The Brownies & Blantyre

A Brownie is a member of a Guiding organization for girls aged seven years old to ten years old. Exact age limits are slightly different in each organization. After the age of about 9 a girl can “fly up” to become a Girl Guide. Lord Baden- Powell first organised the Brownies in 1914, to complete the range of age groups for girls in Scouting. They were first run as the youngest group in the Guide Association by Agnes Baden-Powell, Lord Baden-Powell’s younger sister. In 1918 his wife, Lady Olave Baden-Powell, took over the responsibility for the Girl Guides and thus for Brownies. Originally the girls were called Rosebuds, but were renamed by Lord Baden-Powell after the girls had complained that they didn’t like their name. Their name comes from the story “The Brownies” by Juliana Horatia Ewing, written in 1870. In the story two children, Tommy and Betty, learn that children can be helpful Brownies or lazy boggarts.

In the United Kingdom, the Brownie Promise: ”I promise that I will do my best, To be true to myself and develop my beliefs, To serve the Queen and my community, To help other people and To keep the Brownie Guide Law.” After a wide public consultation in spring 2013, the promise wording was changed for all sections. The Brownie promise before September 2013 was: ”I promise that I will do my best, To love my god, To serve my queen and my country, To help other people and to keep the Brownie Guide Law.” The Brownie Guide Law is: “A Brownie Guide thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day.” The Brownie Guide Motto used to be ‘Lend a hand’ (LAH). With the introduction of the new programme in the United Kingdom, the motto was dropped for Brownies. There is also a Brownie song that some packs sing at the beginning of the meeting: “We’re Brownie Guides, we’re Brownie Guides, We’re here to lend a hand, To love our God and serve our Queen, And to help our homes and land, We’ve Brownie friends, we’ve Brownie friends, In North, South, East and West, We’re joined together in our wish, To try to do our best” There are slight variations of the song and in some packs it is sung while skipping around a toadstool. Today, British Brownies receive a ‘Becoming a Brownie’ activity book upon joining. This has a version of the “Brownie Story” that is slightly different. In this version, a Grandma tells Katie and Sunita the story of Tommy and Betty.

Blantyre’s Brownie movement can be traced back at least to the 1910’s. The uniform was a brown dress with yellow necktie. The 1st High Blantyre Brownies would meet in the lower floor of the Old Parish Church Halls at Kirkton (Guides were upstairs) but the movement spread to other churches in Blantyre quite rapidly. David Livingstone Brownies were known to exist in the 1950’s as were the Brownies at Burleigh Church, possibly earlier. Outdoor events were popular and some events became traditions like “Sausage Sizzles”, literally cooking sausages over a candle.

Leaders: were given names for identification, like Brown Owl, Tawny Owl etc. There are simply too many names of leaders over the decade to mention, but some of the more noteworthy and well known are as follows. The list is not exhaustive and in no particular order. In the 1980’s, Margaret Cunningham, her sister Ella Cunningham, Elsie Sommerville, Elizabeth (Betty) Taylor and Patricia McNaught were amongst the leaders at High Blantyre. There is an indication at one time in the 1970’s the movement was so strong, there may have been 2 packs of brownies in that location. Elsa was a leader at David Livingstone Church Hall in the 1980’s and Mrs Isaacs in the 1970’s. Mrs Norah Izett was Brown Owl. Other leaders at David Livingstone include Myra Ritchie and Moria McCall. Sandra Irvine, who was a brownie and guide leader in either the Anderson Church went on to be chief Guider in Scotland as Sandra Service. Mrs. Vivienne Tweedie was Brown Owl & Mrs Jeanette Talon was Tawnie Owl of the Anderson Brownies on Stonefield Road on a Wednesday evening. Rona MacFarlane was also a brownie leader at Anderson before going on to be involved with the Congregational Church with Lorraine and Andrea. The Congregational Church Hall also was a venue, where in the 1970’s Rev Alan Patterson’s wife was the Brown Owl leader. So was the old Auchinraith Primary School, where Margaret Halbert who went on to be a Salvation Army officer was Brown Owl, but has since returned on her retirement to live in Blantyre. At St Andrews Church, Mrs Gordon was Brown Owl and Helen Gordon and Arlene Green were Tawny Owl and Snowy Owl. They all met on a Monday at 6pm during the early 1980s.

The Children: The young girls were divided into manageable groups often called ‘sixes’, being able to work their way up to the next section and eventually on and up to the Guides. They were given names like Imps, Gnomes, Pixies, Elves and Kelpies and earned sew-on badges for completing tasks and activities. This could be problematic for parents who would need to remove the badges and get them all resown on new uniforms as the children grew. If you were the leader of the group you were a sixer and had two stripes under your ‘six badge’ (who might be a pixie, elf, leprechaun etc) and the second in command was called the seconder. Some of the badges were First Aid, House Orderly, Commonwealth, cycling, sewing. The Brownie movement has grown from strength to strength in Blantyre. Children underwent inspections for clean nails and uniforms and some may remember a “toadstool” icon that would be used as a focal point for singing around.

Brownies Today: At present in 2016, St Andrews Church in Blantyre hosts the Brownies on a Monday night, Blantyre Old Parish and St Joseph’s has them on a Tuesday night, Larkfield Hall and David Livingstone Centre has them on a Thursday evening. Many women firmly believe they learned amazing skills for life at the Brownies and retain some of their fondest childhood memories from being a brownie.

Photo:Pictured in the Brownies is Sharon Kerrigan and Kirsteen Simpson.

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