Leslie's Guiding History Site


Training Centres

From Guiding's earliest days it was clear that training would be needed to spread the idea.  'Pamphlet A', 'Pamphlet B', the speeches made by Agnes as she travelled the country, the articles in "Home Notes" magazine, and then the publication of the first Handbook in 1912 - all only went so far.  There were a couple of issues with this limited written information.  The first issue was one of interpretation - people would take the written advice or guidelines and interpret them as they thought best.  Sometimes that would be a question of misunderstandings of what was meant by the written word - as can be seen in snippets in the magazines' 'advice to correspondents' column, such as the one advising that neckers should not be worn threaded through the epaulettes.  The second issue was of skills - the handbook and guidance advised that Leaders were to teach such subjects as knots, semaphore, nature lore, and carrying out Company drill - but most prospective Leaders did not have the full range of these skills at their fingertips, certainly, not at a level to start teaching them.  There also was the question of 'Guiding ethos' - teaching Leaders and thus the girls in the units not just the basics of how to do things, but why they should do them and do them in that way, and how to put them across.  So training centres were required.  Various ones opened over the years, some survived and are still in existence, others, sadly, have closed.  I'll try to give an outline here of the story of each one.

The Written Word - Pamphlets A and B, and their legacy.  

In Guiding's early days, it was the written word which came first.  From 'Scouting for Boys' in partwork and then book form, then from 'The Scout' magazine, then from Scouting's reference books, then from the articles in 'Home Notes' and 'Golden Rule' magazines.  The 'Home Notes' articles would contain a letter from Miss Baden-Powell, together with notes on unit activities, information on badges or uniforms, and some photographs or sketches of units.  In addition, the headquarters office dealt with large quantities of correspondence from across the UK and beyond.

In addition to this, as her brother had done, Miss Baden-Powell also travelled the UK speaking at public meetings in order to recruit more Guiders to lead Guide Companies.

After this came the first Handbook in 1912, and the first edition of POR in 1916.  At a time when photography was young and photographs were few, it was most often the written word which first spread information about Guiding across the UK and beyond.  In several countries, Scouting and Guiding arrived by means of locals translating Scouting for Boys into the local language, and then sharing the activities.    

Soon training classes were being set up in cities around the UK, to train Guiders in the skills they would need.  These tended to run for a set number of weeks' classes each term.

The first 'Officers Training Camp' was held at Boxmoor in Hertfordshire in August 1915.  By October of that year a Training School had been set up by Mrs Agatha Blyth, charging £9 for 3 months of live-in training, consisting of six weeks in London and six weeks in the country.  By April 1916 a branch school had opened up in the east end of London, and by the time of the first annual report of the Training School, it had 142 members in 15 Patrols - the origin of the Patrols so many of the Training Centres used thereafter.  

Things seem to have become turbulent for the Training Schools in late 1918, as evidenced by a flurry of announcements in Guiding's official magazine, the Girl Guide Gazette.  In July 1918 it was announced that officers who gained Diplomas from the Officers Training School would be granted the privilege of wearing a red ribbon round their hats with a brown OTS badge.  But only three months later, in October 1918,the magazine announced that Mrs Blyth had resigned as OTS Commandant - and in a separate article, that the GOTS was closed down.  It was also announced that a new Guiders Training School had been set up under Miss Maynard.  Then in January 1919 there was a further announcement - that the existing Diploma would become the 'Distinction Diploma' - meantime a new award called the 'Chief's Diploma' was to be instituted, and this Chief's Diploma would be in the personal gift of the Chief Guide herself, to be awarded to those Distinction Diploma holders whom she considered had done special work for the movement.  It suggests that the Chief Guide wanted to have a direct role in selecting the most senior trainers who would work within the organisation, and thus a direct influence on all of the training which would be delivered around the UK and beyond (for by this time, countries abroad were requesting that UK trainers visit them for extended tours in order to train Guiders and potential Trainers there).

From the training school came a steady flow of Guiders who had successfully completed the course, and were given the status of Diploma'd trainers - commonly known as Dips. They started work around the UK setting up training schools in Counties, often using premises which were loaned or hired.  

But suitable training venues which allowed residential courses and catered for both indoor and outdoor training sessions were hard to come by - and in some cases courses had to take the form of evening classes rather than residential, which impacted on the scope for training in outdoor skills.  It was also clear that these local schools couldn't cope with the demand for training, nor was it straightforward for headquarters to be confident about training standards.

Foxlease, near Lyndhurst opened in 1922, as the national Guider Training Centre - although it was essentially the international Guider Training centre too - partly aided by it's location near Southampton, the port for so many of the liners which crossed the globe.  The house and grounds were gifted by Mrs Ann Archbold Saunderson, and the purchase of the house was made possible by generous financial help from Princess Mary, who gave £10,000 towards refurbishment and adaptation, hence it's official name was Princess Mary House, Foxlease.  Training there took the form of week-long residential courses run by resident trainers, where the Guiders were appointed to Patrols and carried out duties and training exercises alike as members of these Patrols.  Patrol Logbooks were established with each batch of recruits writing up their week's experiences - some of the logbook pages are beautifully decorated, and remain in the Foxlease archives.  Two years after opening it played host to the first World Camp, in 1924, which ran alongside the World Conference held in the house and allowed youth members from a number of countries to camp together.  Indeed, until the opening of the World Centre in Switzerland in 1932, Foxlease effectively was the World Centre.

Foxlease was very popular, with high demand for training places, so it was decided to establish a training centre in the north of England.  Four towns were considered as possible venues, when a large house and estate near one of them came on the rental market at a suitable price.  Negotiations were concluded, the lease signed and Waddow Hall near Clitheroe in Lancashire was opened as Guiding's second UK training centre, opening on 1st October 1927.  It soon became clear from the demand for places that the need for a northern training centre had been proved, and with the necessary funds being raised, the purchase deeds were sealed on 16 October 1928.  The first Guider-in-Charge was Miss Alice Behrens, who had moved from Foxlease and gave Waddow the same inspiration and enthusiasm as she had had in her previous role.

As it's booklet said "From the first it was felt that Waddow was different from Foxlease.  It could never hope to be a second Foxlease - Foxlease, breathing of peace, vision, power, a dream place in its beautiful setting.  But Waddow, equally needed by the Movement, had to work hand in hand with Foxlease and yet bring its own contributions to the world of Guiding.  What was that contribution to be?  Pendle Hill and the great moorland fells around gave the answer.  The Waddow words must be Faith, Courage, Joy."

It was in 1945 that the first training centre in Scotland opened, fulfilling a wish long held by Scottish Guiders, with the first training, for Diploma'd trainers, on 7th and 8th April 1945.  It was possible thanks to the generosity of Major Thomson, who first leased Netherurd to the Guides for a peppercorn rent of 2/6 a year, and in March 1952 he was kind enough to sell the house and estate to Scottish Guiding for the same fee.  The grounds were converted into campsites, and the walled garden was used as the setting for a Brownie House - this was remodeled in the 1990s to become the 'Garden House' suitable for a wide range of uses.  The locations was some 7 miles from Biggar, West Linton, 25 miles from Edinburgh and 42 miles from Glasgow.

Within the house, each room was adopted by a County, after which it was named - that County paid for the furnishing and care of their room.  The bathrooms were each names after rivers.  

It continued in use as the Scottish Guider Training Centre until March 2020, when it was closed due to the outbreak of Covid-19 - and in August 2020 steps were taken to sell it.  The main house is now a private home, and the 'Garden House' in the grounds is a childrens' holiday centre.  

Following their marriage in 1912, Robert and Olave Baden-Powell lived in a few different houses before finding their favoured spot at a house they named 'Pax Hill', in Bentley.  They stayed in the house until 1938, when they moved (they thought, temporarily) to Kenya, as it was felt the climate would be better for Robert's health.  During World War 2 the empty house was taken over for military use.  This meant that when Olave returned to the UK in 1942 , her house was not available, and she was fortunate enough to be granted a 'grace and favour apartment' at Hampton Court Palace, where she lived thereafter.  After it's war use finished, Pax Hill reverted to her ownership and, as she had no use for the house, she offered it to Guiding to serve as a Homecraft training school.  It offered 4-month residential courses in housekeeping to older Rangers and young adults, run on Guiding lines.  The adaptation of the house for this use and the setting up of the training scheme was part-funded by the B-P Memorial Fund which had been set up by Guiding after Lord Baden-Powell's death.

Within a few years, however, it became clear that the venture was not going to prove a success, and the house was returned to Olave's ownership, and sold.

Ulster Guides, too, felt the need of a Training School on their patch, so their first centre was established at Knocktarna.    The Ulster Guides Training Centre was opened at Knocktarna, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry, on 28 February 1944, however it doesn't seem to have lasted long, as it was replaced in 1947.

In 1947 it was Wales's turn.  Thanks to the generosity of Lady Davies, their training centre, Broneirion, was opened in Llandinam.  Initially rented, eventually a fundraising campaign was held which allowed Guides Cymru to purchase the house and grounds.  As well as the main house, there was a holiday house for Brownies, a Ranger Loft, and fields which were available for camping.

However it was announced in September 2022 that the training centre was to be closed, and the centre sold, due to rising running costs.

1947 also saw the opening of Ulster Guiding's new training centre, at Lorne House in Craigavad, which took over from Knocktarna.  

The various land-based training centres did a grand job of catering for the needs of Brownie, Guide and Land Ranger Leaders - but Sea Ranger Skippers and Lieutenants had very specific training needs around naval traditions as well as practical boat maintenance and sailing, so over the number of years a number of Sea Training Ships were obtained to use in teaching Leaders; these included the Foudroyant, Implaccable, and MTB 630.

From the 1950s onwards, the 'Training Van' scheme was established, in order to take the trainers and training around the country to the Guiders, especially to those in more remote areas who could otherwise find it difficult to access the permanent training centres.  A succession of vans and drivers were used into the 1990s to enable training to be spread far and wide.

It was in 1984 that the newest of the training centres opened, to cater for Anglia Guiders.  Hautbois, near Coltishall, was the very generous legacy left to local Guiding by the Patteson sisters, and following a great deal of hard work and fundraising, the centre and it's campsites opened.