Leslie's Guiding History Site


History Books/Resources

Guiding Information Sources

I've been asked to provide some details on Guiding history books and other sources of information, and I would gladly do so - but there is a problem with many Guiding history books - one of accuracy, or rather, lack of it in some parts of the story!  

Almost all of us will have been taught at some time that the founders of Guiding were Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, and that Guiding started when a small group of a dozen or so girls gatecrashed the first ever Boy Scout Rally, at Crystal Palace in September 1909, startling Robert Baden-Powell, who had no idea girls were involved in Scouting at all, far less that some might have the brass neck to turn up and demand "something for the girls" - and we may well have been told that the invention of Guiding was entirely down to that that small band of a dozen or so girls, whose presence forced him to hurriedly produce an equivalent scheme for girls, something which he had never intended to do. 

This story has been around since as early as 1920, and naturally, many people unwittingly still treasure and teach that story, just as it was taught to them - and it also crops up regularly in many official publications, and in all of the pre-1977 (and several post-1977) official history books I've been able to trace, in relay games published on the internet and used by qualified Guiding trainers, too.  So the perpetuation of that story by current Leaders is entirely understandable and forgivable.  You'd naturally expect the history recorded 'back in the day' to be accurate.  The problem is - it's just not true!  In fact, that story's almost 100% myth!

So, to get at the true story, let's break it down to the proven and provable facts.

Certainly, Robert is a founder, he founded Scouting, and Scouting was certainly the root from which Guiding grew, but is Olave a founder?  Even the official histories and her own authorised biographies make it clear that she had absolutely no involvement in Scouting (and very limited knowledge of it) until she first met Robert Baden-Powell in January 1912 - almost 5 years after Scouting began - and she didn't make her Promise or take any official role in Guiding until 1916 - which was six years after Guiding started.  So who was it who helped Robert start Guiding, designed the Guide uniform, passwords and badges, wrote the first Guide handbook, started Rosebuds, designed the Rosebud and Brownie uniforms and Promise Badges, travelled the length of the UK addressing public meetings to promote Guiding, set up the headquarters and it's management committee, registered the units, and generally got everything off the ground?  It was Robert's only surviving sister, Miss Agnes Baden-Powell.  Who seems to be the forgotten and overlooked heroine of Guiding history.  Sadly, many people involved in Guiding have never heard of her, far less those outwith Guiding - and even those who have heard of her often have no idea quite how extensive her role was, and what a long list of achievements she had during the short time she was in charge of Guiding - or perhaps more sadly, they mix her up with Olave.  So it's clearly wrong to suggest that Robert and Olave were the founders - one could either say that Robert alone was the founder, or one could say that Robert and Agnes jointly were the founders, or one could say that Robert founded Scouts and Agnes founded Guides.  But clearly not Olave - although she certainly had a major and increasing role from 1916 onwards, her role was to mould and develop what already existed - what Agnes and her committee had created and established - a look at what survived for many years from Agnes's time, and what still survives, shows that.

And as for the idea that the September 1909 Scout rally was Baden-Powell's first indication that girls had taken up Scouting?  

Well, firstly, in the Scout magazine of January 16 1909, in the first paragraph of his personal regular column, he wrote to thank the Boy Scouts for the Christmas cards he had received.  The second paragraph was headed GIRL SCOUTS and read "Also I have had greetings from many Patrols of Girl Scouts, for which I am very grateful.  They make me feel very guilty at not having yet found time to devise a scheme of Scouting better adapted for them; but I hope to get an early opportunity of starting upon it.  In the meantime they seem to get a good deal of fun and instruction out of "Scouting for Boys", and some of them are really capable Scouts".  So clearly he not only knew they existed, (and in meaningful numbers too, since by no means every Girl Scout in the Country would have thought to send him a Christmas card and had the means to do it, so it's significant that he said many had actually done so), at least 9 months before the rally was held, but also, it's significant that he publicly acknowledged as much.  And he doesn't sound surprised, or in any sense negative, about Girl Scouts having been in contact - indeed quite the opposite, in calling them Girl Scouts in capitals and without any caveats or inverted commas, and describing them as "really capable Scouts", which he certainly didn't need to do.  So they weren't being labelled or treated as in any way unofficial, or improper.  At that time Baden-Powell regularly used his column to criticise 'monkey patrols' of boys who wore the Scout clothes and enjoyed the fun activities but didn't do the good deeds - he clearly isn't including the girls doing Scouting in that unauthorised category. 

Secondly, reports make it clear that several hundred Girl Scouts attended the rally at Crystal Palace - the majority presumably having applied for tickets in the regular way alongside their Scout brothers, given that they were all apparently admitted to the event without any fuss.  The small group who famously gatecrashed the event - and not having the money for the bus fares they ended up walking, arriving over an hour late.  they only gatecrashed because their decision to go was a last-minute one, hence they had no tickets, so couldn't gain admittance in the regular way.  Instead they opted to try to literally gatecrash in the hope that no-one would block their path to ask for tickets!  It seems more likely to be the late arrival and gatecrashing behaviour that a distinguished army officer like Robert Baden-Powell was disapproving of, when he came by inspecting all the Patrols and Troops - not the fact that there were girls at the rally at all.  And - there was a Scottish Scout Rally held near Glasgow earlier that year (which Girl Scouts were apparently present at by specific invitation) and at which Robert Baden-Powell had been guest of honour - so he would have already encountered Girl Scouts in person there . . .

Some history books continue to quote the 'official version' of history, the authors of some others (especially those who published after Olave died in 1977) have undertaken independent research into Guiding's origins, found as above that it led them to a very different conclusion from the 'traditional tale' - and have written accordingly.  So, I will provide a list of books, split into categories, and indicating which version of Guiding's origins they contain - it will be added to gradually as I come across more - always happy to receive information/recommendations!

It is also wise to mention at this point that the most important source of first-hand factual information for anyone seeking to research Guide history is the official notices printed in the magazines (The Scout, Home Notes, Golden Rule, the Girl Guides Gazette, The Guide, Today's Guide, Senior Branch News, The Ranger, The Guider, Guiding), in the handbooks for each section, and in copies of 'Policy, Organisation and Rules' (POR), the Guiding Manual, and 'The Guide's Book of Rules' - all of which are reliable factual sources issued directly from Headquarters or under their official authority - so they are the prime source for factual information which can be relied upon.  Other officially-authorised publications such as 'Girl Guide Badges and How to Win Them', 'Hints on Girl Guide Badges', and the Letts 'Girl Guide Diary' have useful information which can be presumed to be reliable too.

Several newspapers have online archives (including The Times and The Scotsman) which are searchable - these can be really valuable for obtaining first-hand, period accounts of events from independent authoritative observers, giving a flavour of what the 'attitude of the time' was . . .


Official Guide Association Publications or publications supported by the Guide Association (e.g. ones which give the official version of history)

The Story of the Girl Guides by Rose Kerr [aka Mrs Mark Kerr] (the edition I have is from 1942 - however it indicates that the early chapters about Guiding's origins are drawn from previous books . . .)

Opening Doorways by Olave Baden-Powell (about Olave's immediate post-WW2 visit to Europe)

World Adventure by Marguerite de Beaumont (biography of Olave Baden-Powell, personally supervised by her throughout and with some content supplied verbatim by her)

Trefoil Tales by various (selected episodes of Guiding history, all 'official versions', the tales are all lifted directly from other Guiding history books)

The True Book about Girl Guides by Alix Liddell (part of the 'True Book' series, similar content to other history books by Alix Liddell/her mother Rose Kerr)

The First 50 Years by Alix Liddell (although described as 'new' on the flyleaf, the introduction advises that the opening chapters are drawn directly from her mother Rose Kerr's book, The Story of the Girl Guides - the opening chapters of which, in turn, were drawn from previous books . . .) it was produced for the 50th anniversary.

History Notes (booklet containing timelines and lists of World Conferences, etc)

The Girl Guide Album by Cynthia Forbes (well-illustrated official history produced for the 75th Anniversary in 1985)

1910 and Then - an extensive history booklet covering a range of different Guiding history topics.

History Now - a pack produced by the Girl Guides Association containing a selection of posters and activity ideas.

Something for the Girls (history book produced for the Guiding centenary in 2010) - the first official history book to mention Agnes's role in any detail.


Publications by Counties/Countries/Regions

The Story of the Girl Guides in Scotland 1908-2000 by Elizabeth Robertson (contains a lot in a small book, including verbatim stories from pre-1910 Girl Scouts, details of war service and the founding of Trefoil School/Centre)

Girl Guides - The Edinburgh Story (several extensive verbatim accounts from early Girl Scouts, as well as comprehensive information on all sections of Guiding in the city up to 1977)

The History of the Trefoil Guild in Scotland 1943-2003 by Alison Baxter and Anne Cruickshank


Publications on Specific Topics


All Things Uncertain by P Stewart Brown (official history of Guide International Service GIS in WWII)

The Big Test by Catherine Christian (official history of Guiding in WWII)

A Hospital on Wheels by Marjorie Brindley (story of a specific GIS hospital unit which served in Europe)

The Left Handshake by Hilary St George Saunders (official history of Boy Scouts during WWII in a range of countries, but covers Girl Scouts in Poland, and potentially in other countries which had a joint organisation)

How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton (focuses on WW2 but also covers WW1 and general Guiding history pre- and post-war)

A Promise Kept by Jenny Ramsay (an individual Guider's experiences in a GIS team in Europe)



Agnes Baden-Powell - The Story of the First Girl Guide by Helen D Gardner (comprehensive biography of the founder of Guiding)

Baden-Powell by Tim Jeal (comprehensive biography of Robert Baden-Powell)

Window On My Heart by Olave Baden-Powell with Mary Drewery (authorised biography written in conjunction)

The World Chief Guide by Olave Baden-Powell and Eileen K Wade (authorised biography written by Olave's secretary)



The Consolidated Catalogue and List of UK and British Empire Girl Guide Badges by Thelma and Tony Newell (comprehensive guide to all badges issued by the GGA/Girlguiding UK - essential for all collectors).  Two editions were printed, the original with blue cover, and the more recent millennium edition, with red cover.  Both are now out of print, and very hard to come by.  The authors have made it clear that it will not be reprinted.



Royal Guides by V M Synge (an account of the 1st Buckingham Palace Company in the era when Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were members). 


Although modern history books and websites can be good sources of information, it is still hard to beat getting information from original, contemporary sources - as near as possible to the horse's mouth, and not coloured by a third party's viewpoint, the passage of time/fading memories, a desire to camouflage views or customs which were commonplace and accepted in the past but are not considered appropriate nowadays, or information which shows a difference between the official national policy and what was the grassroots opinion or practice in a particular location!  There are various archives which hold a fascinating selection of information, including magazines, logbooks, reference books, songbooks, training attendees' notes, correspondence and more - which can give fascinating insights into contemporary practice, thought and opinion, and an indication of what ordinary units actually did at their meetings, camps, rallies and competitions, which doesn't always match the training manuals.  These resources can be both local and national.  Some of them are:

Girlguiding UK Archives - formerly held at the CHQ building in London, these have been inaccessible for many years, in storage.  There have been proposals for them to be relocated to a building at Foxlease, but this has yet to actually occur - it is hoped that there can be progress on this shortly.

Foxlease Archives - Foxlease was opened in 1922 and they have a room for their archives which is maintained by volunteers, as well as fascinating artefacts around the house.  Visits to the archives may be made by appointment.

Girlguiding Scotland Archives - these were held in Glasgow, but have recently moved into storage as the building they were housed in is being put up for sale.  It is hoped that they can be moved to a new location in due course.  

Lorne - they have a good selection of fascinating local logbooks, photos and artefacts of various sorts which can be made available for study - visits by appointment.

Broneirion - have a room with a large number of older books and resources which can be perused, as well as a number of artifacts focussed especially on Welsh Guiding history as well as items of more general Guiding history interest; they also house the Guides Cymru archive.  Visits by apppointment.  

Girlguiding Norfolk's ARC - a purpose built Guiding heritage centre located near the Girlguiding Anglia Training Centre Hautbois.  ARC holds a large number of artefacts, but is heavily focussed on outreach work, as well as onsite events - and they have been successful in recruiting both a regular team of adult helpers, and also youth members of Guiding, to work on producing resources and activity ideas.

County Archives - most Counties have archivists (or vacancies . . .), who work to record the history of Guiding in their local area, and to present that history to the girls in interesting ways.  They may have uniforms the girls can try on, information sources to help with the Guiding traditions UMAs, records of how Guiding started and spread locally, details of when the various local units started and who the past leaders were, and of events and achievements within the County.  They may be able to host unit visits depending on where the archives are stored, or may instead be willing to visit units and lead activities with them.  Some have managed to publish booklets or books containing some of the history of Guiding in their County, and others have 'history' sections on the County website.  If you are interested in Guiding history, please consider offering to help your local archivist keep up the good work - the more help there is, the more we can all do to help "record today for tomorrow". 

Local History Groups/Clubs - they will have information about the locality they cover, which may well include information on youth groups in that area such as Guides, information about local halls which units may have met in, photos of local fairs and parades the units may have participated in, recollections of older local residents who may have been involved in Guiding in their youth - and again, they can always use more people willing to help with research or cataloguing . . .

Local and national records offices - sometimes people hand over old Guide records to the County Records Office or Council Archives for safekeeping.  It is worth checking whether anything Guiding related has been handed in, or is recorded there as being located in a particular archive, and whether you can get to see it.  Some of these items such as photographs may be put online - in Scotland, the SCRAN website has some interesting Guide images from through the years, both photos and videos, and donated from different parts of the country.

Newspaper Archives - it may seem hard to believe now, when getting any good-news story into the press is seemingly impossible in so many areas, but there was a time when newspapers were really keen to report on Guide doings, so it is worth scouring local newspapers for reports of award presentations, parades, camp reports etc - some even had regular weekly or monthly columns for Guide news.  More major events, like rescues, national celebrations, Guide war service and the like may well have appeared in regional or national newspapers too.  Your local library will often allow free access to newspaper archives, which can allow you to search out articles of interest, and some newspapers have been electronically catalogued to allow online searching, which makes it even easier to do a search and get good results.  I've found a lot of first-hand accounts of events from the earliest years of Guiding in my County from my local newspaper's searchable online archive, including verbatim accounts of speeches made by the founders at local public meetings, all of which I can access for free with my local library card . . .

Guide (and early Scout) magazines - from the early days, the official magazines had pages for individual units to send in reports of what they were getting up to, and there were soon letters pages for individual Scouts and Guides to send in comments and opinions too - you may find items from local units which can give a flavour of what the units did in past years, or even tantalising evidence of units existing in a locality before current official records (or your researches) suggest any did!

Logbooks and Company Magazines - over the years, units and Patrols have regularly been encouraged to keep logbooks of their activities, and there was encouragement to create and publish unit magazines, with contributions being submitted from the unit members.  Do you have any old logbooks, photo albums, magazines or roll books from your unit?  And perhaps more important, are you keeping a logbook of what your unit does right now, for future generations?  History is as much about last week as last century!  Something as simple as a printout of the term's programme, what happens at your opening and closing ceremonies and any other ceremonies, instructions for the unit's favourite games, words and music for the Guides' favourite songs, labelled photographs of unit activities (so future generations will know who the picture is of, when it was taken and by whom, which unit, and what it's about) and details of who the leaders and Patrols are, will be a valuable resource to let future Guides know what the girls in your unit or community got up to way back in the 2010s . . . and do remember to put the compiler's name on the inside front cover of records, along with details of the unit(s) featured and the era - any County archivist could show you a bundle of photographs which they suspect to be of local units - but exactly which ones, when, or who the individuals are is unknown . . .

Storygatherers - during the Guiding Centenary an oral history project was launched.  They trained a team of 'storygatherers' to record audio interviews with people on top-quality formats.  The aim was to get people to record their Guiding memories, and to then make the recordings accessible to researchers within Guiding.  They especially wanted people's recollections of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s - and also the recollections of then current Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Senior Section of what they got up to in their units in modern times, while the memories are fresh . . . the results of the recordings, and written items sent in were collected on the GirlGuiding UK website . . .

If you find other good sources, do let me know!


I have not yet found one comprehensive website to cover all aspects of Guiding history (it's partly what drove me to get on with starting my own!), but there are some sites which contain good historical detail on particular aspects (although many will still tend to have the 'official' version of history).  I list below some sites which have information on Guiding history, but I do not take responsibility for the content, or for any errors or omissions.  Links were operating as at March 2011.  I am also happy to look at suggested websites for inclusion on this list, which I'm aware is not yet at all comprehensive.

Girlguiding UK's history page: http://www.girlguiding.org.uk/about_us/key_information/history.aspx

'Newsround' page about Guiding history: http://news.bbc.co.uk/cbbcnews/hi/newsid_4280000/newsid_4284600/4284663.stm

A site on Guide interest badges: http://www.guidebadges.toucansurf.com/

A site which also has old badge syllabi and information: http://guidinguk.freeservers.com/History-of-guiding.html

A unit website which has lots of information: http://www.1stfremingtonbrownies.btck.co.uk/History%20of%20Guiding%20and%20Brownies

History of Guiding in Sheffield: http://www.sheffieldguides.org.uk/History.htm

History of Guiding in Oxfordshire: http://www.oxfordshiregirlguiding.org.uk/history.html

Bedfordshire History page with pictures of old uniforms being modelled: http://www.bedsguiding.org.uk/uniforhistory.htm

Girlguiding Norfolk have done a lot of historical work: http://www.girlguidingnorfolkheritage.org.uk/

History of Guiding in Tamworth Division: http://www.girlguidingtamworth.org.uk/history.php

How Guiding started in Cornwall: http://www.girlguidingcornwall.co.uk/history.php

History of Middlesex North West County: http://www.girlguidingmiddxnw.org.uk/history.htm

History of Guiding in Dorset: http://www.girlguiding-dorset.org.uk.html/

History of Guiding in Wales: http://www.girlguidingcymru.org.uk/information/history

Cheshire Border County has a very comprehensive website for their County's history: http://www.girlguidingcheshireborder.org.uk/ourhistory.asp


It's also important to remember our shared roots with Scouting - from 1907 to 1910, the history of Guiding and Scouting is entirely shared, so Scouting history sites are very important sources for the early origins of both movements, and of how the split between Guiding and Scouting came about - and some of their historians have published really extensive work.  Some useful sites for our purposes are: