Piping 100 years ago: January 1924

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By JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE • PART 1 • JANUARY

In 1924 many of the news items might have been familiar to us today, while other events were historical firsts. There were concerns over rail strikes which disrupted travel and some serious troubles on the political scene were reported. Poverty was a major concern and workers around the country were threatening strike action.

George V was king and at the start of the year Stanley Baldwin was the prime minister of a conservative government. However, having lost a vote of no confidence in the debate on the King’s speech, Baldwin resigned on 22nd January and Ramsay MacDonald became the first Labour Prime Minister, leading a minority government. On 23rd January Margaret Bondfield becomes the first woman to be appointed a government minister. In February John Logie Baird sent rudimentary television pictures over a short distance for the first time. In April George V made his first radio broadcast opening The British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. On 3rd June the Gleneagles Hotel was opened and on 8th June George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were last seen heading for the summit of Mount Everest. On 7th July Harold Abrahams won the 100m gold at the Paris Olympics and on 11th Eric Liddell won the 400m Gold. On October 29th there was a general election won by the Conservative Party under Stanley Baldwin. In November the Sunday Express became the first newspaper to publish a crossword.

Meanwhile piping continued throughout the year, starting with the New Year celebrations, closely followed by Burns Suppers, Leap Year dances and various concerts and social events.

With no piping magazines available, newspapers were the main source of piping news. Bagpipe makers advertised regularly in the papers and there were small ads with pipes for sale or wanted.

Piping at New Year celebrations

The New Year of 1924 began on a cold wet and windy night over much of Scotland but the festivities went on despite the weather and many pipe bands were out in the towns and villages around the country.

In Grangemouth a large number of people gathered at Charing Cross on Monday night to see in the New Year. When midnight struck the Grange Thistle Pipe Band marched from the old town to the cross where dancing to the strains of the band continued for an hour or two. The Grange Thistle Pipe Band was founded in 1904 by PM Angus MacLeod.

In St Andrews as midnight approached a crowd of 500 assembled in front of the Post Office. PM Kirk and a few of the pipers from his band took up their stance and played a lively air as the old year passed and the New Year commenced. The pipers then played dance music and the young people enjoyed reels and square dances on the causeway.

Andrew Kirk had served with the Black Watch from about 1899 in South Africa and during the 1914-18 war. After the war he was a postman in St Andrews, then on the staff of St Andrews University from the 1920s to 1940s. He was Pipe Major and instructor to the St Andrews BB. He composed Dunalistair, a tribute to the Black Watch Memorial Home and many other tunes. He died in 1953.

In Forres the pipe band of the local Territorials paraded the streets at midnight and in Peterhead at midnight the sound of pipes and drums enlivened the crowds outside the townhouse on a wet night.

In Kirkwall a large crowd assembled outside the cathedral and the Kirkwall Pipe Band played out the final minutes of the old year. The third annual ball of the Kirkwall Pipe Band was held in the evening of New Year’s Day. There were over 70 couples and the dancing continued until 3.30am. In addition to other music, piping was supplied by Messrs Cumming and Hutchison.

In Bowmore at midnight the New Year was hailed by a procession of torch bearers accompanying the local pipe band who paraded the streets and afterwards gave selections at the Cross.

In Oban the New Year was ushered in to the ringing of church bells, the firing of guns and the sound of the bagpipes.

At Thurso there was a New Year’s Day carnival. The Thurso Pipe Band paraded the streets in the early morning and later took part in the carnival procession.

On 1st January the Oakbank Industrial School Pipe Band under PM John Reid played a selection on the Aberdeen radio. Their tunes were Caller Herring, Stirling Castle and Tail Toddle.

In Inveraray on New Year’s Day the Argyll Battery shinty team from Oban played the Inveraray team at Winterton Park. Before the game the Duke of Argyll entertained both teams in the castle and the Inveraray Castle Pipe Band under PM G MacKenzie paraded through the town and on to the field where they discoursed selections. The game was a win for Inveraray by 5 goals to 2.

In Campbeltown the Highland Parish Church Bazaar opened on New Year’s Day and continued on the following day. On both days the pipe band played through the town before the opening and gave selections in the hall at intervals during the day.

In Corpach a ceilidh was held in the Gordon Smith Cameron Hall. PM Allan Paterson opened with a stirring march and later in the programme gave a wonderful interpretation of old Highland airs.

Social activities continued during the following days. The entertainment at a dance held in Lochearnhead included piping from Hugh MacDiarmid senior. In Fort William a ceilidh for the old folks took place in the town hall with piping from Messrs Paterson and MacKintosh. In Appin at the WRI annual dance on 3rd January the piper was A Ferguson.

In Ballinluig a dance organised by the mid-Atholl farmers’ association was described as the principal social event of the season. The entertainment included piping from Mr James MacFarlane.

On 5th January the Perthshire Courier had a notice that the Gaelic Society would be holding a lecture on the subject of Old Time Celtic Ceilidhs. Along with various exhibits there would be Gaelic Psalm tunes, songs, stories and bagpipe music.

A dance and supper for the employees was hosted by Mrs MacNeal at Lossit House, Machrihanish. The music was provided by Archd McGougan on the melodeon while the reels were danced to the bagpipe, played by Mr Thomson.

The Perthshire Advertiser on 5th January reported that the Comrie and District Pipe Band under PM McFarlane had visited their Chieftain Mr W Gilchrist MacBeth at Dunira on the previous Saturday. The house party had been enjoying the roaring game but on hearing the band approach they left the ice and formed a guard of honour with brushes upraised, then as the band passed they fell in behind accompanying them to the front entrance where they again took up position and the Chieftain extended a hearty welcome. The band then took up position on the terrace and discoursed an excellent programme. At the conclusion the band enjoyed an excellent repast in the recreation room. During the afternoon there were songs, stories and games followed by tea. The band then played a lively set before their departure.

The Clans Association of London held a Hogmanay Dance in Harrods’ Rooms. The almost 400 dancers formed a Grand March led by PM Meldrum. Shortly before midnight the pipers and the gentlemen in Highland dress formed a kilted circle and the remaining guests arranged themselves in an outer circle. The historic bell from Captain Scott’s ship Discovery which had been gifted to the Association, struck the hour and was followed by the singing of Auld Lang Syne and A Guid New Year to Ane an A’ which brought the gathering to an end.

The passing of John MacLennan

Lieutenant John MacLennan had died towards the end of 1923 and he was pictured under the caption A Distinguished Piping Authority in the Oban Times on 5th January. Also in the picture were his son GS MacLennan and John MacDonald of Inverness. The passing of John MacLennan was also marked at the 7th January meeting of the Highland Pipers’ Society in Edinburgh. Lieutenant MacLennan had been one of the founding members. President Donald Shaw talked of the great loss to the society and deep sympathy was expressed to his widow and family. At the close of the President’s remarks the pipe major of the Society, Mr John MacDonald played a lament.

•John MacDonald of Inverness, Lt John McLennan and GS McLennan.

Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto

On 5th January the Oban Times published the canntaireachd for a piobaireachd to the memory of Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto, Skye. It was composed by J D Ross Watt in 1926 and completed in November 1923.

The Cowal School of Piping

In the same paper was a letter from H S Strafford with an update on the classes in Glasgow organised by the Cowal School of Piping. On the first evening 60 boys had presented themselves as students. Not having the heart to turn them down there were now 12 classes at different levels and the numbers were constantly increasing. Many lived outwith the city and travelled long distances to attend. Thirty boys with three or more years’ experience were studying piobaireachd. The six month course would be followed by a summer vacation after which classes would resume. The required tunes for the Boys’ Championship competition at Cowal for Mr Clark Kerr’s Challenge Trophy were MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute, Too Long in this Condition and Struan Robertson’s Salute. The judges would select one to be played.

Also on the same page was the news that the Rev D H MacDonald had been inducted as the minister at Portnahaven, Islay. He was the second son of PM John MacDonald, 72nd Highlanders, a Crimean and Indian Mutiny veteran and famous piping competitor, who afterwards entered the service of the Marquis of Lorne when Governor General of Canada.  The pipe band of the 139th Company Boys’ Brigade was pictured in the Oban Times on 5th January. They were under the command of Captain William Baird and had won the Glasgow News Shield and gold badges at Cowal the previous August for the 4th time, having won in 1913, 1919 and 1920. They had placed second in 1921 and 1922, winning the Outram Shield. They had won many other prizes and had the honour of broadcasting pipe music from the Glasgow Wireless station.

The Black Watch Association

The Black Watch Association Red Hackle Day Celebration at the City Hall, Perth, on 7th January included a troupe of dancers led by PM Donald Cameron, while in Elie there was a whist drive and dancing to the music of Piper Calder.

Piping at social events

On 7th January a huge ‘bal masque’ was held in the ballroom at Taymouth Castle with 200 revellers in attendance. The evening included Highland dancing to piping supplied by Mr D Blake.

On the evening of 10th January 200 old people from Berwick and the surrounding area were treated to a meal at the Kings’ Arms Assembly rooms. Afterwards there was entertainment which included pipe selections from PM McMillan and L/Cpl Miller.

Despite a six inch snowstorm Perth Gaelic Society held a meeting on 10th January. PM Donald Kennedy began proceedings with a march, strathspey and reel.

On 12th January the Perthshire Advertiser reported on a ceilidh at Fearnan which included bagpipe selections from Mr J Fraser.

In Rait on 18th January there was an amateur dramatic performance followed by other entertainment which included selections by piper G Ferrier who also played for two Highland dances performed by Miss Cathie Taylor.

On Friday 18th January the Mull and Iona Gathering took place in the City Halls, Glasgow. The entertainment included the Glasgow Police Pipers under PM William Gray.

In Bower, Caithness the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association held their annual social meeting in the drill hall. The evening began with bagpipe selections from Piper Henderson. In Applecross the Christmas treat for the local children included dancing to the playing of Piper Mackenzie.

Piper becomes assistant secretary to the Bengal Iron and Steel company

On 12th January the Oban Times reported that Charles Stewart, who had been the youngest pipe major in the army on the outbreak of war, had been appointed assistant secretary to the Bengal Iron and Steel company in Calcutta. Charlie, as he was known, was a prominent member of the City of Glasgow Pipe Band when it was formed by the late PM Farquhar MacRae.

Editor of military magazine sent to Belfast

This article appeared in the Oban Times on 19th January: “Major 1 H Mackay Scobie, FSA, Scot, is the well accredited and famed authority upon Highland regimental history, Piping and Pipes and upon Highland dress and its correct accoutrements. Cabar Feidh the regimental magazine which he has edited from Fort George for two years, holds some articles from his pen, which may justly be taken as standards. It is with congratulation upon his promotion, but with friendly regret, that a wide circle will learn that Major Scobie has been ordered from Fort George to Belfast and that his editorship of Cabar Feidh, in consequence has now come to an end. The conclusion, too, is reached of these bright, breezy and pleasant pages on Regimental Pipers, Piping and Pipe Music in the 1st Battalion. 1778-1923. Pipers in general, and those who have a real and abiding devotion to the pipes will thoroughly enjoy these records and the many good stories interspersing the narrative lives of the more famous players of the Seaforth Buffs. A galaxy of portraits exhibit well ‘the proud port, the steady glance, the calm impassivity of the first-class piper. Without signalising anyone in particular the picture of Corporal McKechnie, well exemplifies the typical regimental piper. Major Scobie has always succeeded in making his work very real, extremely engaging, short, forcible, and polished, and by his industry and research he has allowed nothing to die in the sphere of piping which was within his power to rescue. One remembers too, with the utmost appreciation that splendid piece of work, An Old Highland Fencible Corps, Rossshire Publishing Co., Dingwall.”

Ian Hamilton Mackay Scobie was born in 1883 into a Reay country family with a very long running military background, with several serving officers from the 18th and 19th century. His father Col. Mackay J. Scobie fought in the Ashanti Expedition of 1875. Ian joined the Essex regiment in 1904 and served in Bangalore in 1906 and other posts around the Empire. In 1910 he was made a fellow of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland. A few years after this he published An old Highland Fencible Corps in 1914 as the first of his many books and writings. As a Captain Ian Hamilton Mackay-Scobie accompanied the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment to Gallipoli in April 1915, where he led men in the initial landings and took part in some heavy fighting before being wounded in the hand. He then spent time recovering in Malta before transferring to the 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, from mid-1915 onwards.

He established and was the Curator of the Scottish National Naval and Military Museum Edinburgh Castle from its formation in 1930. He was an amateur piper and owned the Strathy pipes which had been in the family since 1783, inherited from the MacKays of Strathy, a three droned instrument of indigenous wood, said to have been played in the Scots-Dutch Brigade 1698. The rosewood chanter was of a later date c1780. He published the book Pipers and Pipe Music in a Highland Regiment in 1924 and added to and edited the Notices of Pipers. He died in Edinburgh in 1947. He composed the quickstep The 1st Battalion (72nd) Seaforth Highlanders Entry into Baghdad, March 1917.

Piping at Burns night celebrations

Following on from the New Year festivities were the Burns night celebrations. At the January meeting of Kirriemuir WRI there was a demonstration on haggis making, piping by Mr A Bell, a short paper on Burns was read and there were Burns recitations and songs. On 19th January a Burns Anniversary concert was held in the Music Hall, George Street, Edinburgh. Among those taking part was PM J Sutherland, Edinburgh OTC. James Sutherland 1866-1945 had joined the Seaforth Highlanders in 1883 and served in Egypt, Dublin, Clonmel and Fort George. He was appointed PM 1893. and retired 1904 then in 1912 became PM 5th Royal Scots. He was Instructor to the Scottish Pipers’ Society and Instructor Edinburgh Schools and Edinburgh OTC from 1908. At the Northern Meeting in 1896 he was first in the March and 3rd in the Strathspey and Reel. He composed Piper’s Cave, and other tunes.

At the Robert Burns Royal Arch Chapter Burns Festival in Uddingston on 19th January the piper was John MacKay. The Burns Supper at the Masonic Temple in Glasgow included piping from Bro. MacPherson. In Kinnaird at the Burns supper organised by the Oddfellows, and the haggis was played in by PM Barrie.

In Kingussie there was a music festival and concert organised by the Newtonmore Shinty Club. Bagpipe selections by champion piper John MacPherson were greatly appreciated.

John MacPherson (1863-1933) was the  son of Calum Piobair MacPherson. He had won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1889 and at the Northern Meeting in 1920.

Mrs Hall piping for over 50 years

The Dalkeith Advertiser reported that the Working Women’s Club held their annual Burns Supper on Monday 21st January. The haggis was carried in by Mrs Deans to the piping of Mrs Hall, who later in the evening played selections.

In January 1955 a small article in the Piping Times featured Mrs May Hall of Dalkeith. Mrs Hall was a widow aged 68 and had played pipes almost every day for over half a century. Every day she paced up and down her living room, with a light spring step, playing her favourite marches. The half hour session, she said, kept herself and her pipes in first class condition. Active all her life this remarkable lady had led processions of suffragettes in Edinburgh to the music of her pipes and was one of the pipers in the Clyde Section of the Women’s Guild of Empire which marched through London in protest against strikes and lockouts in 1926. The daughter of a piper, she also met her husband through piping.

On 25th January the Aberdeen Broadcasting station had a special Burns Night programme at 7.30pm until 10.10pm. This included bagpipe selections by pipers from Oakbank School.

The Glasgow station had a special programme from 7.30pm to 9.30pm which included the Glasgow Corporation Tramways Pipe Band. The Glasgow programme was also relayed to the London station.

At the Burns Supper of the Carnoustie Masons there was piping from PM Tait. At the Careston WRI Burns Supper the haggis was played in by Mrs Findlay and Miss C Keith. In Dollar at the Women’s Guild Burns Supper the haggis was carried in by Mrs Gilfillan, dressed as Poosie Nansie, followed by her assistant, to the piping of Mr Anderson. In Arbroath the Burns Supper was organised by the YMCA Literary Society. The piper was J Whitton.

In Laurencekirk the Parish Church Woman’s Guild held a Burns Concert in the Dickson Memorial Hall. Miss Bessie Steele carried in the haggis to the piping of Mr Watson. At the Whitburn Burns Club the piper was Cpl Robert Nicolson, Royal Scots Fusiliers. At the Grange WRI Burns Supper the piper was PM Kirk, St Andrews. At Glenogil the piper was Mr D Cuthill, Leys of Lindertis.

Many more Burns Suppers were noted but although in some cases the speeches were reported in detail the pipers were not named.

Burns suppers in England: haggis delayed by rail strike!

Burns was also celebrated in England. In Stoke the North Staffordshire Caledonian Society held a Burns supper on 27th January. The pipers were Dr Adam Gilchrist and PM Rose. In London a Burns concert included piping and dancing by members of the London Scottish. The Walsall Burns Club held their Burns Supper on 24th January but no piper was mentioned in the report. In Leicester at the Caledonian society’s Burn Supper the haggis was brought in by a precession headed by two pipers H Ellis and John Insch and a sword bearer. Later in the evening, H Ellis performed Highland dances to the piping of John Insch.

John Insch was born at Strathdon in Aberdeenshire in 1865 and was taught piping by his uncle William Riddell who had won many prizes around the games in Aberdeen. By 1896 John had moved south to Leicester. He was an amateur bagpipe maker and during his career he produced about 30 bagpipes for friends and acquaintances. He died in 1941 but his son Iain, also a piper, continued to make bagpipes and reeds.

At the Burns Dinner in the Royal Hotel in Bristol guests were disappointed at the non-arrival of the haggis which had been despatched from Edinburgh but delayed by the railway strike. PM MacPherson played selections. At the Burns Supper in Cheltenham the piper was Mr Milne. The Derby Scottish Association and Burns Club held their celebration in the Assembly Rooms on 25th January. The pier was Sergeant Duncan Urquhart. For the Mayor of Derby this was his first time tasting haggis which he pronounced to be excellent. At the Coventry Caledonian Society the haggis was piped in by PM Kerr. At the Rugby Scottish Society the piper was Mr E Elton, who was standing in for Dr Cramb who was unable to be present due to illness. The Northampton Scottish Association held their fourth Burns dinner with piper Mr G M Hendry junior as piper. In Bedford the menu ‘which was as near Scotch as is palatable to the Southerner, was composed of, among other dainties, of Scotch Broth, Sporran sandwiches, Bagpipe trifles and the chieftain of the pudding race, haggis. This sacred titbit was heralded in by Piper Ross who “hotched and blew wi’ micht and main” on the bagpipes, what time the worthy host carried aloft all steaming hot the favourite dish.’ At the Newark and district Caledonian Society the piper was PM C MacBrayne. At High Wycombe the haggis was played in ‘by a lad from the Caledonian School, Sheppey, fully kilted, and with the bagpipes, from which weirdly melodious tones were extracted at intervals.’

The Uist and Barra Annual Gathering

•PM William Gray of Glasgow Police.

The Uist and Barra Annual Gathering was held on Friday evening 25th January in the City Halls, Glasgow. The entertainment included PM William Gray and pipers Alex MacDonald, John MacDonald, Norman McLellan, R MacDonald, Donald J MacPherson and Angus Morrison.

On 25th January the Courier reported that the local branch of An Comunn Gaidhealach had held a ceilidh in the Holder Hall, Kenmore. Selections on the bagpipe were rendered at the opening by Mr D McNiven.

On 30th January the Perthshire Advertiser reported on several events. At a Gaelic concert held at Kenmore. Among those performing was Mr Duncan MacNiven who gave selections on the bagpipe. At a Burns concert in Aberfeldy pipe music was provided by PM Pirnie. At the WRI Burns Night in Pitlochry the piper was Mr R Pirnie. In Rait at the WRI Burns Night the piper was R Ferris. At the Stanley Freemasons Burns Night the piper was D Wilson. At Kilmallie the piper was PM A Paterson. At Fortingall the haggis was played in by Piper J Fraser.

On the evening of Wednesday 30th January the MacKenzie Pipe Band, Dundee, held a piping competition in the Dundonald Street Hall. The judges were Inspector J Moonie, Dundee Police and Mr David Bain. The winner was Arthur Scott, with E White runner up, J McInroy third and Ian Clark fourth. A dance followed.

The New York Scottish Highlanders

On 31st January the Belfast Telegraph reported that in New York there was a large gathering at the home of Mr and Mrs George Wilson to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary. Both were Scottish born although they had been in New York for many years. The New York Scottish Highlanders, eighteen in number, with bagpipes and kilts marched up 85th St playing Highland music then played outside and inside the Wilson home. The band had turned out because Mrs Wilson and her daughter had helped to organise it twenty years previously and Mrs Wilson was known as the Mother of the Band.

A party of ladies and gentlemen from Grangemouth entertained the inmates of the Blinkbonny Home, Falkirk, to a Burns concert and a splendid repast. Mrs MacPherson carried in the haggis to the accompaniment of pipers MacPherson and Burns.

Pipe Major MacKay was in the chair for an evening of songs, readings, and recitations at the Literary Society in Reay.

Royal Celtic Society

At the Annual Meeting of the Royal Celtic Society in Edinburgh Mr John Bartholomew OBE of Glenorchard reported on the success of the piping and dancing competitions held in South Uist the previous July. He had been judging and the Society had given the prizes. For the results see the piping In 1923 article below.