Piping in London: the 1901 to 1904 Highland Gatherings

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• PART 16 •

BY JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE.

The Highland Gathering 1901

In 1901 the eighth L.H.A.C. Highland Gathering was held on Monday, May 28 at Stamford Bridge. The weather was excellent and large crowds attended. At the close Lady Dundonald presented the prizes. In the evening a dance was held at the Holborn Restaurant to celebrate a successful gathering. The results have not been found, apart from a brief note in the Aberdeen Journal: ‘Mr John Mackenzie, Glasgow, a native of Aberdeenshire, who was recently professional teacher of dancing at Mrs Polson’s Academy, Aberdeen, was the most successful competitor in Highland dancing at the London Highland Athletic Club’s gathering at Stamford Bridge Grounds yesterday. He won two first and two second prizes. Mr Mackenzie holds the championship of Scotland for Highland dancing, won at Aberfeldy last season.’ There was no mention in the press of the Scottish Gathering.

The Highland Gathering 1902

In 1902 the ninth annual gathering of the London Highland Athletic Club again took place on Whit Monday, May 19 at Stamford Bridge. Advertising stated that all profits would be handed over to the Royal Scottish Corporation and the Royal Caledonian Asylum. These were the charities previously supported by the Scottish Gathering.

According to reports it was robbed of much of its brilliancy by the inclemency of the weather. Drenching showers of rain occasionally put a stop to proceedings and drove everyone to shelter. Donald MacKay, Beauly, proved himself almost invincible amongst amateurs in piping and dancing; and amongst professionals John MacKenzie and Charles McEwen, Fintray, were the most successful.

In the professional events Angus Macrae, Callander was first for both Piobaireachd and Marches, Strathspeys and Reels.

At the close three cheers were given for the Marquis of Tullibardine, the Chief of the Society, who was at present in South Africa in command of the Scottish Horse. Lady Macpherson Grant of Ballindalloch distributed the prizes to the winners.

The Highland Gathering 1903/04

There was no gathering in 1903 but the series continued with the tenth L.H.A.C. gathering on Whit Monday, May 23 1904, held at Stamford Bridge in favourable weather. Before the gathering it was announced that the entire profits of the gathering would be given to the Royal Scottish Corporation and the Royal Caledonian Asylum, whose boy pipers would be present. The piping and dancing competitions were judged by Mr A. MacKenzie Hay, Mr James J. Mackay, Major Macpherson, and Mr Donald Macleod. Reports stated that: “It was to be regretted that the members’ piping competitions had to be withdrawn owing to insufficient entries. Some of the members do practice the pipes, but shrink from public performance. The first prize for pibrochs was deservedly won by Piper Donald MacKay, who won the Highland Society’s medal at the Northern Meeting last year. Excellent music was provided during the day by Lambert’s Military Band, and by the boy pipers of the Royal Caledonian Asylum, whose pieces were received with much enthusiasm.”

The full results were:

Piping. Professionals. Piobaireachd:
1. Donald MacKay, Beauly; 2. PM Matheson, 3rd Royal Scots; 3. James A. Center, Edinburgh; 4. Sergeant Instructor John Wallace, British Orphan Asylum.

Marches, Strathspeys and Reels:
First equal. Sergeant Instructor Wallace and PM Matheson, 3. Hector MacPhee, 4. PM Macpherson, Royal Scots.

Dancing. Members. Highland Fling:
1. F.L. Narramore, 2. Donald G. MacLeod, 3. Keith.

Gillie Callum:
1. L.G. Horton Smith, 2. F.L. Narramore, 3. J.W. Sutherland Leask.

Strathspey and Reel:
1. Donald G. MacLeod, 2. F.L. Narramore, 3. S.G. MacDonald.

Seann Truibhais (for juveniles under 14):
1. F.L. Narramore, 2. D.G. MacLeod, 3. T. Finlay.

Strathspey and Reel (juveniles under 14):
1. D.G. MacLeod, 2. F.L. Narramore, 3. T. Finlay.

Professionals. Highland Fling:
1. Charles McEwen, Fintray; 2. D. MacLennan, Edinburgh; 3. J. MacNeill, Edinburgh; 4. W. Cameron Garden, Aberdeen.

Gillie Callum:
2. MacLennan, 2. MacEwen, 3. MacNeill, 4. W.C. Garden.

Strathspey and Reel:
1. MacLennan, 2. MacEwen, 3. MacNeill, 4. James A. Center.

General Stewart presented the prizes.

•James Allan Center 1875-1919 was the son of pipe maker John Center and followed his father into the business. He won the Northern Meeting Gold Medal in 1902, the Clasp in 1904 and the Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal in 1906. The Center family emigrated to Australia in 1908.

•John Wallace was born in 1864/65. He served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders then became the piping instructor at Dr Guthrie’s Industrial School at Liberton from about 1890, later moving on to the Clyde Training Ship Empress from around 1898. In 1901 he won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering. He then moved to London and it was thought he taught at the Caledonian Asylum, although the above report states it was the British Orphan Asylum.

•Donald MacKay, Beauly (1880-1910) had been competing as an amateur for some time before competing professionally. In 1902 he played at the Northern Meeting and was placed second in the Gold Medal. In 1903 he won the Gold Medal. The report of the meeting stated that there were 24 competitors. Donald MacKay was described as from Highbury, London, and his tune was Glengarry’s Lament. Cpl Piper William Ross, Scots Guards, was second and PM MacDougall, Aberfeldy third. Donald MacKay was also piper to the Strathnaver Fairy Circle, a charitable organisation which had been formed some years earlier by Mr James Mead Sutherland, from Strathnaver and had about 800 members. The circle had as its symbol the ‘tartan plaidie’ and the aim of the members was, metaphorically to throw its shelter over as many poor children as possible. The circle’s headquarters were the Elflyn Knowe in Shaftesbury Avenue, London.

The activities described in various newspaper reports included, for example, a substantial meal and concert for 1,000 to 1,500 of the poorest children in London held at a large hall in Camberwell, and a tea and entertainment for 200 of the poorest little ones in Bermondsey, at which during the afternoon Mr Donald MacKay, Scotland’s Gold Medallist, gave the juvenile audience a sample of his skill with the bagpipes. In addition to providing free meals, garments, holidays and entertainments the members visited hospitals, schools and other institutions with flowers and toys, maintained a cot at the Alexandra Hospital and assisted the crèche at the Harrow School mission.

The catering, served by volunteers, was probably fairly simple and each child was told to bring a mug. One paper described the great variety of drinking vessels brought by the children. The toys handed out when the children went home were described as ‘a gift from the fairies’. Some papers started their reports with headings such as ‘There were Fairies in Bermondsey Today.’ But, like the tooth fairy or Father Christmas the idea of the Fairy Circle would be intended to bring a little magic into the lives of children who were suffering from extreme poverty.

At one event, an ‘At Home,’ held at the Elflyn Knowe, for 200 of the best known Scots in London, the entertainment included song, recitations, violin and other instrumental selections, bagpipe selections and Highland dances by Pipe Major Donald MacKay and pipers W.D. Ross, F. L. Narramore, C. Downs, J.D. Lang, J. MacMillan and J. Stewart, while reels were also contributed by members of the S.F.C. and scholars of the Royal Caledonian Asylum. The Elflyn Knowe was decorated with tartan curtains, red and white heather, red roses and white lilac and many of those present wore Highland costume.

The activities of the circle also extended to Scotland where each year they held gatherings and entertainments for school children and old people in the Highlands. On one trip north the Chief Mr Sutherland was accompanied by other leaders and their hon. piper, Donald MacKay. They attended the Duchess of Sutherland’s bazaar at Dunrobin Castle, held to raise funds for the apprentice lads of the Sutherland Technical School at Golspie. Donald MacKay contributed bagpipe selections and Highland dances. While in the north the members of the Circle held a substantial tea and entertainment for the school children in various places, including Strathnaver, Farr, Bettyhill, Melvich, Strathy, Tongue, Melness, Durness, Blair Atholl, Dunkeld, Pitlochry and Leith, and for the inmates of orphanages and institutions.

One report of a Christmas gathering for 500 of the poorest children in London described how ‘brightness and joy ever followed in the wake of these latter day fairies and to the children this was another and brighter Christmas. With the gramophone selections provided, and the songs and tales by members and friends of the Fairy Circle, it was to them fairyland indeed. During the afternoon the echoes were awakened by Piper Donald MacKay; while Mr James Mead Sutherland, in his Gaelic dress, and as chief of the circle, well saw that the poor mites present were sheltered under the tartan plaidie of the clan Sutherland, at least for one happy day.’ Another event was a tea and entertainment for 100 old folk from the local workhouse and 32 children from the Cottage Home. The entertainment included bagpipe selections from Pipe Major Donald MacKay and pipers W.D. Ross and J. Watts-Fraser, and Highland, Irish and other dances executed by Pipe Major Donald MacKay and pipers W.D. Ross, J. Watts-Fraser, F. Lawson Narramore, and W.G. Hay, and Miss Ethel B. Hay, and Mrs Donald MacKay.

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• Part 8-2

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• Part 14
• Part 15