This time of year might not be the best to think about camping, but we wanted to share a new artefact that’s recently come our way: a small green flag. Many will know that Penpole Wood and the slopes below, where Lawrence Weston estate now stands, were the home of Bristol’s district Scout camp between 1937 and 1947; It’s a rather sad story that ended with their land being compulsorily purchased by the City Council for new housing. But, in 1937, after their purchase of 70 acres of woods and a couple of fields in the park below they set out with great optimism to create somewhere that Scouts could come to hone their camping skills, pioneering, and woodcraft.
By the end of the first year it was clear that it had been an immediate success. The Scouts chapel, steps through Penpole Woods, and the campfire circle had been set out, with Penpole Lodge and Wood Lodge being used as storage and offices. A campsite in the woods was created in Jubilee Clearing, surrounded by trees of the Victorian arboretum. The second year, 1938, began with great optimism. Early in the year a magnificent new flagpole of about 50ft in height was manhandled into the fields and set up close to the campfire circle.
The highpoint of that year was the Whitsun jamboree camp held over the summer bank holiday weekend, christened the Penpoloree. This was the main annual gathering to which all the district’s scouts were invited, attracting visitors from troops around the country. Events and displays were put on over three consecutive days, the event even forming part of the city’s civic calendar with the distinguished attendance of the Lord Mayor. It was also an opportunity for the Scouts to showcase their campsite to the general public who were invited to the camp sing along, with guests paying 6d for the privilege.
1938 was particularly special for the attendance of the 8th Earl of Buckinghamshire, John Hampden Mercer-Henderson (1906-1963), Commissioner for the Boy Scout movement. He camped with the scouts for the duration of the jamboree and keenly involved himself in the weekend’s events. His presence cemented Penpole on the national scouting stage, resulting in plenty of press coverage both locally and nationally.
The culmination of each day’s event was focussed on the huge campfire hosted in the fields below Penpole Wood. Here, with the camp chief presiding in a chair hollowed from a giant log, dignitaries were hosted and public beheld the massed voices of the campers in song. A special Penpole camp yell was also a highlight of festivities before campers returned to their tents either nearby or in Jubilee Clearing at the top end of the woods.
During the camp special pennants were awarded to recognise particular scouts and patrol groups who had excelled in their work, our recently acquired flag no doubt being one of those handed out by the Commissioner on that Whitsun weekend. By coincidence one of the photos published in the Evening Post shows the Earl presenting a similar pennant to the Lord Mayor at the camp. Sadly we know nothing of its history between then and our acquisition.
The camp was a huge success. Over the weekend Penpole attracted 897 campers with another 479 visiting scouts, and over 2000 paying members of Bristol’s public. It was to be a sunny and halcyon time for those who attended, unaware that the onset of war the following year and the council’s desperate need for housing afterwards would overshadow their time there. Today the
If you remember camping at Penpole or have any more memorabilia from the scout’s time at Penpole, we’d love to hear from you. We know that there were films recorded during the 1938 event by W. F. E Gill, so we’d love to know what happened to them. If you’d like to read more about the Scout’s history on the Kings Weston estate, take a look at the detailed journals written at the time by W.G.N Webber who was camp coordinator for their time there. The original is held at Bristol Archives and is free to view on request.