Leslie's Guiding History Site

Subtitle

Brownies

Brownies

The Guides had been officially started in 1910 - but it wasn't long before the younger sisters of the Guides wanted to join in.  It just wasn't possible - not through any bias or ageism, but simply because in those days Guides would set off early in the morning to hike for miles into the countryside at marching speed, hold long 'field days' of lively activities and games, then march back home again as evening drew in - and quite simply, the younger girls couldn't physically keep up with the pace set by their teenage older sisters, even if they tried, and so they had to be left behind.  It was soon decided that the demand across the country from the younger girls meant it would be necessary to set up a separate section to cater for those enthusiastic younger girls who were clamouring for a chance to be Guides and show what they could do . . .

So in 1914 it happened - two years before Wolf Cubs officially started!  There had been a lot of suggestions for possible names, but the option that was chosen was 'Rosebuds', the idea being that they would 'blossom into Guides'.  The younger girls loved the activities, didn't mind the uniform - but, surprisingly, allegedly considered the name far too twee!  There was a request for suggestions, and in 1915 'Brownies' was chosen, and the popular story, 'The Brownies' by Juliana Horatia Ewing was massively adapted and cut down by Robert Baden-Powell, into the version featuring Tommy and Betty which appeared in the handbooks for many years, and which still appears, in a further-adapted format, to be read to all new recruits during their first weeks in order to help give an understanding of what Brownies are all about. 

It took time to settle on a Brownie uniform - initially the Rosebuds had worn navy jerseys and skirts, with a large navy tammy-type hat and a light-blue knotted tie, as worn by two of the girls in the photo above.  In 1915, 4 different uniform frock options were suggested - one in navy and three in Brown, with an acorn Promise badge.  Initially it appears the Sixes may have been named after trees, but by 1918 a selection of 'fairy folk' Six names and badges were used - Elf, Gnome, Sprite, Imp, Pixie, Fairy, Leprechaun, Little People, Bwbachod, Tylwyth Teg.  (Ghillie Dhu was added in 1928, to ensure that there were two Scottish names alongside the two Irish and two Welsh).  Each Six was led by a "Sixer", who was helped by her "Second" - and they led their Six, a thin 'Wand' in hand.  Metal 'Service Stars' were issued, to be worn above the left pocket, with a brown felt disc behind - one for each year of membership.

By the early 1920s the question of uniform had settled down, with most units wearing a standard brown cotton dress with chest pockets, a brown leather belt and a brown tie, or a brown jersey over a brown kilted skirt with bodice.  Uniform lists also specified that they should wear brown knickers - an in an era when knickers were often nearly knee-length, it was not unknown for inspection to include checking that the correct colour was being worn!  Black wool stockings were generally worn with uniform, as they would have been daily wear with ordinary clothes anyway, although in 1928 the option of knee-high socks was introduced, and most units wore a pull-on sunhat in either straw or cotton, (though some wore knitted woollen hats) - and the Promise badge was a Brownie figure on a metal bar pin.  Sixers wore two broad yellow stripes right round their sleeve, and Seconds one stripe.  The fairy folk were now fully established as Six names too - with the options being Bwbachod, Tylwyth Teg, Leprechaun, Little People, Ghillie Dhu, Kelpie, Elf, Gnome, Sprite, Imp, Pixie, Fairy.  The badges were embroidered in colour on a brown rectangle (the badge shown below is Sprite) - initially the badges were embroidered on felt, later versions were machine stitched, backed and edged.  Each Six had a rhyme which was sung by the relevant Six's members as part of their opening ceremony.  The rhymes were:

Bwbachod (fawn)- We're the Bwbachod from Wales, Filling farmers' milking pails
Elf (blue)- This is what we do as Elves, Think of others, not ourselves
Fairy (yellow)- We're the Fairies glad and gay, helping others every day
Ghillie Dhu (green with red hat)- Ghillie Dhu it is our name, We guard the bairns and lead them hame
Gnome (white with black broom)- Here you see the laughing Gnomes, 'Helping mother' in our homes
Imp (yellow)- We're the ever-helpful Imps, Quick and quiet as any shrimps
Kelpie (red with yellow hat)- We're the little Scottish Kelpies, Smart and quick and ready helpers
Leprechaun (red)- We're the Irish Leprechaun, Guiding strangers when forlorn
Little People (yellow/green diagonal stripes)- We, though known as Little People, Aim as high as any steeple
Pixie (green)- Look out, we're the jolly Pixies, Helping people when in fixes
Sprite (green)- Here we come, the sprightly Sprites, Brave and helpful like the knights
Tylwyth Teg (red with white hat) - We're from Wales, the Tylwyth Teg, Dance and work and never beg

For identification - the Pixie had a single-pointed hat, whereas the Sprite had a tricorn hat, as shown above.  The fairy is easily differentiable from the Imp by it's wings.

These rhymes were sung to the same tune as the then official opening song: "We're the Brownies, here's our aim, Lend a Hand and play the game" as part of the unit's "Brownie Ring" opening ceremony.  A Handbook had also been written by Robert Baden-Powell, called 'The Handbook for Brownies or Bluebirds' (Baden-Powell had suggested that the name 'Bluebirds' could be used in countries where the Brownie name and story wouldn't be suitable, either because Owls didn't exist in that country, or because there were some countries where owls had a negative image, or because locally the fairy folk were known only for doing evil deeds and not good ones!).

Another traditional Brownie ceremony was the "Grand Howl" performed to welcome special guests, or congratulate special achievements.  The Brownies formed a circle round the person to be honoured, and squatted down, their hands touching the floor between their feet in a Brownie Salute.  The group rose up part-way together, calling out "toowit, toowoo", then repeated this a second time rising further.  The third time they rose right up and jumped in the air clapping their hands over their heads, whilst calling out "toowit, toowoo" a third time. 

Packs were soon opening up around the UK and beyond with Brownies working for their Tenderfoot before making their Promise, then Second Class (more commonly known as Golden Bar) and their First Class (called Golden Hand).  Their Tenderfoot and Golden Bar could be worked on and tested gradually, with each item being signed off in the test card as it was passed, but the Golden Hand was different - although lots of practice work could be done at meetings in the run-up, and certain of the craft items could be prepared ready for testing day - the Golden Hand had to be all tested on one day by an independent Guider who would visit specially in order to do the testing, and it all had to be passed on the one day in order to count - very different from the modern 'continuous assessment' idea.  Brownies couldn't gain any interest badges (then called Proficiency Badges) until they held Golden Hand, which meant most Brownies had very little time available to work on them (if any time at all) before they were due to move to Guides -  and most, however keen, only managed to gain a few proficiency badges in that short gap which remained between finishing Golden Hand and 'Flying Up' to Guides.

  Those who had completed Golden Hand got a special badge - Brownie Wings - to wear on the sleeve of their Guide uniform just above the cuff, and they had a special 'flying up' ceremony when they moved on to Guides.  Those Brownies who did not manage to complete Golden Hand would 'walk up' to Guides, often with a slightly different ceremony, and they did not get a leaving badge.

'Brownie Holidays' were also introduced, with Brownies being able to take over a suitable building for a week or more (with a minimum of 5 days duration) - often this would be taking over a village hall or a rural school, arranging for a gas cooker to be installed, transporting rented camp beds and taking all the essentials, the programme being filled with picnics, nature rambles, visits to places of interest and team games.

Thereafter, changes were few - in 1934 the option of having a gold coloured tie was introduced provided the whole pack wore the same colour - the new gold tie was popular, and soon few packs still wore the dull dark brown ties!    Tweaks were made to the content of the challenges, and to interest badge syllabuses, often to reflect changing household technology (such as gas cookers, fridges, electric irons, hoovers and radios) and the new opportunities which they created.  The bar of the Promise badge was thickened to make it more sturdy.

Then world war 2 broke out, and it immediately brought massive changes for Brownies.  Most city Brownies were evacuated to the country overnight, leaving city packs empty and country ones overwhelmed with the sudden massive influx - some country packs literally went overnight from struggling to find a dozen members - to having 40 or 60 girls on their doorstep all wanting to transfer in!  Many of the Brown Owls and Tawny Owls were 'called up' to do war work, sometimes having to leave home and move to wherever they were posted with very little notice, leaving packs without any leaders - some were kept going by local Guide Patrol Leaders, though some, especially in urban areas, merged or folded due to the collapse in numbers.  Blackout difficulties, and the comandeering of church and village halls for various kinds of war work in the evenings, meant that Pack meetings often could only be held during the daytime at weekends, especially during winter and especially in urban areas.  On the other hand, in rural areas the large number of children meant that many only had part-time school, attending either in the morning or in the afternoon, so rural units were urged to organise daytime meetings during the week, to profitably occupy some of the childrens' extensive free time, and teach nature lore.  During the war, as an economy, the Promise badge became a design stamped into in 1940 a rectangle, and then by 1941 a yet smaller oval of brass, to save the factories the time and expense of cutting out the finicky shape - some units continued to use stocks of these badges for some years after the war.  Brownie war work included collecting hedgerow fruit and herbs, cotton reels, waste paper and jam jars, dressmaking and knitting garments, and holding fundraising concerts for causes such as the Red Cross and the Guide International Service.  Over time, many units adopted berets, as the option became available, although various hats could be seen during this era - homemade uniforms remained common, due to clothes rationing and general shortages of materials, and in some cases homemade badges were seen, as the official ones became hard to obtain with so many factories turned over to essential war production and warehouses being disrupted by bomb damage.  

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Brownie section continued to be the largest one in Guiding, with many new packs opening to follow the creation of new housing estates and new towns around the UK - and the famous booming postwar birthrate.  It became increasingly clear, however, that the Brownie programme needed quite a bit of updating to make the challenges more relevant to modern circumstances and current educational thinking - was it still realistic to ask Brownies to learn to light a coal fire when so many houses were heated by gas or electricity instead, even if it was one of the most popular challenges with the girls?  Should we continue to have set tests for all?

 In 1968 wholesale changes were brought in to all the Guiding sections.  The Brownie dress was altered to a brighter shade of red-brown, with pockets moving to the skirt, and the folded gold tie being replaced by a pre-stitched yellow crossover which did not need elaborate folding and tying, the promise badge being the Brownie figure set within the frame of a trefoil, to signify 'Brownies' now becoming 'Brownie Guides' and clearly identified as part of the Guide family - and it didn't need polishing any longer either!  Although stockings were still an option, white ankle or knee-high socks were the norm, and no recommendation was made in terms of underwear colours!  The large Sixer and Second stripes on the sleeve were replaced with much smaller stripes, worn below the Six badge (and similar to the old Golden Bar badge but with no lettering).  Out, too, went the nationwide formal set tests of Golden Bar and Hand, and Brownie Wings too, to be replaced by pre-Promise challenges, then the 'journeys' by Footpath, Road and Highway, the badge designs being based on the Ordnance Survey map symbols for these different sorts of route, with choices and options for each of the eight challenges to be tackled at each level, so that the Guider could gear the challenges to the individual to ensure each was a 'difficult but achieveable' test for the individual to tackle - and every Brownie moving on to Guides had the same leaving ceremony and got a leaving badge regardless of what she had achieved during her Brownie career.  Interest badges became available to Brownies as soon as they were enrolled, too, which meant a massive expansion in the number gained.  There were reductions in pack ceremonial, with a new Brownie song being introduced, and the Six songs and lore no longer appearing in the handbook (although most units chose to continue to use some or all of these traditions, and some still have them, or have chosen to re-introduce some of them in recent years, due to demand from the unit members).  The Little People, Tylwyth Teg and Fairy six badges were each withdrawn too, for various reasons.  The metal 'service stars' were replaced by fabric badges, worn on the shoulder, numbered for each year.  In 1971 the beret was officially replaced by a knitted wool hat with pom-pom, and the promise badge ceased to be hollow metal but was now filled in due to the cost and finickiness of making the hollow badge - just as had happened over thirty years before!  The fabric Service Stars were also replaced, by 'Birthday Badges' presented on the anniversary of the Brownie Promise ceremony, the first being brown (later yellow), the second green, and the third red - each featuring the outline of the Brownie badge in white.  A special badge in the same style as the birthday badge was presented to those who moved from Brownies to Guides, to be worn in the same place on the shoulder of the Guide uniform to show that the Guide had been a Brownie - initially it was a blue version of the Brownie Birthday Badge with white trefoil, latterly it was brown with a yellow trefoil on it, to make it clear it was a Brownie badge. The Brownie Jubilee in 1984 was celebrated with a special national tea-making competition - as well as being sponsored to make as many cups of tea as possible, packs were also challenged to enter a national competition to make tea in the most unusal place possible.  Locations varied from under giant trees, to on top of fire engine ladders, to castles . . .

Uniforms changed again in 1990 - so it was out with lightweight cotton frocks, and in with a mix and match range of outfits in yellow and brown.  Options included joggers, culottes, polo shirt, sweatshirts, hoodies and jumpers, with a sash to put badges on, a necker and a baseball cap.  With the coming of the sash, gone too were the old set positions for badges - Brownies were to put their badges on in any pattern they wanted.  The footpath, road and highway badges were redesigned to be coloured rectangles, yet soon the Footpath, Road and Highway journeys were replaced too, with two books - Brownie Adventure, for the 7-8.5 year olds, and Adventure On for the 8.5+ girls, featuring the special Brownie Go For It which every Brownie tackles in the weeks before she moves on from the pack, whether to Guides or not.  New animal Six names were brought in, in addition to the traditional fairy folk, and the designs and options for interest badges were totally changed too, replacing the old brown triangles with large yellow diamond shapes designed to be larger, more colourful and more appealing.  New pin-on Sixer and Second badges were introduced too.

Now, Brownies wear a mix-and-match range of trousers and tops, in yellow and brown, and can wear neckerchiefs of the unit colour if the unit opts to have one.  They work on their Brownie Adventure, and Brownies Adventure On badges, and there is a range of colourful interest badges for the individual to earn if she wishes.  These can be sewn anywhere on the sash or the gilet if the girl wishes - or can be stored in the box, or displayed in another way of the girl's choice.  Those preparing for their next step all work on the special 'Go For It', and whether they are lucky enough to go to Guides or not, all receive their "Brownies Was An Adventure" badge when they leave.  Brownies can still go on Brownie holidays (though weekends are more common than weeks) and can now go camping too, usually in modern lightweight frame tents.  During the Guiding Centenary in 2010, Brownies 'took over' all sorts of places, travelling on steam trains, exploring castles and having adventures in all sorts of places.

2014 has brought the 'Big Brownie Birthday' running from January to September, with 'Star Quest' and Brownies working on the Big Brownie Birthday challenge.  Events large and small have been held across the country (with some lucky Brownies getting to go on trips abroad too!)

It also saw changes to the Brownie programme, with the challenges being split into three instead of two, with Adventure and Adventure On being joined by More Adventures, with new handbooks and progress badges being launched, in three segments which can slot together to make one larger badge.