Religion in Cambridge Scouting

Cambridge District Scout Archive

This page is largely concerned with the mix of religions that have been involved in Scouting in Cambridge. The individual census returns on religious affiliations are not yet available. A larger piece of work plotting the sponsors is required.

Scouting for Boys

‘We do not interfere with a boy’s religion, of whatever form it may be, though we encourage him to practice what he professes.’                                      Baden Powell

‘Religion is a very simple thing          First: Love and serve god.   Second: Love and serve your neighbour.’                                                                  Baden Powell

Baden Powell is also quoted in an HQ ‘Form of Service for St George’s Day’ as saying “To believe that Peace and Goodwill – instead of war and ill will – constitute the reign of God in the world is in itself a ‘religion’. It is a religion to which all can subscribe and which no one will deny.”

Cambridge Archives

First identified sponsors by Church

  • 1908    2nd Cambridge            St Marks          Church of England
  • 1910    4th Cambridge            Roman Catholic
  • 1910    10th Cambridge          Victoria Road  Congregational
  • 1911    14th Cambridge          St Columba’s   Emmanuel United Reformed Church
  • 1918    19th Cambridge          Wesleyan        Methodist
  • 1928    26th Cambridge          St Andrews     Baptist
  • 1946    26th Cambridge          Zion
  • 1948    3rd Cambridge            Salvation Army
  • 1949    4th Cambridge            Free Church (formed as Baptist/ Congregational/ Methodist/ Presbyterian – probably Congregational at this date)
  • 2018    2nd Cambridge           initiated but not sponsored by local Mosque

In the Cambridge District Troops (outside the Cambridge Town boundaries, generally ‘villages’) pre 1928 of 25 known numbers, some in multiple use and covering several locations 22 provided a location for at least one troop or pack.

Vicarage or Rectory10
Church, Church Institute, Sunday School + (Church School)3 + (1)
School + (Church School)7 + (1)

Of these 12 had a Chaplain or CM/SM at a Vicarage or Rectory address. Many other locations were described. It adds up to 45 – 50% of District troops (villages) had some clear church involvement in the formation or housing of at least one troop in the village. This social aspect to the established church was an expected part of the role in this era and often Rectories had rooms provided for such clubs. It is of note that of 29 known troops only 5 were actively ‘Controlled’ and 24 Open. One actively church centred was specifically open to all regardless of creed.

St Giles (Catholic) and St Clement (Catholic)!

Handwritten records from before the Great War have had the word ‘Catholic’ added to or alongside the titles of the 15th Cambridge (St Giles) and 16th Cambridge (St Clement). This has not been seen on any printed form or on official documents. The hand is probably not that of the later secretary H Mallett and is perhaps more like that of the original record maker, possibly the pre war secretary, Green of the Perse. That they are written on lined paper similar to school exercise books might give credence to this proposal. The ink in this word is noticeably lighter than that of the word immediately before in both cases, they were clearly added later, as an afterthought during the compilation of the records or on another occasion.

Both churches were part of the Church of England. However, St Clement has had a 140 year self identification as Anglo – Catholic and St Giles, if less clearly so, certainly favoured ‘high church’ decoration at this time.

Catholic places of worship in the Town had only been built within the previous 30 years and were well known. This is very unlikely to have been a mistake but rather a specific identification of Churches that fell into an area of uncertainty. Catholic churches and non-conformists churches were known and required no label. Our Lady and the English Martyrs was and is still occasionally known as ‘The Catholic’, others generally have their affiliation within the title. The nuances of approach within the Church of England, such as Anglo Catholicism, were less readily identified.

For many years Troops split at District events and worshipped at Catholic, Church of England and Non-conformist churches, reflecting their sponsor and for some the closed catchment. It is possible that in these early days some further division was anticipated or requested. There is no evidence of this information being acted upon in any form within the records at this time or later. The first District Scout church parade took place at St Giles, which has a large building but before the foundation of their Scout Troop.

Ken North recalls a Scout Service at St Giles around 1924 and the particular memory of incense.

1908    First (District) Church parade 20th November 1908 at St Giles Church.  About 40 boys attended.

1910                Baron Anatole von Hügel        A founder Member of Cambridge Boy Scout Association (started 1910) he had led a petition to overturn the ban on University entry for Catholics by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.  Cambridge University opened its doors to Catholics in 1871. The ban by the Catholic Church was lifted in 1895 with the condition that a chaplaincy was founded.

                        Rev Mgr Barnes    Member 1910       Chaplin to University at Fisher House

1915 District Church Parade: ‘Two troops – the 14th (St Columba) and the 19th (Wesleyan) marched to the church with the main body of Scouts, but attended a church parade of their own at the Wesleyan Chapel on Christs Pieces.’

1932                Wesleyan Church groups amalgamated with the Methodists and all the names of Wesleyan Scout groups automatically altered to Methodist

1932                Rules for Camping                  Abington Campsite                 No. 2    A Scouter will be in charge of the camp each weekend…  and make arrangements for the Scouts Own.  No. 6 All campers are expected to attend either the Scouts Own in Camp or a Service at the Church.  No.7 No noisy games are allowed during Church Service Hours.  The original rules were signed by the County Commissioner Rev C  T Wood.

Rule 6 was amended to ‘encouraged to attend’ within a year of the first rules being printed.

1934                St Georges Day was voted to be at a non conformist place of worship.  This was mooted the previous year but it ended up at Great St Mary’s.

1937 – 44 District scouts Own led by Rev G W Byrt of the Baptist Chapel (from Leys archive – I missed the exact date)

1940 The letter (above) from DC Howard Mallett to the 13th introduces a transfer with the sentence ‘He is an RC so should be exempted from Religious exercises.’

1941/42           With the increase in new Youth Movements, instigated by the revelations as children were taken out of their usual environments by evacuation, increasing concern was expressed for the spiritual aspect, or lack of, in their work.  Scouters were drawn into these debates.             District Minutes

1948                District to attend Empire Sunday at Trinity Church and decided not to attend service by Cambridge Evangelical Association

1948                Salvation Army Life Saving Scouts merged with the Association and as a normal sponsor would have SA in their title.

1948                DC approached by Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) who wished to meet Scouters.  Agreed not to give facilities.

1950                Empire Youth Sunday  Following this event the District was concerned that the focus was more on the parade rather than the service.

1953                Coronation Jamboree Sandringham    11.00 Scouts Own except for Roman Catholics who had a separate Mass at the back of the site.  Afternoon services were held at three separate venues including a Methodist chapel.

1964                54th Cambridge           New Cubmaster          ‘She is a Roman Catholic and Father Thomas, after a discussion with her agreed to her joining the Group’            54th Cambridge (St George’s) was an open group but closely affiliated with this CoE church, holding regular church parades. 

1965                Catholic Scouts Mr Barnes reported ‘the attitude of RC Hierarchy to the participation of Catholic scouts in interdenominational service was changing’.

                        Proposed to have a Roman Catholic speaker at St Georges Day.  Canon Diamod of the Roman Catholic Church (Our Lady of the Assumption and The English Martyrs) responded ‘but next year probably better’.                        District Minutes

1966 A Senior Scout camp notes ‘hope that all, irrespective of denomination, will attend the service.’

1967                For the first time at St Georges Day in the Guildhall a Catholic Priest spoke.  Ministers from other denominations were also involved.  Reported in local paper

1968                District Minutes          ‘The DC mentioned the closer union now recognised between Catholics and Protestants.  He said the Scouts had led the way in this, but it was now approved by both Churches that they could attend each other’s services’.

1971    16th Cambridge, run by the vicar, only accepted boys who attended (a) church.  Several articles appeared in the local paper.  One article, described as being by a Jewess, stated that she had been put off from enrolling her child. The group was full and used this criteria as a form of selection. Historically many closed troops, sponsored and meeting in churches, limited membership to members of the church; but in 1971 it was no longer acceptable to switch to this practice.

1979 A National ‘Catholic Patrol camp’ was advertised in the Cambridge Scout Gazette.

2018      A new group 2nd Cambridge has been initiated by a local mosque.  It is not formally sponsored by the Mosque and is an open group.  The previous Imam had children at 28th Cambridge pack.


The breadth of involvement at the highest level can be seen by the Members of the Council and Committee of the Boy Scouts Association in 1921.

  • Archbishop of Canterbury                   Archbishop of York
  • Archbishop of Westminster
  • Chief Rabbi                                         Jewish Lads Brigade
  • Wesleyan Church
  • Baptist Union
  • Free Church
  • Primitive Methodists

1947                The Scouter     ‘Close contact was maintained between Catholic Scout Advisory Council and (HQ) staff.’   Founded in 1925 the Catholic Scout Advisory Council is now a SAS unit operating with guilds operating in Bristol and Birmingham.   See also Aug 42 and Jan 46

1947                Nationally, sponsors were: 51% CoE, 13% Methodist, 12% schools, 6% RC, 6% Congregational, 4% Baptist, 2% Presbyterian, 0.1% Jewish.                      The Scouter Nov 1947

JWR Archivist Apr 2019