Explore > Scouts take residence

Scouts take residence


Gaining Gilwell

William F. de Bois Maclaren who was a Scout Commissioner in Dumbartonshire but also the owner of a publishing company. Having witnessed Scouts trying to carry out activities in the overcrowded East End of London he offered Baden-Powell £7,000 to purchase a camping ground for them in 1918. Search parties of Scouts were sent out to find a suitable location, Assistant Scout Master John Gayfer suggested Gilwell Hall to the District Commissioner of East London. Neville visited and discovered by chance that the asking price was exactly the same amount as Maclaren had offered!


Getting established

With Gilwell bought for Scouting, Rover Scouts arrived on Maundy Thursday 1919, to start making the Estate suitable for camping. Unfortunately the weather made camping impossible on the first night and they slept instead in a gardener’s shed which they nicknamed ‘The Pigsty’, which you can still see to this day on the Orchard. Baden-Powell convinced Maclaren during one of his many visits that the site should also be used for leader training and he readily committed an additional £3,000 towards improvements. Gilwell was officially opened on Saturday 26 July 1919, by Mrs Maclaren who cut the ribbons at the main gate, the Estate at the time consisted of 53 acres, which included the White House, Training Ground, Orchard and the Boy’s Camping Field.


The first Camp Chief of Gilwell Park was Captain Francis Gidney who was appointed in May 1919. He formulated the early Wood Badge courses but possibly due to his experiences during the First World War, he had to be relieved of his duties in 1923. His successor John Skinner ‘Belge’ Wilson designed and constructed the present Lodge in 1929, which has remained the residence of the Camp Chief ever since. The years before the Second World War saw the construction of the Workshops in 1922, Stables later called the Barn in 1926 and the Gidney Cabin, 1929.



During the Second World War, Gilwell was requisitioned by the War Office as a training centre for anti-aircraft artillery crews and the headquarters of the local defences protecting factories in Enfield and Waltham Abbey. The Bomb Hole is a legacy of this period being caused by a German 500 pound bomb. It also brought a new Camp Chief in John Thurman who would stay until 1969.


Post-war expansion

The Post War years saw the Estate extended by acquiring the land now known as The Quick, New Field, Hilly Field and Gilwellbury in 1953. This brought Gilwell to its current configuration and size of 108 acres. The 1950s saw the construction of South Africa House as an equipment store and flats for staff. The Group Room as a meeting place for the 1st Gilwell Park in front of the Barn. The Storm Hut was added to the Camp Square area.


The 1960s continued the pace of development with the Barnacle Hospital Centre which was used as a Cottage Hospital for the local area. Dormy House, White House Annexe, Roman Catholic Chapel, Swan Centre, Buddhist Sala and The Lid followed. The following decade saw the Dorothy Hughes Pack Holiday Centre and the Colquhoun Centre. The Pack Centre was purposely built for Cub Scouts and incorporated a Sixers Lair in the attic. The CIC was envisaged as a centre of training but is now a popular conference and wedding reception venue. Named after Ko Ko Colquhoun who was a former HQ Commissioner for Wolf Cubs, his legacy fund paid for the building. The relocation of The Scout Association’s headquarters from Buckingham Palace Road to Baden-Powell House saw the Programme staff move to Gilwell.


Restoring the White House

The 1980s saw the start of a major new development plan for Gilwell Park. The first part included the restoration of the White House with the ground floor being converted into meeting rooms and conference facilities. The upper floors once again became bedrooms along with the Barn and annexes are operated as a hotel for guests. The White House was officially opened in 1995 by Her Majesty The Queen. The next phase saw the demolition of South Africa House and the Group Room building. The final part saw the co-location of the majority of the Association’s staff at Gilwell Park by building two office blocks called Gilwell House in 2001.


Since then there has been the construction of self catering lodges along Wilson’s Way, named after the Branchet, Jack Petchey and Peter Harrison. The Lid was enlarged and improved to create an indoor activity centre. The Muslim Prayer Area is the latest addition to the site and provides a dedicated area for Muslim Scouts alongside the other spiritual areas at Gilwell Park.


©2010 The Scout Association Archive. Allrights reserved.
Registered Charity numbers 306101 (England and Wales) and SC038437 (Scotland) Incorporated by Royal Charter.