In the first of a two part series, former Queen’s Scout Sir Bob Russell explores the history of Scouting in Colchester.

The 1st Colchester Scout Group is one of the oldest in the world.

It was registered on June 25 1908 by the national Headquarters of the Boy Scouts as the formation of Scout Troops swept the country – and then going overseas, making Scouting the largest youth organisation the world has ever known.

I have recently been given copies of documentary evidence which confirms what became the 1st Colchester Boy Scout Troop was already in existence for at least a year before Lieutenant General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, national military hero from the Boer War and later elevated as Lord Baden-Powell, published Scouting for Boys.

This was based on a training manual he had written for soldiers, which he adapted for boys aged 11 to 18 and published in six fortnightly instalments from January 1908.

Already established in Colchester was the St George’s Institute which had developed under Christian leadership in the last decade of the 19th century and from 1903 was based at 155 High Street, part of the building now occupied by The Duchess pub.


In 1906 a benefactor from the well-known Bunting business family built St George’s Gymnasium in Culver Street for the young men of the town.

A carved stone tablet at the top of the front wall is still there.

On the ground floor was a fully equipped gym with the first floor set aside for a new junior section for the St George’s Institute.

And it was this junior section which a year or so later evolved into the 1st Colchester Boy Scouts. Is it stretching things to say this makes it the world’s first Scout Troop?

The St George’s Institute for youths in their late teens and into their early twenties continued, but membership fell. It folded in 1910.

In contrast, the 1st Colchester Scouts went from strength to strength and occupied the whole of the Culver Street building until 1986 when it moved to its current “new” Bunting Rooms headquarters behind The Playhouse and Headgate Theatre.

When I became aware of plans for the redevelopment of the whole site stretching from the corner of Head Street eastwards to where today is Loofer’s and TSB, I asked Robin Tomkins of development company Frincon if he would kindly consent to erect a plaque to commemorate the fact the 1st Colchester was formed there in 1908.

I also asked, somewhat optimistically, if he would also retain the upper façade because of the building’s historic importance to Scouting.

To my delight, Mr Tomkins agreed to both my requests.

Let me go back to 1908 and the early years of Scouting.

As a Cavalry Officer, 20 years earlier the then Captain Baden-Powell had been based at Colchester Garrison’s Cavalry Barracks with the 13th Hussars.

He, therefore, knew Colchester well – and in the first dozen years of Scouting, as Chief Scout, he visited the town five times.

As recorded in a wonderful book “It happened this way”, published in 1957, Fred Hutton, a former Group Scout Master of the 1st Colchester, says that “B-P” – as he was known with affection – was a guest at the 1909 Oyster Feast and afterwards went to the Corn Exchange behind The Cups Hotel (sadly, both now demolished) next to the Town Hall.

A surviving leaflet, headed St George’s Institute – 1st Colchester Troop Boy Scouts, states it was The First Review of the Colchester and District Troops of Boy Scouts.

“B-P” made two visits in 1914. First, for a Scouts’ Gala Day during the summer with Lady Baden-Powell; in the afternoon just his wife for an event in the Moot Hall and in the evening both of them at the Corn Exchange.

His third visit was on October 29 1914 when he addressed around 500 former Scouts then in the Army at Colchester Garrison in what was the third month of the First World War.

He toured the military camps, had supper at the Corn Exchange, and then addressed a meeting in the Moot Hall.

At 155 High Street, then regarded as the headquarters for the North-East District of Essex Scouts, he wrote in the Visitors’ Book: “Look at the worst. See the best. Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout”.

“B-P” made two visits in 1920 by which time there were ten Scout Troops in Colchester.

In February he attended the showing of a Scout film “Be Prepared” – the Scout motto – with the proceeds going towards hopes of starting a new St George’s Club to replace the now closed St George’s Institute.