London Highland Club
Cairdeas Nan Gaidheal - Friendship Of The Gaels
Early in the 1920s, the Gaelic Society, having set up a Committee to look into the social needs of young Scots in London, recommended the founding of a Club with its own premises where people would be welcome at all times. Accordingly, the London Highland Club was formed and a fund started for the acquisition of permanent premises. Although a considerable sum of money had been collected, this aim had not been achieved before the outbreak of the Second World War and unfortunately economic circumstances since that time have prevented realisation.
The first meeting was held on 15th October 1923 in a small upper hall belonging to the Marylebone Presbyterian Church in Edgeware Road and the Club continued to meet there regularly on Monday evenings. Within a year it was found necessary to rent two additional rooms and by 1925 the largest hall in the premises was engaged. On January 6th 1928 headquarters were tranferred to the more spacious accommodation of West Central Hall, Alfred Place, Tottenham Court Road, with meetings on Friday evenings. Each year there was a full programme of dances, concerts, ceilidhs, outings, etc., but the outstanding feature was the homely and sociable atmosphere of the ordinary meeting. Many notable speakers visited the Club, including Mrs Kennedy-Fraser and Mr Seton Gordon. In February 1932 the Club moved to the Royal Scottish Corporation Hall in Fetter Lane which was to be its home until December 1972 when the Hall was closed for redevelopment. 1932 also saw the election of the Club's first Chief, Col. Campbell of Airds. Other holders of the office have been Lord Sempill, Mr A F McLeod, Mr Robert Gilmour (President 1964-1974), Mr Frank Gordon and Mrs Margaret Gordon. Mr Graham Cattell was elected Chief, having been President from 1974-1994. The Club's first President was Mr Angus Clark who had been one of the founder members.
By 1936 the membership had reached over 400 and on 10th March that year the first Annual Dinner was held at Grosvenor House. During the war years the Club continued to meet as often as possible, sometimes at Crown Court Church. Early records were destroyed in the blitz in 1941.
In 1968 the Club started two new ventures - a camping weekend and a season of open-air dancing in Paternoster Square. Originally introduced whilst the Hall in Fetter Lane was closed during August 1968, the open-air dances proved so popular that they became a regular feature of the Club's calendar until 1991 when the Square was threatened by redevelopment. For the first few years the camping weekend was held at a holiday camp at Camber Sands but when this site was no longer available transferred to Scott's Farm at Wittering.
In 1971 the first Annual Highland Ball was held at Porchester Hall with Andrew Rankine and his band - the Ball continues to be a highlight of the Club's year. In 1977 a Hallowe'en Dance was held at Hackney Town Hall and was the forerunner of the Autumn Dances. The Club has taken the opportunity, for both these functions, to bring down Bands from Scotland.
Activities have varied over the years, reflecting the current interests of members. For many years there was a flourishing drama circle whose presentations also entertained the members of other Scottish Societies in London. There is a haggis supper dance every January and the Club used to organise a Christmas Party for the children of members and friends. Dance teams have competed at local Highland Gatherings and in 1970 the Club's team won both the open and confined Scottish Country Dance competitions at Richmond. Dancers representing the Club have entertained at old people's and children's homes as well as providing cabaret at major London hotels. In 1981 the Club was invited by the City of London Corporation to take part in the Royal Wedding festivities.
December 8th 1972 saw the end of the Club's long association with Fetter Lane and is commemorated in the dance "The London Highland Club's Farewell to Fetter Lane". With the closure of this Hall, the Club helped form the Combined Societies Committee to seek new accommodation and, as a result, moved to St. Columba's Church Hall in Pont Street, London SW1. At first the Club's Saturday dances only were held at Pont Street with Friday meetings at St. Pancras Church House, Euston. In Autumn 1973 Friday meetings were transferred to the Upper Lounge at St. Columba's where the original homely and sociable atmosphere of the Club was re-established at "Winter Fridays" with a variety of dancing and informal entertainment provided by members for a number of years.
The Club supports various Scottish Charities and has been closely associated with other Scottish organisations in and around London. Trophies donated in support of various competitions include the cup presented in the 1930s to the Scottish Piping Society of London, which is awarded annually to the winner of one of the Piobaireachd competitions, and the shield donated to the Festival of Scotland in London in 1981. For many years the Club was involved in the organisation of the London Highland Gathering.
As a memento for members of an evening at Paternoster Square, the Club's first LP was recorded live during the 1971 season of open-air dancing. This was followed by "Dance with the London Highland Club", recorded live at the Christmas Dance in December 1972. In general, the club holds one Saturday dance per month and recordings were made on a number of these occasions to produce the third LP "Welcome to the London Highland Club". The Club's Diamond Jubilee was celebrated with a dance on 15th October 1983 and in the Spring of 1984 a further record (LP7) was issued to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee. The last recording was "Farewell to Paternoster Square" and is still available on cassette.
For many years, the Club's home has been at St. Columba's Church, Pont Street, with occasional events elsewhere.