Born Henry Lauder at 4 Bridge Street, Portobello,
Edinburgh, (then the residence of his mother’s father) on the 4th August
1870. He was the eldest son of John Currie Lauder (1851-1882) (who had been born in nearby
Musselburgh) a Master Potter and a descendant of Lauder & Bass, and Isabella Urquhart
MacLeod McLennan (1854 -1905) born in Arbroath but whose family originated in the Black
Isle in Rossshire.
Harry’s family had been relatively comfortable.
His great grandfather, George Lauder (1776-1824), had been the tenant farmer at Inverleith
Mains and a local landholder in nearby Stockbridge, Edinburgh. Amongst his properties was
the famous St. Bernard’s Well. This remained in the family until later that century.
Harry’s grandfather, John Lauder (1818-1888), too had owned a large house at 4 Rose
Street, Edinburgh, the site of which is now occupied by the rear of Jenners famous
department store. The family were therefore in a position to afford the boys of the family
apprenticeships in a variety of trades. One of Harry’s grandfather’s brothers
had been a baker, another a plumber.
Harry’s father did his apprenticeship in the Portobello pottery, which
itself was of some note, and was held in some considerable repute. He was later offered an
excellent position at Pearson’s Pottery at Newbold near Chesterfield, Derbyshire,
which he accepted. However, after being there only a short time he contracted pneumonia
and died aged only 32. He was buried in the Newbold Churchyard in 1882 and his widow
removed back to Arbroath with her family. Most children were then leaving the infant State
sector schools to work in factories but Harry's mother was determined that his schooling
should continue. So in order to attend the school at the nearby flax mill, Harry took a
part-time job there, which also assisted the large family’s income (there were eight
children, one of whom was born posthumously).
Harry’s mother’s brother, Alexander (Sandy) was working in Hamilton,
Lanarkshire, where there was enormous industrial activity at that time and towards the end
of the decade Isabella, encouraged by her brother, moved to Hamilton where the three
eldest lads, Harry, Matthew and John obtained work in the local coal mines. This they did
for about nine to ten years. Matt studied in his spare time and obtained an
under-manager’s certificate while John emigrated first to New Zealand and then Kurri
Kurri in New South Wales. Harry determined to leave the mines and his career as an
entertainer from this point is well known.
Matt became a mining consultant until the end of the First World War, travelling
throughout the world from the beginning of the century. His purchase then of a landscaping
business in California meant that he would henceforth spend most of his time there until
On 19th June 1891 Harry, as he became known, married Ann (Nance),
eldest daughter of James Limerick Vallance (1855-1936) a Colliery Manager at Hamilton,
Lanarkshire, and Mary Kerr (1856-1937). Matt, Harry’s brother, was Best Man. The
following year Matt married Ann’s sister Catherine Swanstone Limerick Vallance, and
Harry was his Best Man! (James Vallance’s father had changed his name from Limerick
to Vallance before dying in the Crimean War).
There can be no doubt whatever of Harry Lauder’s tremendous popularity. He
toured the world for forty years including 22 times to the U.S.A., and several times to
Australia where he often stayed with his brother John. Harry and his wife and son were in
Melbourne, Victoria, when the British Empire mobilised for World War One. Sir Winston
Churchill referred to Harry as "Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador". Harry
was the first British entertainer to sell a million records and was a favourite of King
Edward VII and an intimate friend of the famous tea magnate Sir Thomas Lipton, amongst
A robust patriot, Harry raised huge sums of money for war charities during the
Great War (1914-1918) and entertained troops in the trenches in France, where he came
under enemy fire. He was knighted in January 1919 by King George V. He again entertained
troops, and broadcasted over the wireless with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra during
World War II, despite his advanced years. Even towards the end of that conflict and just
afterwards Sir Harry appeared at the docks when American food ships came into Glasgow to
publicly thank the crews for coming to Britain’s assistance in her hour of need.
Sir Harry wrote most of his own songs, favourites of which were Roamin in the
Gloamin’, I Love a Lassie, A Wee Deoch-an-Doris, and Keep Right on to the End
of the Road, and starred in three British films: Huntingtower (1928), Auld
Lang Syne (1929) and The End of the Road (1936).
He also wrote a number of books which ran into several editions, including Harry
Lauder at Home and on Tour (1912), A Minstrel in France (1918), Roamin’
in the Gloamin’ (1927 autobiography), My Best Scotch Stories (1929), Wee
Drappies (1931) and Ticklin’ Talks (c.1932). Sir Harry mentions his
descent from the Lauders of Lauder and Bass in his autobiography.
Sir Harry’s only child, John (b.19th November 1891) had attended
the City of London School and Cambridge University and was destined for a career in law.
However, he was called up and Captain John Lauder of the 8th Argyll and
Sutherland Highland Regiment, was eventually killed at Poiziers in France on 26th
December 1916 and was buried the following month in the Albert Road Cemetery at
Orvilliers, France. He was unmarried.
A monument was erected by his father in the tiny family graveyard at Glenbranter
in Argyll. Young John’s mother and her parents are buried next to his memorial.
Sir Harry’s wife Anne also sadly died on 31st July 1927, a
terrible blow to the great man. His youngest brother, Alexander, had a daughter, Margaret
[Greta] (1900-1966), who was fond of Sir Harry and she moved in to keep an eye on him at
his beautiful mansion of Laudervale outside Dunoon. She was to become his almost
In 1932 Sir Harry purchased the property at Strathaven, Lanarkshire, where his
next mansion, Lauder Ha’ was constructed for, as he would say, a home for all the
family; and a memorial to his fame. Cleverly, he put the land in his niece’s name to
avoid death duties when he passed away. She would stay there until her untimely death aged
Sir Harry Lauder died at Lauder Ha’ on the 26th February 1950.
At his funeral service the Lesson was read by the Duke of Hamilton, and all shops and
businesses in Hamilton closed for the day. Sir Harry was unexpectedly interred not with
his wife at Glenbranter, but with his mother, and brother George, in Bent Cemetery,
Hamilton, after that town’s most memorable funeral ever. It was covered by Pathe
News and wreaths were received from all over the world, including one from Queen
Elizabeth (today’s Queen Mother) and another from Mr & Mrs Winston Churchill.