|Owner||The Scout Association|
|Location||Sewardstonebury, Epping Forest|
Gilwell Park is a camp site and activity centre for Scouting and Guiding groups, as well as schools and other youth organisations. The site also houses a training and conference centre, including the hosting of social events such as weddings and birthday parties. The 44 hectare (109 acre) site is in Sewardstonebury, Epping Forest, close to Chingford, London.
In the late Middle Ages the area was a farm, growing to a wealthy estate that fell into disrepair towards 1900. It was bought in 1919 by Scout Commissioner William de Bois Maclaren and given to The Scout Association of the United Kingdom to provide camping to London Scouts, and training for Scouters. As Scout Leaders from all countries of the world have come to Gilwell Park for their Wood Badge training, it is one of the landmarks of the world Scouting movement.
The site contains a number of camping fields, indoor accommodation, historical sites, monuments of Scouting, and outdoor adventure activities. The site can accommodate events up to 10,000 people, and regularly does so at Scouting events throughout the year.
Gilwell Park is also home to Scout Adventures Gilwell Park, one of twelve national centres run directly by or in partnership with the Scout Association, alongside Buddens, Crawfordsburn, Downe, Fordell Firs, Great Tower, Hawkhirst, Lochgoilhead, Meggernie, Woodhouse Park, Yr Hafod and Youlbury.
Original farm in late Middle Ages
The history of Gilwell Park can be traced to 1407, when John Crow owned Gyldiefords, the land that would eventually become Gilwell Park. Between 1407 and 1422, Crow sold the land to Richard Rolfe, and the area became known as Gillrolfes, "Gill" being Old English for glen. Following Rolfe's death in 1422, different sections of the property came to be called "Great Gilwell" and "Little Gilwell". The two areas were named after the Old English "wella", or spring. A farmhouse has stood at Gilwell Farm ever since.
Around this time, an adjoining 5.6 hectares (14 acres) property was purchased by Richard Osborne. In 1442, he built a large dwelling called Osborne Hall, which stood for 300 years. Legend has it that in the early 16th century, King Henry VIII owned the land and built a hunting lodge for his son Edward. Around 1736 the highwayman Dick Turpin began using Gilwell's forests to conceal himself and for ambushing travellers and freight along roads leading into London.
In 1754, William Skrimshire purchased Great Gilwell, Little Gilwell, and half of Osborne's estate, including Osborne Hall. Skrimshire demolished Osborne Hall and built a new residence, which he also called Osborne Hall. That building is now called the White House. Timbers in the White House can be dated to this time, but not to any previous era. Leonard Tresilian (?–1792) bought the estate in 1771 and expanded the land holdings and size of the residence.
Tresilian's first wife, Margaret Holland, died young after bearing three daughters. He then married Elizabeth Fawson. Desiring that Gilwell pass on to his eldest daughter, also named Margaret (1750 – c.1844), Tresilian drew up a detailed prenuptial agreement with Fawson's father. By the time of Tresilian's death in 1792, the younger Margaret had married William Bassett Chinnery (1766–1834), the elder brother of the painter George Chinnery.
Rich estate in 18th century
The Chinnerys were wealthy and influential. William Chinnery's father, also named William, owned trading ships and named one Gilwell in 1800. William and Margaret Chinnery initially resided in London, and after three years of marriage and inheriting Gilwell in 1792, they moved to Gilwell in 1793. They soon shocked the populace by renaming Osborne Hall to "Gilwell Hall". William Chinnery expanded Gilwell's land holdings through significant purchases over 15 years and, with his wife, transformed it into a country estate with gardens, paths, and statues. Parts of the garden, paths, and dwelling modifications exist into the 21st century. William Chinnery was exposed as the embezzler of a small fortune from the British Treasury where he worked and was dismissed from all his posts on 12 March 1812. Margaret Chinnery was forced to sign over Gilwell Estate to the Exchequer on 2 July 1812.
The Chinnery family was prominent enough for members of the English nobility to visit them often during the 1790s and early 19th century. King George III visited on occasion, and the Prince Regent, who later became George IV, was a regular visitor. George III's seventh son, Prince Adolphus, became a family friend, lived at Gilwell for a while, and tutored their eldest son George.
Gilpin Gorst bought the estate in 1815 at public auction, and his son sold it to Thomas Usborne in 1824. When London Bridge was replaced in 1826, Usborne bought pieces of the stone balustrades, which date to 1209, and erected them behind the White House around the Buffalo Lawn. The estate changed ownership more times, but these families did not maintain the property and it fell into disrepair by 1900. Reverend Cranshaw, a local resident, bought it in 1911 and was the last owner prior to the Boy Scout Association, as it was then known.
The estate's condition declined more during the 1910s. William de Bois Maclaren was a publisher and Scout Commissioner from Rosneath, Dumbartonshire, Scotland. During a business trip to London, Maclaren was saddened to see that Scouts in the East End had no suitable outdoor area to conduct their activities. He contacted Lord Robert Baden-Powell, who appointed P.B. Nevill to handle the matter. Nevill was Scout Commissioner of the East End.
On 20 November 1918 over dinner at Roland House, the Scout Hostel in Stepney, Maclaren agreed to donate £7,000 to the project. Part of the agreement included narrowing the areas to look for suitable land to Hainault Forest and Epping Forest. Rover Scouts searched both without success, but then John Gayfer, a young assistant Scoutmaster, suggested Gilwell Hall, a place he went bird-watching. Nevill visited the estate and was impressed, though the buildings were in poor condition. The estate was for sale for £7,000, the price Maclaren had donated. The estate totaled 21 hectares (52 acres) at the time.
The estate was purchased in early 1919 by Maclaren for the Boy Scout Association. Nevill first took his Rover Scouts to begin repairing the estate on Maundy Thursday, 17 April 1919. On this visit, the Rovers slept in the gardener's shed in the orchard because the ground was so wet they could not pitch tents. They called this shed "The Pigsty" and recently restored, it still stands, as it is the site of the first Scout campsite at Gilwell Park. Maclaren was a frequent visitor to Gilwell Park and helped repair the buildings. His dedication was so great that he donated another £3,000. Maclaren's interest had been in providing a campground, but Baden-Powell envisaged a training centre for Scouters.
An official opening was planned for 19 July 1919 but it was delayed until Saturday, 26 July 1919 so that Scouts could participate in the Official Peace Festival commemorating the end of World War I. Invitations were changed by hand to save money. Significant remodeling and construction was done in the 1920s. Because of limited finances, few improvements were made during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Baden-Powell never lived at Gilwell Park but he often camped, lectured, taught courses, and attended meetings. He emphasized the importance of Scouters' training at Gilwell Park for Scouting by taking it as the territorial designation in his peerage title of 1st Baron Baden-Powell of Gilwell in 1929 when the barony was conferred upon him by the king.
Origin of the axe and log totem
The axe and log logo was conceived by the first Camp Chief, Francis Gidney, in the early 1920s to distinguish Gilwell Park from the Scout Headquarters. Gidney wanted to associate Gilwell Park with the outdoors and Scoutcraft rather than the business or administrative Headquarters offices. Scouters present at the original Wood Badge courses regularly saw axe blades masked for safety by being buried in a log. Seeing this, Gidney chose the axe and log as the totem of Gilwell Park. This logo came to be strongly associated with Wood Badge leader training and is still used on certificates, flags, and other programme-related items.
The symbol of the axe in the log is associated with feudalism after the invasion and conquest of England by William the Conqueror. In that era, property, including forests, were owned by the landed barons and knights. Serfs, bound to the land in a form of modified slavery, were forbidden to cut wood from trees in the forest, and only permitted to gather downed wood. A freeman who carried an axe in a nobleman's forest demonstrated that he had earned the right by service. Symbolically, the grain of an axe handle must be "set square in the eye of the head." The steel head must have the proper temper and be kept sharp. To be useful in the hands of a skilled freeman, an axe also needed to be well-balanced, otherwise the handle might break, endangering its user. The axe represented skilled laborers who had proven themselves through service. Lastly, the axe in the wood reminds those who have completed Wood Badge that they have committed themselves to be an example of service and fealty.
Wartime and later development
The estate was requisitioned by the War Ministry from 1940 to 1945 as a local command, training, and ordnance centre. Little remains at the estate from World War II, except the hole created by a bomb dropped by the Luftwaffe. It was enlarged and is now used for swimming and canoeing.
After the purchase of the original site in 1919, the purchase of Gilwellbury and adjoining land in 1945 is probably the next most important in Gilwell Park's Scouting history because it allowed The Scout Association to close the original road and fully utilize Branchet Field. It was originally used for small retreats and conferences but is now used as staff accommodation. The Ministry of Education assisted in the purchase.
The Gilwell Farmhouse is believed to date from the early 18th century, making it the oldest original building at Gilwell Park. It is composed of two buildings that were joined together. There is a brick well head on the farm that is known as the Gil Well. A field adjoining the boundaries of Gilwell Park, known as Bill Oddie Field, affords dramatic views of the London skyline over Pole Hill, Chingford. The field was so-named after employees of The Scout Association spotted TV ornithologist Bill Oddie recording a programme about circling birds of prey on the field in 2006.
After the war, the Boy Scout Association bought adjoining land to increase the estate and protect it from rapidly approaching new developments. These areas are called The Quick, New Field, and Hilly Field. An additional purchase and a donation from South Africa in the early 1950s brought the estate to its present size. This began an era of expanding camping facilities for Scouts which lasted until the early 1960s. Training and sleeping facilities were added through the early 1970s. The Boy Scout Association was renamed The Scout Association in 1967.
During the 1970s, two key and popular facilities were built: the Dorothy Hughes Pack Holiday Centre for Cub Scouts and the Colquhoun International Centre for training Scouters, originally called The International Hall of Friendship. In the 1980s extensive remodelling of the White House was done. In April 2001, The Scout Association moved its program staff from London to Gilwell Park, where its training staff were already located. Extensive renovations were done to the White House and other buildings. With a budget of £20,000,000 and individual contributions as high as £500,000, improvements to programs and facilities have been ongoing since then in preparation for the 21st World Scout Jamboree in 2007, which was the 100th anniversary of Scouting, hosted at nearby Hylands Park, Chelmsford, Essex with related activities also being held at Gilwell Park. Gilwell Park provides The Scout Association with over £1,000,000 a year through conference fees, accommodation fees, and sales of materials.
While different leader training courses are conducted at Gilwell Park, the most prominent is Wood Badge. Francis Gidney, the first Camp Chief, conducted the first Wood Badge course at Gilwell Park 8–19 September 1919. Gilwell Park became the home of leadership training in the Scout movement. Leaders from all over the world receive automatic membership in 1st Gilwell Park Scout Group (Gilwell Troop 1) on completion of the Wood Badge course. These leaders are henceforth called Wood Badgers or Gilwellians. Any location in which Wood Badgers meet is called Gilwell Field. The 1st Gilwell Park Scout Group meets every first weekend of September in Gilwell Park for the Gilwell Reunion.
The Training Ground, near the White House, is the hallowed ground of Gilwell Park as this is the world home of Wood Badge, the premier Scout leader training course. A large oak tree, the Gilwell Oak, separates the Training Ground from the Orchard.
Camp Chiefs, and other staff
Captain Francis "Skipper" Gidney became the first Camp Chief in May 1919 and served until 1923. He organized the first Wood Badge training, and contributed to setting up Gilwell Park as the Scouters' training centre. The Gidney Cabin was built and named in his honour in 1929 to serve as a training centre. The second Camp Chief was John Skinner Wilson, who served from 1923 until 1939. Wilson was Colonel with the British Indian Police when he became a Scout Leader in 1917. In 1921 he traveled to Gilwell Park to take leader training, which led to his retirement from the Indian Police in 1922 to become a full-time Scout Leader. He was honoured with the Bronze Wolf Award in 1937, the only distinction of the World Organization of the Scout Movement.
R.F. "John" Thurman was a British Scout Leader who served as Camp Chief from 1943 until 1969 and was awarded the Bronze Wolf Award in 1959. He was a strong promoter of Scout training and wrote books on the subject that were translated into other languages. The Thurman Memorial stands near The Pigsty. Thurman was succeeded by John Huskin as Director of leader training.
Don Potter (1902–2004) was an English sculptor and wood carver who was a lifelong staff member at Gilwell Park, serving as a Gilwell Master Craftsman. Potter created wood carvings at Gilwell Park, including the Jim Green Gate, Gidney Cabin, the Leopard Gates, and totems he carved for the 1929 World Jamboree.
Scout Adventures Gilwell Park
Since 2016, the activity centre at Gilwell Park is run and managed by Scout Adventures, following a re-branding of Scout Activity Centres nationwide. The centre offers a large range of outdoor and indoor adventure activities, as well as accommodation and camping, for Scout and Guide groups, schools and other youth organisations.
Activities provided by Scout Adventures at Gilwell Park include various high rope activities, rock climbing, 3G swing, archery, rifle shooting, kayaking and raft building. Each activity session lasts 90 minutes, with most activities having a participant limit of 12. These activities are primarily run by a team of international volunteers.
Gilwell Park provides camping opportunities ranging from small groups, up to groups in excess of 2,500 people. This includes everything from unit-level camping to hosting international events.
Essex Chase is a large, open field located off of Camp Square. It is a popular field, due to its proximity to Rikki's toilet block, the main campfire circles, Camp Square and Scout Adventures reception.
Woodlands Field is a large field that will hold up to 200 campers at the north end of the park.
Branchet Field is the largest campsite and will hold 1,200 campers. The field is flat and open, with Maclarens toilet block in the centre. The Northern end of the field also has electrical hookups for camper vans and caravans.
Mallinson Field is a small, wooded, secluded area suited to small groups.
The Paddock is a smaller camping field, directly connected to the Dorothy Hughes Pack Holiday Centre. The field houses Mallinson's toilet block, and holds 30 campers.
Ferryman Field is a split-level field located to the North of the site, suitable for 'back to basics' camping due to its wooded nature and distance from facilities.
Dorothy Hughes Pack Holiday Centre
The Dorothy Hughes Pack Holiday Centre was built in 1970 by fitting interlocking logs together from a Norwegian, with no nails used to construct the original frame. Dorothy Hughes was a Cub Scout Leader from East London who wished to see a purpose-built facility for Cub Scout holidays.
The centre can sleep 40 people, primarily in dormitory-style rooms with smaller rooms provided for use by group leaders. There are both toilet and shower facilities within the building. The building is centrally heated and includes AV equipment and Wi-Fi. The building is centrally heated with a large main hall and kitchen.
Branchet Lodge, named after field upon which it is sited, opened on 23 May 2003 to replace old portable cabins. Branchet Lodge is a single storey building that has central heating and sleeps up to 56 people in two separate wings with a common kitchen and main hall. Each wing has its own toilet and shower facilities. There are four single rooms for leaders, two accessible rooms that sleep two people each, and six rooms that sleep eight people each. It is constructed of stone, timber, copper, and a grass roof. The building is centrally heated, has laundry facilities, and includes AV equipment and Wi-Fi.
Jack Petchey Lodge
The Jack Petchey Lodge opened in September 2008, located next to the Branchet Lodge. There are five single rooms for leaders, ten rooms that sleep four people each and two accessible rooms that sleep two people each. All rooms are en-suite, with communal toilets also provided in the main hall. The building is centrally heated, and includes AV equipment, freeview and Wi-Fi. There is a large communal kitchen as well as laundry facilities.
Peter Harrison Lodge
The Peter Harrison Lodge was built in 2009 and is the newest accommodation building at Gilwell Park. It is very similar to the Jack Petchey Lodge, and located opposite the Branchet Lodge. The building sleeps 50 people. There are four leader rooms, ten rooms sleeping four people each, and two accessible rooms sleeping two people each. All rooms are en-suite, with communal toilets also provided in the main hall. The building is centrally heated, and includes AV equipment, freeview and Wi-Fi. There is a large communal kitchen as well as laundry facilities.
Log cabins on the edge of Woodland Field sleep eight each in bunk beds. Cooking is provided in a separate shelter or an open fire can be utilized.
Each year Gilwell Park runs a number of regular special events. These have been established for more than 20 years with the addition of Gilwell 24 in 2004 and Scarefest in 2014 and are some of the largest annual Scout events in the UK.
- Wintercamp – taking place in early January and open to Scouts and Explorer Scouts (11–18).
- Fundays – open to the Beaver and Cub age ranges in June.
- Gilwell 24 – open to the Explorer Scout and Ranger Guide (14–18) age range in July.
- Reunion – open to all adult members in Scouting in early September.
- Scarefest – Open to Scouts, Explorers, Guides & Rangers. Held at the end of October
Each year Scout Adventures recruits up to 120 volunteers from over 30 countries to assist in the running of its centres. Scout Adventures at Gilwell Park has between 20 – 50 volunteers, depending on the season. These volunteers stay for a maximum placement of one year, and are provided with accommodation in return for their work. These volunteers are trained to run activity sessions for guests, carry out maintenance and improvement works on the site, and provide customer service.
A new purpose-built accommodation building was opened in 2016 to house an increasing number of volunteers, following the degradation of previous accommodation in The Den and Gilwellbury. The International Volunteer Lodge cost £1.2m to build, the funding for which came largely from the Jack Petchey Foundation, but also from several single private donors with a wider interest in Scouting. The building is predominantly timber framed with a large social space constructed using glulam beams and includes a two-storey sleeping area. This provides 26 double bedrooms and an accessible bedroom, all with en-suite facilities. The single storey social spaces include a drying and boot room, laundry room, open plan kitchen, dining and lounge area, quiet room and cinema style room. Visitors are allowed entry due to stipulations laid down by donor bequests.
Training and Event Centre
Gilwell Park can host indoor and outdoor conferences, training and special events for businesses and individuals. During the summer months, Gilwell Park is a popular wedding venue. The Training and Event Centre also operate the hotel at Gilwell Park, located within the White House.
The Training and Event Centre primarily utilises the White House and Colquhoun International Centre (CIC), both of which have a variety of flexible spaces with AV equipment and other conference technologies. Weddings, parties and other functions are also held in The Swan Centre, a log-cabin style hall built in 1966 to replace an earlier building, and the Gidney Cabin built in 1929.
The White House and its predecessors represent over 500 years of Gilwell history. It became the headquarters of The Scout Association on 27 April 2001, although Baden-Powell House (the former headquarters) still facilitates some departments of The Scout Association.
The White House today serves as a hotel and has a number of conference rooms on the ground floor, following extensive renovations in the 1990s. The hotel comprises 41 guest bedrooms (35 en-suite) across the White House and its modern extension. The White House also houses a bar in the Group Room, and a canteen-style restaurant.
Colquhoun International Centre
The Colquhoun International Centre (CIC) was built in 1971 as a Scout leader training centre, and was extensively renovated in 1995. The building has a main hall (The International Hall of Friendship) that can seat up to 250 people, 2 smaller training suites, and five seminar rooms. The main hall is regularly used for larger weddings, dinners and parties; with the seminar rooms and training suites used for conferences and meetings. The CIC also houses a second bar that is used during functions.
Gilwell Park has many attractions, primarily Scouting in nature, for visitors to see. This includes a souvenir shop, The Providore, the shape and stock of which have changed considerably over its decades of operation. The Gilwell Park museum closed in 2015 owing to its unsuitable conditions to house historical pieces.
Buildings of note
The White House is connected to The Barn (originally The Stables), a red-brick building built in 1926. The archway in the centre of the building was originally an open passageway. It now houses the reception area for the Training and Event Centre. The first floor of the building was used as training rooms for Cub Scout Leaders. The clock on the front of the building was a gift from a former Japanese Chief Scout, Count Sano, who was present at an early training course at Gilwell Park. The weather vane on the roof depicts Dick Turpin, who was rumoured to live on the site.
Close to the estate entrance, The Lodge was built in 1934 as the Camp Chief's (later succeeded by the Director of Programme and Development) home. The building is now used to accommodate Scout Association staff and host internal meetings.
The Gilwell Farm is the oldest building on the site still standing, dating from the 1600s. The building started as two separate cottages. In the grounds of the building is the last remaining well on site, known as Gil Well. The Farm was refurbished from its derelict site, opening in 2015 as the new offices and reception of Scout Adventures Gilwell Park . Close by, The Leopard Gates mark the original entrance to Gilwell Park, and were carved by Gilwlel master craftsman Don Potter in 1928.
The Lid, which originally consisted of a roof but no walls, was a wet weather shelter built in 1967. In 2009, the building was renovated and now consists of a large activity hall, two classrooms, staff space and a large store room added The activity hall houses all the indoor activities on-site, including an archery range and climbing walls. In front of The Lid, is the Tait McKenzie Statue, gifted by the Boy Scouts of America in 1966.
The Barnacle was built in 1950 as a First Aid centre, which quickly became a volunteer-run cottage hospital for visitors and the local community. It houses a six-bed ward, isolation room, dental surgery, X-ray room and operating theatre. In the late 1980s the building became volunteer accommodation, until it was decommissioned in 2016 with the opening of the International Volunteer Lodge. The building now stands empty, awaiting an uncertain future.
The Pigsty, a small gardeners shed located on The Orchard, has been preserved as the first campsite at Gilwell Park. The first group of Rover Scouts who arrived to prepare the site when it was purchased in 1919 slept here when the weather proved too bad to pitch their tents.
The site is home to five houses of worship for Scouts and other visitors, including a Buddhist sala, Jewish synagogue, and an Islamic mosque. The Buddhist Sala was donated to Gilwell Park in 1967 by the Boy Scouts of Thailand. The Buddha found inside was a gift from the Thai government and is over 1000 years old. Thai ambassadors to the United Kingdom often visit the sala, as it is their responsibility to care for it.
The White House, originally dating back to 1750, is timber framed and was extended in 1830 and again in the 1960s. The exterior is covered in hung slates, which caused extensive damage to the original frame which required extensive repairs in 1994. The 1797 chimneys are pointed in shape, to stop birds nesting and draw smoke up from the fire. The lawn in front of the building was the house's original turning circle, with the road once being a thoroughfare from Chingford to Waltham Abbey.
Camp Square has had a variety of buildings with many uses over the years, including a Warden's Office (recently demolished), museum (currently empty), archery range (former Scout Shop – no longer in use), volunteer accommodation (demolished in 2017), shop, soft drinks bar, staff space and toilet block. In the centre of the Square is the clock tower, known as Big Mac. It was named after Camp Warden Alfred Macintosh.
Behind Camp Square, The Bomb Hole was created when a bomb was dropped on the site during World War II, creating a small crater. The Bomb Hole has been extended several times, and is now used for kayaking, raft building and pond dipping activity sessions.
There are two Campfire Circles which are used extensively during the peak camping season. The Large Campfire Circle has a Maori Gatewat which was presented by the Scouts New Zealand in 1951.
The Lime Walk, constructed by previous estate owner Margaret Chinnery, surrounds the Training Ground which was the original main lawn area of the White House. Few of the Lime trees survive to this day. On this path sits the Jim Green Gate, a 1930 tribute to Jim Green, an editor of The Scouter magazine.
The Buffalo Lawn is so called because of the replica of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Silver Buffalo Award that was presented by the Boy Scouts of America in 1926. This was to honour the Unknown Scout that helped William D. Boyce bring Scouting to the United States. Located there is a signpost with the directions and distances to all the World Scout Jamborees from Gilwell Park. Surrounding the Buffalo Lawn is part of the original balustrade of London Bridge which was re-built in 1820. The sections were moved to Gilwell Park after being purchased at auction in 1826.
Considered by many to be the most important Scouting site, The Training Ground is where Wood Badge training was historically held and where the Gilwell oak tree is located. Contrary to popular belief, the Wood Badge beads have never been made of Gilwell Oak. On the Training Ground sits the Gidney Cabin, a memorial to the first Camp Chief, Francis Gidney, in 1929. Across from the Gidney Cabin is the Thurman Memorial, in memory of Camp Chief John Thurman.
The caravan trailer, presented to Chief Scout Sir Robert Baden-Powell, along with a new Rolls-Royce car, during the 3rd World Scout Jamboree in 1929 is on display during the summer months. The caravan was nicknamed Eccles. The car, nicknamed Jam Roll, was sold after his death by Olave Baden-Powell in 1945.
Gilwell Park also has a number of other smaller memorials, statues, and places and objects of historical or Scouting importance.
Other historically significant Scout campsites and training centres include
- Brownsea Island, Baden-Powell House (SA)
- Kandersteg International Scout Centre (WOSM)
- Pax Hill, Our Chalet (WAGGGS)
- Philmont Scout Ranch, Philmont Training Center (BSA)
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