Boys' Brigade Uniforms: History


Figure 1.--.

The Boys Brigade originated in Scotland. It was the first uniformed youth orgaization in the world. It is stronrst in Britain, but groups have spread to many other countries, primarily British colonis that are now independent. Sir William Alexander Smith founded the Boys Brigade on October 4, 1883 when he formed a company of 35 Boys at Free Church Mission Hall, North Woodside Road, Glasgow. William Smith, a Sunday School teacher and an officer of the 1st Lanark Rifle Volunteers devised a unique system of church activities for boys based on religion and discipline. Following the success of The Boys' Brigade, other uniformed organisations were started which were more secular in nature or associated with other religions. The early Boys' Brigade was strongly associated with the Church of Scotland and subsequent with the Church of England as the movement spread to England. Other similar groups were organized in Britain. The Boy Scouts was at first conceived as a Scouting program for the Boys' Brigade. For the first year, the 1st Glasgow company was alone, but shortly afterwards this new method of dealing with boys began to spread. By the end of the third year the movementnumbered 2,000 boys, mostly in Scotland, centred around Glasgow, with companies ranged from Ayr to Inverness. Shortly afterwards the movement filtered southward into England, all the way to London itself. Overseas expansion has generally been limited to former British colonies. Unlike Scouting, the Christian character of the organization limits its spread in many cpountries. One early innovation was to hold a camp--at the time, public opinion was aghast at the idea of Boys camping out in the "wilds"! The first camp by the 1st Glasgow company was held in a building at Tighnabruach on the Kyles of Bute in 1886. The annual display at the Royal Albert Hall in 1903 was of special significance - from it can be traced the very start of the Boy Scout movement! General Baden-Powell, back from his exploits in Mafeking, agreed to preside over the forthcoming display and began a sincere friendship with the founder.

Foundation

Sir William Alexander Smith founded the Boys Brigade on October 4, 1883 when he formed a company of 35 Boys at Free Church Mission Hall, North Woodside Road, Glasgow. William Smith, a Sunday School teacher and an officer of the 1st Lanark Rifle Volunteers devised a unique system of church activities for boys based on religion and discipline. William Smith was a Sabbath (Sunday) School teacher. Nothing unusual about that. There were similar Sabath School Teachers throughout Scotland. He conducted his classes in the mission hall and like many other Sabath School teachers, he found that the older boys were often bored and unresponsive. They were tired of teachers who constantly told them to sit up, stop making noise, and to behave better. This no doubt will sound familar to teachers around the world, even today. Many of the boys were jyst plain bored. Many Sabbath School teachers in fact made no real effort to make their lessons interesting. Even thos that did found teenagers a hard group to interest. William Smith, however, was different than all the other Sabbath School teachers. The existing Sunday School program was not designed to appeal to teenagers. He couldn't help but compare his Sabbath School classes with the time he spent on a Saturday afternoon, as a Lieutenant with the volunteers. With them he had no problem to get a hundred grown men obey his every word of command on the nearby drill ground. Smith in a momment of inspiration came up with a novel idea for Sunday School: 'Drill and Discipline'. Why not, he reasoned, turn the Sabbath School boys into a volunteer band or brigade, with the same military order, obedience, discipline and self-respect as the military volunteers? A program combining games as well as discipline, gymnastics and sport as well as hymns and prayers just might generate a real appeal to the boys. William Smith planned the programme for this new idea with two friends, and on the October 4, 1883 the three leaders surprised the boys of North Woodside Mission Sabbath School by inviting them to join a new organization--The Boys' Brigade.

Purpose

The new organisation's badge was an anchor, and the motto 'Sure and Stedfast'. This was taken from the Authorised Version of the Bible, from the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 6, verse 19: 'Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast'. The Object was also quite clear from the beginning: "The advancement of Christ's Kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect, and all that tends towards a true Christian Manliness."

First Unit

The first boys had no idea just what the Boys' Brigade was. Initially, 59 Boys joined, many out of curiosity but 35 of them stayed. Smith introduced simple form of drill, gymnastics and games and these proved very popular. Their activities were soon added and in 1886 the first Boys' Brigade camp was held. It was, in fact, the start of camping for young people. From one small Scottish company, the Boys' Brigade has grown into a worldwide organisation with companies in over 60 countries.

Early Units

Following the success of The Boys' Brigade, other uniformed organisations were started which were more secular in nature or associated with other religions. The early Boys' Brigade was strongly associated with the Church of Scotland and subsequent with the Church of England as the movement spread to England. Other groups included: Church Lads' Brigade (1890), Boys Life Brigade (1899), The Jewish Lads' Brigade (1900), Catholic Boys' Brigade (1900), Girls' Guildry (1900), Girls Life Brigade (1902), the Boy Scouts (1908) and the Girl Guides (1910). All of these orgaisations can trace the idea of uniformed youth back to 1883 and William Smith.The Boy Scouts was at first conceived as a Scouting program for the Boys' Brigade.

Growth

For the first year, the 1st Glasgow company was alone, but shortly afterwards this new method of dealing with boys began to spread. By the end of the third year the movementnumbered 2,000 boys, mostly in Scotland, centred around Glasgow, with companies ranged from Ayr to Inverness. Shortly afterwards the movement filtered southward into England, all the way to London itself. In 1887 the BB's advance crossed the sea, with the formation of the 1st Jersey, and then across the Irish sea, when the 1st Belfast was formed in 1888 and the 1st Dublin formed in 1890. The movement's great advance continued, with missionary companies soon developed overseas, usually at isolated stations and outposts. Perhaps the most notable was the growth in Nigeria. The organisation also spread across the Atlantic, to Canada and the United States, encouraged by the founder's visits there in 1895 and 1907. It was not all plain sailing though. There was often opposition and criticism, and many Boys were rough and unruly and not as civilised as those. The glengarry cap would sometimes attract the scornful cry of "Scotchie! Scotchie!", and in the worst cases drill parades were conducted under a fusillade of stones and bricks thrown upon roofs and through windows!

Camping

One early innovation was to hold a camp--at the time, public opinion was aghast at the idea of Boys camping out in the "wilds"! The first camp by the 1st Glasgow company was held in a building at Tighnabruach on the Kyles of Bute in 1886. William Smith was an experienced yachtsman, and each squad had its own craft - it was a sight indeed to see the boats in nautical array on the placid waters of Camping spread rapidly and camping under canvas soon became the normal order of the day. Often camping became looked to as the crowning of the company's year.

The Boys' Brigade and Scouting

The annual display at the Royal Albert Hall in 1903 was of special significance - from it can be traced the very start of the Boy Scout movement! General Baden-Powell, back from his exploits in Mafeking, agreed to preside over the forthcoming display and began a sincere friendship with the founder. Baden-Powell saw the possibility of teaching the Boys the art of Scouting. The seeds of the Scout movement had been sown and were soon to spread like a prairie fire. In 1909 William Smith was knighted for his services to Boys. He continued his work within the organisation throughout. During 1913 the question of union with the Boys Life Brigade was discussed--but a dozen years were to pass before this effort would be successful. By the outbreak of World War I (1914) was found in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, United States of America, Africa, India, Ceylon, China, Hong Kong, Burma, Japan, Belize, British Guiana, Panama and throughout the Caribbean. On May 8th 1914, founder William Smith fell ill during a meeting of the Brigade Executive in London, and 2 days later he passed to rest.








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Created: July 11, 2002
Last updated: September 11, 2003