A Talk on the Wolverhampton & District Caledonian Society
given by Mr George Dunwoody on the occasion of its
70th Anniversary, 2008
A talk was given by Mr. George Dunwoody, a former President of the Society, on celebrating their 70th Year at Linden House, Wolverhampton, on Saturday 19th April 2008. He reviewed the history of the Society as follows:
I was delighted and honoured to propose tonight’s toast to the Wolverhampton & District Caledonian Society 70th anniversary celebration.
Shelagh and I are delighted to be with you and wish the Wolverhampton & District Caledonian Society a happy birthday.
70 years and still going strong! 50 years is recognised as a Golden anniversary however, the only other named years are 60 and 75 which are classed as Diamond. This society is well into its diamond years.
Twenty years ago, almost to the day we enjoyed a speech by Willie Robertson one of the founder members.
It was a wonderful night listening of the early days of the society and how it grew from strength to strength.It is that strength of spirit which continues to flow through this society ensuring it will continue to survive.
The love of one’s place of birth, especially if it has a strong and distinctive independent culture is to be cherished and not forgotten. There is a danger that this yearning can overtake common sense but the society’s founding fathers whilst embracing the midlands district wanted also to continue to enjoy Scottish music, song, language and dance but not to the extent of forcing this culture on non-Scots.
Willie Robertson explained how enthusiastically the society began in 1938 with over 100 interested Scots in attendance at the inaugural meeting.
We return to that age old question. Why are they so many Scots in Wolverhampton? Past President Bill Murray always reminded us that by train it was the furthest you could travel from Glasgow on a platform ticket!
I have been fortunate to read through the early minutes of the committee meetings and AGM’s and I want to mention a few notes of interest. The two books which hold these records are a social history of the many years this society has enjoyed.
The various committees enjoyed speakers who lectured on their favourite subject. One speaker was Ninian MacWhannel, now there is a name you don’t hear of much in Wolverhampton!
MacWhannel spoke on “Oor Mither Tongue” I would have loved to have heard that lecture. We may think the Black Country language is a language to reckon with but the auld Scot’s tongue is just as intriguing.
Whilst reading the minute books it became obvious very little has changed. The committee’s discussions had a recurring theme which continues to this day covering subjects such as, non payment of subscriptions, club’s financial situation, venues for social events, a programme for the year, arranging speakers, entertainers and musicians. Details of common complaints such as ‘the soup was cold’ or ‘there was not enough apple pie for everyone’ indicated the depth of concern the committee went to please the membership.Today, to reduce costs, many clubs use recorded music.The old minute books had some interesting band names such as, Horsehay Works Band, Birmingham Square Dance Band, Wulfrun Old Tyme Dance Band and my favourite, Victor Moseley and his Knights of Gladness. What would they make of Wolverhampton’s bands of today , Slade, Babylon Zoo, and Mighty Lemon Drops (previously known as the Sherbert Monsters)
In 1950 the society had a membership of 410. Wow!! However, only 237 had paid their subscription!
In 1953 the knives came out and 85 members were struck off! Now that was decisive if nothing else!At the 1957 AGM it was suggested to double the subscription from five shillings to ten shillings. The secretary wrote, “This stimulated considerable discussion”. I bet it did!
I was particularly interested in the notes concerning the appointment of the first woman as President of the Society. Two committee members, a man and a woman, were selected for nomination and were asked to leave the room whilst the situation was discussed. The minutes recording this discussion stated ‘…the appointment of a lady as President and the possible effect of such an appointment on the society…..’
We all know Mrs R P Walker was rightly appointed as President and the excellent contribution she made as a member of the society especially with the drama and dancing section. Mrs Walker’s appointment at the twelfth Annual General Meeting was unanimously accepted. This society promoted equal opportunities at an early stage.
Throughout the 70 years the dancing class has been the backbone of the society and this fact features prominently in the minute books. This section started in 1947 and by 1950 the dancers were proficient enough to compete at the Leamington Dance Festival. Membership of any club is critical but the stalwarts of any society are the President and committee members who wrestle with the many problems of satisfying the society members ensuring they attain as much enjoyment whilst fulfilling the clubs aims and objectives.
During my presidential year the committee wanted to remove the political address given by the city Mayor at each Burns Supper. It was decided to request a non political representative of the city to respond to the toast “To the Town We Bide In”. This introduced many of the un-sung heroes of Wolverhampton to our midst which was a successful method of acknowledging our host town.
That was the past but what of today.
The dance section flourishes with more complicated dances attempted. Scottish country dancing involves both physical and mental exercise. Some people find it easy whilst others struggle. I suppose that is natural. Irene Morrison and the late Helen Moore are to be congratulated for their unstinting resolve by teaching society members the intricacies of Scottish country dancing and encouraging beginners to persevere.Finding speakers for Burns Suppers can sometimes be an onerous task however, in 1987 I discovered the committee attempted to obtain the services of a Wolverhampton solicitor Tony Southall (part of the legal team that helped to create the Wulfrun Centre) who was a prisoner of war and connected to the Scottish country dance we know as the ‘reel of the 51st’.
Part of the officers of the original 51st (Highland) Division ended up in a POW camp near Salzburg. Since dancing was always a big part of Scottish military life, it comes as no surprise that the POWs started a dance class to pass the time. Lt. Col. Harris Hunter eventually managed to send a description of the 51st Country Dance to his wife in Perth, Scotland, which must have been quite an achievement — at first, the German censors considered the dance notation a type of code and didn't want to pass it along. It appears that Harris Hunter arranged a demonstration in order to convince the camp authorities of the communication's innocuousness.
Each society has many office bearers but I have yet to come across ‘Boss One’ and ‘Boss Two’
Boss One is Ena Neilson who has 53 years membership whilst Boss Two Joan Craigie is a mere youngster with 50 years membership.They are to be congratulated for their resolve, dedication, and support they have given to this society.
Modern technology has played its part in keeping the society thriving. Your web site has enticed new members Scots and English alike to join who otherwise were unaware of such a society. Well done!
I was looking at a few suggestions for Scottish web site names and came across the following proposals,
Youllhavehadyourtea.com for Edinburgh folk,
fitlike.com for Aberdonians,
Glasgowkiss.com for Glaswegians
Awfyniceweefella.com for folk from Tettenhall.
Mr President members of the Wolverhampton & District Caledonian Society you are to be congratulated on this momentous achievement, 70 years and still going strong. Friendship is the wine of life and it obviously it flows strongly in this society. Shelagh and I thank you for your hospitality and although we are a long way from here you are often in our thoughts as you gave us so much when we were members.
This society has a great history, cherish it.
This society has a great future, enjoy it.
May you continue to go from strength to strength and enjoy the fruits of this society which started so long ago.
Frien'ship maks us a' mair happy' Frien'ship gies us a' delight; Frien'ship consecrates the drappie, Frien'ship brings us here the night.
Happy we are a' thegither, Happy we've been, one an' a'; Time shall find us a' the happier Ere we rise to gang awe.