Girlguiding Gloucestershire - our history
News of the Guide movement spread to Gloucestershire very early on. Although there is no evidence of registration at HQ of these units we do know that 1st and 2nd Cheltenham were mentioned in ‘Home Notes’ published on 15th September 1910. These units did not appear to last long but as often happened the 1st Cheltenham was reformed and the 2nd Cheltenham was reformed in 1916. An early Guide there was Vera Marshall, who became Vera Armstrong and went on to work for HQ and the World Association before returning to the county in 1966. Another company which still survives today is the 1st Rodborough Company which was formed on the 17th August 1914. In 1916 they were visited by Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. One of the original Guides who went on to become their leader and then County Secretary from 1942 to 1961 was Mildred Humpidge.
In 1916 the county appointed its first County Commissioner – Miss Millicent Olivia Burgess. In 1922 she resigned to become deputy Chief Commissioner for the SW Midlands and was given the Silver Fish award in 1924 for her good work in the movement and organising and carrying out Secretarial duties for the World camp.
Several big county gatherings were held called Rallies. The first one was held on 8th May in 1920 and was attended by Lady Baden-Powell and about 800 Guides, but no other details have been found. In 1925 this was at the Town Hall in Cheltenham attended by more than 1700 girls and again, Lady Baden-Powell. In 1936 over 2,000 girls attended one at Kingsholm Football Ground (now the Rugby Ground) in Gloucester. There were others held there in 1948, attended by the Princess Royal; in 1955 where the guest of honour was HRH Princess Margaret; and in 1964 when the Chief Guide, Olave Lady Baden-Powell attended and did various presentations. There was also a pageant put on for this rally which was organised by Miss Pauline Bewsher who was Music Adviser at the time. The numbers in the county then expanded considerably, making it difficult to hold an event for all the sections. County Brownie Revels were held in 1977, with 4000 Brownies attending. More recently, in 2010, an all-section county event was held at Cheltenham Racecourse to celebrate the centenary of Girlguiding, with members renewing their Promise.
In 1918 the first County Camp was held at Spring Hill, Nailsworth and was attended by girls from Cheltenham, Nailsworth, Rodborough, Stratton, Thornbury and Wotton. In 1951 there was a County International camp held in the grounds of Cowley Manor. In 1967 a County Camp was held at Cirencester Park as part of a visit from the USA and a Jubilee camp was held at Deer Park in July 1977 with 1000 girls attending. 1986 saw a joint Scout and Guide camp at the Scout Hawkhirst Adventure Campsite in Kielder Forest, followed by a second joint County Camp in Brecon in 1990. There was a camp at Pembury in 2007, and County camps at Deer Park in 1993, 1998, 2010 and 2019, with one at Holly Barn in the Forest of Dean in 2003.
The county also held several competitions over the years – The County Challenge Shield, Swimming Gala, Patrol Cooking Competition.
Music and dance had appeared at earlier Rallies but in 1968 the Music Adviser, Pauline Bewsher (see above) and Miss Doreen Whitehouse set up a ‘Singing for Pleasure Group’. This was to be open to any Guider in the county. It has become the Gloucestershire Guiders Singing Circle which meets each month and since the 1980’s has also held weekends just to sing and make music. This is still open to any Leader but has expanded to Trefoil Guild members as well, some of whom have been attending for 50 years. As well as members taking part in National and Region events, County Shows were put on. The largest was in 1985 which was held at Cheltenham Town Hall and followed through the history of Girlguiding which was 75 years old that year. As well as over 400 people taking part, Mrs Betty Clay (daughter of Lord and Lady Baden-Powell) played her Mother and Mrs Sybil Canadine also appeared. Other county shows were produced every 2 years, between 1998 and 2016. Over the years there have also been several County Arts days and Performing Arts days.
After several years of searching for a suitable site for a county HQ, discussions were undertaken with the County Council who owned Cowley Manor. Over the years training had been held at the Manor and in 1967 the Council agreed to grant a 99 year lease on 3.07 acres of land in the Manor grounds. The land included an old Deer Hut, so we called our new County HQ Deer Park. In 1969 the Head Quarters was officially opened, complete with a Brownie House and Assembly Hall which was given in memory of Mildred Humpidge (mentioned above) and a League of Friends of Deer Park was set up, organised by Vera Armstrong (see above). A Manager's bungalow was also built in 1973/74 using a grant from the Langtree Trust. Since then the site has been expanded with a toilet and shower block, shop and dry shelters. A further 21 acres of land on Bubbs Hill was purchased in 1995 and a toilet block with kitchen and a dry shelter added - the land is used for camping and many different activities such as Grass sledging, Archery, Tunnels, pond dipping. In 2023 we were at last able to purchase the freehold of the original land because of a legacy, together with the small field and wood opposite, which gives a direct link between the main site and our Bubbs Hill land.
This history has been put together using information and items collected and kept by County Archivists. The first archivist was Miss Ivelaw-Chapman who was appointed in 1976 and information was collated into a book in 1990 by Mrs May Haines. We have now deposited our records with the Gloucestershire County Archives so they can be researched by anyone.