, "In any examination of the location of BBS troops against the social backdrop it become evident that in the period from 1909 through the 1930s, the BBS troops are located in working class areas. When I was able to chat to Ted Scott (supra) he told me, that he had never been on holiday until he joined the BBS Scouts. His parents could not afford the costs. These boys who joined BBS troops certainly in South London were able to gain experiences that otherwise would have been denied to them. The experiences provided self esteem, and their lot improved. I interviewed Scoutmaster Arthur Dance in Nottingham where he ran a Troop in the 1930s. He provided the same picture. This was true of the BBS in many other areas. For example I interviewed Ronald Gardener in the early 1980s, a Scout in the 1940s. He lived in a village in Gloucestershire, and troops existed in five local villages, all run by the same BBS scoutmaster, who was too old to be called up, but had served in World War I. The same picture emerged of an increase in self-worth, and an improvement in social mobility. Charles Brown running a Troop in Lewisham (South London) in the 1950s related a story of a lad who had to leave the Scouts. The uniform belonged to the Troop as lads could not afford their own. He failed to return the belt, and when quizzed about it, said "if I give the belt back my trousers will fall down!" In the 1980s Troops existed in working class areas in Nottingham (Clifton Estate) and Gloucestershire (Lydbrook - and ex-mining area with high unemployment). A week on camp was a rare treat for a few of the boys and girls (Nottingham and Lydbrook both had British Girl Scout Troops, alongside the BBS). Percy Pooley who was Chief Commissioner and had served in the BBS for 63 years died penniless and was buried in a pauper's or common, grave. A bachelor, he had spent every penny on his work with the Scouts. In his last years he lived in a 'bed sit' typical of the accommodation used by the unemployed. When Ted Scott found out about his death and burial, he got many of the old boys, to raise the money and buy the grave, as fortunately no one else had yet been buried there. The generations of Scouts, who had been members of Pooley's Troops were grateful enough at the time, but after leaving like most never made any attempt to go back and find out about their scoutmasters. I have fond memories of those who ran the Troop I was in, but never went back to them, or found out about their circumstances. From the report in The Times (June 18, 1934), very few people attended Sir Francis Vane's funeral. If Pooley had joined B-P's Scouts, life would have been easier, but I doubt he would have served the same constituency, and many would have been paupers in experience." [Foster, E-mail.]


The initial BBS uniform based on the Handbbok was dark navy in sharp contrast to Baden-Powell's khnki uniform. The garments were long-sleeve shirts (often rolled ip) and shorts. Thge boys also wore a neckerchief - 36 inch square folded diagonally to make a triangle (as was true of all early neckerchiefs - done in a single color. Acontributor tells us, "I think the neckerchief squares lasted into the 1930s and tied originally in scarf fashion around the neck (no woggle). The neckerchief was considered a practical item (mask from dust, first aid sling, etc.) and not a troop identifier. As the BBS mopped up 100's of troops from B-P's organization (mid-1909), theur khaki uniforms came with them. So there was a mixture of uniforms from then on. The BBS arrow badge was embroidered on dark navy to match the early uniform and was worn on the right arm midway between shoulder and elbow. The boys wore an ordinary leather belt with simple buckle. The Scout clasp with B-Ps scouts came a little later. After the 1912 collapse, the BBS was running on a shoestring and such items werebeyond its reach, so ordinary belts were used. As khaki uniform was cheaper than navy, this became the norm, along with short sleeved shirts. Initially the Stetson was worn, with a flat brim. After the early 1920s Boy Scouts wore the Stetson with the left hand side of the hat pinned up and adorned with a coqs feather. This was not ostentation but more akin to dress uniform as most troops formed huge bugle and drum bands, and when on a combined district parade were quite a sight and sound! By the 1950s it had evolved as the BBS style, but the hattiers who had supplied the feathers were no longer able to do so. Instead a rosette the same colours as the neckerchief (after World War I it was now a triangle and usually with two colours to identify the troop, a practice copied from the main Association, The initials 'BBS' were added in the middle. The scoutmasters and commissioners always wore the flat brimmed Stetson. After 1982 the Boy Scouts in the BBS reverted to flat brimmed Stetsons." [Foster, Email.] The BBS uniform worn by modern groups seems today seems similar to uniforms worn in the 1960s before the BSA made major changes in the uniform. They retain the tradional Uniform and not the modern styles introduced by the BSA.


While largely forgotten today, the BBS appears to have had a major impact on British Scouting and because British Scouting was so indluential in the eraly years, on the world Scouting movement. The BBS through finacial mismanagement was eclipsed by Baden Powell's Scouts, there is substantial historical evidence to suggest that the competition with the BBS significantly changed the nature of the Scouting movement Baden Powell was developing. The major impetus for the creation of the BBS was objection to the military orientation of early Scouting. The military orientation of early Scouting has been debated. It is true that unlike the Boys' Brigade at the time, the Scouts did not engage in close order drill and they certainly did not persue weapons training as the Hitler Youth were to do in the 1930s. Baden Powell's original vission, however, does appear to have been a more militarly inspired movement then eventually developed. [Foster, Scout History] The competitio with the BBS also appears to have expanded Baden Powell's focus in British Scouting to a much wider, international Scout movement.


The BBS was apparently revived. We do not yet have the details of this reorganization. A British Scouter has contacted us to point out his group, the 2nd Goring and Streatley. [Ockwell] They were admitted as Associate Members of the ´┐ŻBritish Boy Scouts and British Girl Scouts Associate´┐Ż in September 1995. We are not sure just when the BBS amd BGS organization was revived. They are a traditional Scout group. They have added a Baver Colony to the traditional Scout levels. The Scout program and unifoirm is a traditional one based on Lord Basden Powell's program. The group tells us, "A Beavers Colony (6-8 years), Wolf Cubs Pack (8-11 years), Scouts (11-15 years), Senior Scouts (15 to 18 years) and Rover Scouts (18-24 plus years) and a friendly band of loyal and trustworthy adult volunteers as leaders. The Scout Group caters for boys and girls in all Sections. Each of our Sections strive to provide an exciting programme designed to stretch and develop the young people."


Jeal, Tim. Biography on Baden-Powell (Hutchinson: London, 1989) pages 408, 428 and 544).

Foster, Michael. "Scout History: Militarism and the Scout Movement," 1997.

Foster, Michael. E-mail message (August 25, 2014).

Nock, Albert Jay. 'World Scouts,' American Magazine (January 1912).

Ockwell, Trevor. E-mail message, January 31, 2010.


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Created: February 6, 2002
Last updated: 4:44 PM 8/25/2014