Falkirk girls have been guiding lights for generations

Falkirk Guides circa 1920s
Falkirk Guides circa 1920s

Back in 1910 while the suffragettes waged their high profile ‘votes for women’ campaign, a group of London girls also struck a significant blow for the rights of women.

The happy outcome was the creation of the Girl Guide movement that reached our area a century ago and has flourished here ever since.

Robert Baden Powell’s army experience inspired him to start the Scouts as a uniformed organisation doing the stuff soldiers do like camping, map reading and teamwork, while at the same teaching young people to be good citizens.

He had in mind that only boys would benefit, but at his first rally in Crystal Palace in 1909 a small but determined group of girls turned up to demand that they should be included. He was doubtful, but under pressure from his sister Agnes he set up the Girl Guides as a mirror of the Boy Scouts.

Miss Baden Powell was given the job of developing the new movement and this she did with energy and enthusiasm. The idea attracted the support of influential women and reached Stirlingshire in February 1913 when Miss Baden Powell herself came to address a group in the YMCA in Stirling.

They agreed that schools were ideal starting points and companies were formed at Stirling High, Allan’s School and in Cambusbarron and Bridge of Allan.

Given that there was a war on it’s surprising that things progressed as quickly, but by 1915 over 100 girls in Falkirk High School, under the leadership of Miss Robertson, were formed into our district’s first guide company.

Despite the support of well-to-do families it was far from plain sailing. One observer at the time talked about “the first guides, unknown, unadvertised, not over popular...who struggled with the difficulties of raising interest and funds from a not unkindly, but busy, unimaginative public”.

In Falkirk the company couldn’t get premises other than a disused cabinet maker’s shop at the foot of the Howgate - but they battled on. Guiding then spread rapidly in the Falkirk district with new companies formed in Laurieston, Denny, Camelon, Carron, Grangemouth, Polmont and Bonnybridge.

As well as schools and church groups there was even a Falkirk Iron Works Welfare Company supported by the Kennard family who, like the Forbes and Gray Buchanans, saw guiding as a desirable activity for girls. The unsatisfactory meeting place was eventually replaced in 1925 by a new HQ in a converted hosiery works, also in the Howgate.

While the Stirlingshire guides celebrated their 21st birthday in May 1934, the Falkirk companies moved into their new purpose-built guide hall in the Pleasance not long after - a place that has provided generations of Falkirk bairns with adventure and shared activity and still does despite changing attitudes and many challenges.

Names come and go, uniforms change and even the good old guide promise is adjusted to fit the new world, but essentially the central idea of ‘service before self’ remains.

The centenary of that first gathering in Stirling in 1913 is an occasion for celebration for guides young and old, but also for our whole community which has been the main beneficiary of a century of endeavour.