Town and Country

Cambridge District Scout Archive

The first edition of the HQ periodical the Green ‘Un in 1909 noted

Staff           (stave)

  • Should be obtainable by all country boys for the trouble of cutting it
  • Town boys can buy a broom handle for 2d.

Town Groups and Country Groups each have their own advantages.  These differences are occasionally reflected in expectations of each.   Before c. 1932 Cambridge District, like many others, differentiated between Town and Country Troops and Packs.  Those within Cambridge town boundaries were named, for example, 1st Cambridge, those outside 1st Cambridge District (Cherry Hinton).  The dual numbering systems is not unique to Cambridge.  Cambridge was the earliest Local Association in the region and may have anticipated some of the outlying Troops would be absorbed into new Districts, as started within two years.  This historical system supports this comparison between the town and country.


One village is often not large enough to support a Troop.  Some village Troops, such as that at Fowlmere, closed ‘because there are no boys of a suitable age’ in the village. 

Size also hindered Town Groups: the founding institution occasionally limited the catchment to the school, choir or church, something that rarely happened in villages; and the scale of the town meant that any Troop was competing against other youth clubs.  In Cambridge this was notably the Boys Brigade and after WW2 for those over 15, Council Youth Services.


Closures following the movement of leaders occurred more often in villages than in the town.  For centuries movement in and out of villages generally has been greater than common perception has it. The young, active and able who became Scout masters are just those who are likely to seek greater opportunities elsewhere.  In town the reliance on students resulted in stuttering leadership.

 Troops with single leaders were not only vulnerable to closing when they moved but also had a single source of knowledge. 


When two or more villages join in a Troop further problems may occur.  The historical rivalry between two neighbouring villages does not cease on the formation of a Troop which draws from both villages.  Neighbourhood rivalries are known in towns but are generally less boundaried.  The town Group 54th Cambridge ran two packs known as Arbury and Chesterton from 1970.  These neighbouring areas of the town retain a level of individual identity, one being based on the ancient parish and the other a 1950’s new build.

The frequency with which some Troops altered their name reflects the need to identify the Troop with the village and reflect or increase the catchment area.  The Longstanton, Lolworth and Willingham Troop went through several variations before 1920. These issues have not disappeared in the 21st century and still need to be managed.


At a distance from town in an era of little private transport the villages did not find the ready support available to the cluster of town Troops.  Cambridge undergraduates were prohibited from car ownership in their first year and were and are less likely to travel.  The greater difficulty in mixing with other Troops and fostering a wider sense of a scouting community is demonstrated by the early colours of shirts and scarves.  Three ‘District’ Troops had identical khaki scarves and shirt combination, no town Troops duplicated their colours. Support between Troops was harder and an element of competition to help improve standards was less frequent.


The difficulties of communication were significant.  No email, no mobiles, no telephones at all; only the post which, if frequent, was both time consuming and expensive.  In the early decades when Troops failed to re register they were often re-instated within the year or the following year.  The casual reminder in passing was not an option if you did not pass.  This difficulty continued into the 1970’s and later when messages would appear in the District newsletter stating ‘…is now on the ‘phone’’.

Meeting places

The difficulty in finding a meeting place was no less in a village of barns and outhouses than in Cambridge Town.  Barns were and are places of industry; busy and full.  Most villages of a size large enough to host a Troop had a Reading room or Parish hall but probably only one.  A school or a Church might host a Troop but the options were limited.  A notable exceptions is the 32nd Cambridge Waterbeach whose centre moved between the RAF station, later the Army base and the village.  In a town a greater number of possible places existed.

For a short period around 1936 the strong Harston Group ran several patrols each specifically based on separate villages. They met on separate days in their own village coming together for larger activities. The villages involved were Harston, Harlton, Hauxton, Newton and Little Everard. Meeting places were described as rooms or barns.

Economies of Scale

The figures quoted below ‘1951’, are a strong demonstration of the benefit of a large and/or pivotal population centre in a District.  Cambridge is the most significant centre of population by far.  South and West Cambridge were smaller Districts.  Mid Cambridge had been reabsorbed into Cambridge LA by 1948.  With a growing population outside Cambridge in recent years this handicap has been largely eliminated.


The cumulative problems resulted in proportionately more closures in ‘Cambridge District’ troops than Town troops.  Both Town and Country troops experienced many short lived troops in the first ten years.  Village groups that became an important social focus thrived. The Town based troops that persisted were often initially associated with strong, large pre-existing institutions such as schools and choirs then stepped outside their strictures and grew across all sections.  As seen in the quotes below only two District troops survived the Great War; a third, Dry Drayton starting in 1916, also persisted.  Following the war the frequency of closures decreased in both areas.

ADC (Outlying Groups)

The appointment of an ADC in 1951 and again 1956 to support outlying groups reflects an actual or perceived need to bolster these groups.  It is not clear if the need was by the DC, the Groups or both.

Cambridge Archives

1917 Fruit picking camp. C T Wood reports a difference in the skills and physical stamina of Town and Country Scouts when picking in the fields. The skills and stamina needed to pick gooseberries or flax are not learnt in town.

1920                Reveille a one edition magazine from 1920 gives 

‘OUR District Troops mostly had to close down during the war; but half the Villages in the District seem to be clamouring for Troops now. Balsham, of course, had Mr. Slater all through, – what need be said more? Bottisham was kept going by the splendid unselfishness of Mrs. Hinton, and now she has Fuchs to help her. Dry Drayton has had a very happy season, under Mr. de Beaumont, in spite of measles and microbes, and is going really strong: they now have Mr. Hicks’ help. Sawston grew apace under Mr. Stockdale, though the Long Vacation pruned their numbers. New Troops have been recently started at Barton (by our old friend Miss Bickerstaffe). Girton, Castle Camps, Fowlmere and Bartlow. Swavesey and Whittlesford are still running, though we have little up-to-date knowledge of them.’

1921 ‘Under new regulations for the naturalist badge Cambridge is to be considered a country area.’  From Scouter column Cambridge Chronicle

1931                The District Executive considered how best to use the Travelling Commissioner and suggested villages that he might usefully visit.  They did not mention town based groups.

1932                Proposal to form separate associations of Country groups.                          South Cambs (40th. 47th. 48th. 51st. 52nd. 1st. 3rd. & 4th District)  voted 6:2 yes

            North Cambs (32nd, 35th, 38th, 39th, 43rd, 45th, 46th, 50th, 17th District) voted 8:1no

The South Cambs Local Authority was passed by IHQ and became South Cambridgeshire Area of Cambridge and District Association

1935                Cambridge Rover Moot          40 attended, none from the country.     District Minutes

1936                Ely District       Re Scouters meetings ‘These meetings were attended by representatives from most of the Troops and in this scattered district proved a great help and encouragement to all who came.’                 Cambs. County Gazette

1941                The DC reported on a scheme for collecting Drug Plants.  No further details were given but many plants were collected during the war including foxgloves, deadly nightshade, autumn crocus and valerian.   ‘…at the moment it did not appear that the Town Troops could take up the matter of the collection of drug plants’.  It is not clear if this is a matter of location or the knowledge base of town breed boys.

1942                County Rally for Chief Scout   ‘It is recognized that Country units may have difficulty in getting in….  It should be possible to make arrangements for visitors to sleep in Cambridge.’    Transport was limited during the war.

1944                QM of Equipment Store (Scout Shop) opened up on a Saturday specifically for ‘Country’ Scouts.

1951                A statistical review of membership in Cambridge by W T Thurbon, District Secretary, shows the average pack and Troop numbers were c. 20% smaller outside the City.   Further

  • Population       1951                City                  81,500             County total    1,258,507
  • Scout figures   1950                Cambridge LA 1,338               County total    2,276 

In 1950 Cambridge had 6½% of Cambridgeshire’s population, 58½% of the Scout population.  (1950 Scout figures used as they are clearly complete, 1951 General Census returns)

1951                PR Arthur ADC in special charge of the Groups outside of the city boundary

1954                Regarding the 56th Cambridge at the Alert competition ‘good performance for a country group’.  They were not in the first four.  ‘A special prize was awarded to the 56th Long Stanton in recognition of a good performance by a Troop all of whom live outside the city’.  The Alert competition was very much based in and about the City.

1956                  ‘Country groups (were given)…considerable impetus during the year by the appointment of ADC (Outlying Groups) Mr E Lord ‘

1958                ‘three new groups all ‘Country’

JWR Archivist Feb 2019