Sunday the 6th June 1920 was a splendid early summer day and a day that a large proportion of the town turned out to enjoy. All the principle dignitaries of the town were present. The MP Mr Broomfield, the Nicholson’s and Lady Brocklehurst. Another distinguished visitor was an Australian born Admiral Sir Guy Gaunt who lived at Swainsley Hall who was to meet with an old comrade who had also seen conflict in the Boer War of 1899-1902.
A war hero was in town and one whose exploits exactly 20 years before had lead to national rejoicing when the news from the front was grim.
Robert Baden Powell arrived in town having lunched at the home of Mr and Mrs Horace Wardle at “Ladydale”. BP, as he was universally known, had become famous overnight in 1900 as the defender of the town of Mafeking, which had been surrounded by a Boer Army in the South African War. The war had at that stage gone very badly for the British and his valiant defence of the town made him a national hero. Following the end of his army career Baden Powell wrote “Scouting for Boys” in 1908 part of which was written in the “Isaac Walton Hotel in Dovedale. He had also stayed at the summer house of the Wardle’s at Swainsley Hall; they had owned the house prior to the Admiral taking over the house in 1909. Baden Powell being a Scout insisted that on camping in the grounds of the house.
Baden Powell was in Leek meeting with the newly formed Scout Troops part of the national obsession with the Scout Movement, which was developed following the first scout camp on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in 1907.
Baden Powell who in 1920 was aged 63 looked according to the local reporter who covered the event as “hard as nails” and very fit. Over 5,000 people assembled on the Beggars Lane Cricket field with scouts and guide groups from all over the district. There were Scouts from Mill St Mission and West St as well as Oakamoor. The Leek First Guide group attended commanded by Captain Worthington and the participants heard a drumhead service conducted by the Vicar of Leek. The Foden Band provided the music.
Baden Powell welcomed a number of ex servicemen who were parading that day who had fought in the Boer war and who had shared hard times. He went on “It was all very well to erect memorials to men who had fallen in war. The best memory was to follow the example and that people should not be trained to be soldiers but to be good citizens. Scouts in Leek belonged to a vast family extending over the Empire. I want you to honour God and the King and do good to someone every day”.
In 1920 BP was acclaimed Chief Scout of the World at the national jamboree held in London. He was to die in 1941. My mother who was a guide recalled the memorial service for all scouts in North Staffs, which was held in St Peter’s in Stoke.
Scouting continued to thrive in Leek over the decades and the local paper carried regular reports on the health of the movement. In May 1924 an anonymous correspondent “Scouter” rhapsodised on the coming of summer. One could look forward to the smell of the campfire and the early morning dip in the river and the pleasures of living the natural life as opposed to the artificiality of the modern town dweller. Scouter however was troubled
“ A number of privileges are given to scouts are now be taken away owing to the careless habits of people who preceded them and who fail to see that there careless habits are spoiling the ground for others. Scouts do not do this and the object of the scout camper is to leave as little trace as possible and he usually manages to do this. To learn to fend for yourself should be the object of every youth”
It remained a very popular activity for many young people in Leek and central to many then and up to the present. In fact during the war the Nazi’s regarded Scouting as a dangerous spy organisation and Baden Powell although a very old man by 1940 was to have been arrested if the invasion of Britain had proved successful.
In 1957 the 50th anniversary of the start of scouting was celebrated by an international jamboree in Birmingham. Scouts from many nations took part and a party of 200 were welcomed to Leek in August of that year. The event did not go to plan as Scouts from Belgium, Burma, Denmark, South Africa and the United States made the journey up by rail. In a scene reminiscent of a film star of the time Norman Wisdom the specially charted train passed Leek station at high speed past the hapless civic and scouting leaders who lined up on the platform. The newspaper report stated that the fireman happily waved at the group as the train charged through. It got close to Macclesfield before the train was recalled. It was suggested that a mix up in languages and confusion over the parties accounted for the error. Lunch was prepared at Rudyard and the Scouts were taken around the district including the Isaac Walton Hotel where BP had written part of “Scouting for Boys” in the summer of 1907. There was disappointment as many of the local mills were closed for the industrial holiday.
The tour ended in the town centre and parties of Scouts were taken on a speedy tour of Leek particularly conspicuous were the American Scouts in brilliant red jackets with the badge of the American jamboree, which they had attended earlier in the year. Cllr Stubbs mentioned the link between the States and the town when the party passed through the army camp at Blackshaw Moor where part of the American Third Army was stationed during the War.
It is easy to mock some of the sentiments expressed in “Scouting for Boys” but one has to admire a book, which had part of its birth in the Moorlands. I think that it can be strongly argued that it was a book that changed the world. And some of the views presented in it given the current debate over youth prescient. Baden Powell wanted to produce practical, self reliant and unselfish citizens and I would say as a former scout myself- 81st Milton Scouts- this is what is exactly what is required today.
In 1907 there were 20 scouts at the original camp on Brownsea Island today there are 28 million worldwide. And of the 12 Americans who walked on the moon 11 had been scouts.