Robert Burns


The History of Alexandria Burns Club

In his 1912 book, "Reminiscences of Bonhill Parish", John Neill wrote ...

Among "Societies of Good Fellowship" Alexandria Burns' Club occupies a prominent place. It was formed in 1884, and was federated the following year. The club stands at No. 2 in the Federation list. It was constituted for the sole purpose of keeping alive the cult of the poet's work. It had at its start a membership of fifty, which had been well maintained. Its first officials were Messrs Duncan Campbell, president; William Carlile, treasurer; and Alexander Bryan, secretary. Monthly meetings have been held regularly since the formation of the club, and the anniversary of the poet's natal day is celebrated in right friendly fashion. Only one of the original members survives, and that is Mr Duncan Carswell, the present secretary. Mr Matthew Campbell is the genial president.

It is worth noting that in 1884, when the club was formed, the population of the Vale was about 12,500. This indicates that the membership then was, as a percentage of the local population, even greater than at present.

Back in 2004 the original minute book of Alexandria Burns Club (No 2) was returned to the Club by John Barr, son of a former club treasurer.

The minute book tells us that the inaugural meeting of the club was held in the house of Mr Knox on the 25th of January 1884 to celebrate the Anniversary of the birth of our national poet Robert Burns.

Extracts from the Original Minute Book of Alexandria Burns Club 

25th January 1884
On the above evening, a number of gentlemen met in the house of Mr. Knox for the purpose of celebrating the anniversary of the birth of our national poet, Robert Burns, on the motion of Mr. James MacFarlane.

Mr. Duncan Campbell was unanimously called to the chair after which, before the business proper of the meeting commenced, a conversation was engaged in, regarding the propriety of forming a Burns Club, which was ultimately agreed to. The following preliminary committee was approved of: Duncan Campbell, convenor, Duncan Carswell, Thomas Nixon, Alex Cameron, Robert Telfer, Duncan McDonald, Alex M. Bryan, interim secy. Said committee to meet in Mr. Knox's on the evening of Friday 8th February to arrange for a general meeting of members. The remainder of the evening was spent in a manner worthy of the memory of such a bard.

8th February 1884
A meeting of committee held on above evening, Mr. Campbell presiding, when a code of rules were drawn up to be submitted to a general meeting to be held in the Co-operative Hall on the 22nd February. Members present: D. Campbell, T. Nixon, R. Telfer, A. Cameron, D. Carswell and A.M. Bryan.

22nd February 1884 Co-operative Hall.
A general meeting of the Club was held as above, Mr. Campbell presiding. Minutes of the previous meetings read and approved of.

The following rules for the Club were then agreed to. ( A set of six rules then follows )

The following were then appointed Office Bearers for the current year. Duncan Campbell, President, Robert Telfer, Vice President, Wm. Carlyle, Treasurer, Alex M. Bryan, Secretary. Committee - Alex M. Donald, Thomas Nixon, Wm. Knox, Andrew Blair, Mungo McGregor. Receipts 21/-

13th January 1885 Village School
A special summoned meeting was held as above, President in the Chair. The Secretary explained that Mr. Knox had intimated to him that he would be unable to undertake the purveying of the festival. After some discussion it was agreed to be held in the Albert Hotel. Hour of meeting, 6.45. This was all the business.

Original Minute of ABC First Meeting

Minute of First Meeting - 25 January 1884 (click to enlarge)

Monthly meetings were to be held and the rules of the club were drawn up. The club's first anniversary supper was held in the Albert Hotel, (better known more recently as "The Griffin Hotel") on the 25 January 1885. Mr Knox proposed the Immortal Memory which was described as a stirring speech. The extract below is a report on the 1885 supper from the original minute book.

Extract from the Original Minute Book of Alexandria Burns Club 

January 25th 1885 "Albert Hotel"

The members of Alexandria Burns Club celebrated their first Anniversary of the Birth of the Poet as above, Mr. Campbell, President of the Club, in the chair, supported by

Messrs Knox and Bryan, while the duties of Croupier were ably sustained by Mr. Telfer, Vice-President, supported by Messrs Carlile and Walker.

A substantial supper, having been done ample justice to, the "Chieftain Of The Pudding Race" appeared and was very appropriately welcomed by Mr. Carswell in the words of the Bard, after which it disappeared having gone the way of all chieftains of a like nature. The Cloth having been removed, customary Loyal and Patriotic Toasts were given from the chair. The Army, Navy & Volunteers being responded to by Mr. Hughes.

Mr. Knox, in a stirring speech, gave "The Immortal Memory of Burns" to which Mr. Telfer eloquently replied. Mr. Bryan sang "There Was a Lad Was Born in Kyle" immediately after the Memory of Burns had been given and replied to.

Mr. Bryan gave "The Commercial Interests of the Vale of Leven", which was ably replied to by Mr. Wm. Carlile.

A pleasant and unexpected incident now took place. Mr. David Walker presenting the President with a very neat bust of the Poet. Mr. Campbell suitably acknowledged the gift, which was entirely spontaneous on the part of Mr. Walker who is a keen and ardent admirer of the Bard.

Mr. Alex Lees now read "The Cottar's Saturday Night" which was well received.

Song, by Mr. Blair. "Happy We've Been A' Thegither".
Reading, Mr. Walker. "The Epistle to a Young Friend".
Song, Mr. Campbell. "Corn Riggs".
Reading, Mr. Thos. Nixon. "Man Was Made to Mourn".
Song, Mr. Murray. "Tam Glen".
Reading, Mr. Carswell. "The Twa' Dogs".
Song, Mr. Kennedy. "The Farmer's Boy".
Song, Mr. Adams.
Reading, Mr. Telfer. "Tam O'Shanter".
Song, Mr. Bryan. "Gae Bring To Me a Pint o' Wine".

Mr. Lees now introduced to the company a friend, Mr. Forsyth, elocutionist, from Motherwell, who was on a professional visit to the Vale of Leven, who entertained them to a very able sketch, "The Cockney's Adventures in Liddlesdale".

After this point, the fun grew fast and not furious, song and sentiment being the order of the evening. After singing "Auld Lang Syne", the company parted at a reasonable hour, happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again.


Alexandria Burns Club entry in the 19933 Burns Chronicle
Snippet from the Burns Chronicle 1933 - Click to View Full Page

The above snippet is from the Burns Chronicle of 1933, a copy of which I managed to find on eBay. (What on earth would Rabbie think of eBay? If he were still around he would probably be writing "An address to the Internet".) Many of the current members will remember the late John Barton with affection. I understand that the John Barton mentioned above was his father and also the club secretary way back then. His son, John, also held this position for very many years. I would be grateful if anyone can confirm actually how long he served the club.

Programme from the Jubilee Burns Supper, 25 January 1934 >

Other papers which have been given to the club include details of members, suppers and proposers of the Immortal Memory in the fifties and early sixties.

Bob Wyllie recently presented me with a copy of the 1985 Burns Chronicle, which includes a report written by the then secretary, the late John Barton. This includes a report from the centennial supper and St Andrew's night in 1984, which I was fortunate enough to attend.

Alexandria Burns Club. President J. Gallacher welcomed 150 Members and Guests to the Centennial Festival of Alexandria Burns Club, held at the Griffin Hotel, Alexandria, on 21st January, 1984. The Haggis, bravely borne by A.McDonald, was piped in by pipe major D. McDermid and addressed by B. G. Benson who also gave a rendering of 'Epistle to Davie'.

The undoubted highlight of the evening was the toast to the 'Immortal Memory', proposed by Lord Ross of Marnock, P.C., M.B.E. Lord Ross's thoughts and ideas on the Bard had the audience spellbound and completely enthralled and he was rewarded with a very enthusiastic standing ovation. A special feature of the evening was a toast to 'Alexandria Burns Club', given by our old friend, J. L. Hempstead.

Mr. Hempstead impressed us greatly with the amount of information he had obviously researched in presenting a history of our Club, including a reminder that an Alexandria man was one of the driving forces and founder-members of the Burns Federation. J. Archibald gave his inimitable versions of 'Tam 0' Shanter' and 'Sic a Wife as Willie had', well-loved songs by Wm. Murray, A. Miller and J. McLean, ably accompanied at the piano by A. Lockhart and further toasts to 'The Lasses' by T. Wilson and 'The Artistes' by C. Douse, M.B.E., completed a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable evening.

A St. Andrew's night was held in Vale of Leven Bowling Club's function room when the toast to Scotland was in the very capable hands of Tom Wilson. As usual, the rest of the entertainment, including recitations and songs, was provided by various members of the Club, which once again showed the depth of talent we have available for evenings such as these


Bowling Links - The McLennan Cup

It is also to be noted that several members of the club regularly participated (with some success) in the Burns Federation's own bowling competition - the McLennan Cup. This competition was for bowlers (I use the term "bowlers" loosely) who were also members of Burns clubs in the West of Scotland. It was held in bowling clubs throughout the Glasgow area on the First Tuesday in August each year. The rules at the time were that at least two of the four players in each team had to be members of a Federated Burns Club.

Anecdote: Some bowling members of our club were introduced to Burns through this tournament, not least your web designer who well remembers playing on Queen's Park Bowling Club's hallowed turf a couple of days before the Scottish finals were due to be played there sometime in the mid to late 1970's. The team was Biff Crichton, Duncan McLean, Bryan Weir and Billy Brown and to our consternation we were told that the bar was closing at 2.30pm, just after we arrived. A "dry" afternoon playing in the McLennan Cup was just inconceivable so a crisis meeting with our opponents was hastily convened and the outcome was that someone was dispatched for a "kerry oot".

We started the game and after a couple of ends Biff slipped off for a quick hauf with his opponent. He was flabbergasted when the barman, a surly, self-important chap, told him that he had confiscated the kerry oot and that we could have it when we were leaving, so "thank you Queen's Park." (Had Burns been in the rink that barman would surely have been immortalised in a poem.)

Thae curst horse-leeches o' the' Excise,
Wha mak the whisky stells their prize!
Haud up thy han', Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An' bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor damn'd drinkers.

Incidentally, the McLennan cup competition has not been played in recent years but the splendid trophy has sat proudly in the Vale of Leven Bowling Club. Our late past-president John Wood's rink were the last to win it so we have retained the trophy.

Vale of Leven Glencairn Burns Club No. 113

During the research for this website I discovered to my surprise that there had been another federated Burns club in the area called "Vale of Leven Glencairn Burns Club No. 113". I am afraid that I have no information other than this entry from the 1933 Burns Chronicle. If anyone has information about the other club please pass it on and we will include it here.

Vale of Leven Glencairn Burns Club (Alexandria), entry from the 1933 Burns Chronicle.

The Burns Club membership list is something of a who's who of the Vale but it is interesting to note that in the early sixties young men like Alan Duncan, Jimmy Roger and Peter McLaren were members of the club. There is also an almost annual entry which reads John Wood - "late". It appears some things never change. We would welcome any additional material or information that can be added to this history. If any members have anything of interest please get in touch.


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