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St. Andrew Society (London)

(Wimbledon and District Scotsí Association)

Affiliated to the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS)


Centennial History

While we are justly proud of our prestigious title of the "St. Andrew Society (London)", in 1966 the Society felt that our association with Wimbledon should be recognised by the adoption of the subsidiary title of the "Wimbledon & District Scots' Association". Little did we know then - or at least I did not know - that this was the original name of the Society. We have all but one of the old Minute Books and, from my reading of them, I offer this short history of our Society over the period from its formation in 1910 up to 1966 when memories of some of us can take over.

The Society had its roots in a meeting on 16th March 1910 when a provisional committee was formed who proceeded to draft a constitution and make a deputation upon the Mayor of Wimbledon inviting him to fill an honorary position. The subscription was fixed at "3 shillings" [15 pence in current currency]. An inaugural meeting was called for 2nd April to consider, among other things: the formation of a choir for rendering Scottish part songs; a class for the practice of highland dancing; and a system for exchange of Scottish literature among members. Soon there were 60 members and a meeting on 16th April was called "to provide opportunity of promoting "friendly intercourse". The aim of the Society was "the preservation of some of Scotland's most attractive characteristics, and (in 1911) a Gaelic Circle was formed for the cultivation and preservation of knowledge of the Gaelic language and literature. Picnics on Wimbledon Common were apparently popular events, and a Ceremony was held at 'St. Andrew's Grove', near Caesar's Well, Wimbledon Common on 20th June 1914 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, and the Society's 1937 Annual Report states that the "annual picnic for Bannockburn Day was held as usual". Concerts were also arranged, usually to celebrate St. Andrew's Night and Burns Night.

In April 1913, the Society registered itself as a "Friendly Society" under the then Friendly Societies statute, using the title "Wimbledon & District Scots' Association (1910)" and a formal constitution was adopted (copy in the Minute Book). The Society remained so registered until its deregistration in 1961, which then enabled the Society to make charitable donations, not possible under the then law for a registered "Friendly Society". However, on 26th March 1914, the Society resolved to change its name to "St. Andrew Society (S.W. London)" in order to "afford a sure basis for the development of Scottish culture and fellowship over an unlimited area". Unfortunately, there are no existing records of the Society for the period 1917 to 1927; and, by this date, the Society's name had become the "St. Andrew Society (London)". I have, therefore, not been able to determine why or when the "S.W." was dropped from the Society's name.

The first secretary of the Society was Miss Margaret Grant who remained associated with it until her death in 1954. In her will, she bequeathed £250 to the Trustees of the Society (the "Margaret Grant Bequest Fund"), it being her wish that the interest on this sum be used for the advancement of the Society's objects: for full details, see Minute of 14.6.54. Miss Grant had an active life in the Wimbledon community and a book on her life is in the Library of the local "Museum of Wimbledon". A note of her active life in the Wimbledon Community and to explain the Bequest was prepared for Society members and can be seen here.

The Minute books also show that the first subscribing member and "Chairman of Committees" was "Mr. J. M. Stewart (1865-1948). I believe that this person was the father of Ian Stewart who was, at least twice, elected chief of the Society (in 1950 and 1964) and was for many years recorded as its Heraldic Writer and Press Writer. It was he who re-vitalised the Society after World War II and some of the current members will no doubt remember him. In his later years, he gave a sum of money to the Society to fund a "James McQueen Stewart Memorial Badge Account" for the purchase of badges for use by the Society's members.

A Dance Sub-Committee was convened in 1912 to organise a dance, for which it was agreed that the proportion of Scottish dances should be 8 to 10. A "cinderella dance" was organised at Fulham Town Hall on 6th March 1913 and a newspaper cutting records that among the national dances on the programme were "the now popular country dances Petronella and Flowers of Edinburgh, besides reels, foursome and eightsome." According to a newspaper cutting, during the 1913-14 season, there had been a "Dance Circle", which apparently attracted 150 persons to a weekly instruction class under the guidance of the Society's "first honorary dance instructor". From the early days, the Society had as its piper Major Donald Ross, and some of us may remember that he played for us at a Burns Night Dinner about 1970 when our then honorary piper, J. Allan Riach, could not attend. Allan Riach always said that he had played with Donald Ross in the early years of the Society and in 1930 Allan is recorded as the Society's Honorary Piper. He is recorded as being re-elected to this position in 1966. From that time, Allan continued to be our piper until his death in the 1980's. Our present Chaplain, The Reverend Alexander (Sandy) Borthwick, took Allan's funeral service and a chance remark with the vicar of the Stoke d'Abernon church led to Sandy acquiring Allan's set of pipes so that the Society could continue to have a piper among its members. Allan Riach gave a BBC talk on piping history and technique and the Society has a copy of this. When Sandy retired to live in France, the past Chief, Norris Haugh, became the Society's official piper, but sadly he died shortly after memorably playing and reciting the address to the haggis at the Burns Night Dinner in 2009.

Still continued today is the practice of sending and receiving fraternal greetings from other "St Andrew" societies who existed at least as early as 1931 and 150 such cards were printed in 1937. In 1936, there was an attempt to revive the "Dance Circle", which had apparently ceased to function. At that time, meetings were held in the hall of the Royal Scottish Corporation in Fetter Lane, demolished in the 1960's, and 162 subscriptions were paid in 1937.

During World War II only a few meetings were held, but an Emergency Committee continued to meet sporadically. In 1942, the Society was fined for not submitting an Annual Return to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. In 1950, the then M.P. for Wimbledon (later Sir Cyril Black) and Cllr. D. Leslie Reid made a strong request for the formation of a Scottish society in the Borough. The Society decided to be that society and an Open Meeting to recruit members was advertised for 2nd October 1950. This led to the enrolment of 207 members. The Society was thus reborn with Ian Stewart as its Chief, and the subscription increased for the first time in 40 years to 5 shillings (25p).

In 1950, a St. Andrew's Day service was held at the Presbyterian Church, in Mansel Road, a custom which continued until fairly recently and a St. Andrew's Day social evening was held at the Marlborough Hall. This included an Eightsome Reel, as a photograph in a newspaper cutting shows. At this time, there was some attempt to start a dancing class but a suitable venue could not then be found. A Burns Night Dinner and Dance followed on January 25th 1951 at the Wimbledon Hill Hotel and has (I think) been a continuous annual event since that date. Regular whist drives were commenced and there were further attempts to start a separate "dancing class". These must have been successful because, at the A.G.M. in April 1953, Mr. and Mrs W. Raffan were re-elected as "Hon. Dance Instructors". Kathleen Raffan joined the Committee in September 1953, but apparently resigned in 1954. Also, during 1953, the jewel worn by our Chief on ceremonial occasions was donated by the past Chief, Mr. R.C.W. Hunter; and, in 1957, his wife presented a "Chief's Lady's jewel". Besides Whist Drives, and occasional lectures, dances organised by the Society were held for St. Andrew's Night. For the Burns Night Dinner Dance In 1957, all subsidiary speakers were asked to limit their remarks to 2 minutes! In 1959, membership of the Society stood at 228.

In 1955, the "Dancing Class" was revived under a sub-committee organised by Edith Stewart (in association with Margaret Reid) and in 1956 she reported an average attendance of 45/50 persons. Edith and Margaret ran this Class for many years, but rather as a separate adjunct to the general activities of the Society with its own accounts. Initially, meetings of this were fortnightly, but an "advanced class" was started in 1959, but received the criticism that the instructed dances "were not the most popular or well-known ones". Eventually, the dancing class became a weekly event on Tuesdays, with the Society meeting monthly on Fridays, but interest in the other events diminished, although for many years we had an annual garden party and organised a Ball at the then Wimbledon Town Hall. However, as we all know, for many years now the former "Dancing Class" has become the Society, with occasional other events, particularly the Burns Night Dinner Dance. The Society became affiliated to the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society in 1965. The hall in which we traditionally met was built about 1964 with funds donated by the then Honorary President of the Society, Sir Cyril Black. The Society met in this hall from the 1960s up to 2012 when the donated funds ran out and we had to move to our present location.

Kay (and the late Jimmy) Melville joined the Society in 1955, giving Kay (who died in 2010) continuous membership of the Society for over 44 years. David and Gay Batten became members in 1957, Jim (and Monica) Hubner became members at the same time while Trish and I became Associates in 1963. In 1966, the Rules of the Society were altered to allow Associates then to be elected to positions other than Chief and President. This allowed Jim to be elected as Hon. Treasurer and myself as Hon. Secretary in September 1966. From this time onward, we have several books of photographs which vividly illustrate the Society's personalities and activities. Within more recent years: these are displayed on special occasions.

Alan W. White,
Hon. Sec. 1963-68; Chief 1981-83
1st December 1998, revised 19 December 2013.