Rover Scouts in Cambridge

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Rover Scouts began in 1918 in the UK, ten years after the start of the Scouting program. Initially the age range for Rover Scout membership was not precisely specified. In 1921 the Conference of Rover Scouts stated that ‘A Rover Scout is usually a Senior Scout aged 17 years and over’. In 1956 the upper age range was fixed at 23.  In 1967, as part of the adoption of The Chief Scouts’ Advance Party Report, Venture Scouts replaced the Rover Scouts and Senior Scout programs in The Scout Association.

Rover Crew

In Cambridge Rover Scouts had three strands;

  • University Crew                      31st
  • District Crew                          30th
  • Group affiliated Crews

University Rovers      31st Cambridge

Cambridge University Rover Scout Troop was first registered in 1920 as Cambridge Rovers.  The crew was intended for both University and Town.  It became ‘University’ when the town Rovers started in 1923 and re – registered when it took the District number 31st in 1928.  It persisted after the formation of The Cambridge University Scout and Guide Club (CUSAGC) in 1953 and continued for about 10 years alongside CUSAGC until c.1966.  In late 1966 a Senior Scout camp was hoping for University Rovers to tell of their Expedition to Morocco that summer.

Town Rovers              30th Cambridge

The District Crew was formed in 1923.  On the same date both a YMCA and Town Patrols had registrations drawn up.  The YMCA Rovers registration paper in the archives was crossed through and bears no stamps.  A YMCA and a Town Patrol were both part of the District Crew and in the 1923 Census listed as YMCA; from 1924 as Town Rovers.   It became defunct in 1925.  As the 30th it was registered in 1928, again in 1930 and after falling into abeyance in 1939 reopened briefly in 1948 and again in 1965 alongside a District Senior Scout Patrol.

A number of events specify Town Rover Scouts, notably Concerts in 1930 and 1931, which involved members of the 4th, 12th, 23rd, 29th and 30th. The 4th Cambridge Group were ‘Peterhouse’ which identified itself or was tolerated as being distinct from 31st Cambridge University Rovers. A Peterhouse Rover Patrol (part of the 31st) also existed with some overlapping dates. Peterhouse, as a title, covers no wider area in town than the College.

Group affiliated Crews

The Census reports are available from 1921 to 1984; Venture Scouts reported separately. The Red rows have no census returns available – figures for 1942 are from contemporary notes.   Columns with no headline number contain several groups separately numbered.   1, 3 and 17 ‘CD’ are Cambridge District numbers, a designation that differentiated Town and District Groups, until c.1935.  Both Cambridge and Cambridge District started from 1st

Other references to Crews do not always match these figures.  The 1956 AGM report records the 32nd suspended and the 5th ‘on’.  Neither of these are evident in the census returns. The 60th (Leys school) ran a Rover Crew for the years 1940 – 1946 when it was in Scotland – formed Spring 1939 with four members. The numbers fluctuated between 3 and 20. They were not included in the Census at that time.

Rover Patrols ran in individual colleges. A full list is available under Structure/ University Scouting/ Cambridge University Patrols. Rev Sadd, for instance, was perceived as being instrumental in half of Cheshunt College joining their Patrol c 1928.   The Crew as a whole (also known as Troop or Group at different times) was a University wide body although individual Scouters and Patrols attached themselves to town troops and groups.

The sizes of Crew are similar to those in Sheffield. A 1959 questionnaire amongst Sheffield Crew quoted the following Crew sizes amongst those who replied; 11, 7, 4, 11, 22, 13, 15. Sheffield had a very large City based District (c. 100 groups) and ran 30+ Crew for much of the 1950’s dropping sharply to 19 in 1959.

Cambridge Archive

1919    A sub-committee of the District Executive was formed for Rovers ‘should one be needed.’

1920    Rover patrols were anticipated from 11th, 22nd and possibly the 12th.  District Minutes

1921 – 1923    University Rovers were listed as Cambridge Rovers, later Cambridge University Rovers and later taking the number 31st Cambridge under which they are listed here throughout.

1923    Town Rovers were listed as YMCA for this year.  Town Rovers became defunct in 1925

1924 The 5th Cambridge (Perse) history suggests that the Perse was one of the first Public schools to take up the Rover branch (the inhouse history misquotes the original source [Boys Own Paper of 1925] as the first). Senior Scouts appear to have had some separate training in 1917. Clearly by 1924, when Scouts had to stop and join the OTC a local system arose in which the PLs could saty on in the Troop for a year and a Rover Crew started at the age of 15. This was possibly alongside OTC training, or for those not eligible for OTC membership. The age of joining soon moved to 17, in line with National expectations. In 1914 an Association of Old Scouts was formed to maintain links with Old Boys, but this faded quickly.

1926    Cambridge Rovers drove buses in Cambridge during the General Strike (quoted by Dist Min AGM speaker 1974)

1927    ‘The Group system was adopted…  theoretically a boy would join as a cub and remain until he had completed rover training. But the group system did not end the problem of leakage that has been with us; and it later proved to be one source of weakness in rover scouting. Group Scout Leaders were reluctant to see their older boys go to another unit, with the result that many rover crews were too small to run a really good programme. The Guides, more sensibly, had district Ranger Units. At long last the District has adopted this idea of area units for the Venture Scout section.’     WTT Archaeology       1978

1928    7th Crew discontinued (no census returns for two years) The scout troop lost their meeting place when their SM Dr Cherry moved to Australia later to become Professor of Mathematics in Melbourne. The Court of Honour log records the concern that it would be hard to continue as the HQ/ Clubroom would move to the school. The Crew, whose existence was planned in 1923, was specifically for Scouts who had left the school.

1927 – 1935 TG Room later Professor of Mathematics in Sydney was very active. He took the leadership and organisation very seriously; his instructions came with careful diagrams in minute detail.

1932    Rover numbers peaked in Cambridge. Town Rover Moots are reported, probably in 1929 and 1930, and by implication annually. 41 Rovers attended, from all the town Crew. Mrs. H Rackham JP, CC on Local Government spoke stating ‘There was once a President of the University Union who got in on the Rover vote; when will we have a Rover mayor?’ This Union President, an important post in University student life, is as yet unidentified.

1933 – 1938    Cambridge University Rovers were up to 97% of the total and during this period reported large, if widely fluctuating, numbers.

1937    196 Rovers were listed in Cambridge District of which (only) 14 were warranted.  The warranted Rovers have not been counted in the totals above.

1939    Most Rover Crews went into abeyance at the start of the Second World War.

1941    District Minutes record ‘Rover Crews all closed.’

            Annual report ‘5th, 7th and CUSC continue’ the remaining ‘hibernate’

            Ken North, whilst in the Services, wrote ‘I was attached to a lone patrol of the 23rd Rovers’ which may explain some census entries. The 23rd Rovers maintained two ‘Evercircular’ letters amongst its members in the armed forces, parts of which remain. These diminished as the Rovers were sent abroad. They were self styled as lone patrols.

1945? J G Bookles listed sa member of Ridley Halll Rovers in County Sec postard of warrants.

1947    AGM    ‘The branch (Rovers) is still affected by the calling up of young men of Rover age’

1949    Proposed Crew at Oakington

1957    Rovers upper age now 23 on the Census forms.  Previous years requested numbers for those over 25.

1959    The first year in which more ‘Town’ Rovers than ‘University’ Rovers.

1964    All the Rovers were based in Cambridge City, none in the villages.

1965    A District Rover Crew was registered in 1964 and listed on the Census returns of 1965 and 1966 with 6 and later 3 members.  See below

1967    When Rovers became Ventures in 1967 14 Senior Patrols and 4 Crews were listed.  It is not clear how many a ‘Crew’ constituted, (Rule 12 stated a Rover Patrol should be 4, but this was later changed to whatever size is suitable) but presumably more than 1.  Six Groups returned figures for that last year, 4, 1, 3, 1, 2 and 4.

Some of the older Rovers became members of the District Service Team.

Reference is made to a final cut off date of 30th September 1969 by the DC Mainwaring in the Cub Leaders Minutes.  Venture Units were the section of choice when asking for support at this point.

The following extract may explain the small numbers listed in the District Rover Crew.

This late issue from the Scout Association can be found at .  It contains the Scout Association expectation for Rovers, guidance, badges etc.

Numbers of Rovers

The numbers of Rovers entered in the Census between 1920 and 1961 shows a marked double hump.  The central low point of 10 in 1940 is clear; the second low point of 21 is in 1961.  The highest number of 284 occurred in 1932.

1967    When Rovers stopped the total number of Cambridge District Rover Scouts was 15.

Rover Activities in Cambridge

These examples are from the 1930’s when Rovering in Cambridge was numerically at its greatest.

  • Treasure hunts for Rover teams – details exist for those in 1926 and 1936.
  •  A Woolworth Cup is mentioned in 1934
  • Rover Scouts Own was held in Queen College Chapel in the 1930’s. 
  • Rover Moots were held in 1934, 1935 and 1936
  • 1938    Rover ‘Rough’ was dead heat 11th and 23rd
  • Shows (precursors to Gang Shows) in the Guildhall

The Town Rovers did a big job in getting things “ship shape” before and after the opening (of Abington). More recently in 1976, history repeated itself when new buildings wore erected,…  this time, former Rovers under the leadership of the A.C.C. in charge (John Chambers), did a similar job. He was the Rover Mate of the 13th before Rovers were disbanded.

Support to groups

Much of the support from Crew to Group has gone unrecorded.  The work done by the 13th Crew in building the headquarters is, at least, well attested:

In the early 1930’s our own Rover Crew (13th) built the new troop H.Q. in Marmora Road (paid for mainly by the legacy from the Nott brothers ….later on, about 1960, the Crew built a larger hut, ..’.  The number of Rovers who were warranted (see 1937 above) was c.7%.  This is not an indicator of lack of involvement but that many were students, temporary inhabitants, and that the formal roles were not applied for or given.

CUSC   (Cambridge University Scout Club – later CUSAGC)

The history of the University Rover Crew is being researched by CUSAGC.  Support to the District and in particular the Littleton House School was built into their regulations.  They supplied around ⅔ of Rover numbers in Cambridge for many years.

Rovering to Success is a life-guide book for Rovers written and illustrated by Robert Baden-Powell and published in two editions since June 1922.

This issue can be found at

7th Cambridge Senior Scout Log Book 1966

9th Septtember 1966 ‘No more P/Ls, all badges of rank stripped off and a committee was elected’

JWR Archivist Jan 2019