Cambridge Scouts by age 1921 – 1971

Cambridge District Scout Archive

1909    In the beginning, as unstructured ‘monkey patrols’ were spontaneously forming in Cambridge, the body that was to become the Cambridge Local Authority for Cambridge District set an age limit for scouts –‘from ten years and up and no maximum age’.

The decline in Scout numbers as members get older has been an active concern since shortly after this date.  These figures are from the census reports available following the centralisation of records in 1921 and from an analysis by age carried out by W T Thurbon, District Secretary.

Cambridge Archives

1921                The Cambridge District Annual Report of 1921 – 22 reported that the Wolf Cubs had ‘most 10 then 9, 11, 8, 12’ year olds.  In the Boy Scout report they stated ’We have returns for all ages of 530 of our Scouts and Rovers’.  This was from a total of 714.

  • Age                  11        12        13        14         15        16      17        18   Rover
  • Number           30        64        101      90        66        39        33        8          90

‘…the figures show a definite decline after school age, but a very useful percentage remain in the movement up to 17 years of age.’ 

They also counted Service stars and noted ‘a large percentage complete 4 year’s service’.

  • Service Star     1          2          3          4          5          6          7          8         
  • Number           70        70        46        27        6          6          1          2

The Scouter of January 1930 similarly investigated the figures, identifying the trough and peak following the low birth rates of 1916 – 18 and the high birth rates of 1919 – 1920. 

1951                W T Thurbon, District Secretary, looked at male births in Cambridge and produced figures that suggested 20 – 25% of boys were in Scouts at some point.  He removed figures for those schools that took some borders or whose catchment was outside the city.  He also excluded the ‘county groups of the reabsorbed ‘Mid Cambs. LA’ and took account of ‘war time local excess population’.

1956                IHQ was seeking views on age ranges, yes no answers from each group.

1970                Cambridge District Executive was commenting in 1970 on ‘leakage’ particularly at ages 15 – 16.

The figures below are taken from the Census returns to IHQ from the 50 years 1921 – 1971.  I have not identified any major Cambridge specific influences on these figures other than the University Crew.  See also ‘Retention in Cambridge: the first twenty years’.

Wolf Cubs by age                              Numbers peak at 9/ 10

The early Census returns did not break down sections by age.  The flexibility of ages within the early Troops and packs is unknown.  Figures from the 28th suggest that the pack was holding on to Cubs over 11 in anticipation of a Troop being formed, as it was, the following year.  In 1972 a Cambridge pack was accepting Cubs less than eight years old.  Packs and troops often started in schools and choir’s which created an early point of discharge from the Troop; school leaving age or the voice breaking.  In 1938 the District Minutes mention Cubs over the age of 12 and whether they should be allowed to take the 2nd Star tests. 

College choirs are a Cambridge phenomenon and those without attached schools or churches had no further connection with the boys.

The first breakdown by age for Wolf Cubs was 1954.  Before this date little can be deduced from these Cambridge figures.  The gradual increase over time and the fluctuations reflect known national situations and trends. 

From after 1954 the figures show that Wolf Cub numbers tend to peak at 9 and drop off marginally at 10.  The age groups 10 and 11 are confused by an overlap between Wolf Cubs and Scouts.

The ratio of Wolf Cubs to Scouts (later Scouts and Senior Scouts combined) moves from about 1:3 in the early 1920s to nearly 1:1 in the late 1960s.  From these figures the Scout section was always larger than the Cub section.  However, taking into account the age range of each section the ratios are about 5:7 in 1922 and 2:1 in 1961, that is twice the number of Wolf Cubs each year than Boy Scouts.

Scouts by age                                     Numbers declined by 30 – 50% from 10 year old totals

The post 1954 records by year show a steady decline.  The numbers do rise slightly from 11 to 12 year olds but drop thereafter, the numbers at 13 generally being between two thirds and a half of those at 10.

Senior / Venture scouts by age       Numbers declined by 70 – 80% from 10 year old totals

A review of Cambridge figures in 1948 observes the ’fierce competition for those over 15 from the Youth Service’, that was not present for those under 15.

The numbers that transfer to these Sections tend to hold up well between the ages of 15 and 16 dropping off notably at the age of 17.  Beyond that the records collected have so many yearly variations that a pattern is difficult to determine.

At 16 the numbers are generally between a third and a fifth of those at 10.  A disproportionate number of Senior Scouts were in the ‘Grammar schools’ the 5th, 7th and 60th and the 12th.


Records for Rovers were totals and a younger than/ older than divide.  No year by year record exists.   The younger-than/older-than divide changed between 18, 20, 21, 23 and 25. 

Whilst not directly comparable year by year the total Rover numbers diminished from their height in the 1930s of about 80% of Wolf Cub numbers to 13% in 1956 and decreasing.   The age range of Rovers varied making comparisons difficult.  The very large University Crew significantly distorted figures in Cambridge.

Cambridge figures

An analysis in 1951 by W T Thurbon, mentioned above, suggested that Cambridge was ahead of the national average in numbers retained by age.  Putting aside the Cambridge University Rovers which strongly distort the Rover figures this is probably attributable to the strength of the Grammar school based groups.  Notable exceptions are the 12th, 13th and 23rd which all formed strong groups across all Sections.

JWR Archivist Jan 2019