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Brother Organisations - The Boys' Brigade, the YMCA and the Church Lads' Brigade

Baden-Powell was as surprised as anyone at the sales success of Aids To Scouting and its popularity with young boys must have started him thinking of an edition specifically for them. However, he needed the support and encouragement from existing 'boy leaders' to persuade him to produce Scouting for Boys. Until at least August 1907, the time of the famous camp on Brownsea Island, B-P envisaged 'Scouting' as an activity taking place within the framework of existing organisations, and not as a movement in its own right. The development of Scouting within these organisations went on apace as it did in the newly-formed 'Baden Powell's Scouts'. The early history of Scouting is a part of the history of these host organisations, but perhaps far less appreciated is that the history of these older, one could almost say 'parent' organisations, is also a part of the history of Scouting

BB Badge

The Boys' Brigade

William Smith

LIEUTENANT William Alexander Smith was a businessman, a volunteer Sunday School teacher, and an officer in the Lanarkshire Volunteer Rifle Regiment - The Mounted Detachment also known, from one reference only, as The Mounted Dutchmen. In 1883 he formed the Boys' Brigade in Glasgow, because he was concerned about the lack of discipline amongst the boys in his Sunday School Class, some of whom were over 13 years old and already working for a living. Smith contrasted their behaviour with that of his army recruits and thought that his young charges might respond to a more structured training.

The training he devised was centred on military drill with replica rifles, group physical exercises and religious instruction. At first the boys wore a rosette to indicate their membership, but a uniform was soon devised. Boys joined in their thousands, creating a national movement in a very short time.

On Friday May 8th, 1903, at the suggestion of William Smith, Baden-Powell attended a Boys' Brigade display at the Royal Albert Hall, the first occasion that he had met such a large group of boys. The Boys' Brigade impressed him, and they were impressed by B-P. He was created an Honorary Vice-President, a position he was pleased to fill for the rest of his life.

B-P inspecting BB
Postcard of B-P inspecting the St. John's Ambulance Brigade demonstration in Accrington in 1904. His attendance at Boys' Brigade gatherings must have looked similar

ON Saturday, April 30th, 1904, Baden-Powell was the Inspecting Officer of the Annual Drill Inspection and Review of the Boys' Brigade, on the occasion of the organisation's coming of age, in Glasgow, Scotland. The Boys' Brigade had a membership of 54,000 boys throughout Great Britain at this time - 7,000 of them were at this event in Glasgow.

B-P congratulated William Smith on the Glasgow turnout and drill, but said he thought the organisation would have wider appeal if its training were more varied. Smith agreed instantly and challenged B-P to come up with such a scheme. He specifically added that this might be done through a boys' version of B-P's book Aids to Scouting.

Privately, B-P told Smith that he would be proud to lead such a wonderful body of boys and, after the review, B-P wrote out a report of the review for Smith adding the following: "I believe that if some form of scout training could be devised in the Brigade it would be very popular and could do a great deal of good."

In 1906, B-P sent an outline of his scheme to the leading members of the Army, the Navy, the church, the state and boys' movements, including William Smith's, who sent it in turn to the editor of the Boys' Brigade Gazette. This proved to be something of dilemma for the editor, as he had in his hands a revolutionary article from one of the most famous living Englishmen which obviously would be very prestigious to publish, but what the article had to say seemed to go against many of the stated policies of the Boys' Brigade. The editor resolved the dilemma by cutting the material to the bone - and prefacing it with comments indicating that it might be of interest "... in view of our coming summer camps."

Boys' Brigade scout badges
Boys' Brigade Scouts Gold 1st Class Badge and Silver 2nd Class Badge

Later commentators such as William Hillcourt, author of Two Lives of a Hero, one of the most important biographies of Baden-Powell, thought these comments rather condescending. The Gazette, the official organ of the Boys Brigade (not to be confused with Scouting's Headquarter's Gazette), containing B-P's contribution was published in June 1906 with its notion of individual and patrol activities instead of the Boys' Brigade whole Company exercises and suggesting that boys might be kept fit through hiking, swimming and camping activities, instead of the whole Company physical exercises that were the norm at that time. This 1906 article introduces, perhaps for the first time the phrase, Scouting for Boys

The article, based on the B-P's paper, made little impact on the Boys' Brigade as a whole, perhaps because of its abbreviated form. The article was was not drawing on the book Scouting for Boys, which B-P struggled to finish in 1908, but on the paper of the same name mentioned above, privately circulated in May, 1906, to people B-P thought could be influential. This was perhaps just as well as, if it had been published, the world's greatest best-seller (apart from texts such as The Bible, Qu'ran etc) might have had to have had a different title!

In many instances it was Baden-Powell's individual contact with Boys' Brigade members that tipped the balance. In 1908 Captain Shrapnel of the 42nd London (South Lambeth) Coy. B.B. was asked to arrange a lecture by B-P on 'Peace Scouting'. The talk took place in the 42nd's hall, and directly afterwards the 42nd's Scout Patrol was formed and must have been one of the first in London.

The rise of Scouting generally was of some concern to the Boys' Brigade, but beyond their control. Within their organisation itself, it was a different matter: at a conference in London on April 1st, 1909, the following resolution was passed unanimously:-

"That while acknowledging the indebtedness of the Brigades to General Baden-Powell, this conference is of the opinion that the Scouting movement should be carried on by each of the several Brigades as a branch of its own work, independently of the Boys Scouts' organisation each Brigade adopting its own Badges, Tests, and Certificates if any."

However, there is no doubt that B-P received a good deal of support and encouragement from the Boys' Brigade founder, William Smith, who, it must be said, was generous. In 1914 B-P was to write on the death of Smith: "A smaller man would naturally have resented or been jealous of a rival organisation."

In 1904, neither man saw Scouting as a rival. B-P did not originally envisage a separate organisation; Scouts could belong in patrols within any youth organisation. It was for this reason that Scouting was always (and still is) referred to as a Movement rather than an Organisation.

Boys' Brigade certificate
A Boys' Brigade 1st Class Certificate. 3,000 1st Class badges are thought to have been awarded

The Boys' Brigade was keen to develop the idea of patrols and had their own versions of the first and second-class badge and Scout Uniform. Smith however, perhaps recognising that he could not serve two masters, later declined the invitation to become a member of the governing body of the Scout Movement, even though B-P had been an Honorary Vice-President of the Boys' Brigade since 1903.

For his part, Baden-Powell was very disappointed that he could not persuade Smith to allow the two organisations to merge. He wrote to the Boys' Brigade founder from Richmond Castle in 1909:

"We all naturally look to you as the leader of the Boy Movement. The possibilities are then enormous.
"I hope you can see your way to coming onto our advisory council and thus taking a hand in our policy...The Prince of Wales is in favour of such an amalgamation of aims and would, I believe, become president of such a Council if formed."
And later:
"I see nothing more than very partial results if we are all working as separate organisations taking our separate lines."

But despite even such Royal inducements, Smith steadfastly refused to all attempts at amalgamation. It has been said that his main objection was that he perceived Scouting to be a less religiously-centred organisation than his own, but despite these differences, the two men remained friends born of mutual respect.

WHILST initially there was enthusiasm for Scouting in the Boys' Brigade, this declined quite rapidly. Some writers put this down to a lack of enthusiasm among the members, others to a lack of support from the leadership. However, given the dramatic increase in the number of Scouts over the same period, it does not seem sensible to pronounce on the decrease in the number of boys reaching the Boys' Brigade Scout 1st Class standard, without also considering that a great many boys may well have chosen to do their Scouting actually in the Boy Scouts.

Boys' Brigade Scouts
Boys' Brigade Scouts

The requirements for the Boys' Brigade Scout Badges were eventually incorporated into their 'Wayfarer's Award', and virtually all traces of Scouting disappeared from their programme in 1927. The Boys' Brigade Executive met in January of that year and the minutes note that: "It was decided to delete from the Manual the present paragraph regarding Scouting, and suggest therefore a paragraph on Open Air work in the summer which would include a reference to Scouting."

This, though, failed to materialise.

Once the embryonic Scout Movement was dwarfed by older organisation that gave it so much support. Now it is the other way round. However, Sir William Smith, as he became, was quite correct, I feel, to resist a merger. Freedom of choice is always an advantage. It is a pity that it is not available to every child in Britain today. As Sir William commented at the time, there are occasions where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

The Scout Movement has always been ready to acknowledge its debt to the Boys' Brigade and the two youth organisations exist today in friendly co-operation.

The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA)

Sir George WilliamsYMCA badge

THE support and encouragement from the YMCA was every bit as important in the development of Scouting as that from the Boys' Brigade. It was something of a surprise to me to discover that the YMCA is the oldest of the youth organisations reported on this Page. It was founded in London in 1844 by George Williams, who was only 23 years old at the time.

As its name implies the 'YM' as it is popularly known today is a Christian-based organisation. (Popular? What other Youth Organisation do you know that has given popular culture two hit songs? What's that? you are too young to know what went on in 1967 behind Frankie Vaughan's Green Door?) This new venture was supported by young businessmen to combat the depravations, particularly the evils of drink and gambling, in the large industrial cities of the Victorian era. The antidote to such depravity was Bible study and prayer meetings and its success was enormous - by 1851 there were 2,700 members in 24 associations across Great Britain. Today, the YMCA is a world-wide organisation of some 30 million people, 14 million in America alone. George Williams was knighted in 1894 for his lifelong service to boys.


On November 22nd, 1906, B-P visited Birkenhead YMCA and, 'billed' under his full military title, gave an address on the rôle of Military Scouting and his ideas concerning 'Peace Scouts'. These were not Boy Scouts as we know them, but a crucial developmental stage in their formation. The YMCA at Birkenhead was to have further significance.

In 1907, B-P went off to the Egyptian Sudan, the last task he was to undertake as Inspector-General of Cavalry. He used the voyage to work on a comprehensive draft of his new scheme and had it finished just before his ship docked in Port Said on 5th February, 1907.

It included the following:- "It (Scouting) is intended to be applicable - and not in opposition - to any existing organisation for boys, such as schools, Boys' Brigades, messengers, cadet corps etc., or it can supply an organisation of its own...."

The draft resulted in two four-page circulars sent out on 9th May, 1907, prior to B-P going on holiday. On the way, he gave a lecture on his scheme to a packed Boys' Brigade Hall in Sheffield, the audience swollen by 100 young men from the YMCA.

At a public meeting on Baden-Powell's return from the Sudan was held at the YMCA Hereford on November 8th, 1907. B-P told the audience that this was the opening of his 'crusade'.

On the January 24th of the following year B-P returned to the YMCA at Birkenhead and, by his own admission, "publicly inaugurated the Boy Scout Movement."

Baden-Powell again visited on the building April 24th, 1910, when he unveiled the plaque shown here, explaining the significance of the YMCA building and the meeting in January 1908. That meeting had been attended by a Mr H Clinch, who went on to form the 1st Birkenhead Scout Troop, which claimed to be the first in Britain! The YMCA building was eventually bought by the British Home Stores and a correspondent to Scouting Milestones, Mr Mike Royden, writes that a friend of his clearly remembered seeing the plaque when sitting in its Canteen in the early 1980's. Does anyone know of its whereabouts today?

YMCA Trek Cart
The unlikely foreground takes the eye to the signwriting on the side of the YMCA Scout Group's trek-cart. B-P can also be seen in this photograph taken at the rally in Godson Park in 1914

The YMCA was to became an important 'recruiting ground' for B-P. He wrote that "Everyone recognises the keenness and go-ahead manliness of the members." When Scouting for Boys was published, he issued a challenge to "The men I have in mind as the best qualified ... to take up the instruction of the boys in the gentle art of peace-scouting" and in the list that followed, the YMCA is the first organisation specifically nominated. The YMCA had, in its turn, been an influence on William Smith, who had close friends in the YMCA, prior to his founding the Boys' Brigade.

The importance of the YMCA to Scouting is nowhere more apparent than in the USA: The first headquarters of the Boy Scouts Of America opened in June 1910 at the offices of the New York YMCA; Many early US Boy Scout Troops were formed at YMCAs; The first Scout Master Training School held in the US was held at the Silver Bay YMCA in New York. B-P was in Canada at the time, but the course was attended by his 'travelling commissioner', William Wakefield and UK YMCA official, Mr Charles E Heald. Wakefield, whose background was with the YMCA prior to his 'conversion' to Scouting, was to remain a Commissioner for YMCA until 1920.

There were and still are Scouts affiliated to the YMCA in Britain. During the First World War, Baden-Powell worked to provide money and 'Scout Huts' for the YMCA scheme of behind-the-line Soldiers' rest huts. This story of joint co-operation is fully detailed in the Milestones Page Battlefield Scout Huts and Ambulances of the 1st World War.

Church Lads' Brigade

Walter Mallock Gee
Founder Walter Mallock Gee
Church Lads' Brigade badge
Image courtesy Terry Hissey, CLCGB Historical Group

WALTER Mallock Gee founded the Church Lads' Brigade on November 11th, 1891, at St Andrew's Church, Fulham, when an organisation called The St Andrews' Lads' Brigade, founded in July, 1891, was 'merged' to form the first CLB. Its first Governor and Commandant was Lord Chelmsford and its President was HRH The Duke of Connaught, who was later to fulfil the same rôle in Scouting. Queen Victoria inspected a Church Lads' Brigade parade in August, 1896 at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The CLB grew quickly and was given Royal Patronage in 1902.

It was the first uniformed organisation to take up scouting and began using Baden-Powell's Book, Aids to Scouting in May 1901, which they sold through their Headquarters with advice to CLB Officers as how to how they could adapt it to suit their own training scheme. So, B-P's ideas on scout training were being passed on to lads seven years before the 'experimental' Brownsea camp! (The small 's' for 'scout' is deliberate as Aids for Scouting was intended for army scouts and not Boy Scouts.)

Additionally, Hints from Baden-Powell. A book for Brigade Boys by Rev. R L Bellamy, Vicar of Silkstone near Barnsley, Yorkshire, was published in 1900, after the Relief of Mafeking. The Rev. Bellamy, according to B-P's major biographer Tim Jeal, drew out moral lessons from Aids to Scouting, comparing the life of a lone scout in enemy territory with the dilemmas faced by a Christian boy in the 'sinful society' of the day. Members of the Boys' Brigade and Church Lads' Brigade - the intended readership of the book - were enjoined to become "Scouts in Christ's Army".

'Hints' fly'Hints' cover

On November 1st, 1906, Baden-Powell was staying with an army friend in Guisborough, then in North Yorkshire. The local Church Lads' Brigade was the first to hear of B-P's new Boy Scouts scheme, which was to be outlined in Scouting for Boys.

Ironically, B-P had planned for there to be Church Lads' Brigade boys at Brownsea, but in asking local Boys' Brigade Captains Robson and Green to help him, the number of Boys' Brigade places, originally planned as six, expanded to fill all the surplus places, as the Boys' Brigade Captains had easier access to their own members than those of the Church Lads' Brigade. That same Guisborough branch of the CLB were the also the first group of boys to hear from B-P's lips of the success of his Brownsea camp.

ICSP Certificate
An extremely rare ICSP Membership Certificate

Whilst the Church Lads' Brigade were keen to offer their lads Scouting as an activity, they naturally wished to retain independence, and this was consistent with the way Baden-Powell himself envisaged the spread of Scouting. To legitimise the situation, CLB formed a new 'society' for its Scouts called the 'Incorporated Church Scout Patrols'(ICSP). The first meeting of its committee was held on March 25th, 1909, comprising Lt.Col. Gordon, Dr McKenzie and the Rev. M F Hilton with Walter Mallock Gee as its Secretary. It was on their second meeting that the committee decided that that motto of the ICSP should be 'Watch and Pray', pointing up their independence from Baden-Powell and emphasising their central Christian allegiance. On April 21st, 1909 the ICSP were legally registered with a Certificate of Incorporation under the 1908 Companies Consolidation Act. This step echoed the way the successful parent organisation had been set up and safeguarded their total independence. The Certificate, numbered 102604, can still be seen at Companies House. (The Boys' Brigade had declared their own brand of Scouting to be independent of B-P - see above - just three months earlier.) The Articles of Association of the ICSP stated that the purpose of this new and completely separate Scout organisation as being "To instruct lads in the theory and practice of scouting, tracking, and woodcraft." The ICSP issued its own certificates, badges and medals and also had its own magazine for Scouts, the Scout Message and, in yet another prophetic moment, two years before the birth of our sister movement, they decided to call their leaders 'Guides'.

Hatcham Church Lads
The Hatcham Church Lads' Brigade Scout Troop. They are wearing black armbands in mourning for the recent death, on May 6th, 1910, of King Edward VII

In an attempt to ensure that the public did not confuse the separate Scout organistions within the Church Lads' Brigade, the Boys' Brigade and the YMCA as his own 'Baden-Powell Scouts', B-P had all documents such as Warrants for his own mainstream Scout Association printed with 'Boy Scouts' as the title, with 'Baden-Powell's' in brackets underneath. I doubt though that 'man in the street' could make any distinction and that, for all practical purposes, such differences as they were did not seem to hinder the Movement.

CLB Ist Class Badge
CLB 1st Class Incorporated Church Scout Patrol Badge

In 1913/14 the ICSP patrols were taken into the Church Lads' Brigade proper when the 'Training Corps' was started and the uniform was changed to khaki - similar to that of the Boy Scouts. Church Lads' Brigade Scout Troops (sometimes called 'Church Scouts') continued until 1936, when the Brigade was reconstituted. CLB Scouts also had their own proficiency badges and medals, but, in the main, progressed through the same stages to achieve their 1st Class Badge as did 'mainstream' Scouts. It would appear, as is often the case when changes are made to youth organisations, that there were those who wanted to carry on as they always had and several 'patrols', including the 1st Battalion Nottingham Church Scouts, who wore blue shirts, opted to stay 'Independent' when the ICSP were taken into the CLB in 1913.

1st Notts Battalion badge

The Church Lads' Brigade merged with the Church Girls' Brigade, to become the Church Lads' and Church Girls' Brigade, in 1978. The organisation is still strong in Northern Ireland and the North-West of England particularly, and has 36 companies elsewhere in the UK. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate its strength in the first part of the twentieth century, when it was at its peak and a major youth organization. Whilst I have not yet been able to find actual census figures, some indication of its strength can be gained from the fact that the Church Lads' Brigade formed two Infantry Battalions in the First World War. The 2nd Class Badge of the 1st Notts Battalion is shown here. (The 1st Class badge was similar but in blackened brass with a green felt background.) Former Church Lads' Brigade members were awarded a total of 21 Victoria Crosses, in comparison to the Scout Association who had 150,000 ex-Scouts and Scoutmasters in the field but no named Battalions, and were awarded a total of 11 V.C.s.


IT is sometimes supposed that B-P introduced Scouting to an eager population of boys who had no other outlet for their desire to belong to a uniformed organisation. The organisations featured in this article however, were not only active, but also vibrant, prior to and during the first years of Scouting. To some extent they offered the same things - uniform, camping and fellowship. One might be tempted to ask why it was that Scouting was able to succeed against such established competition. The word 'competition' though in this context is entirely inappropriate, because each of these organisations opened themselves up to include Scouting within their structure, providing every help and support to B-P. The real question is why they did this. The answer is complex, but there are two equally compelling reasons:

First Day Cover

MEMBERS of the Scout and Guide Movement and the Boys' and Girls' Brigades were all commemorated on a 1982 set of British stamps. Note the special hand-frank illustrating the 1908 cover of Scouting for Boys used on this Baden-Powell House commemorative cover and that it was signed by the present Lord and Lady Robert Baden-Powell.

The Scouting credentials of the the Boys' Brigade, the YMCA and the Church Lads' Brigade demonstrate that these are not merely 'Kindred Societies'; they were in existance before Scouting and could be said to be 'Parent Bodies', having had a significant role in its birth. In their separate ways they contributed to the development of 'mainstream' Scouting and can also point to periods of time when Scouting was an integral part of their own organisations. As we approach our Scouting Centenary, it is to be hoped that were will be a greater appreciation of our shared history, strengthening the bond that there was, and still should be, between Scouting and our 'Brother Organisations'.


My particular thanks to:
Robin Bolton, author of Boys of the Brigade Vols 1 (1991) & 2, (1993), Chairman, CLCGB Historical Group and member of the BB Archive Support Group, for much of the information on the Boys' Brigade and Church Lads' Brigade
Terry Hissey, Secretary of the CLCGB Historical Group, for invaluable information on the Church Lads' Brigade
Printed Sources
The Scouter March, 1937 (Article on the YMCA, Birkenhead)
A Historic Note of the Church Lads' Brigade - pamphlet, 1948, CLB HQ
60 Years of CLB 1891-1951, 1951
Baden-Powell: The Two Lives of a Hero William Hillcourt, 1964
Baden-Powell Tim Jeal, 1989
Badges of the Brigade – Volume 1 by Robin Bolton, Les Howie & Bob Mandry, RB publishing, 2000
The Boys' Brigade and Scouting, 1983, Archive Press-BB Supplies
Internet Sources
First for Boys - Sure and Steadfast. A history of the Boys' Brigade
The Boys' Brigade and Scouting
Founders of Scouting and the BSA
'Brother Organisations': Official Sites
The Boys Brigade: United Kingdom
The YMCA Movement
Church Lads' & Church Girls' Brigade: The Brigade
ICSP Message
ICSP official magazine

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