Clynder man funded Scout centre

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A CLYNDER author, publisher and businessman is best known as a major benefactor of the Scouting movement.

William Frederick de Bois Maclaren bought and presented the Gilwell Park estate near the Epping Forest to his friend Robert Baden-Powell, founder and first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts Association, for use as a scouting centre.

Gilwell Park is famous throughout the world for its Scouting heritage, beautiful setting and wide range of activities.

Today it has modern lodges, plenty of open camping space and spectacular views of London, and it enables young people to experience the freedom of the outdoors.

The son of letterpress master printer Walter Gray Maclaren and his French wife Caroline Amelia de Bois, William was born in Blythswood, Glasgow, on November 17 1856.

He married Anna Jane White at her home at 29 Ryans Road, Hillhead, on April 6 1892 when she was 29 and he was 35 and living at Queens Terrace.

They made their home at Armadale beside the Gareloch at Clynder, and they lived there until their deaths, both from pernicious anaemia — William on June 3 1921 and his wife on July 6 1939 at the age of 79.

He had an elder sister Margaret Ann Aitken McLaren, born on April 25 1855, and younger brothers Walter Gray, born on April 14 1858, Charles, born on November 19 1859, and John, born on June 28 1861.

By the beginning of the 20th century, William and Frank Copeman were sole partners of Maclaren & Sons Ltd, 37-38 Shoe Lane, London, in the Fleet Street neighbourhood.

They were publishers or publishers agents of industrial books and magazines, such as The Brick and Pottery Trades Journal, and Ceylon Observer, and publishers of household titles, under the name of The British Baker, such as All About Pastries.

One of their periodicals was the India Rubber Journal, the leading publication for the flourishing rubber industry in the beginning of the 20th century, with Sir Herbert Wright as editor for the period 1907-1917.

The pair founded in 1906 the Rubber Estate Agency, which was the first UK company for the specific purpose of financing the acquisition of rubber estates and of acting as secretaries and agents of rubber and other plantation companies.

With this expertise in the rubber industry, William wrote and published The Rubber Tree Book — published by Maclaren and Sons, London, 1913, 384 pages — about technology and business administration of rubber plantations.

In 1919, the Rubber Estate Agency was sold to the Belgium company Societé Internationale de Plantations et de Finance. The agency still exists, and it was worth some £37 million in 2010.

William wrote several other books including Climbs and Changes, Chuckles from a Cheery Corner, and Word Pictures of War — a book of poetry based on experiences of the First World War, published by Methuen, London, in 1917. Posthumously in 1922, his Child’s Song-Story Book was published for private circulation by Blackie & Son in Glasgow.

At home William was an enthusiast of scouting, serving as the District Commissioner for Scouts in what was then West Dunbartonshire, including all of the Rosneath peninsula.

Shortly after the end of World War One, he was dining with Robert Baden-Powell and P.B.Nevill at Roland House in London, and the conversation turned to the need for a permanent Scout camping ground in the London area.

William, who had been dismayed to see Scouts in the east end of London trying to run their programme in the back streets and on waste land, offered to make the purchase if a suitable property could be found.

At the suggestion of Sir Percy Everett, it was decided that the camping ground was to be combined with a training facility for Scout Officers. 

A committee was set up to search for appropriate property, and met with little success until John Gayfer, a young Assistant Scoutmaster, suggested Gilwell Hall, a run-down 53-acre estate near the town of Chingford in Essex, close to the Epping Forest, where he went bird-watching and which happened to be for sale. 

In the spring of 1919, William bought the property for £7,000 — well over £1 million today — and donated it to the Scout Movement in July.

He was also very active in the renovations to the buildings and grounds as the place had been abandoned for the previous 14 years and was virtually derelict, personally helping with the repairs, and donating a further £3,000 to the project.

When Gilwell Park was officially opened on July 26 1919 his wife Anna cut ribbons in the Scout colours of green and yellow which were hung across the doorway to the White House to mark the opening.

Baden-Powell then presented William with the Silver Wolf as a sign of the great debt that the Movement owed to him. 

In his honour and as a lasting tribute, the Gilwell staff wore the Maclaren neckerchief, made of Maclaren tartan.

However to reduce the expense, a scarf of dove grey cloth — the colour of humility with a warm red lining to signify warmth of feeling — was substituted, with only a patch of Maclaren tartan on the point of the scarf and worn by those passing the Gilwell practical course.

Gilwell became the place where Scouters were trained to “play the game”, and they came from across the world.

In September 1919, the first Scout Officers Training Course took place. Adult Scouters spent 11 days camping at Gilwell Park doing things in the same fashion as the first 21 boys did at Brownsea 12 years earlier.

The participants used the Patrol Method devised by Baden-Powell to accomplish the many varied tasks that this training programme presented. When it was over, Baden-Powell was in a quandary over how to recognize these leaders for the completion of his training course.

He remembered a long string of curiously carved, small wooden beads that he had recovered as a military souvenir from his South African military days.

He decided to present one of these beads to each leader who completed the training course. This training programme soon acquired its familiar name from these small, curiously carved wooden beads – the Wood Badge.

In 1924 use of the scarf became restricted to Wood Badge holders only, a tradition that remains to this day. Today the scarf is more the earth tone colour beige than grey.

The first Wood Badge beads were worn on the end of a leather thong suspended from the buttonhole of the uniform coat or shirt, then the beads were attached to the ends of the Scouter’s hat cords, but then they would only be seen when the Scouter wore his hat.

This shortly changed to the beads being attached to a leather thong which could be worn as a necklace with one bead on each end of the thong as pendants.

It is also believed that William, after noticing some bullying of Scottish scouts who did not have a kilt to wear with their uniform because their family did not have a tartan, invited all tartan-less scouts to wear the Maclaren tartan.

After his death in 1921, the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times paid a warm tribute . . .

“The death of Mr William Frederick de Bois Maclaren, which took place at his residence on Friday, has occasioned deep and wide regret. He had been in failing health for some months, and his passing was not unexpected.

“He was a gentleman of very fine character, and deeply interested in philanthropic work.

“The welfare of youth was his special care, and in his death the Boy Scout movement has lost one of its most generous and enthusiastic supporters. He was District Commissioner for Rosneath, but his interest and help went far afield.

“In the South of England he made valuable gifts of ground and handsome book prizes which gave stimulus to this excellent work amongst the boys.

“In Rosneath Parish Church on Sunday feeling reference was made by the Rev A.B.Grant to the loss the community had sustained.”

The funeral took place at the church, and he is buried in the church graveyard.