The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

The Boys Brigade

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 27

November - December 1983

The Boys Brigade in Lenton

This year the Boys Brigade has reached the grand old age of one hundred. That the organisation is still going strong has been the cause of much celebration. Now seemed the appropriate edition in which to feature the story of Lenton's Boys Brigade, especially when after a number of years without a company the 23rd is about to start up again and would no doubt appreciate a little local publicity.

The brass band of the 15th Nottingham Boys Brigade - some time in the late 1890s.
Photograph courtesy of Mr E. Rickards whose father, Jesse Rickards, is
second from the right in the middle row.

Although we are focusing our attentions on the Boys Brigade in Lenton, it would be remiss of us not to provide too few details on how the organisation first began. William Smith, a teacher at a Glasgow Sunday School, had found many of the boys in his Sunday afternoon classes troublesome and unruly. Much of his and the other teachers' time was being wasted just trying to keep order. He came to the conclusion that the usual Sunday School format was not suited to these boys. As a consequence, he proposed to form a special group for them, which would be known as the Boys Brigade. A variety of activities were to be offered which he hoped would engage their interest, inculcate good habits, and at the same time provide a platform for Christian teachings. William Smith invited his Sunday School boys to the first meeting of his Boys Brigade in October 1883. After some initial setbacks, and with the help of his friends John and James Hill, William Smith began to succeed in his professed aims. He never envisaged anything wider than the group at his own church, but word began to spread of his successful venture and similar groups began to be formed at other churches. William Smith could see the benefits of a corporate identity and soon called a meeting of those in charge of these other groups. Together they drew up and agreed upon a constitution for the Boys Brigade.

Churches, the length and breadth of the British Isles, were soon forming their own companies and it became obvious that someone was needed to help run the movement in a fulltime capacity. In 1887 William Smith was appointed the first Brigade Secretary. The turn of the century saw the formation of other similar youth movements, the Church Lads Brigade, Jewish Lads Brigade, Catholic Lads Brigade, and the Boys Life Brigade. Organisations for girls were also started. The Girls Brigade (Ireland) was formed in 1893 and in 1900 the Girls Guildry was started in Scotland. Three years later, the Girls Brigade in England came into existence. The Boy Scouts were comparative latecomers to the field of youth movements - the first groups forming in 1908.

Major' Woodward stands in front of his hut beside the Trent at Thrumpton. The hut still stands
but it is many years since it has housed members of the Lenton's Boys Brigade.

Five years after its inception in Glasgow, the Boys Brigade gained a toehold in Nottingham with its first company based at St. Andrew's Church on Mansfield Road. By 1892 there were sufficient companies to warrant their grouping together in a Nottingham Battalion. In 1893 the Boys Brigade arrived in Lenton with the formation of the 15th Nottingham, based at No.2 Digby Street, New Lenton and attached to the Parish Church. Apart from Battalion records, which give just the basic information about the Company, the only material we have come across (the photograph below excepted) is a solitary copy of a Company Annual Report (1895-6), which has been deposited at the Local Studies Library on Angel Row.

The report indicates that the Company was rapidly growing in strength and had started such extra sections as a Brass band, Pioneers (?), and Signallers to go alongside its Buglers. The Bible classes on a Sunday afternoon regularly attracted a high attendance and ought to 'have an untold effect upon the boys, both now and in years to come'. On the recreational side the football team was reported to have had a fairly successful season and the general remark made on returning home from the annual camp at Mablethorpe was accorded to be 'We've had a clinking fine time'. The Company's officers were eager to 'keep evil out of a boy's life and fill his thoughts and interests with all that is good and pure', and so on evenings when the 'Boys' Room' was not being used they opened it for recreational use. There provided with games etc., the Boys could while away the long winter evenings with pleasure and profit and steer clear of the 'dangers' awaiting them on the streets of Lenton. By the turn of the century, over a hundred boys were enrolled and the Company had become Nottingham's largest. Captain Kingdon and his lieutenant, W. Shrewsbury, ought to have felt justifiably proud of their efforts. Something however must have annoyed them for in 1904-5 it was decided that the Company should secede from the Boys Brigade and enlist in the Church Lads Brigade. As a result, they disappear from the history of Lenton's Boys Brigade.

The 23rd Company in 1957 as they turn off Derby Road on to the Ropewalk for a
battalion parade. Captain Rowe is on the right.

With the help of Dr. John Paton, founder of Paton Congregational College, Charles R. Woodward had started the first company of the Boys Life Brigade in Nottingham and for his pains had been put in charge of all the Boys Life Brigade companies in the East Midlands and hence had been accorded the title of 'Major'. His Nottingham company had been based initially at Park Hill Congregational Church at the top of Derby Road, but had subsequently moved to Norton Street Mission Hall in Radford. Herbert Gibson, now eighty-two, had joined this company while it was in Radford. Round about the end of the First World War Major Woodward had moved the company to Lenton and Herbert continued to attend, being associated with it for a further ten years. This was the only Nottingham company of the Boys Life Brigade at the time and had become rather isolated, so shortly after the move to Lenton, Major Woodward had decided to merge the company with the Boys Brigade. Henceforth it became known as the 11th Nottingham, being attached to the Parish Church. Mr. Gibson remembers the Company's first meeting place in Lenton was beneath the 'tin' chapel on Castle Boulevard. Once a week they would assemble there and practise drill, then some activity such as first aid or gymnastics would follow. Towards the end of the evening activities became more informal with games of darts, billiards or table tennis. The Company would occasionally enter teams in the Battalion football, cricket, and cross country competitions. The Boys were required to attend the Sunday Church parades, and after the services, they would noisily march around the streets of Lenton with their small band of buglers and drummers. The Major encouraged them to attend Sunday school and would invite some of those who did to afternoon tea at his home at 58 Park Road. But no doubt, the main attraction on offer came during the summer months. Mr. Woodward owned a hut alongside the Trent on the Thrumpton Estate. Most weekends he would take some of the boys down to stay at the hut. There they could get away from it all, play football and cricket in the field alongside, or mess about in the rowing boat moored nearby.

In the early 1920's, the 'tin' chapel was replaced as the Company meeting place by the hall of Lenton Council Infants School on Lenton Boulevard. Towards the end of the decade, Mr. Woodward became involved in the formation of a Boys Club, which first occupied the ramshackle upper storey of a building on Tyne Street. Soon, however, it moved to superior premises at the corner of Willoughby Street and Church Street, and became known as the Willoughby Street Lads Club. (Later the name was changed to the Monty Hind Boys Club). The Boys Brigade then moved to the Willoughby Street building and met there on a night when the Boys Club did not operate. The club became Mr. Woodward's main interest but throughout the thirties, he continued with the Boys Brigade. We can relate next to nothing about this period, having failed to contact anyone connected with the Company at this time. We are not even certain when the Company finally folded, but it seems likely that it was disbanded in the early part of the Second World War.

Some of the Company resting their legs during a
hike in Derbyshire in 1981.

After the 11th Nottingham Company finished, Lenton was without a Company until 1947, when within a brief space of time two new ones appeared on the scene. At the end of 1947 the 12th Nottingham was formed. The instigator behind this Company's emergence was the Rev. R.J.R. Skipper, Lenton's vicar. Although Lenton still had a Scout Troop, Rev. Skipper firmly believed that the Boys Brigade held a different appeal to that of the Scouts and it was to the advantage of the Church to try and foster both organisations. The Rev. Skipper pressed Mr. Earl Grey into being its first captain and the Company began to meet at Lenton Church School. Gradually the range of activities on offer and the number of boys who took advantage of the activities both increased. After two years Mr. Grey handed over the mantle of leadership to Rev. Skipper himself. Rev. Skipper soon relinquished it in favour of a Mr. L. J. Groves. It would appear that no one could be found who was willing to take over the running of the Company on a long-term basis. Battalion records show a further five changes of the captain's name in the Company's relatively short history. Presumably, the problem of finding a leader finally proved insurmountable, for in 1959 the Company was disbanded.

The second arrival in Lenton was the 23rd Nottingham, which became attached to Derby Road Methodists in 1949. The Company had been started by Mr. J. Rowe in 1938 at Radford. Unfortunately, soon after the out- break of war, the Company had to go into 'cold storage' when the officers went into the army. September 1946 saw the Company restarted at the Radford YMCA situated at the corner of Cobden Street and Ilkeston Road, where it quickly built up its strength. It was felt it would be more beneficial if the Company was attached to a church, hence the move to Derby Road Lenton. Although it was now Lenton based, the strength of the Company was mainly of Radford boys.

Members of the 23rd Nottingham Boys
Brigade and their friends at Skegness 1978.

The activities of the Company were wide ranging. The week began with a well-attended Sunday morning Bible Class, while during the week activities included Drill, Badminton, Band, Cookery, Cricket, Concerts, Displays, Football, First Aid, Gymnastics and P.T. Indoor Recreations (e.g. Snooker and Table tennis), Swimming and Wayfaring. The summer highlight was undoubtedly the annual Company camp. The venue for the camp was usually different each year so the Boys were able to enjoy going to different places. Camps were held in Scotland, Yorkshire, Devon, Cornwall, as well as in Jersey and Guernsey. On two occasions camps were held in France. Foreign holidays then being nothing like as common as they are today, these were looked upon as real adventures. In the 1960's a Junior section (Life Boys) was started and was run with great success by Miss K. Wild.

After leading the Company since 1938, Mr. Rowe sorrowfully decided to call it a day in 1972. As there was no deputy, the Company was transferred on block to the 3rd Nottingham Company, which met at the Albert Hall. The battalion headquarters decided against this and the Boys were brought back to Derby Road. Without the likes of Mr. Rowe at the helm, however, the Company failed to flourish and has since been disbanded in all but name. That is all except for the Junior section. This has continued and was even augmented for a number of years by an 'infant' section, the Anchor Boys, which catered for youngsters aged 6 to 8. Since 1981, however, the Juniors have been the only section kept going by their present leader, Mrs. Elizabeth Emmonds, and at the end of this year they will cease to operate. But there will be no need for sadness, for this is only so that Mrs. Emmonds and her husband, Chris, can re-establish the Senior Company for boys aged 11 and over. From next January, those Juniors who enlist in the Seniors can enjoy the delights of Drill, Gymnastics, Bible Class etc., and even, should they wish it, an annual camp. Their last year as Juniors has been made more memorable not only by the national and local celebrations connected with the centenary, but also by their appearance on the stage of the Theatre Royal. Five of the Juniors were selected to disco dance in a routine called Greased Lightning, which was part of the Battalion's 'Nottingham Rock' show.

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