Baden-Powell and the Scouts
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Date: 25 January, 2007

 

 

'His father, the Rev Baden Powell (Baden was his first name and later used by the family as a surname in his honour), was a professor of geometry at Oxford, who married three times.'

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout movement, was born 150 years ago. The Scouts celebrate its centenary this year. Andy Chapman asks that you 'be prepared' for a brief history ...

This year sees two significant anniversaries in the history of the scouting movement.

The first, in February, is the 150th anniversary of Baden-Powell's birth. The second, in August, is the 100th anniversary of the very first scout camp.

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (known later simply as B-P) was born on 22 February 1857.

His father, the Rev Baden Powell (Baden was his first name and later used by the family as a surname in his honour), was a professor of geometry at Oxford, who married three times.

The Rev Powell had 14 children in all, many of whom had prominent roles in the army and society. He was also an early supporter of evolutionary theory.

B-P joined the army and served with the intelligence service, as well as fighting at the Boer War. There he was commander of the garrison defending against the Siege of Mafeking which made him a hero and saw him promoted to Major-General.

Training

In 1899 B-P had written a military training manual called Aids to Scouting, which he discovered on his return from Africa had become a bestseller.

Encouraged by Sir William Alexander Smith, founder of the Boys' Brigade, he wrote a version for boys. In the first week of August 1907, B-P took a group of twenty-two boys on a camping trip to Brownsea Island near Poole.

Half of the boys were from public school, the others from humbler social backgrounds. This trip is now regarded as the founding act of the scouting movement - the boys were even presented with badges showing the fleur-de-lys, still part of the Scouts' world crest today.

A centenary sculpture is planned. The campsite at Brownsea Island is still managed by the Scout and Guide movement today,

And a centenary camp will be held there this year, along with many other events around the country throughout the year, including the 21st World Scout Jamboree (the first was in 1920) starting on 27 July.

Guides

In 1912, meanwhile, B-P married Olave St Clair Soames, some 30 years his junior. She became a major figure in Guiding. 22 February was also her birthday and is now commemorated as World Thinking Day in the Guide and Scout movements.

B-P was made a baronet in 1922, styling himself Baden-Powell of Gilwell. He wrote many books on scouting and was also a keen painter.

He died in 1941, leaving a last message to scouts, which includes the line 'I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life.'

Olave, later known as Lady Baden-Powell, or The Dowager Lady Baden-Powell, died in 1977, having outlived B-P by more than 35 years. She was buried with him in Nyeri, Kenya.

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