A short sighted optimist (or someone who doesn’t get out much) recently described the Old Deer Park as

‘a gloriously majestic riverside stretch…ancient oaks, dry grassland, a riparian pond, ditches and woodland - all providing a series of important nature conservation areas … a delight to behold. A great place to wander around and get lost!’

“Get lost” indeed!

Let’s be fair. The Old Deer Park is a bit lacking in the ‘gloriously majestic’ when compared with some of the other great parks that surround us like Richmond and Bushy for example. But it wasn’t always the rather nondescript collection of football pitches, car parks and featureless ‘open spaces’ beloved by dog walkers that it is today. At one time its green acres rolled uninterrupted all the way to Richmond Green. That ended when the railway came in the 1840’s. To add insult to injury another chunk was lost when the Chertsey Arterial Road, the A316, was built in the 1930’s.

However just as every dog has its day, I believe that every park should have its place in history. This is certainly the case with the Old Deer Park because in 1920 it became for two short weeks the temporary home of 5000 Boy Scouts taking part in the 1st World Scout Jamboree.

Scouts in Old Deer Park

Scouting started in 1907 and by the outbreak of the 1st World War had become an international and rapidly expanding organisation. On July 26th, 1916, a Committee Meeting was held at which it was decided … “That an Imperial and International Jamboree shall be held in 1918 provided the war is over in 1917.” Although the Committee was a little optimistic in its dates the first World Scout Jamboree did take place between 30th July and 8th August 1920 at Olympia, West Kensington. Over 8,000 Scouts from 34 countries attended along with an alligator from Florida, a baby crocodile from Jamaica, monkeys from South Africa, a baby elephant, a camel and a lioness cub from Rhodesia.

Because accommodation in Olympia was limited 5,000 of the Scouts camped on the Old Deer Park in Richmond fed by 180 former “Comrades of the Great War” who each day boiled, basted and barbecued 1,500 kilos of meat, 2,500 kippers, 1,600 loaves, 1 ton of potatoes and 5,000 rock cakes. Yummy!

Although the main focus of the Jamboree was on Olympia, the prevailing mood of “Scoutitis” extended to the canvas city in the Deer Park. On the first Sunday so many curious visitors were crossing the small footbridge over the “ha-ha” into the Campsite that the Scouts themselves were obliged to use the side of the bridge risking iron spikes and the danger of a ducking.

There was excitement too. Even before the Campsite was officially opened a boy was rescued from drowning in the Thames by Patrol Leader O’Neel from Malta. Then a few days later high tides and heavy rain flooded the camp and emergency accommodation had to be found for 1,500 boys in Richmond Drill Hall and the Schools on Eton Street.

After a relatively unenthusiastic start “The Richmond and Twickenham Times” caught “Scoutitis” too, describing the Deer Park site as “A great camp - a remarkable demonstration of what is possible in the way of training boys in civics”. A few days later they gushed, “The Chief Scout has done a service to the world, the full result of which will only be realised in the years to come.”

The Chief Scout was of course the hero of Mafeking and founder of Scouting, Robert Baden Powell. The Boy Scouts of America suggested he should be awarded the title of ‘Great Indian Chief.’ However, during the initiation ceremony at Olympia one young Scout shouted out “Long live the Chief Scout of the World”, and it stuck - becoming Baden-Powell’s official and permanent Scout title.

Local boys were involved as well. The 6th Richmond Cubs demonstrated “House Orderly Badge” skills and made £1.6.5d (about £1.30) for Pack funds cleaning visitors’ shoes. The 7th Richmond Cubs, under Scout Mistress Walters, demonstrated their ‘Grand Howl’ which inspired the Richmond and Twickenham Times to write… “To hear the howl of the little cubs as they come dashing into the arena is to experience a sense of rejuvenation that is as good as any holiday!” Wow!

Baden Powell closed the Jamboree on 8th August by saying…

“Let us go forth fully determined that we will develop among ourselves and our boys that comradeship, through the world wide spirit of the Scout brotherhood, so that we may help to develop peace and happiness in the world and goodwill among men”.

Then the boys went home, some to the farthest corners of the world, carrying with them warm memories not just of the Jamboree but also of the kindness of the people of Richmond who for a few days had shared Baden Powell’s vision of peace, happiness and goodwill. That sentiment was echoed by a cartoon in the Punch magazine showing a War weary World saying to a Scout at the Jamboree, “I was nearly losing hope, but the sight of all you boys gives it back to me.”

By the 11th August the tents had been struck, the fire pits filled in and the “Richmond and Twickenham” was advertising the next event to come to the Old Deer Park – Bronco Billy’s Original Wild West Show and Mammoth Circus. It all sounds very familiar, doesn’t it?

– from Martyn Day