From 1886 to the present
In 1886 a group of prominent Scotsmen met, discussed and passed the motion that The Saint Andrew’s Society of Bradford should be formed. 125 years later, Bradfordians, who are Scottish by birth, parentage or marriage, continue to fulfil the aims of the Society, as set out in The St. Andrew’s Society Centenary booklet by Mrs. Isobel Simpson: to be charitable, social and promote Scottish literature and amusements.

Since its foundation, the St. Andrew’s Society has witnessed many social changes in both Bradford, England and, of course, Scotland. The end of the 19th century, with the construction of the new Town Hall, St. George’s Hall and The Wool Exchange, saw the emergence of what would become modern day Bradford. These buildings represented the changing landscape of not only our region, but of the nation. The emergence of a new industrial landscape and transportation system brought many people to Bradford, including Scotsmen and women; employment opportunities thrived and with a population of over 200,000, Bradford was awarded the status of city in 1897.

On Tuesday November 30th, 1886, the St. Andrews Society held its Inaugural Banquet at the newly built Technical College Hall, which had been opened by the Prince and Princess of Wales only four years earlier. Tickets were 6/- each (gallery tickets were also available at 1/- each for those only wanting to listen to the speeches and songs). For this princely sum members had the pleasure of dining together and digesting after dinner speeches. The menu included hare soup, compote of pigeons with olives, braised Yorkshire ham, lobster salad and Queen Victoria Pudding. Eight toasts were made, including one to the Queen and Royal Family, The Land O’Cakes and Brither Scots and The President; four formal replies were delivered and four songs complemented the after dinner rhetoric.

A study of the founder’s list revealed that eighteen of them were doctors, of which two went onto be Presidents of the Society; in addition to the minister of the Presbyterian Church of England (who was by the rules of the Society automatically eligible for membership), there were two other ministers of religion; and that the occupations of other founding members included a solicitor of the Chamber of Commerce, a printer, a member of Parliament as well as citizens involved in the industrial side of Bradford’s employment. 

The history of the Presidents of the Society is varied and interesting. The Society’s first honorary president was Professor John Stuart Blackie. Born in Edinburgh in 1809, Professor Blackie was called to the Scottish Bar in 1834. After his death in 1895, other leading Scottish figures were approached to replace the Professor. However, as none felt able to accept the presidency, the role was filled by men within the society itself. The first Chairman of the Society was Professor William Campbell Shearer. He was a scholarly gentleman who took up the position of the Chair of Classical Studies at Airedale College in 1863. During his career, he also taught philosophy and maths. In 1890, he was elected President of the Society. He died in 1907 at the home of his son, Dr. Donald Shearer, in Putney London. A humorous anecdote regarding the 45th President, Sir John Anderson is worth noting. Due to his eight titles and decorations (GCB, GCSI, GCIE, MA, DSc, LLD, FRS, MP) it was impossible to fit his name in its entirety on the menu for the Annual Dinner or Burns Supper. Fortunately this was resolved when the two first and latter titles were deemed to be the most important and thus made it into print.

The Society, like all others living in Europe, felt the personal effects of the two World Wars at the start of the last century. At the start of the Great War a Special General Meeting was called; the outcome of this meeting was the split donation of £155 (an echo of the 155 guineas donated by the Society at the start of the Boer War) to support the war effort: two thirds going to the Lord Mayor’s Fund and one third to the Belgian Refugee Fund. The Annual Dinner was deemed inappropriate in these desperate times and so a night of entertainment and supper was provided for soldiers in Bradford. Other examples of the kindness shown by society members during the war includes the donation of 100 guineas after a Christmas appeal by the Lord Mayor in 1915 and entertaining shell-shocked patients at the Abram Peel Hospital in 1918. The war took the life of one council member and the lives of four sons of council members. The Second World War was another stark reminder of the fragility of human life with another council member’s son being killed in action.

The inclusion of women by the St. Andrews Society of Bradford provides a valuable insight into, not only the history of the Society, but the wider historical and cultural journey of our nation. From its inception, women were excluded from being members of the Society or celebrating important dates on the Scottish calendar like Burns Supper or the Annual Dinner; however, they were permitted to attend the Annual Ball at which they became a ‘necessity’ in order to provide dance partners for the men. The years of 1912, 1929 and again in 1933 saw various groups of ladies attempt to gain acceptance by the Society. In 1933 the proposal for ‘Ladies’Evenings’ was put forward, but the Annual General Meeting saw only thirteen members in support, and thus the motion was dropped. 

At an Extraordinary General meeting in 1972, it was argued that the Society should disband. This finally led to women becoming members. In 1974 two women, Valerie Ross and Margaret McIlroy, were elected to the council and in 1980 the first woman President, Mrs. Isobel Simpson, took office. Women continue to play an active role in keeping the society alive with several serving on today’s Council.

Today the St. Andrews Society of Bradford continues to abide by the rules of being charitable, social and promoting Scottish literature and entertainments. The social calendar includes both formal events, Burns Supper and the St. Andrew’s Tartan Ball are examples, and less formal evenings such as walks, curry nights and even a day at the races. The Society regularly takes part in sports and entertainment meetings with other societies. The annual bowls tournament is not to be missed, nor is the Burns Federation quiz competition and other Burns Federation events. Appreciation of Scottish tradition is still very much at the heart of the Society; recitals of Burns poetry, the playing of bagpipes to welcome guests and the haggis, the customary ‘toast to the lassies’ and ‘response’ and Scottish dancing are all familiar features of events like the Burns Supper or the formal St. Andrew’s Tartan Ball.

In recent years the decision to welcome non-Scottish members to the Society’s books was a forward-looking decision. The wish to see the Society grow in the next century has led to the acceptance of members who desire to celebrate and share all things Scottish, yet may not be so fortunate as to be able to trace their heritage to a clan from across the borders. Yet the values of the Society hold true whatever the parentage of its members. Valuing community and the enjoyment of ‘good company’ seems to remain at soul of this diverse group of individuals, who by coming together form the St Andrew’s Society of Bradford.