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The history of the Cub Scout pack in Robertsbridge

PUBLISHED: 15:40 14 February 2014 | UPDATED: 15:40 14 February 2014

Cubs in the 1930s with Gladys Bonfield Camp

Cubs in the 1930s with Gladys Bonfield Camp

Archant

The East Sussex village of Robertsbridge was at the forefront of scouting from the beginning, and Lord Baden-Powell himself lived nearby from April 1913. But was the village home to the very first Cub Scout pack, established in February 1914? Steve Roberts investigates

Chief scout Bear Grylls with scouts © Martyn Milner - The Scout Association 2009Chief scout Bear Grylls with scouts © Martyn Milner - The Scout Association 2009

A brief entry in a compendium of anniversaries put me on the scent of this particular story. Apparently the first pack of Cub Scouts was formed in Sussex 100 years ago on 2 February 1914, although the Cub Scout movement itself had not been formally founded until 1916. By the end of that year there were 6,000 Cub Scouts and over 150,000 20 years later. But why the early start in Sussex? 
Further research narrowed it down to the village of Robertsbridge, where Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell and his wife Olave had set up home at nearby Ewhurst Place in April 1913.

When scouting first began in 1907 as an organisation for those aged 11 to 18, the problem of younger brothers wishing to participate immediately became apparent. The solution was the trialling of the Wolf Cubs section from 1914 – and where better to do so than on Baden-Powell’s own doorstep? The jigsaw pieces seemed to be fitting together, but I headed for Robertsbridge to find out more.

The local Scout HQ is tucked away down one of Robertsbridge’s many nooks and crannies. The building has white weatherboarding to front, with two cottages attached – their name, Warehouse Cottages, indicating the fact that the HQ was a warehouse in a past life. It has been a Scout hut since the 1930s. Inside I met Sheila Rogers, who has been associated with the Scouts here for more than half a century.

Sheila had already told me on the phone that in 2007 the Robertsbridge Scouts, Cub Scouts and Beavers had celebrated the centenary of scouting and that in 2009 the Robertsbridge Scout group had celebrated 100 years of scouting in the village.

Sheila had much memorabilia on display, which emphasised that Robertsbridge has been at the forefront of scouting from the very beginning. There is the unique Robertsbridge flag dating right back to 1909 when the first Scout troop of 21 boys began to be drilled by Cpl Howard. That flag, preserved in a frame today, may well have seen Baden-Powell himself present at its dedication.

There is an assistant scoutmaster badge with plume on the wall, issued to a James G Duck, born in Robertsbridge in 1896 and a member of the very first Scout troop formed in the community here. The connections back to the origins of scouting were here and they were tangible. In this year when we commemorate the Great War it is also worth recalling that the Scoutmaster of 1914, Capt. W Gornall, signed up and sadly, like so many others, did not return home.

There was much to see from the 1930s when the warehouse first became the local Scout HQ. There was a shield presented to the best Cub pack of the year in the district and a beautifully illustrated log book from the 1930s, complete with a depiction of a wolf on the cover.

Sheila explained the long-standing connection with the wolf. Baden-Powell chose another Sussex resident’s creation, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book to fire the imagination of the children and wrote to Kipling asking for his permission to use characters from the book. The author readily agreed and both letters are still extant today. The pack leader duly became ‘Akela’ (the great grey lone wolf), whilst other leaders became ‘Baloo’ (teacher and lawgiver), Kaa (tree climbing) and so forth. The ceremony where the Cub Scouts sit in a circle and promise to do their best became the ‘Grand Howl’. Although some groups have dropped this now, Robertsbridge, as one of the oldest, likes to keep the tradition going and begin each meeting 
in this way.

Scouting in Robertsbridge certainly appears to be flourishing in the 21st century, with 90 adults and children in the group today. The old Scout hut is still going strong too, aided by a £20,000 renovation in 1989, coinciding with the Scout group’s 80th anniversary.

But what of that anniversary? My quest did not prove conclusively that the first Cub Scout group was founded here 100 years ago, although there was plenty of circumstantial evidence suggesting that this was more than likely to have been the case. Perhaps a reader possesses that missing nugget of information?

I was more than happy though, because in following up that lead, I had found something else that was perhaps more important, the community spirit in a place like Robertsbridge that keeps scouting going and maintains its relevance in the modern world.

Change is inevitable, yet scouting has survived and remains strong in communities such as Robertsbridge. In fact, scouting numbers have been increasing over recent years.

It seems only right and proper to leave the final word to Sheila Rogers, someone who has devoted a considerable part of her life to an organisation that she loves. 
“Why do I continue to do it? To see young people achieve. I get so much pleasure from this. When the youngsters accomplish something, you see their faces light up.
Scouting continues to give children opportunities, which is why our group continues to thrive. I have put a lot in over the years, but I have got a tremendous amount out as well. I really wouldn’t change a thing.”

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10 facts about...Robertsbridge

1 Robertsbridge’s village sign recalls the abbey, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538

2 The seal of the abbey has been adopted by the Scouts in Robertsbridge and is represented in a corner of their scarf

3 The River Rother passes through the village

4 The village is thought to date back to 1176, when a Cistercian abbey was founded there

5 The first recorded use of the name Robertsbridge was in 1198 when Richard I granted a market charter

6 The Robertsbridge Codex (1360) is the earliest surviving music written specifically for keyboard

7 Robertsbridge Railway Station is on the mainline between London and Hastings

8 The population of Robertsbridge is a little over 2,600 (2010)

9 Actor Harry Andrews and broadcaster and journalist Malcolm Muggeridge were both residents of Robertsbridge

10 Robertsbridge is 44 miles (71 km) from London

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The Scouts

1 The Scout Association was formed in 1907 by Robert Baden-Powell

2 The first ever Scout camp was held on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, Dorset, also in 1907

3 Cub Scouts are generally aged from about 8 to 10 years

4 Cub Scouts were formerly known as Wolf Cubs

5 There are also Beavers (to 8), Scouts (to 14) and the Explorer Unit (to 18)

6 There are currently over 430,000 youngsters and more than 83,000 adults involved

7 The current Chief Scout is Bear Grylls and the President is Prince Edward, Duke of Kent

8 There have only been 10 Chief Scouts since inception, the first being Baden-Powell himself

9 The Scout Association’s HQ is at Gilwell Park, Chingford in Essex

10 The Scout Association’s logo features the Fleur-de-lis

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