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The club has an unbroken history dating back to its formation on 2nd June 1826. Of the twelve founding members of the club five were known to Robert Burns, two of whom were close friends of the poet. Our continuous list of Past Presidents appears below, with some biographical detail. This page also records the Founders Day lunch of 1976, when the Directors met to celebrate not only the 150th anniversary of the Club but also the re-opening of the Irvine Burns Museum.
Irvine Burns Club was formed in Milne's Inn (now The Crown Inn), High Street, Irvine, Ayrshire on 2nd June 1826.
The original minute reads:
"The subscribers agree hereby to form, and do now form ourselves into a Committee for the purpose of establishing a Club, or Society for Commemorating the birth of Robert Burns the Ayrshire Poet - and we agree to meet at an early day to get the preliminaries of the Club properly arranged."
The document is signed by the following twelve men:
John Mackenzie, M.D. *
* These five signatories were, according to our records, friends of the poet, though John Fletcher could not have been (born 1798), though his father Wm may have been a friend of Burns.
Dr Mackenzie, being a doctor in Mauchline, attended Burns' father at Lochlie in 1784. He married one of the "Mauchline Belles" and later moved to Irvine.
David Sillar, a friend from teenage years, was a member of the Tarbolton Bachelors Club set up by Burns, and later became a grocer, and a Council Bailie, in Irvine.
Ten of these twelve were members of Irvine Town Council.
['Irvine and its Burns Club' (1976)
mistakenly lists John Fletcher as Wm,
See also our page with Memorial Stones of Burns interest in Irvine Old Parish Churchyard
The home of Irvine Burns Club is 'Wellwood', 28 Eglinton Street, Irvine.
This spacious and imposing building of Ballochmyle red sandstone was built in 1903.
It was bequeathed to the Club in 1962 by two bachelor brothers Mr. Robert and Mr. J. Graham Paterson, in memory of their father John Paterson, Esq. Provost and Councillor in Irvine, 1854-1877. Born 20 March 1827, he passed away, aged 70, at the Union Bank House on 30 Jan., 1898.
The club renovated the top floor front room into a concert room with a seating capacity of 100. Ground floor rooms include the library and the "Burns Room".
Also displayed in the building are many artefacts relating to the Royal Burgh of Irvine (1372 - 1975), including the Burgh Weights and Measures and one of the Burgh Drums.
Each President's term of office ends at the end of January, following the Annual Celebration Dinner, the Burns service in the Parish Church and the Wreath-laying ceremony at the Robert Burns statue at Irvine Moor.
We are researching our Past Presidents - for the most recent information, see further details at the foot of this page
1827 John MacKenzie, M.D. #
# founder member
1888 T. R. Stuart
‡ war period
* See explanations below for reasons why their term of office was extended.
Further details about Past Presidents
begun by Past President George Watson,
are being augmented as research progresses
1827 John MacKenzie: Doctor, an Army surgeon from Edinburgh, married
to Helen Miller, one of the ’six proper young belles’ of Mauchline
(buried in Irvine Old Parish churchyard). Hugh Montgomerie of Eglinton, as
MacKenzie’s patron, granted him a life rent of Seagate House in High
Street and £130 per annum. A Burgess, a Baillie, Treasurer and Dean
of Guild on the Council. Founder member of the Irvine Burns Club. His grave
is in Edinburgh but there is a commemorative stone in Irvine Churchyard.
1828 James Dobie: of Beith, Joint Sec. to 1829.
1829 G Johnston: “In addition to the poet’s “brither Davie” [David Sillar], the meeting this year was honored [sic] with the presence of Charles Gray Esq Captain in the Royal Marines, an ardent admirer of the Ayrshire Bard, and himself an author and a Poet of celebrity. – Besides chaunting with joyous glee several songs of his own Muse, Capt Gray with much animation and in true poetical style recited an address to the Club with several stanzas prepared by him for the occasion, which afforded sufficient testimony that this son of Mars is neither a young nor a lame acquaintance of the Nine [Muses].” [His poetic address is on pp30-31 of the Minute Book.]
1830 Zachariah Sillar: Doctor, son of David Sillar. In this year,
two proposals, one to hold meetings triennially, the other to hold them once
every two years, were both rejected "by a considerable majority".
1831/32 Robert Montgomerie: “Banker Bob” of Craighouse, south of Beith. Agent for the Paisley Bank (later British Linen Bank) and Collector of Customs for the port of Irvine. In 1831, “Capt Gray sang his Song 'Blythe, blythe and merry are we' which was formerly [sic] voted a standing Song of the Club” and is on p.47 of the minute book. (Incidentally, Bailie Sillar did not attend, due to “severe illness”, and died later that year. Thus, by 1830, both of the leading founder members had ceased to be active.)
1832: There was possibly no anniversary meeting in 1832, probably due to an outbreak of cholera, which reached Britain in autumn 1831, though no Club minute is extant to confirm this probability. The authorities in Edinburgh are known to have been concerned by then, and a Dundee Board of Health report of 2 February 1832 advised "persons of all ranks to go as little out at night as possible during the prevalence of the epidemic" and "that, during the prevalence of the epidemic, all assemblages of large bodies of the working classes, unless at church, should be suspended or avoided". The epidemic reached Irvine early that year (Strawhorn, p.113), killed 3,000 people in Glasgow, and 52,000 over the UK.
1833 James Johnston: Founder Member, from Ayr, Town Clerk, lived in “Rosebank”. A meeting may have been held that year, though minutes do not survive; it is just possible that since the epidemic was still ongoing in parts of the UK, that the break continued.*
Robert Montgomerie, James Johnston(e), and J Dobie all contributed to ‘The Parish of Irvine’ in the New Statistical Account Volume 5 (1842).
1834 Captain Charles Gray: Royal Marines. We are sure a meeting was held that year also, though minutes do not survive. See special article below.
1835 Maxwell Dick: Bookseller, publisher (predecessor of the Irvine Herald), Freemason, Magistrate, inventor of a snowplough, a suspension railway tested at Gailes in 1829, collaborator with Steadman on a screw propeller design and numerous other projects. He employed a young Daniel Macmillan, later joint founder of Macmillan Publishers.
1836 William Thomson: Provost 1837-39.
1837 John Dean: not Richard Nixon’s legal Counsel, jailed for his part in the Watergate scandal, which he allegedly masterminded.
1838 James Montgomerie: Doctor (Dinner venue: Eglinton Arms)
1839 Alex R Robertson: of ‘Whitehurst’ (sic) Provost (1846-50 & 1864-66). Agent for the Liberal Parliamentary candidate Crawford of Auchenames. (Dinner venue: Kings Arms)
1840 William B Salmon: This master saddler, following in his late
father's business, was a Bailie of the Burgh at the time of his Presidency,
becoming Provost in 1841-1845, and presiding at the reception for the poet
James Montgomery in 1841. The tea service presented to him in 1845, after
his term of office, was purchased at sale by Harry Gaw on behalf of the Club.
At the time of his Presidency of the Club, he was aged only 31. On the family
stone in the Old Parish churchyard, the stonemason has, in error, inscribed
his surname as Salmond. He died in Perthshire in 1882.
1841 Graham of Glenny: Captain
1842 Captain Brown. (?) Burgess 1857…rescuing shipwrecked crew.
1843 John Smith: Described in the 1851 census as 'Procurator, Sheriff Court of Ayrshire', he ran a legal firm, switching in 1856 to administering the Ferguson Bequest. His daughters were the 'Sisters of Sinai' (click to read more).
1844 Captain Brown:
1845 William McJannet: ? grandfather of A C McJannet, presided at visit 15/8/1884 by Burns’ sons Major James and Colonel William, entertained by the Club at the Kings Arms. Agent for British Linen Company, tenant at Longford on Garnock. Instituted Cattle Fair on the Moor, and the Literary and Social Institute 1867.
1846 Captain Gray. See special article below. The President's “address, in proposing the Toast of the Evening, shewed the attention he had paid to his subject and displayed an affection for the departed as only a Poet could feel or express. He sung several of his own Songs in his happiest manner, and in particular one that he had composed last month & which was quite a gem. He produced also the 'Lines' written for the present Anniversary by Alexander Smart, which were with acclamation appointed to be put up with the other Memorabilia of the Club.”
1847 William Balsillie: Baillie, ? Balsillie Foundation (Dinner venue: Eglinton Arms)
1848 Robert Montgomerie: (Dinner venue: Kings Arms) Dr Montgomerie was in the chair "in consequence of Dr Allan (who was named Chairman at the last Anniversary) having removed from Irvine."
1849 Robert Montgomerie: He continued in office because, as recorded in our minutes, there was no anniversary meeting "in consequence of the prevalence of disease throughout the country" - this was a further outbreak of cholera (Strawhorn, p.125) which had begun in the autumn of 1848 (and which, incidentally, helped drive the mandatory registration of birth, marriages and deaths from 1855, requiring the cause of death to be stated). This epidemic prompted the link between dirt and disease to be taken seriously for the first time.
1850 George Johnston: Our minutes record that there appears "not
to have been any meeting".
1851 Patrick Maxwell: Too ill to attend. This gentleman was the Edinburgh author who lived a few doors along from Capt. Charles Gray, and who accepted Honorary Membership when nominated, by his friend while President, in 1846.
1852 Thomas Campbell: of “Annfield”. Conservative Provost (1850-64). Constructor of the Queen’s Bridge (to commemorate Victoria’s Coronation) over the river at Bogside, later known as ‘Campbell’s Bridge’. Campbell voted against the construction of a new prison to replace the Tolbooth, and refused to attend the official opening. The coach house at ‘Annfield’ later became the Fire Station, and the house became a Hotel.
1853 James S Dobie: compiled “The Muniments of the Royal Burgh of Irvine. Cunninghame Topographical by Timothy Pont???
There was no annual meeting in 1853 "on account of the recent death (on 13th inst. [January]) of Mr Johnston, Town Clerk, who for many years acted as Hon. Secretary to the Club, and on account of the bereavements in the families of several of the principal Members of the Club". The minuted 1853 business meeting was chaired (in the absence of J Dobie) by Maxwell Dick.
1854 Maxwell Dick: see 1835. This time his croupier was Thomas Brown, whose absence the following year led to Robert Montgomerie again taking the chair in 1855.
1855 Robert Montgomerie: His croupier was Bailie McLachlan, who did not continue through to the following year.
1856 John Findlay: (spelling in minutes: Finlay) His croupier was Wm Dobie, whose absence the following year led to Robert Montgomerie yet again taking the chair in 1857.
1857 Robert Montgomerie: (Croupier James Hutchison)
1858 James Hutchison:
1859 Hugh Conn: J K Hunter painted his portrait (see the article below).
1860 James Dickie: Secretary 1863-1906. Town Clerk.
1861 Doctor Shields: born Kilmarnock (1831-1867) Hon. Surgeon to Volunteers. “Published volumes of indifferent verse” (McJannet p.368).
The previous year's Croupier was James Grieve, a Customs officer, but he had been moved to Bradford before he could take up the Presidency.
1862 J K Hunter: John Kelso Hunter, portrait painter, exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy. See the special article below. (see also 1859).
1863 J A Campbell: Captain in Irvine Volunteers. He was originally intended to follow Hugh Conn in 1860.
1864 John Armour: Builder, Officer in Irvine Volunteers.
1865 Alexander Longmuir: Corn Merchant (see property opposite Galt House in Bank Street), Hon. Treasurer, Agent for Clydesdale Bank. Business in Bank Street / East Road. Of Roseholm
1866 James Goudie:
1867 William Hall:
1868 Baillie Jack: His son Robert Logan Jack (b.1845) became a renowned explorer; appointed geologist for Northern Queensland in 1876, he went on to become geologist for Australia. A biography of him (the explorer) was launched in Irvine in October 2008 by its author, one of his descendants, Felicity Jack.
1869 William Muir:
1870 W D McJannet: father of A F McJannet.
1871 John White: Lawyer
1872 Robert Wylie: manufacturer, living at Castlepen, Main Street, Kilwinning, age 40. His surname, unlike that of founder member Robert Wyllie, has only one letter 'l'.
H M Highet had been appointed Chairman for 1872, but, due to his unavoidable absence, Robert Wylie acted as Chairman and W D McJannet as Croupier. See also under 1875.
1873 H M Highet: Solicitor (?? associated with Perceton Brickwork)
1874 Alex Gilmour: Writer, involved in attempted purchase of Montgomery’s house (McJ p229). Partner of William Christie (Gilmour and Christie) Royal Bank Joint Agents 1896 (?). (McJ p281)
1875 Robert Wylie: see 1872 - originally appointed Croupier for 1872, he had stepped in to act as Chairman that year. He therefore served as croupier in 1874 and President in 1875. He was a Sewed Muslin Manufacturer - as an article (prob. of the 1860s) in the website Electric Scotland tells us, sewed muslin was a cheap and beautiful substitute for lace, a thriving industry in the first half of the 19th century. In around 1878, Robert Wylie published the "History of the Mother Lodge of Kilwinning"
1876 John S Boyd:
1877 Alex Lumsden: ? father of Harry Lumsden, Schoolmaster
1878 A C McJannet:
1879 Charles Murchland: Provost,(“Murchland Way”). “Irvine Herald” (1871…) Editor of book on John Galt and on the Buchanites. Campaigned for water and sanitary improvements. Laid foundation stone for the New Academy.
1880 William Wilson: Surgeon, Lt. Colonel Volunteers.
1881 William Henderson, the chemical entrepreneur, died in London on his way home from his Spanish sulphur & copper interests, only weeks before the Annual Celebration. The committee discussed "whether, in consequence of the recent death of the President of the Club, the Social Gathering should be dispensed with" but decided to continue; as "Mr Ross [Vice-President] declines to occupy the chair", the Rev. Henry Reid agreed to chair. Perhaps Zachariah Ross was one of those who felt it wrong to hold the Dinner; he presided the following year as was originally intended.
1881 Henry Reid: Rev. Relief Church 1868-1886 , introduced Communion Cards instead of Tokens. He later went to Australia. He was chosen in place of the recently deceased President Wm Henderson.
1882 Zachary Ross: Rector of Irvine Royal Academy 1877-1883.
1883 John Wright: First Provost of the Extended Burgh. Sawmill proprietor of John Wright and Son, sold in 1910 to Wm. Breckenridge.
1884 J Somerville: Rev. Minister Old Parish 1853-93. Married Mary, daughter of Provost Campbell…fourteen children (!) 1887 Doctor of Divinity, Glasgow.
1885 William Breckenridge: Provost. Acquired Sawmill, Matthew Wright and Nephew.
1886 James Pipe:
1887 James Thomson, M.D., J.P.: Surgeon Lt. Colonel of the Irvine Artillery Volunteers. Born in Johnstone in 1855, he graduated in 1878, worked for a short time in Houston, then spent 60 years as an active doctor in Irvine until a month before his death in 1941. He was also a leading light in the Irvine Literary & Debating Society and an elder in Irvine Old Parish Church. In 1926, his then 46 years as doctor were marked by a Dinner, at which Provost Hogg proposed the Toast to the guest Dr Thomson, Harry Lumsden made a presentation to the doctor and his wife, and Sir Andrew Duncan delivered an address on 'The Profession of Medicine'. His memorial is in the churchyard and we are indebted to kirkyard reporter Billy Kerr for drawing our attention to Dr Thomson's marvellous service to Irvine.
1888 Thomas R Stuart: Rector, Irvine Royal Academy, 1883-1911. Royal Review in Edinburgh by Edward Seventh 1905. Commanding Officer Lt. Colonel First Ayrshire and Galloway Royal Garrison Artillery Volunteers.
1889 Robert Boyd:
1890 A W Paterson:
The 'Irvine Herald' of 24th Jan. 1890 reported:
The Irvine Burns Club has not elected to celebrate the Immortal Memory of the poet on the evenings of 25th and 26th Jan. in 1890. The reason is obvious. There is such a feast of wit and flow of wisdom, and the night speeds on so speedily wi' song and clatter, that the small hours o' the mornin' arrive all too soon. So Monday night has been wisely chosen for the annual escape of pent-up enthusiasm that conveys to the world that: "We a' are prood o' Robin".
1891 Thomas Hall: Deacon Convener 1878, helped revive the Incorporated
Trades. He was a Master Plumber/Tinsmith and was head of the business
of Thomas Hall & Sons in High Street. He served as Deacon of the
Hammermen Craft for the long period of 30 years and for 12 years he
filled the post of Deacon Convener of the Incorporated Trades. He died
on 17 Feb 1920 and he is buried in Irvine Parish Churchyard. (info
from Mike Hall)
1892 James F Longmuir: Grain Merchant, Irvine Company of Ayrshire Rifles, the son of Alex Longmuir 1865.
1893 W J A Donald:
1894 David Stevenson: (McJ p273) Tenant of Irvine Mains Dairy Farm (owned by Council), then Auchengate. Well known Auctioneer and sportsman.
1895 Rev. Henry Ranken: Rev. Minister, Irvine Old Parish (1893-1928). Author of “Burns and Irvine”. As Chairman of the School Board he was wary of “inspiring young folks with the desire for professional life, who would be far better and happier as artisans”. Ranken maintained a policy of discipline towards erring parishioners guilty of ante nuptial fornication. Father of Henry Sherwood Ranken V.C. MBChB., RAMC in Kings Royal Rifle Corps. The weather that year was extremely cold - see Rev Ranken's memory of it in his acceptance letter in our Honorary Member section, under the year 1932.
1896 Robert J Hamilton:
1897 James John McNaughton:
[For some inexplicable reason, the August 1896 Irvine Directory names the Club President as Capt John Young. Of 'Violet Bank', Irvine, he was admitted as an ordinary member in 1887. Coincidentally, a Capt Alexander Young, of the ship 'Kelton' when admitted to membership in 1891, was President in 1909. For whatever reason, when fraternal greetings were sent to 12 clubs and societies in 1893, greetings were also sent to "Capt. Young who is at present in Hamburg", though we do not know to which Capt. Young this refers. Capt. John Young is recorded as a Nautical assessor for Bute in the 1906-07 Post Office Bute Directory. How his name came to be recorded as a Club President remains a mystery.]
1898 Henry D Andross
1899 John Johnston:
1900 J Norval Murray: Town Clerk, solicitor, ? founder 1907 of Murray,
Gillies and Wilson?. In 1906, he succeeded James Dickie as Honorary Secretary,
but died in 1907.
1901/02 Robert Findlay Longmuir: another son of Alexander Longmuir (Pres. 1865), and a brother of James J Longmuir (Pres. 1892). As Queen Victoria died on 22nd January, the 1901 Annual Celebration was cancelled, and the office-bearers continued in office into 1902.
1903 Harry Lumsden: Deacon Convener of Trades 1910-1921 (longest term in Office), ? Clerk to the Trades House of Glasgow and author of Trades histories.
1904 William Hall: Deacon Convener of Trades 1904-1910. He was the son of the Thomas Hall (above) of 1891. Mr. Hall was an enthusiastic lover of Burns and a keen and cultured student of the poet’s works. At the time of his death in 1934, he was one of the oldest members of Irvine Burns Club. (info from Mike Hall)
1905 R M Hogg: Originally from Riccarton, Kilmarnock, he began teaching at Galston, and moved as an assistant teacher to Bank Street Primary in 1891, being appointed Headmaster there in 1913. He was Hon. Sec. of the Burns Club from about 1918 to 1930. He also took charge of the evening continuation classes at the Academy, became recognised as an authority on vocational education, was superintendent of the parish church Sunday School, and helped found an Irvine Ramblers' Field Club, modelled on the Kilmarnock Glenfield Ramblers of which he had been a prominent member. He entered the town council in 1908 and served as Provost in 1923-28, at about which time the Council donated the Sillars and Mackenzie chairs to the Burns Club.
1906/07 J W Bryson: Headmaster Irvine Royal Academy. Following the death in January 1906 of the long-serving Secretary, James Dickie (see 1860), the 1906 Annual Celebration was cancelled and the office-bearers held office into 1907
1908 Hugh McLean: of Greenock.
1909 Wm Charles Spence: This unmarried Irvine Royal Academy teacher, elected as President in Jan. 1908, died during his year of office, aged 46, on 6th March, "in the River Garnock, at Nobel's Explosives Wharf, Ardeer" (cause of death column left blank) at about 6.30pm. In May Vice-Pres. Capt. Alex. Young was elected President.
1909 Capt. Alexander Young: Captain of the ship 'Kelton'.
1910 Wm. Mitchell Jr (1866-1947): Headmaster, Loudoun
Street Primary School, succeeded his father as Headmaster in 1902. (Wm Mitchell,
Sr, was headmaster of the newly-built Bank St School 1875-78, and of Loudoun
1911 Wm. G McAndrew.
1912 James Borland: Provost 1904-07, 1910-16.
1913 Henry Abram: Captain. Referred to as Treasurer Abram (was he Burgh Treasurer?) by the 'Irvine Herald' of 1913, the papaer records that he "holds the rather unique position of being the first Welshman who has been president of the Club".
1914 Rev. J Wishart: Minister, Wilson Fullarton United Free Church. “Valuable mission work in the Harbour area”
1915/19 Rev. J Paterson: Minister of Fullarton Parish Church, 1903-37.
1920 J Irving Moffat: Solicitor.
1921 Alex M Watson: “The Cottage”, of the family of the Hosiery Manufacturing Company, but not of the Company.
1922 M W Breckenridge: The proprietor of Irvine Sawmill, he resided “Craigknowe”, Kilwinning Road (see 1885), and was Deacon Convener of the Irvine Incoporated Trades in 1924-26.
1923 Walter Muir: Provost (1916-23), Saddler in High Street, father of Wilson Muir (1973).
1924 John Armour: Architect of Irvine Royal Academy 1901, and Bank Street Primary School 1875.
1925 Peter S Clark: Councillor, joint founder of the modern Marymass, Deacon Convener of Trades 1926-28, “The Supreme Irvineite”, Customs and Excise Service.
1926 John N Hall: wrote the lyrics of the Burgh Anthem in 1929 with music by Harry Lumsden. Club placed commemorative plaque in Glasgow Vennel.
1927 Sir Andrew Duncan: Freedom of the Burgh 1948. Founder of the South of Scotland Electricity Board? President of the Board of Trade and Minister of Supply. Plaque to Burns at the Drukken Steps was donated during his office. ????Canada.
1928 Samuel M Turnbull: of Irvine, ? Councillor, prominent in shipbuilding in Greenock.
1929 Arnold F McJannet: Solicitor, Author of “The Royal Burgh of Irvine” 1938.
1930 Andrew B Dickie: ?Solicitor, Deacon Convener of Trades 1929-31.
1931 Alex Gibson: Doctor, Bank Street, “Braidmead”?
1932 Thomas Hall: Son of the William Hall (above) of 1904, he was admitted as a member of the Incorporated Trades in 1911 when he was a Law Apprentice. He was appointed Procurator Fiscal of Irvine in 1931 at the same time as he was President of Irvine Burns Club in 1931-32. He died around 1957 in Looe, Cornwall. (info from Mike Hall)
1933 George Steedman: ? related to George SteAdman (screw propeller).
1934 J Norval Murray: Solicitor, Murray , Gillies and Wilson, Town Clerk.Clerk to Incorporated Trades 1943-54)
1935 George K Begg: Printer & Editor of “The Irvine and Fullarton Times” (later the “Irvine Times”) for 59 years.
1936/37 James McCrindle:
1938 James D Bannatyne: ? Banker. ? British Linen.
1939 Alex Macara: Reverend Minister, Irvine Old Parish Church (1928-78) Freeman of the Royal Burgh. Father of Sir Sandy Macara, Chairman of the British Medical Association.
1940 /44 James Porter: Rector, Irvine Royal Academy Primary and Secondary
School (1930-53). Retained office during the War years.
1945 Sir Thomas Moore: Tory M.P. of the Ayr Burghs, ? Ulsterman, resided Monkton. Freedom of the Burgh. Married widow of….
1946 William Phillips: Club Hon. Sec. 23 years, Library benefactor. Teacher of English and History, Irvine Royal Academy then Depute Rector, Marr College, Troon. Editor of Statistical Account 1947.
1947 Peter McGinn: ? Irvine Labour Exchange.
1948 Angus M Nicholson: Reverend Minister Fullarton Parish Church (1938-48).
1949 J W McDavid: Doctor.
1950 Robert M Whyte: “Bert”, Irvine Burgh Town Clerk,
1944-72, served under ten Provosts. Father of R R Whyte (1983).
1951 A M Skinner: “Alf”, Proprietor of The Kings Arms and later the Redburn Hotel.
1952 Archibald Green: First Labour Provost (1946-50).
1953 William G Guild: Engineer and Manager, Irvine and District Water Board, Deacon Convener of Trades 1957-61.
1954 Joseph Hardie: Reverend Minister of the Trinity Church, then of Douglas Water. Preached at the disbandment of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).
1955 William Lockhart: Chartered Accountant, Treasurer of the Club, Clerk to the Incorporated Trades 1954-71 & 1973-82, Deacon Convener of Trades, Burgess.
1956 H C Munro: Hugo, Manager of the Commercial Bank (later The National Commercial Bank, which was later taken over by the Bank of Scotland) in Bank Street.
1957 Archibald M Beaton: Rev. Minister of Dundonald Parish Church, Founder President of Dundonald Burns Club. Brought The Mod to Ayr for the first time??
1958 William Brown: “Boiler Brown”, Engineer and Insurance Inspector.
1959 R B Taylor: Doctor, G.P., resided and practised at “Willowbank”, between the Trinity Church and the river.
1960 David B Shaw: Army Captain, Garage Proprietor, ‘Assistant
Hon. Sec. and man about town’, Deacon Convener of Trades.
1961 William Johnston: Headmaster of Dundonald School, President of Dundonald Burns Club 1964, Church organist.
1962 J M Ramsay: “Jack”, Irvine Registrar of Births , Marriages and Deaths, Clerk to the District Council, assisted in the initiation of the Burgh Museum. Artist.
1963 Harry A Gaw: Retail Jeweller in Bridgegate, donated Burns volume to Club (?).
1964 James Miller: Company Secretary of Ayrshire Metal Products and Session Clerk of Relief Parish Church (at that time, Relief Church was in the centre of Irvine before moving out to Bourtreehill). He subsequently went on to become Managing Director of Ayrshire Metal Products before retiring from business aged 62 to become a Church of Scotland minister. He died in 1994.
The 1964 annual dinner was attended by Mr F.C Sillar, great, great grandson of David Sillar (“Dainty Davie”). The Immortal Memory of President James was unusual, in that he focussed on Burns as a song writer and illustrated his talk with tape recordings of Burns' songs using a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The Irvine Herald published details and photographs of the evening the following week, including the full text of the Immortal Memory and other speeches.
[Updated with information kindly supplied by his son Brian in 2013.]
1965 James Montgomery: General Practitioner, Head of Seagate and subsequently Townhead Medical Practice.
1966 T Martin Cameron: Irvine Burgh Chamberlain.
1967 Samuel K Gaw: Hon. Sec. and Honorary Member of the Club, President of the Burns Federation 1979. Popular reader and expert on the life and work of Burns. Youngest Baillie of the Burgh and ? youngest President.
1968 Andrew Hood: Hon. Sec. of the Club, proprietor of plumbing and electrical business.
1969 Tom Caldwell: ?Largs Newsagent, became President on early death of Vice Pres. J Lindsay Kirk.
1970 Alex MacMillan: Headmaster of Irvine Royal Academy, joint author
of Sandy Thomas Ross’s “Bairnsangs”, along with Tom Limond
and Ross Taylor. Burgess. Involved with the Ayr Pageant. President of the
Burns Federation 1959.
1971 R Clement Wilson: Proprietor of Wilson Foods, benefactor of the Club via the “Wilforge Foundation”.
1972 James Wales: Assistant General Manager of Bank of Scotland, Deacon Convener of Trades 1984-85.
1973 Wilson Muir: Irvine Burgh Provost (1966-69), responsible for Fullarton Street ‘High Flats’. Retailer. Son of Walter Muir (1923) ?
1974 Robert Sawers: “Bob”, Rev. Minister of Mure Church (1969-76).
1975 Charles Masson: Professional glass blower at Ardeer I.C.I., cyclist portrayed in mural upstairs.
1976 Alex A Rubie: Independent Councillor and last Provost, Royal Burgh of Irvine. Wit and raconteur, Deacon Convener of Trades 1979-80. MBE.
1977 William Cowan: Last Burgh Surveyor, Royal Burgh. Director of Cleansing, Cunninghame District Council, Hon. Sec. of the Club (1977-89) Hon. Member.
1978 John Inglis: Detective Chief Inspector of Police, President of Burns Federation 1984, Hon. Sec. of Federation. Popular reader and well read interpreter of the works of Burns. Fabric Convener of “Wellwood”. Hon. Member.
1979 Joseph J Caldwell: Proprietor of the “Eglinton Arms Hotel”, founder of the Eglinton Burns Club, musical entrepreneur and ‘bon viveur’. Deacon Convener of Trades 1978-79. Hon. Member.
1980 James T Foulds: ICI, Hon. Secretary of Harbour Arts Centre, brother
of Irvine Royal Academy Rector Ian Foulds.
1981 James Wilson: “Skelmorlie”, son of Clement Wilson (1971), benefactor of the Club. Ayrshire representative on the National Trust. OBE, Hon. Member.
1982 James Miller: Chief Executive and Director of Administration of Cunninghame District Council. Died suddenly in August 1985.
1983 Robin R Whyte: Solicitor, Gilmour and Christie, son of Robert Whyte (1950). Organiser with J.J. Caldwell of “Irvine Music Club” Musical Evenings at “Wellwood”.
1984 George W Watson: Pharmacist “The Medical Hall” etc., Hon. Sec. of the Club (1993- ). Deacon Convener of Trades 1991-92.
1985 Robin D Campbell: Assistant General Manager of Royal Bank of Scotland, Treasurer of the Club (19……)
1986 Jack Lovie: Scientific Doctor, I.C.I. Ardeer.
1987 Ian H Y Wood: Doctor, Head of Townhead Medical Practice.
1988 Matthew Brown: Scottish Nationalist, First Provost of Cunninghame (19. ) Engineer and Solicitor, Town Councillor of North Ayrshire Council. Deacon Convener 1975-76.
1989 William A Nolan ('Bill'): Public Relations, at one time with Irvine Development Corporation, at another with the Tennent's Lager. Popular public speaker. Deacon Convener of Trades 1990-91. One of Scotland's two representatives on the council of the International Rugby Board 2002-12. Vice-President of European Rugby 2013.
1990 Michael Thomson: Commercial Director, Irvine Development Corporation.
1991 Peter McGlone: General Practioner, Townhead Medical Practice.
1992 James Greig: Rev. Minister, Irvine Old Parish Church (19…..)
1993 James Butler: Art teacher, Artist and Piper.
1994 Andrew Sinclair: Science ?Mathematics teacher, Irvine Royal Academy. Deacon Convener of Trades 1989-90.
1995 Eric L Park: Quantity Surveyor, Irvine Development Corporation. Deacon Convener of Trades 1995-96.
1996 Ian J Dickson: PT Classics, St Michael's Academy 1972-2007, and teacher of Computing; creator of Club website.
1997 Duncan Rennie: Human Resources Consultant.
1998 Malcolm M Rae: Air Traffic Control Engineer & Manager.
1999 Robert H Haswell: Director, Human Resources, AAM Europe (Albion Automotive Ltd, Glasgow)
2000 Michael Murray, head teacher (retired), St Conval's Secondary
2001 Hugh Hutchison, then of Scottish Water
2002 Hugh Drennan, once professional footballer. Deacon Convener of Trades 1997-98.
2003 Willam McPike, retired policeman
2004 Andrew Howat, chartered accountant
2005 Fr William Boyd, parish priest, St Mary's Church, Irvine
2006 James Burns, air traffic controller. Deacon Convener of Trades 2001-02.
2007 Raymond Fitzgerald, pharmacist
2008 Drew Duncan, OBE, Provost, North Ayrshire Council, retired history teacher
2009 Iain Doole, project manager, British Telecom
2010 W G Dickson ('Billy'), W G Dickson & Co.,
2011 W McGregor ('Bill'), past Head Teacher, James Hamilton Academy, Kilmarnock (1989-2004), thereafter General Secretary, Headteachers' Association of Scotland
2012 Michael Diamond, Social Work Co-ordinator, North Ayrshire Council
2013 Tim Swan, Head Teacher, Kilwinning Academy
2014 Roger Griffith, FSA (Scot), Countryside Ranger, North Ayrshire Council
2015 Rev Robert Travers, Minister of Irvine Old Parish Church
2016 J Derek Murdoch, formerly an Environmental Officer with North Ayrshire Council, a Past Deacon Convener of Irvine Incorporated Trades
(2017) John Brown, who resigned mid-year for health reasons
2017-18 Allen Paterson, Operations Manager at Ardagh Glass, Irvine
Honorary Secretaries of the Club (to be completed)
1826: Joint Secretaries James Johnston (President 1833)
& James Dobie (President 1828)
1830: Alexander Robertson
1852-1863: William McJannet (President 1845)
1863-1906 (ob.): James Dickie (President 1860
- on his death in January, that year's Annual Celebration was cancelled.
1906-1907 (ob.): John Norval Murray (President 1900)
1908-c.1914: Robert Boyd (President 1889)
c.1918-1930 (ob.): R M Hogg (President 1905)
1930-1935: his brother James Hogg (d. 1936)
....-....: John Hall (President 1926)
19...-1968 (ob.): Bill Phillips (President 1946) (23 years)
1968-1982: Andrew Hood (President 1968)
....: Samuel K Gaw (President 1967)
1993: George W Watson (President 1984)
1998: Eric L Park (President 1995)
2003: Hugh Hutchison (President 2001)
2015: William A Nolan (President 1989)
Honorary Treasurers of the Club (to be completed)
1826: Maxwell Dick (President 1835 & 1854)
1862: Alexander Longmuir (President 1865)
1894: Robert Findlay Longmuir (President 1901-02)
....: William Lockhart (President 1955)
....: Robin D Campbell (President 1985)
2010: W G Dickson (President 2010)
Webmaster (not an office-bearer, but
(managing irvineburnsclub.org, irvineharbourside.org and irvinelassesburnsclub.org)
1999: Ian J Dickson (President 1996)
President Captain Charles Gray, R.M., originally from Anstruther, Fife, lived in Edinburgh. He attended the Irvine Dinner in 1829, singing several songs “with joyous glee” and reciting a fine poetical address to the Club. At this dinner, his friend and fellow-poet William Tennant was nominated for honorary membership. (He was probably also acquainted with William Motherwell, nominated that year.)
We discovered (in 2017!) that his links with Irvine go further back. His 1814 2nd edition of "Poems and Songs" contains (p.12) his "Epistle to Mr David Sillar, Irvine, written on HM Ship 'Unité', Adriatic, Dec. 31st 1808". In his 1811 Preface, written back home at Anstruther Wester, he recorded that "The greater part of the poems was composed amid the howling waves and blustering tempests of the Adriatic, where the Author was for several years employed at the blockade of Venice". His position in 1830 was Lt Royal Marine Forces.
The background is unusually interesting. Napoleon, Emperor of France, became King of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1805, until he abdicated both in 1814. During the Adriatic campaign, British squadrons harried French naval forces, from 1807 to 1814, the first major British deployment being the arrival of the 'Unité' off Venice in May 1808, severely disrupting French and Italian shipping off the busiest Adriatic seaport, and capturing three Italian ships in 1808, all of which were renamed and used by the Navy, and more Italian and French ships in 1810-12. The 'Unité' had started as a French 40-gun frigate! Originally the 'Impérieuse', launched in 1787, she was captured in 1793, and renamed in 1803; back in Britain by 1815, she ended life as a prison hulk 1841-58. Capt Gray's 'several years' in blustering tempests had been in 1808-14. (How had he first known David Sillar?)
Capt Gray attended the Irvine Dinner again in 1830, singing a song which those present voted to become a “standing Song of the Club”. Two other poets of the time were nominated as honorary members, though, if they wrote acceptances, they are not extant.
We do not know to what extent he maintained his links with Irvine between 1831 and 1836, and we know he was not present between 1837 and 1841. This may well be because, as we know, he spent a considerable part of his active service in the Mediterranean. He retired on full captain’s pay in 1841.
Capt Gray attended for seven consecutive years from 1842 to 1848. The 1845 minutes record him reading his “excellent poem”. In 1846, as Chairman, he sang several of his own songs “in his happiest manner” and also produced a poem written for the event by Alexander Smart, another of the capital’s poets. In that year, he nominated another three of his literary Edinburgh friends for honorary membership – Patrick Maxwell (who lived three doors away from him), Thomas Latto, and Alexander Smart (see the website biographies for each of these). In 1847, when Capt Gray acted as Croupier, Thomas Latto surprised his friend by secretly sending a poem about Capt Gray to be read at the Dinner. In 1848, Capt Gray was again meant to be Croupier, but the train bringing him and Patrick Maxwell was late, so they did not arrive until after the meal. Mr Maxwell was intended to be Croupier in 1851, but ill-health prevented him; we can assume that in 1851 the health of Capt Gray was known to be poor.
Capt Gray published a volume of his poems and songs in 1811 and a second volume in 1841. Several of his poems also appeared in “Whistlebinkie” in 1842. He was described in “Eminent Men of Fife” (1866, by M H Conolly) as “of cheerful and amiable dispositions”, “an ardent admirer of Burns” and “on one occasion he was selected to preside at a great anniversary celebration of [the Bard’s] birth in Ayrshire, which he did with great éclat”.
Capt Charles Gray died in Edinburgh in 1851. Our 1852 minutes record a "high and well-merited Eulogium to his Character", followed by a toast “which was drunk in solemn silence”. A literary association between Irvine and Edinburgh, spanning 22 years, had come to an end.
Capt Gray's life and literary connections were documented in 2013, and the Adriatic background was added in 2017. The club is now aware of the standing of Capt Gray in the literary circles of his day, and of the lively contribution he made to the club, a factor in the club's early success.
** You can download
the full text of the research on Captain Charles Gray. (by Past
President Ian Dickson)
Born c.1801, a 'product of Scotland's parish school system, which enabled clever boys from a modest background to enter the professions', he built up a legal practice and was the owner of a fine stone house ('Hamilfield' on Kilwinning Road). Married in 1842, he lost his wife Margaret only two weeks after the birth of their twin daughters Agnes and Margaret in January 1843.
A loving parent, he educated his daughters more or less as if they had been boys, taught them to argue and reason, took them on railway travel across Britain and the Continent, and promised them that for each foreign language they would learn, he would take them to that country. They attended Irvine Royal Academy, and were encouraged in study and in exercise. A young pastor, William Bruce Robertson, appointed at 43 in 1843 to the Burgher Church (United Presbyterian Church) on Cotton Row, and his sister, living in the manse built for them next door to the Smiths, became their second parents. Meanwhile, an Irvine man, John Ferguson, rich from 1842 through a fortune made by his five unmarried maternal uncles in America, died in 1856, leaving £1.25m. (possibly £100m today). Half became the Ferguson Bequest, and several relations received large legacies, including John Smith, his lawyer and distant relation, who was left about £100,000 (=?£7m today?). John Smith left his legal practice to become the first secretary of the Bequest, moved to Kilbarchan, and sent his daughers to finishing school in Knightsbridge.
John Smith died in 1866, leaving his 23 year-old daughters alone in the world, and very rich. Their Presbyterian background encouraged them to make good use of their talents and their legacy. The above details and the subsequent story of the sisters is told in the superbly written "The Sisters of Sinai" by Janet Soskice (Knopf, New York, 2009) - they both married and were shortly widowed (Agnes Lewis 1887-91 and Margaret Gibson 1883-86), then devoted themselves, based in Cambridge, to three decades of academic research and many acts of philanthropy, their successes including their discovery of ancient Gospel palimpsests in Sinai and the several honorary degrees they received in recognition of their work.
"The Cobbler Artist", born in Symington parish in 1802, first worked, as a young boy, on the Dankeith estate as a herd, then served his apprenticeship as a shoemaker in Dundonald, then moved to Kilmarnock to pursue that trade. There, a fellow-lodger, a young apprentice painter, first fired Hunter's ambition to be a painter. His first work, a watercolour landscape painted in 1819 at the age of 17, was a disaster, as was his first commissioned oil portrait, whose owner .... Nevertheless, Hunter spent his spare time using his workmates as sitters and in 1831 launched the Kilmarnock Drawing Academy (wound up a year later due to the cholera epidemic), leading to a mention of him in the local press as "a devoted student of Titian".
In 1838, Hunter moved to Glasgow where he doggedly pursued the profession of portrait painting, returning to shoemaking when times were hard, to support his large family (in 1868, of his 15 children, seven were still alive; he had remarried when his first wife died). He wrote the most outrageous adverts for his work ("his Vesuvius-like power, whose eruptions must fall on the connoisseurs with such irresistible evidence . . . a Phoenix-like figure to restore art to its primeval splendour") and on his calling card he described himself as "F.R.S. & C. (First-rate Shoemaker & Cobbler), Professor and President of the Cobbler's School of Art".
John Kelso Hunter, though without any formal tuition in painting, painted scores of individuals in the West of Scotland (and several beyond) and a number of works were accepted for exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy. Details are in the document linked below.
In Irvine, Hunter made many friends, incl. Maxwell Dick, printer, publisher & entrepreneur. On visits to the town, he painted many portraits, a number of landscapes (incl. views of Eglinton Castle), and enjoyed life in the town, incl. even night visits to the town jail to cheer up the unfortunate inmates. He wrote: "I set the society of Irvine above that of any place I have ever seen. I was admitted at once into good society, and there received many acts of personal kindness". In 1861 he was invited to the Burns Club Annual Dinner, where he was elected a member and appointed Chairman for the following year; at the 1861 meeting, on the proposal of Maxwell Dick, those present contributed payment to commission a full-length portrait of Hugh Conn, chairman on the occasion of the centenary of the Bard's birth in 1859. Hunter recorded that "It was the most ambitious work of my art life, and in its power and truth had the approval of all visitors"; it is described in Wylie's "History of the Mother Lodge of Kilwinning"; unfortunately, the portrait seems to have been destroyed in the 1970s due to wood infestation.
John Kelso Hunter presided at the Annual Dinner, as intended, in 1862. His autobiography appeared in 1868 and was reprinted in 1912. He died in Glasgow in 1873.
** You can download the text
of the research on John Kelso Hunter (by Past President Jack Lovie).
The Appendices referred to in the text can be consulted in the Club
Founders Day 1976
We print here the letter to Directors from Hon. Secretary Andrew Hood,
followed by the list of toasts given at the lunch.
I have to inform you that a meeting of Directors will be held in the Crown Hotel (formerly Milne's Inn), High Street, Irvine on Wednesday, 2nd. June, 1976, at 12.30 p.m.
The Toast List is appended overleaf and I have to advise you that the intent of the meeting is to celebrate the founding of our Club, in the above mentioned premises, by our Founder Members on June 2nd., 1826.
Luncheon will be served at the meeting and I append the Menu for your perusal. Mine Host. Mr. John McAtamney, has promised a bowl of his finest Whisky Punch to whet the appetite.
SHEEP'S HElD BROTH
-0- -0- -0-
SOUSED HERRIN FRAE LOCH FYNE
-0- -0- -0-
PRIME AIBERDEEN ANGUS BEEF, ROASTIT,
WI' CLAPSHOT, TATTlES BAKED IN THEIR JAICKETS
AN' A WHEEN GAIRDEN GREENS.
SERVED GUID AN' WARM WI' A GILL
OR TWA 0' CLARET FRAE THE CHATEAU FUNROQUE (1970).
-0- -0- -0-
A GALLIMAUFRAY O' FRUIT, SHERRY
AN' A PICKLE CREAM
-0- -0- -0-
BANNOCKS AN' CHEESE WI' A
TASSIE 0' COFFEE
The President, Mr. Cowan, earnestly requests your presence at this historic
moment in Club history. He extends also his felicitations and invitation
to you and your good lady to attend the re-opening of our Museum and extended
premises by Mr. J. Norval Murray on the evening of the same date at 7.30
Now it would appear that copious libations of a very rare Claret are to be dispensed throughout the afternoon and Mr. Cowan has expressed to me his concern of 'wounds received' of the severity that could prevent Directors attending both meetings. Man of vision that he is, he has also expressed equal concern that a goodly number of Directors in the 'walking wounded' category are at the evening meeting to make their presence felt. Indeed, in his beneficence, he offers first aid and spiritual assistance to all who shall require such treatment until the late hour of ten o'clock p.m. I trust you will find the time and date convenient and that you will enter into the spirit of the meeting from each and every direction.
Yours sincerely, Andrew Hood, Hon. Secretary
The Toast List:
1 - The Founder Members of Irvine Burns Club - The President - William Cowan
2 - The Royal Burgh of Irvine - The Past President - Ex Provost Alexander Rubie
3 - Robert Burns and Irvine Burns Club - Past President Charles Masson
4 - Bawbees - Past President James Wales (manager, Bank of Scotland)
5 - Scots Law and Scottish Lawyers - Past President J Norval Murray (solicitor)
6 - The Federation of Burns Clubs - Past President Samuel K Gaw
7 - Hon. Membership of Irvine Burns Club - ast President Dr Robert B Taylor
8 - Scottish Art and Artists - Past President John M Ramsay, Burgh Registrar, and artist
9 - The Golden Smokey Age of Steam - Past President William Brown, engineer, aka 'Boiler Brown'
10 - Law and Order within the Royal Burgh - Vice President John Inglis, Ayrshire Police
11 - Damned Taxation - Past President T Martin Cameron (Burgh Treasurer)
12 - The Medical Profession - Past President Dr James Montgomery
13 - Commerce and Trade within the Royal Burgh - Past President Harry A Gaw (jeweller, Irvine)
14 - The Fair or Unfair Sex - Past President David B Shaw
15 - In absentia (or America) - Past President Alex MacMillan
16 - Our American Relations - Past President Hon. Treasurer William Lockhart
17 - Absent Friends - Past President Hon. Secretary Andrew Hood