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Sacked Hospital Scouts Carry On

From “THE ROYAL ALBERT, Chronicles of an era.
Selected by Joe Alston. Edited and introduced by Elizabeth Roberts.
Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster.” 

A small and enthusiastic Scout Troop had been formed in 1936, and a Rover Scout crew in 1947.  In 1949 a Sea Scout troop was formed, centred on a life boat of an erstwhile German tanker purchased from Barrow in Furness (for £25) and housed on the Lancaster Canal.  This troop consisted of 28 patients. Four years later it converted to a Land Scouts Troop – the 2nd (sic) Lancaster Boy Scouts Troop – which at that time consisted of only eight scouts.  Under the dedicated commitment and leadership of its scout master, Mr. C.(sic) D. Parsonage, it flourished and within ten years it was providing a one-week summer camp in Silverdale for 256 patients, 32 at a time over a period of eight weeks.  It is testimony to the value of these camps that staff, friends, visitors and other scout troops camping in Silverdale came frequently during the evenings to share refreshments and sing songs.

It has to be recorded with sadness that this troop ran into some difficulty with the Boy Scouts’ Association.  The Association had been questioning for some years the position of scouts who it felt were unable to comprehend the scout law and promise, and in 1961 had embarked upon a policy of ‘running down’ troops in ‘Mental Institutions’.  Although this policy caused a national controversy, the Association decided in 1966 that the 2nd Lancaster Boy Scouts could no longer remain in the Scout Movement.  In response to this rejection, which it felt as a bitter blow, the troop changed its name to ‘Pathfinders’ and continued the scouting traditions, inventing and producing its own badges and flags as required.  A national newspaper carried the following article under the headline ‘Sacked Hospital Scouts Carry On’.
(Daily Mirror, 25 October 1966.)

“A troop of Boy Scouts at a hospital for the mentally handicapped has been sacked from the Boy Scout Movement.

But the boys will carry on Scouting as a go-it-alone troop.

There are 33 boys aged 14 in the troop at the Royal Albert Hospital for the Mentally Handicapped in Lancaster.

They have been ‘phased out’ of the Association because of their handicap.

Sir Charles Maclean, the Chief Scout, says that the decision not to continue membership for the boy patients below a standard where there could be no proper understanding of the Scout Law and Promise was taken four years ago.

Mr. James Aylward, the hospital group secretary, said : ‘we felt the decision put a stigma on the mentally-handicapped.  Our boys have conquered many handicaps in Scouting’.  

The hospital troop, he said, would be based broadly on Scouting lines but would be completely independent and self-contained .

A spokesman for the Boy Scouts’ Association said last night: ‘We feel that the mentally subnormal are unable to understand the implications of the Scout Law.

‘No stigma is intended’.”

The troop continued until 1990 although it changed in character as its membership grew older and its more able members left the hospital.  

George Dennis Parsonage

22nd Lancaster Troop