National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Sir William Alexander Smith (1854-1914)

Sir William Alexander Smith (1854-1914)

Founder of the Boys' Brigade

William Alexander Smith, aged 13, moved to Glasgow after the death of his father to be brought up by an uncle in the wholesale business. He later started his own firm. He joined the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, the YMCA, and the Free Church of Scotland. In the latter he became associated with the Reverend George Reith (father of the BBC's Lord Reith). He founded 'The Boys' Brigade', a quasi-military youth organisation, in 1883. It spread rapidly throughout Scotland, Britain and the Commonwealth and he gave up his business to concentrate on the organisation. He was knighted in 1909. He died the day after a mass rally in London in 1914.

Birth in 1854

William Alexander Smith was born on 27 October 1854, the son of David Smith, distiller, and Henrietta Fraser. The entry in the Old Parish Register (OPR) for Thurso gives the baptism date as 16 December 1854. This was just a couple of weeks before the introduction of statutory civil regisration in Scotland on 1 January 1855.

Baptism entry for William Alexander Smith

Birth and baptism entry for William Alexander Smith (24 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 041/5

1871 to 1911 censuses

In 1871 William A Smith, 16, storehouseman, was living with his Fraser uncle and aunts at 28 St James Street in the district of Partick. The household includes three servants (1871/646-3/21, page 24).

In 1891, William A Smith, 36, Secretary of the Boy's Brigade, was living with his wife and son at 12 Bruce Street in the district of Partick. The household includes two servants.

1891 census entry for William Alexander Smith

Household of William Alexander Smith (19 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1891/646-3/40, page 22

In 1901 William A Smith, 48, widower, Secretary of the Boys' Brigade was living at the same address with his two sons, his sister and a domestic servant (1901/646-3G/6, page 4).

In 1911 William A Smith, 56, widower, Brigade secretary was living at 13 Belmont Street in the district of Hillhead with his two sons and three servants (1911/644-12/31, page 15).

Marriage in 1884 and 1906

William Alexander Smith, 29, shawls manufacturer, married Amelia Pearson Sutherland on 5 March 1884. The entry in the statutory register of marriages for Partick gives his father's occupation as farmer. The couple were married according to the forms of the Free Church of Scotland. (1884/646-3/71).

William Alexander Smith, 51, widower, secretary to the Boy's Brigade, married Harriet Ranken Campbell on 10 April 1906. The entry in the statutory register of marriages for Maryhill in Glasgow gives his father's occupation as soldier. The couple were married according to the forms of the United Free Church.

Marriage entry for William Alexander Smith - 1906

Marriage entry for William Alexander Smith (340 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, 1906/622-1/109