Boys' Brigade Uniforms: Chronology: The 1880s

Figure 1.--s.

A time-line chronolog is helpful in following the history of the Boys' Brigade and other related uniformed youth groups in Britain and other countries. We will include major developments in other youth groups to provide helpful back ground information. The chronology also helps to put the uniform developments in perspective.

Specific Years


William Alexander Smith (1854-1914) founded the Boys' Brigade in Scotland on October 4. At the time Smith was an unknown school techer in Scotland. The idea of a uniformed youth group was quite a novel idea. A simple uniform was decided on in 1883. Boys during the first year of the Boys' Brigade only wore a rosette as a badge, and the officers wore a detinctly civilian-looking bowler hat.


Smith introduced the first Boys' Brigade Bible Class. The focus on religious instruction was a central focus of the Boys' Brigade from the beginning and continues to be true of the modern Boys' Brigade. The Brigade began to expand overseas in 1884. New Zealand Brigaders report that the organization was founded in their country in 1884, another repprt gives a later foundation date of 1889. Changes were to the uniform in 1884 which established the outfit that would endure for decades. The new uniform consisted of a cap, belt, and haversack. This proved to be the uniform worn for a longer time than any other uniformed boys' group uniform. The idea was to have a very basic uniform that every boy could afford. The boy bassically wore his on clothes, but added a few in expensive items to gice the unit a uniformed look.The basic uniform was the pillbox cap used by the British Army, a belt (often but not always with a round Boys' Brigade buckle and a shoulder strap), and a haversack. These items were worn over a boys own clothes, sometimes his best sut.


The Boy's Brigade introduced summer camps soon after the orgnization was founded. Smith organized the first Boys' Brigade Camp at Tighnabruaich, Kyles of Bute, Scotland. This was the beginning of the Boys' Brigade summer camp program. The Brigade idea of summer camp in these early years was different than the modern concept. The boys, for example, dressed in suits even when camping. The summer camp movement was already well underway in America. The history of the summer camp movement in America and other countries is a fascinating story in itself. Many social reformers in England and other countries were convinced that getting city kids out into the fresh country air would be a healthy and enriching experience. At the time urban pollution was a serious and growing health problem in Britain's industrial cities. Another development in 1886 was the selection of a Brigade President, J. Carfrae Alston.


The Boys' Brigade was organized in the United States during 1887. It was subsequented named the 'United Boys' Brigades of America'. Although organized well before Scouting, the Boys' Brigade never became an important youth group in America. The exclusive church-based approach was one factor limiting its growth--even among religious families. Another development in 1887 was that Smith became the first full-time Boys' Brigade secretary.


The Boys' Brigade Gazette was first published in 1889. Branches of the Brigade were organized in Canada and South Africa with varying results. Some reports indicate that the Brigade was also organized in New Zealand during 1889, but other reports indicate 1884. Some of these early dates may vary because units may have operated informally before being officially recognized by the Boys' Brigade organization.


Muriel Gibbs, A Date to Remember (Boys' Brigade Archive Press).

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 12, 2002
Last updated: July 12, 2002