The 1st Henfield Scout Troop was founded in the winter of 1907 / 1908.
The timing of the formation of 1st Henfield Scout Troop shortly after Baden-Powell’s experimental camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 has caused it to be regarded as the oldest existing scout troop in the world and was endorsed as such by the Scout Association in 2007.
It was Baden-Powell who published in 1908 his book "Scouting for Boys " on the heels of his best seller "Aids to Scouting" published in 1899.
Robert Baden-Powell, born in 1857, attended Charterhouse school. Upon leaving in 1876 he served in the British Army where he had a distinguished career through posts in countries including India and various parts of Africa.
Baden-Powell or B-P as he was affectionately known became a national hero for his actions during his time in South Africa. During the early part of the Second Boer War between 1899 – 1902, by which time he had reached the rank of Lieutenant General, B-P was in command of a small regiment of about 2,000 officers and men in the garrison town of Mafeking. In these early months of the war, the British force was under strength and Mafeking became surrounded by a much larger force of around 5,000 advancing Boers and yet B-P and his regiment managed to defend the town for 7 months until relief from an expeditionary force arrived.
Mafeking was an important experience for B-P not only because he was promoted to Major General afterwards but it was also the beginning of his ideas for scouting. During the siege, the men were busy protecting the town from the Boers surrounding the town so B-P organized the resident boys or scouts as he called them to take care of many of the other tasks that needed doing.
B-P wrote several books about military training whilst in the army and upon his return to England from Africa in 1903 found that his manual, Aids to Scouting, which was published in 1899 during the war, had become a best-seller. Not only was it being used by teachers and youth organisations but was also being avidly read by children.
Between 1903 and 1906 B-P developed his ideas further. In 1906 he wrote a short paper called Scouting for Boys where he put some of his ideas into print and in the summer of 1907 he acted upon his ideas and ran a demonstration camp for boys on Brownsea Island off the coast of Dorset. Twenty-two boys, from ages 10 to 17, took part in the week long exercise, which consisted of camping, cooking, tracking and storytelling. The short paper that B-P wrote in 1906 turned into a six-part series called Scouting for Boys and finally resulted in his landmark book Scouting for Boys which was published in 1908.
Why was 1st Henfield the world’s first scout troop?
When Major General Baden-Powell sailed back to England from Africa in 1903 he was accompanied by an officer, Major Wade, who was from Henfield. During the journey, B-P explained his plans for setting up a training scheme for Britain’s boys modelled on the training he gave to the boys who were scouts during the Siege of Mafeking.
Major Wade was deeply impressed by these plans and upon arrival in Henfield related them to his sister Audrey Wade, still living in the family home in "Croft House" Henfield and who at the time was the organiser of a boy’s hockey club in Henfield. As hockey is seasonal, Miss Wade had been thinking of an all-year activity for the boys to undertake and so decided to convert the hockey clubhouse into a home for a troop of boy scouts. She started training the boys in the scouting activities envisaged by B-P over the winter of 1907 – 1908 so that by the time of the official launch of the Scout Movement in 1908, Henfield already had a thriving troop.
Major Wade himself went on to become very important in the early development of the Scout Movement and set up the National Association of Boy Scouts in 1908, organised the first national Scout Jamboree at Crystal Palace in September 1909 and then some years later organised the first International Jamboree in 1920. The archive photograph above is taken by Cagefoot lane.
To put this history into context, the value and principles behind scouting was so quickly adopted across the UK and its "Overseas Territories" that by 27 March 1908, the first overseas Scout Troop, The 1st Gibraltar Boy Scout Troop, was established.