few weeks ago, thanks to my friend Jim Henderson, Honorary Secretary of The
Burns Club of London, I received a copy of the history of the club’s first
one hundred years. Part I of that extraordinary history, written so expertly
by Clark McGinn, was placed on this web site last week, and in it we were
introduced to Colin Rae Brown and learned of his significant work with
London club and in the Scottish community. It is a joy to bring you Part II
this week. My hat is off to these tremendous Burnsians Clark and Jim for
sharing their club history with our readers. The events written in this part
of the club’s history, published in 1968, cover topics our fathers and
grandfathers would have been familiar with. This is a great opportunity to
learn of the staggering events faced by the club during its early story,
events like World Wars I and II. Keep in mind that the American Civil War
had concluded just three years before the founding of the London club. When
forwarding the narration by email, Jim commented, “I think you will find it
interesting.” I sure did, and so will you! (FRS: 8.3.11)
the Club ends its one hundredth year of existence thankful that in such a
long period it has overcome many difficulties and now stands in a strong
position, it is perhaps inevitable that in writing its history a beginning
be made with a description of the London of the mid-nineteenth century which
saw the birth of the Club.
Although it was a period of peace and prosperity in these islands, the
international scene was clouded by the American Civil War and the aggressive
Prussians laying siege to Paris. On a more lowly plane, street lighting was
by gas, oil lamps and candles were in common use, and coal fires with their
resultant smoke were building up London’s reputation as a fog-bound city.
Public transport was by such conveyances as the hansom, the fly, the landau
and the carriage. The horsedrawn bus had made its appearance to give a cheap
if somewhat limited mode of transport.
Railway expansion was beginning to cover the industrial areas of the country
with the result that the long-distance stage coach was being pushed out of
business except in those areas where the steam locomotive and the iron
rail-road had not yet appeared.
The population of the Metropolis was something like three million souls and
it was, of course, much smaller in area than the present conurbation with
its huge dormitory suburbs. Political events had a greater impact on the
populace since sport, film, celebrities, television and radio had not yet
arrived to absorb the leisure hours.
Anyway the working week was much longer in those days. The year 1868 saw the
beginnings of the Commonwealth Society, the Trade Union Congress among
others, and, of course, of the Burns Club of London in October.
Leading public figures included Disraeli and Gladstone, then in his first
term as Prime Minister. Gentlemen belonged to clubs and social affairs for
high society were in vogue. The Savage Club is of particular interest to us
as several of its members were present at the 1859 Burns Centenary
Celebrations in Glasgow when their host was a Mr. Colin Rae Brown, Secretary
of the Centenary Festival Committee and a native of Greenock where he had
been President of the local Burns Club in 1843.
Founder and proprietor of the Glasgow newspaper “Daily Bulletin”, he had
other Press interests as well as that of the Stock Exchange. When business
expansion took Mr. Brown to London in 1863 he became a member of the Savage
Club, and it is to this body that the origins of the Burns Club of London
can be traced. Mr. Brown appears to have had substantial means to enable him
to maintain places of residence at Oakleigh Park in Whetstone, Kensington,
Inaugural Dinner of the Burns Club was held at Hallowe’en 1868 in the old
Bedford Head Tavern, Maiden Lane, Covent Garden and among those present were
the Irish poet Samuel Lover, Peter Cunningham - son of the “pawkie Alan” who
was Burns’ neighbour at Ellisland, the dramatist Blanchard Jerrold, James
Lowe - the editor of the “Critic”, Dr. Charles Mackay, George Cruickshank
and MacRae Moir. Charles Mackay who was born in Perth and educated in the
Caledonian Asylum (now the Royal Caledonian Schools) was a journalist, Times
correspondent in the American Civil War, editor of the “Glasgow Argus”,
poet, novelist, patriot, even a writer of popular songs. Only the first
lines seem to have survived, but his “There’s a good time coming”, when set
to music, sold 400,000 copies - surely quite a performance for his day and
generation. George Cruickshank was the famous illustrator of Dickens, and
his cartoons were aimed equally against all political parties. Some of his
paintings are in the National Gallery. Perhaps most remarkable in a Burns
Club, his cartoons, directed against the evils of drink, were most powerful
in a series of drawings entitled “The Bottle and a Sequel”, and “The
Drunkard’s Child”. He was a very competent amateur actor, got “feckless fou”
on water, and entertained with great histrionic ability at meetings of the
Club. His star performance was reserved for “Willie brewed a peck o’ maut”,
which had to be repeated again and again.
The first twelve January celebrations were held at the home of Mr. Colin Rae
Brown who presided and proposed the Burns Toast with great eloquence year
after year. He even contributed a sentiment in verse which ran to fifty five
Hark! Like a sea of sound it rolls,
Nor leaves a void between the poles, -
One vast acclaim! Hands, hearts, and souls,
For Robert Burns!
1880 the numbers wishing to participate in the celebrations had become so
great that it overran the capacity of even Colin Rae Brown’s house and it
was decided to extend the scope of the Club to all who owned to enthusiasm
for Burns. It is interesting that no question of nationality or sex was
mentioned; and the first honorary member was Garibaldi, the great Italian
liberator, indeed the founder of modern Italy. He accepted honorary
membership with ‘ humility’ and ‘great pride’. Two Scots, William Wallace
and Robert Burns, had often inspired him and their portraits hung by his
The objects of the wider and more public association inaugurated on Monday
26th January 1880 at the residence of Mr. Colin Rae Brown were:
(a) The Annual Celebration of the birthday of Robert Burns.
(b) Occasional Re-unions for the Cultivation of Social Intercourse amongst
(c) The Encouragement of (Scottish) Literature and Music.
Without reference to Nationality, all admirers of the genius of Robert Burns
and of the principles enunciated in “A man’s a man for a’ that” are eligible
for admission to the Club.
The Club already numbered more than seventy ladies and gentlemen and they
elected as President, Charles Mackay, Esq., LL.D., of Ferndell, Boxhill,
Surrey, and as Honorary Secretary, Colin Rae Brown. The subscription was
fixed at half a guinea but after the first hundred members had been enrolled
an entrance fee was to be added. This is of interest to present day members
whose annual subscription is a very modest ten shillings. We have in our
records press cuttings reporting the event in the Daily News, Echo, Sussex
Advertiser, Paisley Herald, Literary World and Ayr Advertiser.
to the 1881 celebrations which were held in the St. James’ Hall, the report
in the “Paisley Herald” had this to say - “the London Club, comprising
statesmen, poets, artists, philosophers and looming statesmen, differs a
little from sober Scottish clubs. To begin with a difference, it may be
mentioned en passant, that when on that evening the Paisley Burns Club had
eaten, and orthodoxically washed down the excellent dinner supplied by ‘mine
host’ of the Globe Hotel, and as the ten o’clock bell was ringing, like
douce elders as the chairman and others were, they were thinking of going
home, the London Burns Club was just gathering. ‘We assembled at 10 p.m. to
the extent of about a hundred and danced till 12.30 a.m’, writes one who was
there. Then a concert took place, which lasted three-quarters of an hour,
and at 1.15 ‘we sat down to a most recherché supper, at which Colin Rae
Brown presided and gave the ‘Memory of Burns’ with ‘a the honours three’ and
with all his usual eloquence.’ Dancing was resumed after supper, and kept up
to 4.30, a fine instrumental band giving ‘go’ to the ‘flying feet’, likewise
the novel addition of a ‘kettle drum’. It needs not the remark that female
suffrage obtains in southern Burns Clubs.”
The celebration in the following year was reported in the “Morning Post”,
“North British Daily Mail”, “Kensington News”, “Glasgow Herald”, “Kilmarnock
Standard”, “Ardrossan Herald”, and “Greenock Advertiser”, and mentions Colin
Rae Brown in the chair and presenting for the occasion a new piece, “The
Land o’ Burns”, set to music by Mr. W.G. Wood of the Royal Academy of Music.
Sung by Mr. Albert McGuckin, it evoked much enthusiasm, from the assembly.
The 1883 and 1884 celebrations were in the usual vein with, inevitably,
Colin Rae Brown in the chair and proposing the main toast. Perhaps of
special interest was a telegram from the Kilmarnock Club on 26th January
1884 giving the complete last stanza of “Willie Brewed a peck o’ maut” and
finishing with the injunction “Meet us in Williamson’s Hotel in Bow Lane
tomorrow at noon” - a total of fifty five words contradicts the alleged
native meanness of Scots on festive occasions.
The venue for 1885 had changed to the Marlborough Rooms but chairman and
principal speaker was once again the same. Present on this occasion was Mr.
John Gordon Crawford, who had presented at his own expense the Burns Statue
in the Embankment Gardens, Charing Cross. The chairman further reported that
“the studio of the venerable sculptor Sir John Steell, R.S.A., is again
about to give forth a splendid triumph of his chisel in the form of a marble
bust of Burns, which will be placed in Westminster Abbey early in March as a
result of ‘shillings’ collected by Preceptor Wilson of Glasgow”. Of the
after-dinner entertainment one report reads thus “The evening’s enjoyment
was greatly added to by the exquisite vocalisation of Miss Liddell, and the
finished and powerful instrumentation of the Misses Molyneux on the piano
and violin”. What reaction this comment produced on the ladies concerned is
not known but at least they are not less peculiarly reported than the
gentleman who rendered “Tam o’ Shanter” and “The Haggis” with “extreme
unction”. Language changes and words assume different meanings as the years
pass. The Club kept its activities going throughout the year with balls,
smokers, assemblies and - about Bannockburn day - summer picnics. The
earliest of these seems to have been held in Epping Forest but later a
change was made to Virginia Water when the proprietor of the Wheatsheaf
Hotel agreed to provide the Club with a first-class dinner and tea at a
charge of 4/- a head and to provide suitable vehicles to carry members and
their friends from the station to the hotel for sixpence each way.
First-class accommodation was reserved on the train and the inclusive ticket
cost 10/6d which gave travel, dinner, tea, dancing and band but not, of
course, the aforementioned sixpence from station to hotel. A hundred members
and friends attended and “a splendid array of drags was afterwards called
into requisition, and conveyed the party through the sylvan glades of the
7th March 1885 a bust of Burns was unveiled in the Poets’ Corner of
Westminster Abbey by the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Rosebery in the presence of
Clergymen, Members of Parliament, a deputation from Kilmarnock led by
Provost Sturrock, two representatives from Glasgow, and Colin Rae Brown
(President), J.C. Ánderson (Treasurer) and J.S. Robertson (Secretary) of the
London Robert Burns Club. The Earl of Rosebery who had left a Cabinet
meeting to attend, in a happy speech concluded - “As regards the trustees of
the national temple of fame, the spontaneous welcome which they have
accorded to the effigy of Burns nearly a century after his death seems to me
to represent not the partiality of friends or the enthusiasm of devotees,
but the voice and judgement of posterity”.
the evening the London Scots fraternised with the deputations from Glasgow
and Kilmarnock in Anderston’s Hotel, Fleet Street with toasts innumerable;
at this gathering “Mr. James E. Christie recited ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ and Mr.
David Sneddon ‘The Haggis’, both being given with great eloquence and
extreme unction, eliciting such applause as is rarely given voice to in
Fleet Street”. Although now celebrating its centenary the Burns Club of
London is far from being the first society formed to perpetuate the memory
of the poet and it is therefore not surprising to learn that a suggestion to
form a Federation embracing all these clubs should be mooted. Nor can it be
considered surprising that the idea should originate in the mind of Colin
Rae Brown who first made the suggestion to Provost David Mackay and Captain
David Sneddon of Kilmarnock in 1880 when they were seeking a site for the
Burns Statue on the Thames Embankment. In the course of further discussions
in London in 1885 with the three representatives from Kilmarnock who had
attended the ceremony in Westminster Abbey, the opinion was formed that such
a federation should be launched in time for the centenary, the following
year, of the publication in 1786 of the Kilmarnock edition of the Poet’s
works. As a result the Burns Federation was founded at a meeting in
Kilmarnock on 17th July 1885, Colin Rae Brown and John Gordon Crawford
(donor of the Thames Embankment Statue) being among the six Vice-Presidents
the discussions leading to the formation of the federation there had been a
strong disagreement between Colin Rae Brown and Provost Mackay - who were
otherwise the best of friends - as to which club should be No. 1 on the roll
of the new federation. Colin Rae Brown claimed that the honour should go to
London where the idea had originated while Provost Mackay held the view that
his club should be No. 1 on the role because of the town’s association with
the poet. Captain Sneddon intervened in the argument and persuaded Provost
Mackay to let Colin Rae Brown have his wish. When, however, Captain Sneddon,
as first Honorary Secretary of the Federation, was called upon to read the
roll of Clubs wishing to join the Federation, it was found that, while he
had allocated No 1 on the roll to the London Burns Club, he had allocated
No. 0 to Kilmarnock and these numbers remain to this day.
is disconcerting to read in the Club’s minute book that a proposal to wind
up the Club was submitted to a Committee meeting held on 4th March 1887. No
clue is forthcoming as to the reason for such a suggestion though it may be
deduced that the method by which the Club was administered was at the bottom
of the trouble, for the minutes of the September meeting disclose a further
discussion with reference to holding a general meeting of the members for
the purpose of learning their views as to reconstituting the Club to give
the members a voice in the management and annual election of officers. Colin
Rae Brown appears to have resisted this innovation but the majority of the
Committee were in favour of a change and a general meeting of the members
adopted a new set of rules on 20th December 1887. Thereafter Mr. Brown
demitted office as President and was succeeded by Mr. Wm. McCulloch.
spite of the change, “The Scotsman” of 28th January 1888 reporting on the
Festival Dinner mentions Colin Rae Brown as once again proposing “The
Immortal Memory”. Tickets were priced at 10/6d and 150 Ladies and gentlemen
were present at the function which closed at 3 a.m. There seems to have been
a rival Burns celebration held concurrently in the Holborn Restaurant with
an attendance of 60 guests under the chairmanship of Mr. J. Cunningham.
Following the Annual General Meeting of 1893 Colin Rae Brown was elected
President once again and inevitably proposed “The Immortal Memory” and again
at Hallowe’en he was in the chair and, replying to the toast of the Club,
gave a report of its foundation and added a note of sadness by announcing
that the founders had now all gone save himself.
is interesting to note that the ladies appear periodically to have incurred
the disfavour of their worthy spouses and were excluded, only to reappear
again, as they did at the dinner of 1895 when a poem was dedicated to the
London Burns Club by its author, Eric Mackay, son of the beloved Dr. Charles
and step-brother of Marie Correlli, many of whose novels figured on the
bookshelves in the early part of this century.
August 1897 the Secretary reported of the grave illness of Colin Rae Brown
and the November minute mentioned his funeral at which the Club was strongly
represented. The reply from Mrs. Brown to the President’s letter of
condolence was inserted in the Minute Book.
Mindful of their less fortunate kinsfolk the Annual General Meeting of 1897
agreed to the suggestion of Dr. Leslie Ogilvie that a Benevolent Fund should
be established. The first distribution from the fund was made on 19th May
1898 when a Special General Meeting of the members decided that (1) a
donation of ten guineas be made to the Scottish Corporation, (2) a donation
of ten guineas be made to the Caledonian Asylum, and (3) that a prize of ten
guineas be offered to students at the Royal Academy of Music for the best
original musical score set to one of Burns poems which had never previously
been set to music. The Royal Scottish Corporation, dating from 1665, still
maintains its benevolent work among elderly Scots pensioners and the
Caledonian Asylum continues today as the Royal Caledonian Schools with
headquarters at Bushey, Hertfordshire, where it houses some 120 children.
These two charities were still the main beneficiaries of the Club’s
donations in the centenary year. The ten guinea prize for the musical
competition was duly awarded but, alas, there is no record of the winner’s
name nor is a copy of the musical score available.
this time the club sent a letter of sympathy to the family of W.E. Gladstone
expressing the members’ “admiration of the deceased’s great qualities as a
man of literary ability and as an apostle of liberty”. A letter of thanks
was received from Hawarden Castle, Chester signed by Henry N. Gladstone.
The Club continued its social functions including the holding of a Fancy
Dress Ball in 1899 and, to replace the picnic, a summer dinner at the Star
and Garter, Richmond.
might be expected, national events did not always find a place in the Club’s
records but there are indirect references to the South African War, with its
initial unexpected reverses to the British Forces. At the Festival Dinner in
1900 the sum of £25 was collected for the Daily Telegraph Soldiers’ Widows
and Orphans Fund while the Benevolent Fund allocated 10 guineas to the Lord
Mayor’s Soldiers’ Widows and Orphans Fund and a further 15 guineas to the
Daily Telegraph Fund. Another national event, even more closely linked with
the populace was the death in January 1901 of Queen Victoria after her long
reign lasting 64 years. Not surprisingly the Club’s Festival arranged for
that month and the Ordinary Assemblies arranged for February and March were
the wet summer of 1903 the annual picnic was postponed for a month because
the heavy rains had so swollen the River Thames that it was impossible for
the launch engaged to get upstream. Later that year the Committee authorised
the expenditure of £20 on a badge to be used by the President of the Club
for the time being and on 29th October Mr. J.C. Brown was invested with the
new badge. The outbreak of the First World War caused a hasty cancellation
of elaborate plans to hold the Annual Conference of the Burns Federation in
London in the autumn of 1914 and imposed unusual problems on the Club. While
some members wished to abandon all Club activity for the duration, other
counsels prevailed and the Club arranged a modified programme of activities,
making a particularly large effort to entertain troops stationed in London,
especially those of Scottish origin, Concerts, suppers and garden parties
were arranged for as many as two hundred Scots Guards, some of which had to
begin at the unusual hour of 5.30 p.m. to allow the troops to be in barracks
by 8.30 p.m. in accordance with a War Office edict of the time. Frequent
mention is made about this time of a Burns Club at Ruhleben Internment Camp
near Berlin where internees included some civilian friends of the Club who
had been unable to get out of Germany at the outbreak of war. Numerous
discussions went on concerning ways and means of sending them haggis and
suitable libation to wash it down. One of the members, son of Mr. L. G.
Sloan, died in internment in 1918.
28th June 1918 the Club gave a luncheon at the Café Monaco to welcome home
one of its most distinguished members, Sir Harry Lauder, after a charity
tour of Canada and the U.S.A. which raised 130,000 dollars. The main toast
was proposed by the Rt. Hon. Ian Macpherson, M.P. (Lord Strathcarron),
Under-Secretary of State for War.
January 1919 the first post-war Birthday Festival was a tremendous affair if
the toast list is any indication. Proposing the Club was the Rt. Hon. Robert
Munro, K.C., M.P., (later Lord Alness), Secretary of State for Scotland. The
British imperial Forces were toasted by the Rt. Hon. Lord Morris, K.C.,
LL.D., K.C.M.G., and responding to the toast were Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss,
G.C.B., C.M.G., M.N.V.O., First Sea Lord, Major-General Sir Newton Moore,
M.P., K.C.M.G., Major the Rev. Charles W. Gordon (“Ralph Connor”) and
Captain Bruce Bairnsfather (creator of “Old Bill”). The Immortal memory was
proposed by General Sir Ian Hamilton, G.C.B., D.S.O., A.D.C., and finally
Scottish Literature was proposed by John Murray, C.V.O., D.L., F.S.A., to
which Lieut-Col. John Buchan and Lieut-Col. E.A. Ewart (“Boyd Cable”)
The Hallowe’en Concert run by the Club in 1919 was such a great success that
a cheque for £223 was sent to the London Scottish Regiment Memorial Fund.
September 1920 saw the Club as hosts to the Burns Federation when the
delegates were sumptuously entertained by the President, Mr. L.G. Sloan, in
the historical hall of the Vintner’s Company, each guest receiving as a
memento a beautiful fountain pen. The business meeting on the Saturday
morning in the hall of the Royal Scottish Corporation was followed by lunch
at Alderton’s Hotel, Fleet Street, again provided by the President. At two
o’clock the party of over a hundred visited the Royal Caledonian Schools at
Bushey where a collection at tea produced over £50 for the Schools. In
addition Mr. Sloan presented to the Federation a cheque for £100 and an
equal sum to the Schools as a souvenir of the Federation’s visit. Hallowe’en
1917 had seen the installation as President of the other great father-figure
of the Club, Mr. William Will, who continued as a member into living memory
and gave a very interesting talk to the Club at the age of eighty-nine, as
recently as 1956, by which time he had been elected Honorary President of
the Club as a token of thanks and admiration for his life time of
enthusiastic service. A very excellent portrait of him is hung in the
Council Chamber at the Royal Scottish Corporation. The minutes of 1st March
1920 record that Mr. William Will, then in his last year as President,
proposed that a Scots Vernacular Circle be formed in connection with the
Club. The motion was unanimously agreed to and it was arranged that Mr. Will
should send out a circular letter to the members asking their views on the
matter, in the hope that everything would be in order to commence operations
at the Annual General Meeting. On 7th June 1920 the members of the Club
unanimously approved the formation of the Vernacular Circle and the
inaugural meeting was held in the hall of the Royal Scottish Corporation on
22nd November 1920 when Colonel Sir James Cantlie, K.B.E. presided over
about 80 members and friends. Mr. Will read a paper on the Vernacular
Language of Scotland in which its history was traced, and its strength,
beauty and effectiveness discussed. Thus was the Circle well and truly
launched and great things followed. W.A. Craigie, M.A., LL.D., Professor of
Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, delivered a lecture on “The Present State
of the Scottish Tongue”. And then on 7th February 1921 Colonel John Buchan
gave an address on “Some Scottish Characteristics”.
Already the Circle had stirred enthusiasts to the point of presenting
prizes.Sir William Noble offered Aberdeen Education Authority a prize for
the recitation and composition of works in Scots and endowed a £10 prize for
Aberdeen University for a poem in the Vernacular. Mr. L.G. Sloan gave £500 -
£250 to found a prize at St. Andrews University and £250 for a similar prize
at Edinburgh University, while Colonel Walter Scott of New York sent 1000
dollars for a prize at Glasgow University. By this time Vernacular
enthusiasm knew no bounds and Mr. Will was authorised to circularise all
Scottish organisations throughout the world in support of the movement,
while Professor Craigie in the course of a world tour addressed Scottish
gatherings on behalf of the movement for the preservation of the language.
The Club at this time, as in earlier years, was fortunate in having
influential contacts with the Press and Printing world so that it was
possible for Mr. L.G. Sloan to offer once again to print and circulate the
speeches of the Festival Dinner, while Mr. William Will designed and
presented to the Club a new and most artistic letter heading which remained
in use for some fifty years thereafter.
1901 there had been formed in London another Burns Club, named the London
Burns Club (Scots), the membership of which was restricted to gentlemen of
Scottish Nationality by direct male descent. From 1910 onwards many attempts
had been made to amalgamate the two clubs including particularly strong one
in 1917, when Sir Harry Lauder added his voice to the call for unity and
presided over a meeting attended by six representatives from each club. All
these attempts failed on the same question - the nationality of the members.
Success was finally achieved in 1921 when it was agreed that the name of the
united club should be “The Burns Club of London” (Incorporating the London
Robert Burns Club, No. 1, and the Burns Club (Scots)), and that as regard
nationality the rule of the London Robert Burns Club was to be accepted -
membership open to all admirers of the poetry and genius of Robert Burns,
without reference to nationality.
The formation of the Vernacular Circle in London had inspired clubs in
Scotland to follow suit and the Burns Federation was persuaded to take a
greater interest in the study and use of the Scottish Vernacular and in
offering prizes for competitions held in the schools. William Will could
ultimately claim that the Scottish Education Department had been induced to
include one question on vernacular literature in the English paper of the
Scottish Higher Leaving Certificate. Sad to relate, there were periods when
no entries were received for the University prizes and on at least one
occasion Professor Herbert Grierson of Edinburgh reported that none of the
entries was worthy of a prize. Meanwhile the London Vernacular Circle, now
strengthened by the merger of the two former clubs, continued to flourish
and published in book form four of the early lectures. The social circle of
whist drives, balls, conversaziones, fancy dress balls and picnics have all
gone but the Vernacular Circle, meeting on the second Monday of each month
in the winter, remains the vital element. It would be well to remember Mr.
Will’s principal object - the consideration and adoption of methods for the
preservation of the oral and literary language of Lowland Scotland.
After a lapse of thirteen years the Burns Federation again held its
conference in London in 1933 when all expenses were met by Sir Alexander
Gibb, G.B.E., C.B., LL.D., who was at that time completing his third year of
office as President of the Federation.
Burns enthusiasts can be found in all walks of life and such was the good
feeling engendered during Lord Alness’ presidency in 1938-39 that one member
was inspired to write a poem which in metre and phrase must have reminded
his Lordship of the paraphrases and metrical psalms on which he was reared
in the Free Church manse in Alness. Its literary merits may not be of a high
order but for the record it is here included:-
Scottish Bard - whose trade, alas
Has gone from bad to worse -
Presumes to send your Lordship, now,
A sample of his verse.
A most propitious time has come
To thank you (not the last)
For your good work, so well performed
The year has gone too fast.
Ay’ happy times we had while you
O’er meetings did preside
Your kindly thought, and counsel, wise
Did all proceedings guide.
Your lofty precepts made us keen
To spread the social flame
And illustrate - like Burns himself -
The pride of race and name.
You met us all on equal terms
With candour and with charm
We loved your jurisprudent smile
and monumental calm.
In future years your great record
Will shine without alloy,
And pure affection always shall
Diffuse our minds with joy.
The dearest wish of members a’
Be pleased to comprehend
And more! Th’ appraisement of the Lord
Support you to the end.
John Robson Watson. By appointment: Bard to the
22nd Chief of The
Scottish Clans Association of London
and member of Council of
The Burns Club of London.
The outbreak of war in 1939 with the blackout, the dispersal of members into
different parts of the country and others into the services, led to the
suspension of meetings for some time. However, in conjunction with other
Scottish Societies, much good work was done in providing entertainment for
allied troops in London, in which Mr. George S. Bonnyman, M.B.E., (President
1939-45), and other members of the club were prominent. From 1942 onwards,
members were able to reunite each July at a Garden Party in the pleasant
surroundings of New Lodge, Hyde Park, through the kindness of Mr. Duncan M.
Campbell, M.B.E., (President 1946-47). Some eight years were to elapse
before full activities could be resumed and the Club was indebted at this
difficult period to Mr. Donald Munro for his unremitting service over a
period of sixteen years first as Honorary Treasurer and later as Honorary
Secretary, while Mr. Alexander Campbell (President 1948-49), did outstanding
work in the immediate post war years in restarting the work of the
Vernacular Circle virtually from scratch.
Since the end of the war most of the Presidents and Office Bearers are
personally recollected by many of our present members. All of them were part
of a long sequence of men of differing capabilities yet having the common
zeal to perpetuate the memory of Burns as exemplified in the proceedings of
the Burns Club of London. Some of course, were more outstanding, such as the
pawky Aberdonian William Dalgarno whose wit and humour enlivened his
addresses; Mr. John Wilson, to whom came the idea of the William Will
Memorial Lecture, to which we invite annually a prominent figure from a
wider sphere to join us and other Scottish Societies in honour of the
founder of the Vernacular Circle; and Mr. James Aitken, surely the most
eloquent of our Burns speakers, who carried the name of our Club far and
wide, from Scotland to Copenhagen, in proposing “The Immortal Memory” on
over sixty occasions. After his death in December 1964, the collection of
Burns books which he had gathered over the years was handed over by his
daughter, Mrs. Blythe, to the Club to form the nucleus of a library.
1959 the bicentenary celebrations of the Poet’s birth were a great success
under the Presidency of the genial Alexander J. Morison and as a highlight
resulted in an attendance of 502 guests at the Festival Dinner held in the
Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly Circus. On that occasion the Very Rev.
R.F.V. Scott, D.D., of St. Columba’s Church of Scotland proposed ”The
Immortal memory”. Replying to the toast of “The Lassies”, Miss Lavinia
Derwent, originator of the humorous series “Tammy Troot” in the Glasgow
“Bulletin” newspaper began her address to the menfolk in these lines:-
sleeket, cowrin’ tim’rous beasties,
Wi’ duodenals in your breasties!
part of these celebrations a short service, conducted by the Very Rev. Alan
C. Don, K.C.V.O., M.A., D.D., Dean of Westminster, was held in the Poets’
Corner of Westminster Abbey adjacent to the bust of Burns, and, a special
bicentenary lecture was delivered by David Daiches, M.A., D.Phil., Ph.D.,
Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge in the hall of the Royal Scottish
Corporation to a large audience, the members of the Club being joined by
members of other Scottish Societies. All lectures delivered to the
Vernacular Circle during the session were on some aspect of Burns. In the
following session, 1959-60, but still considered part of the celebration of
the 200th Anniversary of the Poet’s birth, there was a large congregation at
Crown Court Church of Scotland, Covent Garden, at the morning service on
Sunday 24th January 1960 when a memorial window was unveiled by the
President, Mr. John Sinclair, M.A., and dedicated by the Minister, the Rev.
Joseph Moffett, O.B.E., D.D. The proceedings were duly recorded in the
magazine of the Church, from which the following:-
DEDICATION OF MEMORIAL WINDOW
There was a large congregation at the Morning Service on Sunday 24th
January, when the memorial window, commemorating the bi-centenary of the
Poet’s birth, was unveiled and dedicated. Much interest in the event was
shown by the press and by the public, and photos of the window appeared in
the leading newspapers.
The Service, which was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Moffett, included the
Psalms 100 and 51, Paraphrases 30 and 66, and Hymn 633, “Lord, while for all
mankind we pray”. The Lessons, which were read by Mr. John Sinclair,
President of the Burns Club of London were Ezekiel; XXXVII, 1-14, and I
After the Offering had been received, Dr. Moffett, accompanied by Mr.
Sinclair and by Messrs. R.A. Watson, J. Wilson and V.J. Eddie, representing
the Kirk Session, proceeded to the window. Mr. Sinclair unveiled the
Memorial and asked Dr. Moffett to accept it. Dr Moffett responded on behalf
of the Kirk Session and then dedicated the Memorial in the following prayer:
God, our heavenly Father, from whom commeth every good and perfect gift, who
does inspire Prophets and Poets, bestowing upon them special gifts of vision
and genius for the edification and enlightenment of Thy people, we thank
Thee for Thy servant Robert Burns and for those gifts of poetry and of song
with which Thou didst inspire him, whereby the hearts of common men and
women have been cheered and uplifted. “We thank Thee for his spirit of
sturdy independence, his patriotic fervour, his wide human sympathy with all
Thy creatures, and his vision of a world freed from the oppressions of cruel
men. Help us to guard and to preserve the heritage he bequeathed to us, and
to make real the vision he beheld afar off.
“Accept, O Lord, we humbly beseech Thee, this memorial which now we dedicate
to his memory, to the Adornment of this Thine House, and to the Glory of
They Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” The Service concluded
with the singing of Paraphrase 66 and the Blessing.
The Poet is depicted in the window as ploughman, ruefully fontemplating the
destruction of the nest of a field-mouse by his plough, holding in his hand
the “Wee, sleeket, cowrin’ tim’rous beastie” - the incident which inspired
his well-known poem “To a Mouse”, and which, perhaps better than any other,
reveals the Poet’s sympathy with all God’s creatures, most of all the weak
and the defenceless. The window of stained glass shows the Poet in farmer’s
dress standing against a background of Ayrshire countryside. The inscription
on the glass is as follows:-
the Glory of God and in commemoration of the bicentenary of the Poet’s birth
25th January 1759-1959, this window was given by the Burns Club of London.
The window is given to Crown Court Church of Scotland by the Burns Club of
London from special subscriptions raised by its members to mark the
bi-centenary of the Poet’s birth in gratitude to God for the finest
inspirations of Robert Burns and with a deep sense of the Club’s long
association with the Church.
The work was carried out by Mr. M.C. Farrer Bell, F.B.S., M.G.P., F.R.S.A.,
of the firms Messrs. Clayton and Bell.”
Perhaps this would be an appropriate place to pay tribute to Mr. John
Sinclair whose painstaking researches into the Club’s archives have made
possible the preparation of this historical record of the Club’s first
hundred years. His diligent labours in sifting the wheat from the chaff,
deserves the sincere thanks of all the Club’s members.
September 1964 the Burns Federation once more chose London as the venue of
its Annual Conference. Having had a year’s notice from the previous
conference at Stirling, a Conference Committee was appointed consisting of
Mr. James Aitken, (Convenor), Archd. F. Robertson (Secretary), John Russell
(Treasurer), Alex. J. Morison, W.A.D. Neish and R. Walker Thomson. The
officials of the Burns Federation made their headquarters at the Strand
Palace Hotel, but the Reception on the Friday evening, the business meeting
on the Saturday morning and the Saturday evening concert were held in the
Criterion Restaurant, Piccadilly Circus. On the Saturday morning a wreath
was laid at the Burns Statue in the Embankment Gardens, Charing Cross, and
on the Sunday morning Divine Service was held in St. Columba’s Church of
Scotland. An outing by road to Windsor on the Sunday afternoon brought the
conference to a close.
From then onwards much attention was given to the organisation of the events
of the centenary year, full details of which are appended.
And so ends the story, fragmentary though it may be, of the past one hundred
years of the Club. Something has been captured of the deeds of the men who
first set it in being and of those who followed, determined to preserve the
traditions of a London Society that delighted in the works of Scotland’s
poet. By its nature, most of the record has had to be factual, as it is
difficult to convey at this late stage the aspirations and inspiration of
all those who have guided its destiny during those long and fateful years, a
period in which great material and spiritual changes have taken place. The
welfare state, begun so modestly, has blossomed until the whole of the
population is involved; and while poverty may not have been eliminated
completely, the common standard of living has been greatly improved.
Great technological advances have been made; radio and television
communications are commonplace; outer space has been explored; steam
locomotives, once the pride of railway enthusiasts, are no more; aeroplanes
have been invented and soon will be able, a la Concorde, of a speed of 1,300
miles per hour; medical science has brought great benefit to mankind. Change
is all around; financial and economic problems beset the country. Soon the
long established British monetary system will be decimalised and our weights
and measures replaced by foreign names.
Yet through it all in its own modest way the Burns Club of London will
continue to function bringing together in a friendly atmosphere and happy
surroundings those folk who write their hopes with those of Burns:-
“That Man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”
PRESIDENTS OF THE
1868-80 Colin Rae
1880-84 Dr. Charles Mackay, LL.D.
1885-87 Colin Rae Brown
1888- William McCulloch
1889 Andrew G. Soutter
1890-91 James Buchanan
1892 Robert Macpherson
1893 James Young
1894 Colin Rae Brown
1895 Dr. D. Menzies
1896 Philip E. Clunn
1897 A. Macnaughton
1898 Dr. Leslie Ogilvie
1899 Deputy W. Hayward Pitman, J.P., C.C.,
1900 Daniel Duff
1901 Andrew G. Soutter
1902 Dr. John Richmond Bryce
1903 J. Clifford Brown
1904 Alexander McKillican
1905 Charles J. Wilkinson-Pimbury, C.C.
1906 John Page
1907 Dr. James M. McCall
1908 Alexander Stephen
1909 Henry Durham, F.C.S.
1910 James Thomson, F.S.A. Scot.
1910-11 Neil Turner
1911-12 G. St. John McDonald, F.R.G.S.,
1912-13 Charles W. Richards
1913-14 Deputy W. Hayward Pitman, J.P., C.C.
1914-17 J. Garioch Whyte
1917-20 William Will, C.B.E.
1920-21 L.G. Sloan, J.P.
1921-22 Sir William Noble
1922-23 P.N. McFarlane, F.R.S.E.
1923-24 John Douglas, F.S.A. Scot
1924-25 John A. Brown, C.E.
1925-26 A. Bain Irvine, J.P., F.R.G.S.,
1926-27 Dr. J.M. Bulloch, M.A., LL.D.
1927-28 Sir Robert Blair, M.A., B.Sc., LL.D
1928-29 Sir Alexander Gibb, G.B.E., C.B., LL.D.
1929-30 John A. Anderson
1930-32 John B. Rintoul
1932-33 John McLaren, M.I.M.E.
1933-34 Dr. H.J. Neilson, C.B.E.
1934-35 Sir J. Douglas Ritchie, M.C.
1935-36 William S. Cobb, M.I.Mar.E.
1936-37 John M. Swan
1937-38 James Abernethy
1938-39 Lord Alness
1939-44 George S. Bonnyman, M.B.E.
1944-46 John Cormack
1946-47 Duncan M. Campbell, M.B.E.
1947-48 Rev. R.S. Birch, M.A., Ph.D.
1948-49 Alexander Campbell
1949-50 William Dalgarno
1950-51 Sir T. Drummond Shiels, M.C.
1951-52 Duncan Munro Young
1952-53 James R. Crawford, F.S.A.Scot.
1953-54 James Aitken
1954-55 William G. Gray
1955-56 David Fulton
1956-57 William Douglas
957-58 John Wilson, M.A.
1958-59 Alexander J. Morrison
1959-60 John Sinclair, M.A.
1960-61 John Russell
1961-62 William A.D. Neish
1962-63 William Barclay
1963-64 Archd. F. Robertson, C.A.
1964-65 R. Walker Thomson
1965-66 Alastair A.M. Fisher
1966-67 Alexander G. Hutton
1967-68 John A. Brooks
1968-69 James Mason
1969-70 William B. Champion
1880-82 Allan C.
1883 James E. Christie
1884-85 John C. Anderson
1886 Charles Robinson
1887-88 E. Waller
1889-91 R.L. Adamson
1892-93 James Hemp-Hill
1894 A. McKillican
1895-1908 W.C. Daniels
1909-20 Charles J. Wilkinson-Pimbury, CC.
1920-23 J. Spence Leslie
1923-24 James Whyte
1924-26 J. Gardner Binks
1926-28 J.M.S. Lambie
1928-35 William H. Harries, F.C.I.S.
1935-36 Duncan Munro Young
1936-46 Donald Munro
1946-50 Ian B. White
1950-55 Archd. F. Robertson, C.A.
1955-62 Walter Johnstone
1962-67 William A. Crichton
1967- Barrie O Thomson
1883-85 James S. Robertson
1886 Charles Robinson
1887-91 R.L. Adamson
1892-93 James Hemp-Hill
1894 A. McKillican
1895-1908 W. C. Daniels
1909 James Thomson
1910 Henry Durham, F.C.S.
1911-16 James Thomson
1916-21 P.N. McFarlane, F.R.S.E.
1921-23 John A. Brown, C.E.
1923-26 W. Lambie Templeton
1926 William A. Love
1927-39 John A. Brown, C.E.
1939-46 J. Gibb Blair, C.A.
1946-52 Donald Munro
1952-55 John Russell
1955-62 Archd. F. Robertson, C.A.
1962-64 James Kennedy, A.A.C.C.A
1964-68 James Mason
1968- Alexander Pow
complete the history of the Club and bring it up to date, it has been
considered appropriate to include references to the various functions which
took place during the centenary year 1968-1969 under the Presidency of Mr.
Herewith is a facsimile of the outside of the Club’s 1968-1969 syllabus
giving a list of the office bearers who helped to arrange and manage all the
functions. All the Past Presidents, apart from Sir J.D. Ritchie, Mr.
Alexander Campbell and Mr. W.W. Barclay who had moved away from London,
played a part and helped considerably with their knowledge and experience of
the Club’s affairs.
Piccadilly Hotel, W1.
Saturday 2nd November 1968
After the guests, numbering about 300, had assembled at the tables the
President’s party was piped to the top table to the tune “A Man’s a Man for
a’ that” by Mr. John Campbell of the Romford Scottish Association in the
The President and Mrs. Mason
The Earl and Countess of Kinnoull
Mr. Robert Donaldson, President of the Burns Federation, and Mrs Donaldson.
Mr. W.B. Champion, Vice-President of the Club, and Mrs. Champion.
Mr. George Vallance, Past President of the Burns Federation and Mrs.
route, the party passed between two lines formed by Past Presidents of the
Club, and their ladies, assembled in order of their year of office the most
recent being at the head of the line.
Before the company was seated, the President said Grace, using the words of
the Poet beginning -
Thou, who kindly dost provide
For ev’ry creature’s want!”
The ceremony of Addressing the Haggis followed the traditional lines, with
the procession of the piper, the chef with the haggis on a platter, and a
waiter carrying two bottles of whisky, marching round the hall before
reaching a table on the platform, where Mr. W.B. Champion recited the
“Address to the Haggis”, A silent toast was drunk by the President, the
Vice-president, the Piper and the chef, after which the haggis was returned
to the kitchen.
Prior to the Loyal Toast and the singing of the National Anthem, the
President read the following telegram received from Buckingham Palace in
reply to one sent by the Club:
have received the Queen’s command to express Her Majesty’s sincere thanks to
the officers and members of the Burns Club of London dining together this
evening for their kind message of loyal greetings and to wish the Club a
very happy centenary celebration - Private Secretary”
The President now welcomed members and their friends, and the Club’s
official guests to the Centenary Dinner, a most notable event in the history
of the Club; he spoke of his pride in being President in this historic year,
and expressed the hope that the Club’s affairs would continue to go from
strength to strength in the happy atmosphere which characterised all its
The important part played by our founder members in establishing the Burns
Federation was stressed by the President in introducing Mr. Robert
Donaldson, President of the Burns Federation and Honorary Secretary of the
Bridgeton Burns Club, Glasgow, who proposed the toast of the evening, “The
Burns Club of London”. Mr. Donaldson brought greetings from the Federation,
of which he had been appointed President at the Conference in Falkirk two
months earlier, and from his own Club.
After Mr. Hamish MacMillan had sung “Scots wha hae”, the President responded
to the toast, and thanked Mr. Donaldson.
The Toastmaster, Mr. Alec Pow, Honorary Secretary of the Club, read
greetings telegrams and cards from the Burns Federation; Scottish Society
and Burns Club of Australia; Great Britain Society of Leningrad University,
the Burns Clubs of Ayr, Aberdeen, Arbroath, Belfast, Bridgeton, Dumfries,
Greenock, Kilmarnock and Symington; Harrow & District Caledonian Society;
London Ayrshire Society; Amersham & District Caledonian Society.
The Immediate Past President, John A. Brooks, proposed the toast “Our
Guests”, to which the Earl of Kinnoull replied.
During the evening the musical programme was sustained by Mr. Ian MacFadyen,
Mr. Joe Beachus and Mr. Hamish MacMillan, all of the Royal Opera Company,
Covent Garden, accompanied at the piano by Mr. J.M. Wallace. After
Past President Alex J. Morrison had voiced the thanks of all present to
everyone who had contributed to the success of the function the proceedings
came to a close with the singing of “Auld Lang Syne”.
The souvenir programme received by each guest contained an abbreviated
version of the short history of the Club, compiled by Past President John
Sinclair, and a list of Presidents of the Club from its foundation.
The social success of the evening, which was greatly enjoyed by all, and
which formed a fitting tribute to those who had built up the traditions of
the Club, was in a large measure due to the efforts over several months of
the organising committee, consisting of The President, James Mason;
Vice-President, Wm. B. Champion; Past Presidents W.A.D. Neish and J.A.
Brooks; Honorary Treasurer, Barrie O. Thomson; Honorary Secretary Alec A.
Pow; and Honorary Assistant Secretary, Stuart McHardy.
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