Origins of Scouting

The Scout movement was founded by Robert Baden-Powell in 1908. Baden-Powell, popularly known by Scouts as “B-P”, was born in London on 22nd February 1857. His birthday is remembered as Founder’s Day. He had a distinguished military career in the British army, becoming the youngest ever Major-General before his retirement in 1910. Much of his service was with the cavalry regiments in India and South Africa, but he was stationed in Ireland for short periods in barracks at Ballincollig (Cork), the Curragh, Dundalk, Belfast and Dublin.

B-P himself excelled at “scouting” – the skill of military reconnaissance in enemy territory – using his stalking, camouflage, disguise, mapping and survival skills. He published several training manuals, including Aids to Scouting, based on his techniques. These involved more scope for individual initiative, work in small teams and recognition badges to reward achievement.

B-P was best known for the defence of Mafeking in a siege during the Boer War 1899/1900. He formed the boys of the town into a Cadet Corps to act as messengers and orderlies and saw how young people, given training and responsibility, rose to the occasion and worked well in small teams. This experience led him to adapt his ideas on army Scout training for use by existing youth organisations as part of their programme.


B-P held an experimental camp for 20 boys on Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour on the English south coast in August 1907. He tested his ideas with a programme of Scouting activities – camping skills, observation, woodcraft, life-saving and games – and this was an outstanding success.

Scouting For BoysAs a result B-P prepared a handbook called Scouting for Boys, first published as six fortnightly part-works in January 1908. Boys snapped these up from newsagents all over Britain and Ireland and formed Scout Patrols wherever they could find a meeting place.

In response to requests from girls to join, B-P established a sister organisation, the Girl Guides, in 1910. Scout Troops were open to boys aged 11-17, but demand led to the addition of Wolf Cubs (8–11) in 1916, and Rover Scouts for over 17s in 1919.

B-P was well ahead of his time in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras when young people were “seen and not heard”. Many of his novel methods for informal education have since been taken up by mainstream schooling, but the spirit, fun and friendship of Scouting still gives it a distinctive place in the development of young people. B-P was later created Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell.

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