The early years

This article was written by Robert Wilson.

The Boys’ Brigade was founded by Sir William Alexander Smith in Glasgow in October 1883. The organisation spread rapidly and by 1888 it had arrived in Enfield.

The 1st Enfield was founded by Dr J J Ridge (1847-1908) on 12th October 1888. The Company met every Saturday evening at the Christ Church Hall. At their second annual Inspection on 29th May 1890, Mr A J Ridge, an Officer in the Company, publicly encouraged the formation of more Companies in Enfield. By the end of that year two new Companies were born. On 31st October 1890 the 2nd Enfield held their first parade evening. 27 of the 29 boys present accepted the terms of membership. Any tobacco found on the boys was collected up and burnt in a heap.

The 3rd Enfield was formed by Mr Norris Storer Toms, the second son of the minister of Christ Church. The first parade night took place on 3rd December 1890 (Wednesday) at the Lecture Hall next to the Church. The Company was registered as a BB Company on 29th January 1891, the same day as the 2nd Enfield. The story goes that the two men rushed up to London to register their respective Companies; the man from Bush Hill Park caught the train but the man from Chase Side missed it, so the Company from Chase Side became the 3rd Enfield.

The Company was 33 strong. They first appeared in public on 16th January 1891 at a public meeting in support of the Brigade. The first Church Parade by the three Companies was on 19th April 1891 at Christ Church. Mr Charles Coote acted as Captain for the first session, then Mr Toms took over the Company for a short time. In 1892, Mr Toms invited a personal friend, Mr Thomas Room Plowman to join him and take on the Captaincy of the Company; Mr Plowman at this time was 16 years of age. He accepted the offer and gradually began to organise the Company and make rules of the condition of membership. In these early days it was quite dangerous to wear a BB uniform. A particularly hostile gang used to lie in wait in a house on the corner of Gordon Road. On drill nights the gang was at full strength and would throw missiles (usually bottles) at the boys, who often had to fight for their uniforms.

Unforeseen obstacles came from some good Churchmen in June 1891, who thought that military drill could not be combined with religious teaching for the benefit of the boys. The issue was finally settled by Sir William Alexander Smith in a letter to the Enfield Gazette and Observer. The Company set up a printing press at their headquarters and started a magazine called “Union Jack”.

The three Companies became known as the “United Enfield Companies”; this term lasted until the Battalion was formed at the turn of the century. The loan of 51 Lancaster Road by the Liberal and Radical Club as BB Headquarters largely contributed to the firm establishment of the BB in Enfield. The Headquarters consisted of one large room downstairs and two rooms upstairs. One of the rooms upstairs was used for games and the other was a library with a fire in the corner. A fine selection of books was available for the boys to borrow. Bible classes were held there, the 1st downstairs and the 3rd upstairs. Club rooms and a printing press were features on weekdays, while on Sunday evenings sometimes 200 boys crowded in for a Lantern Service. Football, cricket, ambulance and wood-carving were also started. The 3rd Enfield started a Drum and Fife Band in 1894 which changed to a Bugle Band in 1914.

Mr J W Grainger (Herb and Drug store) next door, neighbour to the BB Headquarters, made many complaints about the noise of the band. Sir William Alexander Smith visited the United Enfield Companies between 30th January and 1st February 1897. He made a visit to the Enfield Headquarters, the 1st Enfield Drill evening, a Lantern Service for boys only and attended a Display by the Companies at the Bycullah Athenaeum. In September 1897 the Brigade Council also made a visit to the Headquarters.

The first Inter-Company contest was in Athletic Sports on 22nd May 1893. The 3rd Enfield were the first winners of the Cup and for many years this was the only Battalion Trophy. Drill competitions were instituted in 1897, but it was 1903 before the Battalion Colours were presented. These first Colours were called the Hardman Colours, after Captain Hardman (2nd Enfield). They were first contested at the 1903 Whit Monday Inspection and Sports at Enfield Town Park. There was a great build up to the competition. An extra feature was made to the day: coloured ties were worn by the boys on parade using their respective Company Colours so that the spectators could recognise at a glance the Companies taking part in the parade through the town streets, in the Drill competition and in the inspection. Later in the day they wore suitably coloured shirts in the sports competition. The 3rd Enfield won the Colours by 259 marks to the 1st Enfield’s 248. They also went onto win the Sports Challenge Cup as well.

The first “Enfield” Camp was held at Burnham-on-Crouch in 1893, the three Companies joining with the London Battalion. In 1895, the United Enfield Companies had their own camp at Hayling Island. The cost for each boy in 1896 was 12s 6d. The Company held jumble sales and held special concerts to raise money for camp. The first camp under canvas was at Lowestoft in 1900.

On 27th April 1900, the 3rd Enfield gave a display of bayonet drill in the London Display in the Queen’s Hall. The following year, a combined team (74 boys) of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Enfield Companies gave a demonstration of bayonet drill as the first item at the very first Royal Albert Hall Display.

The Company won its first London District competition on 29th May 1905, when it won the London District Drill competition for the “Meares” Colours (a small Union Flag, 14″ by 12″). This was the first time that an outer London Company had won the “Meares” Colours. It was also the last year of the competition as it was succeeded by the Daily Telegraph Shield competition in 1906; the 3rd Enfield beat the 66th London by 234 1/2 points to 228 points. Captain Plowman received the Shield on behalf of the Company from Lady Hamilton. The Company went on to win the competition the following year in front of Lord Baden-Powell. Indeed, between 1906 and 1920 with the exception of 1908, the Company appeared in every final of the competition. They won the Shield on seven occasions between these dates (1906, 1907, 1910, 1911, 1916, 1917, and 1919). They also won every Battalion Colours competition between 1906 and 1921.

Three days after the final of the Daily Telegraph Shield in 1914, the organisation suffered a great loss with the death of Sir William Alexander Smith. The 3rd Enfield and 62nd London formed the Guard of Honour as the coffin of the Founder was moved from the Chapel of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. They stood with arms reversed, and they escorted the remains to Euston Station en route for Glasgow. Staff Sergeant (later Captain) A L Winsley of the 3rd acted as one of the pall bearers.

A dark shadow was cast over Europe later that year with the outbreak of the Great War. Enfield Battalion had gone camping to Felixstowe; the camp was interrupted on the Tuesday by the outbreak of war. The boys returned home by train, while the Officers were detained by the army. No other camps were held till 1919.

Some 700 old boys of the Battalion were on active service during the war. In November 1916, Captain Plowman enlisted to train as an Officer and later served in France; it was there in September 1917 that he was wounded in the left arm and leg. He was transported to hospital in Manchester. During his absence, Mr Charles Chopping (1916-1917) and Mr A L Winsley (1917-1918) took it in turns to run the Company. On 18th December 1918, Captain Plowman took over the 3rd Enfield again. The Company helped with the war effort by supplying the air raid buglers. The Brigade sounded the all clear after Zeppelin air raids.

With the War over, the Company was able to return to its normal routine, and camp returned. However, the war had taken its toll on the health of T R Plowman. On 31st December 1919, he was taken seriously ill with congestion of the lungs and passed away at 7:45am on the morning of New Year’s Day 1920.

The Company had suffered a great loss. They had lost the man who had built the Company on solid foundations. It would be a long time before the 3rd was the same again.