Cambridge District Scout Archive

Scouts have learnt, in wisdom from those who went before or in folly from their own mistakes, that what you sleep on has more bearing on a good night’s sleep than what you sleep under.

The following alternatives have been adopted but if they are presented as they have appeared over time the overlap is significant.  Cowboy bedrolls predate Scouting and were a cross between blankets and sleeping bags; sleeping bags (flea bags or flea pits) were in use in the Great War by those who could afford them; a pile of leaves was used by babes in the woods and may be still at need.

From Patrol Books No. 5 The Patrol goes to Camp 1956

Camp blankets still double as an additional layer under or over.


It is the only the second of this list of these that might be associated with Scouting ahead of any other group.

  • Skins were a traditional base to sleep on but expensive, heavy and not long enough. I have known a Scouter use a reindeer skin at camp to supplement his roll mat.
  • The woven straw mattress on a camp loom is well known from the days when straw was a loose commodity likely to be available in most rural campsites.  I have yet to come across a Cambridge based account of the use of a loom outside demonstrations.
  • The palliasse is a variant, straw stuffed into a sack, as below in a 23rd Cambridge camp the late 1920’s.
  • Blankets were the precursor to sleeping bags, held together with blanket pins, large safety pins akin to a kilt pin if generally slightly less well finished.   The folding of the blankets made a flattened tube of layers of which two were underneath for every one on top.
12th Cambridge entitled ‘Airing the blankets’
  • Photographs exist in the Cambridgeshire Collection of an inflatable mattress on a 23rd Cambridge camp at Brynbac in 1939.
  • Metal framed camp beds were heavy and too wide to pack in a rucksack
  • Roll Mats The first Karrimatt was made in 1968
1950’s model camp bed
Patrol Series Scouts Guide to Gilwell 1951

I recall my first experience of a foam roll mat in about 1975, half length on frozen ground in Snowdonia.  They were not cheap items and so scaled down versions were provided.  We slept the second night in exhaustion, we barely slept the first – half a mat does not do it. JWR

Labelled ‘Filling Palliasses’ 23rd Cambridge 1929 Cambridgeshire Collection

District Archives

1911 Cambridge Rally ‘Camp loom, mattresses making and camp beds’ by 7th Cambridge Barnwell Abbey

1917    Impington Fruit picking           ‘We had glorious palliasses with a ground sheet under each’

1918    Fortheringhay flax camp        ‘the army blankets and groundsheets were the best in existence.’

1932    Rules for camping Abington   15.  Blankets may be hired at the rate of 2d. Per night per blanket.

1932 13th Cambridge magazine P/L Cox advises that ‘an extra blanket underneath is better than an extra one on top. Newspaper spread on your groundsheet will also add to your warmth and comfort.’

1945 13th Cambridge records the PLs training course , the first act of which was ‘Issue of blankets’.

1948 60th report of a camp ‘using Hovey’s Lilo pillow as a ball’.

1950    Six mattresses were purchased for Grafton Street HQ, and six blankets obtained for impromptu visitors.

POR 1952 339 Enough sleeping bags or blankets must be provided to enable each Scout to make up a separate bed.

1969    Sleeping bag or 3 blankets and pins (are required)

This last would give six layers under and three over.

How to carry blankets when Hiking (book without a cover – date unknown)

Some kit lists specify dark blankets.

JWR Archivist Jan 2020