Scout Retention in Cambridge

The first twenty years

Throughout the history of Scouting concern has been raised by the decline in attendance over the age of 14.  This was the school leaving age until 1947.

This review looks at retention in Cambridge in the first 20 years with regard to the origins and sponsors of the groups.

With the notable exception of the 1st Cambridge (Sea Scouts from 1913) which almost certainly originated from the Boys Brigade, early Scout Troops in Cambridge were largely formed or sponsored by three distinct organisations, Churches, Schools and College choirs.

Some later Troops were sponsored by other bodies or stood as independent Troops. Examples include; a Lone Patrol which existed with no other affiliation; a temperance society, possibly affiliated to a Church; independent Troops, one possibly at the Leys prior to the 60th being registered.

Retention: Churches

Churches were amongst the earliest and the largest group of sponsors of troops in Cambridge.   In the Cambridge ‘District’ (outside the Town boundaries) all Troops were given the village name and not that of the Church or school that sponsored and hosted them.  There is clear evidence that some of these were directed by the organisation around the village churches.  

Churches differed from other sponsoring bodies in that they might hope to increase retention for the church or Sunday school as much as for the troop.  It is difficult to identify where the Church was the major driver in the troop and where the affiliation was (increasingly) remote. From their start in 1928 the 28th Cambridge was affiliated to St John’s but was always an open group.   In 1957 1st Chesterford were looking for University help ‘… all travelling expenses are paid if necessary by the Vicar under whose general oversight the Group functions though not sponsored officially.’

Clear conclusions cannot be drawn from Church sponsorship. It is not clear if the Churches hoped to attract people to the Church by having a Troop and one church limited numbers with a requirement that boys ‘lived in the parish or attended the choir’.  Clearly they would not have adopted an organisation of which they did not approve and may have held no other motives than to support the movement. 

Retention: College Choirs

In Cambridge several College choirs opened Troops.   These institutions may have originally had a cut off point when the voice broke.  The practice was to rest the voice during this period. This certainly modified over time.  There is no evidence of organised movement of scouts to other troops.  As ‘closed’ troops membership was directly associated with the membership of the choir but in 1929 a newspaper report on the occasion of 21 years of Scouting described the three College Choir Troops as being for ‘past and present members’.

One troop at least (9th) that originated in a college choir did formally remove the choir membership requirement.  Others did so; possibly the 41st, certainly the 27th (see below). The 41st had camps before the troop was founded and choir members, whether members of the troop or not, camped afterwards. On leaving the choir they continued to camp as members of the Troop.

The ‘choir’ element of the name is often dropped in the records, possibly for convenience, but this may not reflect the ongoing membership requirements.  We may hypothesize that the ‘choir’ element was retained elsewhere despite accepting other college boys or retaining ex choristers.  Mr Fletcher became a member of the 9th Cambridge Queens’ College Choir Troop and a member of the choir as this was a requirement.  He could not make the practices because he was in the dairy trade.

Colleges were involved in other Missions, in Cambridge and in East London, and troops were formed at these centres.  There is no evidence of the attendance requirements of these Groups.

College Choir Packs

  • Queens’ College Choir             (9th)                  1910 – 50’s and amalgamation
    • Later ‘Queens’ College’
  • St Catherine’s Choir               (3rd)                 1912 – 13
  • Caius College Choir                (24th)                1918 – 24
  • Christ’s Choir                          (10th)                1921 – 34
  • St John’s Choir                        (26th)                1919 – 24
  • Clare Choir                              (27th)                1919 – 21
  • Peterhouse              (4th)                  1924 – c. 30 (now identified as not being a choir based troop)
  • Pembroke College Choir       (41st)                1930 – 43
  • Trinity College Choir               (working with 7th)        1922

These College choirs were distinct from church centred choirs, where continued church attendance might be expected.  Most requirements of closed groups are not specifically recorded.

‘27th (Clare Choir) Mr. Vaisey-Hope in to be congratulated on keeping them together, now that they have ceased to be a choir’  Reveille 1920

Retention: School leaving age

From the start of scouting the school leaving age has been identified as an issue.  The majority did not stay on beyond 14 or later 15.

  • 1899                13
  • 1918                14        most remained in one school until 14, not moving to a new school
  • 1947                15        social and educational demands uncovered by WW2
  • 1973                16        for one year, 1973, there were no school leavers
  • 2013                17        education/ training at least part-time until they are 17

Ken North, 50 years in the Scout shop, ‘had to’ leave school aged 14, in 1926.

7th (County School). ‘The misfortune of the Troop is that, when a boy leaves the School, he necessarily leaves the Troop, as meetings are held in the afternoon: therefore Maw and Mansfield are not. But the Scouts are splendidly backed by the Headmaster, and this term have a number of keen recruits. They are lucky in having secured Mr. Power as S.M., and have excellent P.L.’s in Hersey and Collins. They had a great Field-day with the Corps at Wimpole, acting as their Scouts.’ Reveille 1920

The Troops and Groups in schools that prospered from the early days are those which were based on institutions with either a fixed feeder group and / or boys beyond minimum school leaving age.  These were largely fee paying schools, higher education secondary schools, boarding schools or homes for those with other needs.  As the list of reasons for leaving the 55th (below) indicates the hours and distance to work and the demands of further education were issues. 

In the early 1920’s schools did seek permission from the District to hold on to boys who changed schools or left school.  Discussion was largely about a few Scouts who were either moving to a school without a troop or were senior in the troop. 

In 1929 the Education Committee in Cambridge turned the elementary schools into Infant, Junior and Senior schools.  The effect on school based Groups is not recorded. 

The following is not a complete list of schools, nor did they all prosper:

  • 1908    The Perse (5th) a private school to 18.            Troop ran for 100 years
  • Higher Grade school (6th) a council school which initially took pupils to 14 and 15.  Many children stayed in their primary school until 14.  The Troop finally closed in 1924.
  • 1911    Milton Road (12th) was also, initially, a higher grade school (until 1937) and scouting flourished.  It later detached from the school, the Troop leaving the feeder pack in the school.  Still running.
  • Harvey Goodwin Home for Waifs and Strays (various links and the 10th) kept boys until 14.  They ran for many years with a successful Troop probably entirely from the home.
  • 1918    Littleton House School (16th and later 52nd) provided schooling for ‘mentally backward children’.  Ran in various locations and districts until 1979
  • St Faiths (21st) Preparatory school to the age of c 13             It is part of the Leys confederation which as the 60th started a Troop in 1933. There is a suggestion that the Leys had an independent Scout Troop c. 1910
  • 1919    Morley Memorial (3rd later 25th) Became a council school in 1912: the older children (to 14) were removed in the 1930’s.  It did not prosper as a Troop closing for the second time in 1923.
  • County (7th)     Founded 1900 as Cambridge and County School for boys between 11 and 18 it ran very successfully until the school moved to become a sixth form college in the 1970s and running a Venture Scout Unit until 1974 when it amalgamated to become Tithe VSU.
  • 1933    Sawston College (52nd)   The College was founded in 1930.   It and other village colleges in Cambridgeshire had a new emphasis on education ‘from the cradle to the grave’.  
  • The Leys (60th) A private school with a successful Troop from 1933 to c 1978

Not all schools are schools, not all schools are named as such.  Some village troops were based in schools and may have been initiated by the schools and lead by teachers but have the village name.  Some schools were Church based institutions before amalgamation into Council control as such it is not always clear if the Troop is associated with the School or the Sunday School or Church. The Victoria Road Congregational School (10th) is one such.

Retention: OTC        ACF/ SCC/ ATC: later collectively CCF

Schools with an Officer Training Corps (OTC) had a pre existing organisation that superficially had the same role. 

1914    The 5th Cambridge (Perse) had a rule in 1914 that Scouts over the age of 14 in the September must leave for the Officer Training Corps.  It is not clear if this rule was initiated following the onset of the Great War but concern expressed at the time about the effect on the troop suggested that it was a new rule. However, the Troop was clear that it did prepare boys in some way for the experience of OTC.  ‘The OTC will feel grateful… for many a smart young recruit when he leaves the scout troop for the Corps.’

This requirement lasted only a few years after the end of the war. The difference between the organisations which required a move in 1914 also showed as Scouts opted to go the other way.

1924    5th Cambridge ‘The majority of the PL’s who joined the OTC have become Rovers’           The Troop had sixteen patrols at this time.

See also Pre Service Units

Retention: Wolf Cub Packs and Rover Crew

Troops and later Groups with an attached Wolf Cub pack lasted longer than most.  The 2nd, 5th, 8th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 22nd and 23rd all had two sections before the Group system was formally introduced in 1928.  These generally took the same number as the troop but some very early packs, clearly affiliated to a troop, used a letter.  A to E were used in Town, M to Q in Cambridge District. 

Some of these are schools whose age range covered all sections.  The rest are clearly large and strong groups with a robust leader or leadership team.  They appear to have a strong separate existence beyond their Church sponsorship.

It is from this set that the Rover Crews also grew, notably the 12th, 13th, 14th and 23rd.   Reaching out to the more adventures activities and having somewhere to go with their Scouting helped maintain the membership beyond the age of 14.


Groups with a limited membership group foundered.

Groups which enabled boys to start early and continue within a strong framework prospered.  Reaching out to the more adventurous activities and having a clear progression in Scouting helped maintain the membership beyond the age of 14.

Groups that step outside the sponsor’s age range and develop a separate identity prosper.



1          Notes on collecting of data by age

Straight comparisons across the decades are difficult as the Census returns frequently altered the data required.

Wolf Cubs        census returns were not differentiated by age before 1954.

Scouts             census returns requested the following ages for the five years between 1943 and 1948 were:

  • 1943    <14      14 – 20
  • 1944    <14      14                    15 – 20
  • 1945    <14      15                    15 – 17
  • 1946    <14      14                    15 – 17
  • 1948    <15      15 – 17

Rover               census questions varied: between 1943 and 1967 they asked

  • <20      >20
  •   20+
  • <18      >18
  • <25      >25
  • <21      >21
  • <21      21 – 25                >25
  • <21      21 – 23

Overlaps          The data collection has usually appreciated that in practice sections have overlaps as access to the next section is delayed or no older section exists. In 1958 they requested:

  • Wolf Cubs         8 – 11
  • Scouts             10 – 17
  • Senior Scouts  14 – 18
  • Rovers             <21 – >21

The returns are less clear when new sections are introduced.  Some small confusion may be identified and the figures do not immediately take the patterns seen after three or four years of the new regime.

The questions asked are not always clear.   The 1945 categories were ‘<14, 15, 15 – 17’.    It was altered the following year.

2          Notes on comparing annual figures

Comparisons of overall membership in Cambridge across the full fifty years of data are not readily available.   

District                        The Scout District altered size many times in both small and large ways, adding, subtracting and dividing.

Town               The size of the local population steadily increases from 40,027 in 1911 to 123,900 in 2011.  These figures do not reflect the area covered by the Scout District or Districts which is or are collectively larger than the Town/ City and sometimes pass across the centre.  The town boundaries also altered.

Cambridge Population figures

  • 1901    38,379
  • 1911    40,027
  • 1921    59,212
  • 1931    66,789
  • 1941    –
  • 1951    81,500
  • 1961    95,527
  • 1971    99,168
  • 1981    87,209
  • 1991    107,496
  • 2001    108, 863
  • 2011    123,900
  • 2016    131,800

3          Reasons for Leaving              55th Cambridge          1932 – 1935  

  • Studies – also distance from HQ
  • Gone to London     W’less college (Wireless)
  • None given,           Surmise no interest
  • ,,
  • None given            Parental influence weak
  • Studies       also primary teachers meeting         
  • None given            out of our district also working hours rather awkward
  • None given            ,,
  • None given            Indifference to ideals              No father
  • None given            Parental influence military tendencies as excuse (rejoined influenced by Cousin)
  • Gone from District now member Histon Troop
  • Good Scout but no religious tendencies resigned rather than set bad example
  • None given            Surmise no appeal
  • Gone Down           (considered non member)      (ASM who left University)
  • Left district, distance too far after work could not get to HQ on time
  • Could not overcome inferiority complex (a term first coined in 1922)
  • Not interested after Phillips left
  • Choir practice same night as Troop meeting
  • Member of College Choir joined Choir Troop
  • Very indifferent parents unable to help
  • Transferred to 12th Troop own request
  • Would not continue membership in summertime when Troop went out for its meetings
  • ,,
  • ,,
  • ,,

Reasons for Leaving              25th Cambridge          1928 – 1934

Leavers are largely categorised as moving on in Scouting, leaving for work or moving away and variations on ‘not keen’, ‘dropped out’ and drifted away.  To one scout left when it was suggested that he should leave, one ‘High minded and unreliable’ was ‘kicked out‘.

Other observations include ‘quite a sound fellow’, ‘fat and a little lazy’ but later ‘did well’; ‘well meaning but rather stupid’, ‘all right at bottom but made a mollycoddle by his parents’ and ‘Troublesome,  Good chap though often difficult’.

The jobs they moved to were not listed except ‘Joined the Tank Corps’, ‘joined naval training ship’.  The difficulty of attending whilst in a job in Cambridge or with late hours was recorded.  One is recorded as not attending since leaving school.

JWR Archivist Jan 2019