Scouting and Guiding on Brownsea Island

The Scout Stone on Brownsea Island with a view of the Purbecks behind

On 1 August 1907 20 boys pitched their tents on Brownsea Island, little realizing how important and far-reaching their week would be. Lord Baden-Powell's experimental camp, based on scouting skills learnt in the army during the Boer War, set the foundation of the Scouting and Guiding movements today. Scouts and Guides still visit from all over the world to camp on the site where it all began.

The first camp

Lord Baden-Powell was famous for his success during the Boer War and had used boys to assist the troops during the Siege of Mafeking. He thought to introduce some of the scouting and military skills to young boys back at home. He was keen to hold an experimental camp to test out some of his ideas and when Charles van Raalte invited him to hold it on Brownsea Island he agreed.

Baden-Powell valued the outdoors, nature, good ethics and practical skills and planned his 8 day camp to reflect this. The boys were from mixed backgrounds; 10 from the Boys Brigade in Poole and Bournemouth and 10 from public schools.

After the camp

Soon after his experimental camp, Lord Baden-Powell published his book 'Scouting for Boys'. It was intended as advice for already existing groups and organisations, such as the Boys Brigade, but quickly became the handbook for a new movement that spread worldwide to become Scouting and Guiding that we know today.

In 1910, with the help of his sister Agnes, Girl Guiding was launched to meet the increasing demand from girls wanting to join in. By the time Lord Baden-Powell died in 1941, the Scouting movement had grown into an international organisation. In 1910 it had 108,000 members and today has over 40 million Scouts and 10 million Guides worldwide.

After the death of Charles van Raalte, his wife Florence stayed on Brownsea until 1925 when it passed to Mary Bonham-Christie. She allowed a Scout camp of 500 people in 1932 to celebrate their silver jubilee, but after that camps were no longer permitted until the National Trust took ownership in 1963. The island was officially re-opened by Lady Baden-Powell and the camp area was cleared and re-opened a few years later.

In 1967, a commemorative stone was erected near the campsite and is still a popular site for enrolments and investitures today.


The campsite today

After the National Trust reopened the island in 1963, the original campsite was cleared and regular camps began again. Today, Scouts and Guides from around 75 different countries visit the island every year.

The Brownsea Island Outdoor Centre is an award-winning timber clad building opened in 2007 to celebrate the centenary of the first experimental camp. It was designed by Wilkinson King architects, the shape reflecting the traditional ridge tents of that first camp, and designed to work in harmony with the surrounding landscape. The centre is designed to be energy efficient, with a biomass boiler providing the hot water for the newly refurbished showers.

Here you will also find the Trading Post where you can buy Scout and Guide badges and souvenirs and also learn more about the history of Scouting and Guiding through the information and artefacts on display there.

Groups can camp on the campsite or stay in South Shore Lodge and take part in activities ranging from archery and low ropes, to watersports and heritage educational activities.