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Nevill, Percy Bantock, O.B.E., F.C.A. 1887-1975

Trustee of Roland House. Early Commissioner for Rover Scouts

IN July 1909 Nevill, a chartered accountant then aged 22, purchased a copy of Scouting for Boys, from a railway bookstall. As soon as he had read it, he wrote to Imperial Headquarters asking how he might join the Boy Scouts. He was nothing if not persistent because, not receiving a reply, he wrote again. This time he was given the address of the local secretary who told him of the four Scout Groups nearest to Enfield, Middlesex. He visited them all and found that none seemed to require his help so, undaunted, he set up his own troop - the 5th Enfield - in October 1909, further inspiration coming from a visit he made to Scouting's first big rally at Crystal Palace in September 1909. As a religious man, Nevill was impressed with a talk he heard there given by Geoffrey 'Uncle' Elwes on 'Religious Observance for Scouts'.

By one of the many coincidences that seem to occur frequently in these Pages, one of Nevill's early Scouts - who had joined in 1910 - was Haydn 'Dim' Dimmock. Dimmock became the editor of the group magazine The Stalker and went on to become a very influential figure in Scouting and a long-serving editor of The Scout.

The 5th Enfield prospered, and Nevill wrote to his County Commissioner Percy Everett to share his strategies and ideas. The CC promptly dispatched them to the then-editor of Headquarters Gazette, Geoffrey Elwes, appending a note that the author was, "one of the best Scout Masters in the County".

This recognition inspired Nevill, as did his meeting with Baden-Powell at a County Rally on February 22nd, 1911 - The Founder's birthday - in Isleworth. Later, Nevill was in charge of 24 Scouts from the Enfield District, who attended the Rally in Windsor Great Park on July 4th 1911, and when on holiday with his parents in 1912, he made contact with Scouts in Oslo which led to a meeting with the Norwegian Chief Scout.

Nevill was particularly keen on Scouts having a variety of hobbies and interests; his group, for example, made their own uniforms and Nevill himself was a keen philatelist. Right from the start, he saw the practical advantages of maintaining working relations with other youth organisations. This view was to remain with him throughout his life. He was appointed Headquarters Commissioner for Kindred Societies in 1920, a post he successfully held until 1949. He was to meet Sir William Smith, founder of the Boys Brigade, and became a personal friend of Sir William's son Stanley. He served on various national youth work committees and, in 1943, became Chairman of the Conference of National Youth Organisations. This position gave him a unique insight into grant-aid for youth organisations and the Scout Association was able to benefit from his expertise. It was at a rally in Birmingham in 1913 that Nevill met Roland Philipps, and was much impressed by his ideas and personality; he also met Stanley Ince of Hackney. Both of these men were to figure prominently in Nevill's later life.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 Nevill was camping with Norwegian Scouts. He tried to enlist, but was turned down on account of his poor eyesight, but, as a qualified accountant, he was able to 'sign on' with the Ministry of Munitions and by the end of the war he was working with the Air Ministry. He had decided that the boys of the East End of London were more in need than those in better-off Enfield, so he started the 22nd Poplar Group in Bow, though he still ran his Enfield group; more and more of his time, however, was taken up in the East End. Nevill was able to carry on his Scouting throughout the war, and engaged his troop in all types of war work.

Nevill and the Chiefs
P B Nevill, The Chief Scout and The Chief Guide, Dunblane Commissioners' Conference, 1917

After Roland Philipps' death in 1916, Nevill was asked to move into Roland House as warden. He set aside one evening a month, when any Scouter in East London would know where to find him and discuss their problems over a cup of tea. Without Nevill's vision and generosity, the work of the House would soon have faltered. Nevill made himself personally responsible for its finances and expanded its rôle by buying an adjacent property.

In November 1918, Nevill was involved in meeting that was to change Scouting history. He dined with Mr de Bois Maclaren at Roland House, which lead to a donation to buy a camping ground for East London Scouts. Nevill reported the donation to B-P, who quickly saw that such a place could serve as a training ground for Scouters, as well as camping ground for boys and, at another dinner at Roland House, he persuaded de Bois Maclaren to allow the projected campsite to be used for both purposes. Nevill used his motorbike to see if could find a property on the edge of a wooded area, but was not successful, until one night he mentioned his quest at a talk he was giving to Bethnal Green Scouters. After the meeting an Assistant Scoutmaster approached him and asked if he knew Gilwell Park on the edge of Epping Forest.

"The next Saturday I was out there climbing over fallen trees across the drive and exploring the grounds. In wandering about I came across an old notice-board that had collapsed with age, and from this I was able to decipher the name of the agents."

The rest, as they say, is history.

Nevill and his Rover Scouts were regular campers at Gilwell Park and he set up the first training courses ever held there for East London Scouters on May 18th and 19th, 1919. He was placed in charge of the official opening ceremony on July 26th, after which 'Skipper' Gidney became the first Camp Chief.

Nevill's involvement with the senior section of the Movement dates from their very inception. In June 1918, the London Scout Council convened a Senior Scout Conference at Denison House, Westminster, to look into the feasibility of starting a senior section to be called Senior Scouts. In the absence of B-P, Nevill took the chair. The Senior Section, which, in time, became known as the Rovers, was launched. Nevill had formed a body of young men to assist in training courses at Roland House and the 31st Stepney Senior Scout Troop was one of the first Senior Scout Groups in the country, becoming, shortly afterwards, the Bears Rover Crew. The Bears' name came from the heraldic bear on the Nevill family coat-of-arms. Nevill was to travel abroad with his crew on several occasions, but notably to visit Roland Philipps' grave in 1919. With his crew, Nevill was amongst the first to use the International Scout Chalet at Kandersteg for winter sports, when it was so cold that, after the first night, they had to move into warmer quarters. Nevill, however, was not the first British Scouter to use Kandersteg, as he was shown the visitors book, containing the signature of his friend E E Reynolds.

Baden-Powell visited Roland House on Easter Monday 1926, ostensibly to visit a Conference of Rover Scouts taking place in the Garden Hall. He brought along with him Major F Burnham, who some claim to be the 'King of Scouts', whom B-P had met in Africa prior to Mafeking, and was one of the many people who have been attributed the honour of being the 'real' founder of the Scout Movement! The actual purpose of the visit however was to bestow the Silver Wolf on P B Nevill in front of his Rovers, a most popular decision.

It was at the International Conference following the Arrowe Park World Jamboree in 1929 that Nevill suggested 'International Rover Moots', an idea which was readily taken up, the first being at Kandersteg in 1931. These events are still held on a regular basis and are listed on the Page on Rover Scouts. By August 1931, Nevill had resigned as Headquarters Commissioner for Rovers, but attended the Moot as contingent leader for Sussex Rovers. He was delighted to find Rovers in attendance from his old troop in Enfield, The Bears from Roland House, as well as the 32nd Reigate. He had become an expert in 'home movies' and made a film of the Moot, which was copied and sold by Scout Association. Nevill also made films whilst on board the Adriatic and Orduña Peace Cruises, and again during the 2nd World Rover Moot at Ingarö near Stockholm, where he was the Official Cinematographer to the British Contingent.

During the Second World War the Nevills took in evacuees, who naturally became Scouts and Guides. His Scout Group again undertook a variety of war-work but particularly at the Scout Harvest Camps, releasing adults for more important activities. Nevill himself became and air-raid warden in Reigate and occasionally undertook fire-watching duties at Imperial Scout Headquarters in London.

NEVILL was a considerable benefactor to Scouting throughout his lifetime. Besides his generosity at Roland House, Gilwell Park gained a Troop Room and Nevill presented a 37-acre campsite, next to the sea near Walmer in Kent, to the Association. As recently as a year before he died, he sold part of his stamp collection to aid handicapped Scouts throughout the world.

Like his friend E E Reynolds, Nevill was known universally by just his initials - P B - and he took some pride in the fact that this nickname was very close to the name most people used for The Founder. Nevill's life-history is also a history of the Scout Movement, as the number of links in this piece testifies. There is hardly an innovation during his 66-years service with which he was not associated.

He died aged 88, the longest surviving colleague of the man he so admired, Lord Baden Powell of Gilwell.

P B Nevill - a Scouting Chronology
1909 Sept. Attended Crystal Palace Rally, London
Oct. Established 5th Enfield Scout Group
1911 Feb. Met Baden-Powell at Middlesex County Rally
July - Attended Windsor Rally
1913 District Scoutmaster, then ADC for Enfield. Took Scouts to visit his friends in Oslo
July - Birmingham Rally - sent printing press and copies of group magazine and secured first place in the hobbies section
1914 Attended first Scoutmasters' Conference in Manchester. Nevill travelled there on his motorbike
Norwegian Scouts visited 5th Enfield. War was declared whilst they were here and it was difficult to get them home, but this was managed by good offices of C V Swan from only port available, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Volunteered for the army - refused on health grounds
1915 Started 22nd Poplar Troop, Bow, in the East-End of London
1916 Acting Commissioner for East London
Nov. Moved into Roland House
From Dec. to 1960 (and maybe later), Nevill on Roland House Committee
1917 Attended Commissioners Conferences at Matlock (Mar.) and Dunblane (Sept.)
1918 June. Senior Scouts Section formed at Conference held in Westminster, chaired by Nevill
Nov. Dined with Mr de Bois Maclaren leading to the donation of Gilwell Park
1919 July - Organised the opening ceremony at Gilwell Park
Elected to the Executive Committee of the London Scout Council - District Commissioner with five local associations in his care. (This is not how districts are structured today and Nevill was responsible for the change.)
1920 Jan. Made Assistant County Commission for London and District Commissioner
On the committee of the Scouts Friendly Society until 1926
April - Left with Bears Rover Group to France to visit Roland Philipp's Grave
June - At Hyde Park Rally
July - Nevill takes over the lease of Roland House and all financial responsibility
Organises of the 250-strong Rover Service Crew for the Imperial Jamboree. Roland House used as accommodation
Became Governor of Stepney Foundation School
Appointed Headquarters Commissioner for Kindred Societies - a post he was to hold until 1949
1922 Oct. Alexander Palace Posse of Welcome - Nevill and his Rovers 'police' 25,000 uniformed members plus visitors. Nevill introduced to the Prince of Wales
1924 Acting Headquarters Commissioner for Rover Scouts until 1927
Attended Denmark World Jamboree with a contingent of Rovers
1925 April - Resigned as District Commissioner of Stepney
1926 April - Nevill given the job of organising a meeting or Rovers at the Albert Hall, could not think of a suitable name. He asked B-P, who came up with the word 'Moot'
June - Married Miss Joan Woodruffe, a life-long Guide. Moved to Reigate, Surrey
Aug. UK delegate to International Conference at Kandersteg
Presented with his Silver Wolf by Baden-Powell
1927 Jan. Took B-P to his old school at Mill Hill in London to speak to the boys about Scouting
1928 Mar. Stanley Ince appointed Warden of Roland House
Started 32nd Reigate Rover Crew as Rover Scout Leader
May. Nevill organised Yorks Wood Rover Moot near Birmingham, the 2nd Rover Moot ever
1929 Headquarters Commissioner for Rover Scouts until 1931
Delegate for UK at the international conference following the Arrowe Park World Jamboree
Acting on Doctor's advice, resigns as HQ Commissioner for Rover Scouts
1931 Attended and filmed 1st International Rover Moot at Kandersteg - Nevill's suggestion in 1929. He had resigned as IHQ Commissioner, but attended the Moot as Contingent Leader for Sussex Rovers
1932 Jan. Complete rest from Scouting on doctor's instructions
1934 Aug. With Mrs Nevill, a participant on the Cruise of the Adriatic. Made a film of the event
1936 Sept. At Pax Hill for the wedding of B-P's daughter, Betty Clay
1937 To 1939, Chairman of the Reigate District Scout Association
Aug. Attended the Dutch World Jamboree as official G.B. cinematographer
1938 Aug. On board the Orduña, for the final Peace Cruise, gave one of the 'talks' on the Development of Scouting and Guiding in New Housing Areas
Aug. Reigate Rovers responsible for South Eastern Counties Rover Moot - 4,000 Rovers camped, the largest gathering of Rovers every held
1939 June - Intended to retire from work but went part-time until the end of the war
Resigned as RSL of 32nd Reigate at the outbreak of war
1942 Became Chairman of the Standing Conference of National Youth Work Organisations
1943 Elected to Finance Committee at Imperial Scout Headquarters
June - Awarded OBE in Birthday Honours List
1946 Mar. Accompanied Haydn Dimmock on a tour of Scouts International Relief Service activities in Germany. Nevill was a trustee of the fund raised by Scouts to support the work of SIRS
1948 Kingsdown Campsite, near Walmer, Kent, 37 acres of downland adjoining the sea, presented to the Scout Association 'through the good offices' of Nevill
1957 Aug. Nevill part of the organising committee of the Jubilee Jamboree
1958 Troop Room opened at Gilwell funded by Nevill
1966 Made Honorary Commissioner for life
1968 Made a Vice President of the Association
1975  Gone Home  July - Called to Higher Service

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Noble: Major George; Sir Saxton; Sir Humphrey Brunel. 1892-1968; and Marc. 1897-1917

Involvement with Baden-Powell's early camps

BADEN-POWELL and George Noble were fellow junior officers in the 13th Hussars in the early 1880's; they shared many adventures in India and Afghanistan and became great friends. Together with 'The Boy' McLaren they lived together for a short time in Natal in 1884. In February, 1886, B-P went to stay with the Noble family, who lived in Chillingham Castle, Northumberland and at Jesmond Dene just outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Later, in 1900, Baden-Powell was Godfather to George Noble's new-born daughter, Veronica (later Lady Gainford), his only child.

The Noble family originated from Dumbartonshire near Glasgow. George's father, Andrew, was an Army Artillery Officer with an extensive scientific knowledge of ballistics. He resigned his Commission in 1860 to work for the newly-knighted Sir William Armstrong at Elswick Works - his huge armaments factory in Newcastle. Armstrong was a largely self-made man who invented the Hydraulic Crane and his Elswick Works were responsible for producing warships, artillery and, later on, tanks and even planes. Although any previous connection is unknown, it seems natural enough that the country's leading maker of guns should be aware of the leading practical exponent of gunnery of the day. The legendary wealth of the Armstrong estate had been used quite prudently to entice the best talent available to the firm before and Noble's move to Newcastle may have been as a result of an early form of 'head-hunting'. Andrew Noble went on to became a senior partner and, on Lord Armstrong's death in 1900 (Armstrong had been ennobled in 1887 on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee), the Company Chairman and was made a Baronet in 1902. The company merged to become Armstrong Whitworth and later Vickers Armstrong. Its importance, particularly to the 1914-18 war effort, cannot be underestimated.

George Noble and B-P

The postcard reproduced here shows Major George Noble together with Major-General Baden-Powell, the message on the back indicating that the photograph was taken on January 13th, 1905, at Calgarth Hall, on the shores of Lake Windermere. It seems that George Noble had political aspirations and stood in a by-election, possibly for the Westmorland Lonsdale Constituency (now part of Cumbria), which is where the Hall stands, probably in February or March of 1905. He rented the house for the duration of the election campaign, giving it up when he lost and the family returned to Broome Park, George Noble's home in Northumberland.

Another member of the Noble family lived in a house called Walwick Grange near Humshaugh in Northumberland and Baden-Powell visited this house many times between 1906 and 1908 in connection with his Territorial Army duties. Given this strong personal involvement with the family it is not surprising that B-P invited the younger male members of the Noble family, George's nephews, the brothers Humphrey and Marc, to attend his 'experimental' camp on Brownsea Island in 1907, nor that the boys' father, Saxton Noble, (later Sir Saxton on the death of his older brother George in 1915) became a benefactor for the camp.

The great grandson of George Noble, Matthew Pease, has told Scouting Milestones that his grandmother and Baden-Powell's Goddaughter, Veronica - who would have been seven at the time of the Brownsea Camp - thought it vastly unfair that her boy cousins should go off camping with B-P, leaving her behind just because she was a girl. Shortly after the Brownsea Camp, B-P went to stay for one week with the family at Chillingham Castle, the home of Saxton Noble, on the edge of the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland. An entry in B-P's diary for September 8th, 1907 reveals that five children were present in the castle at the time, Humphrey, Marc, Marjory, Cynthia, and Veronica. A further entry on the 11th states, "Five children slept out in the park with me", from which I think we can fairly conclude that Veronica got her way and did camp with B-P.

In the following year B-P visited the Nobles several times. He stayed with George and family at Jesmond Dene, in Saxton Noble's town house, close to his work in Newcastle, after he addressed a YMCA meeting on February 14th attended by 300 people. B-P noted that the meeting was badly organised. A better-organised event would have been the Newcastle Agricultural show on July 5th 1908, which B-P attended as guests of the Nobles, where he was introduced to the Prince and Princess of Wales. B-P's first camp for enrolled Scouts at Humshaugh also took place in 1908, only a few miles from Walwick Grange. Humphrey Noble attended this camp too and the campers travelled to Newcastle by train to visit the Armstrong Elswick Works. Humphrey was also present at B-P's third camp the following year at Beaulieu.

BADEN-POWELL again visited the Nobles and the Elswick Works on April 18th, 1916, during the bloodiest part of the first World War. The factory was then part of Armstrong Whitworth and B-P talked to the munitions workers at the opening of a YMCA Recreation Hut within the factory. Baden-Powell was heavily involved in the provision of Recreation Huts in this country and in France. The Scout Movement funded the French Battlefield Scout Huts and both B-P and Lady Olave Baden-Powell worked in them. The Chief Scout told the workers that they were the 'third line of defence' and illustrated his theme with examples taken from the Defence of Mafeking.

Humphrey Noble's son Marc, named after Humphrey's brother Marc, whose short life was ended in the First World War, was born in 1927 and became very active in Scouting. As Major Sir Marc Brunel Noble, he was the President of Kent Scout County, a Headquarters International Commissioner in the 1980s and Chairman of the Council - UK Scouting's senior committee - for 1979-80.

A very interesting link can be made between C V Swan, friend of B-P and involved in Scouting from 1909, and the Nobles. I have a warrant for C V Swan dated December 20th, 1912 with his address given as Walwick Grange, Northumberland and it is known that C V Swan gave permission for the house to be used for a training course for Scoutmasters. It may be that the two families were related, or that Swan took over the house when the Noble's left. An additional interesting connection is that C V Swan's father was Joseph Swan, the inventor of the domestic electric light bulb. He installed lighting for Lord Armstrong at his home Cragside, near Rothbury in Northumberland, making it the first house in Britain to be so lit.

These notes have been prepared using information gleaned from a variety of sources; we would welcome any revisions or additional information you may have.

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