The Early Years to the Official Founding

The Background.

Glasgow was a centre for piping activity throughout the 19th century when many pipers moved in to the city. The first solo competitions were organised by societies such as the Glasgow Gaelic Club or the Glasgow Celtic Society and these took place during the 1840s and 1850s. From around 1860 there were outdoor contests at Games and Athletic events in Glasgow and the surrounding villages, such as Maryhill, Govan, Springburn and Kelvinside, plus similar events a little further afield at Barrhead, Neilston, Coatbridge, Kilmarnock, Paisley, Johnstone, Campsie, Uddingston, Carstairs and Vale of Leven.

In 1897 James McIvor organised a piping competition in December at Govan and in November 1898 and again in November 1899 he organised competitions at the Govan Hall. There was another competition organised by Clanna na’n Gaidheal ri Guailhbh a Cheile which was held on 12th October 1899 at the Assembly Rooms in Bath Street. By the beginning of the new century competitions were being held regularly in various halls around the city, the Assembly Rooms, the Waterloo Rooms, St Mungo Hall, Springburn Public Hall and later on in the Pearce Institute, Govan. There were several competitions during the winter months, commencing usually about 7pm and ending about 3 o’clock in the morning.

The Scottish Pipers’ Union.

The Oban Times on December 10th 1910 reported that an Inaugural Meeting for the purpose of forming a Society, to be called the Scottish Pipers’ Union, was held in the Religions Institution Rooms, Glasgow, on the 26th November at which the chair be taken by Dr. Charles Bannatyne. A list of 28 members desiring to join the Union was handed in. Various suggestions were made and questions asked, and eventually nominations for the Committee were taken, when the following were proposed and seconded:–Mr. Swanson, Partick; Captain Macfarlane, 15 Dumbarton Road; Pipe-Major House, Tramway Band; Pipe-Major J MacDougall Gillies, 2nd H.L.I.; Dr. Bannatyne; Mr. F.W. Caution, Boys’ Brigade; Mr. Lewis MacIver, Prestwick; Pipe-Major Russell; Mr. James Braidwood, sen., Stenhousemuir; Mr. Duncan Macfarlane; Mr. McLean Johnstone; Mr. J. MacDonald. This Committee, consisting of 7 amateurs and 6 professionals, was entrusted with the drawing up of the Constitution and rules and regulations, and was directed to report to a further meeting on 10th inst.

On the 31st December 1910 there was a letter in The Oban Times from Archibald Paterson,

Pipe–Major, 5th Battalion (Cameronians) S. R., 4 Hotspur Street, N. Kelvinside, informing readers that he was now the President of the Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union.

The objects of the new Union were published as

  1. To foster a love and knowledge of Highland piping and dancing.
  2. To hold regular meetings at which the foremost experts would give exhibitions of their respective arts.
  3. To hold lectures on piping and dancing with illustrations by experts.
  4. To hold friendly competitions among the members.
  5. To train judges in the art of adjudicating.
  6. To keep a list of competent judges for the convenience of Games Committees.
  7. To form a Court of Appeal against decisions of Union judges, if called in question.
  8. To codify the steps of the purely Highland dances.

All pipers and dancers, professional, semi-professional, amateur and juvenile, also all persons interested in Highland piping and dancing, are eligible for ordinary membership. The parent or guardian of a juvenile is entitled to membership with all powers.

The fee is 2s 6d payable on joining.

Archibald Paterson was born in 1857 in South Uist. He enlisted in the 74th Highlanders and served from 1880 to 1902, in the Egyptian Campaign, and in India. He was with the detail that attended the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901 and also took part in the Australian Commonwealth festivities in the same year. He purchased his discharge in July 1902 and settled at 4 Hotspur Street in Glasgow. He was Pipe Major of the 1st Lanark Volunteer Rifles and 5th Batt Scottish Rifles TA.

Archie MacNeill was an early committee member as were PM John MacKenzie, James MacIvor and PM George Ross. One of the dancers on the committee was Mr Kay and some committee meetings were held at his house in Bellgrove Street. The Union organised a variety of recitals, competitions and other events. By 1911 the new organisation was held in such regard that the committee was asked to help select the tunes for one of the Cowal Gathering Collections. One of the typical events organised by the Union in 1911 was a lecture on piping given by Dr. Charles Bannatyne, accompanied by an exhibition of piping and dancing by leading exponents. Those taking part were John MacDougall Gillies, William Gray, James MacIvor, John MacColl, Donald Cameron, PM MacKenzie and Messrs Stewart, MacEwan, Kay, Swanson, Gordon and Mr J Johnstone.

On 25th November 1914 the President of the SPDU, Archibald Paterson, was involved in a fatal accident. The circumstances of his death were reported in the papers the following year. On 2nd March 1915 the Edinburgh Evening News had this; ‘Route March Incident. Pipe Major Run Down. An action has been brought in the Court of Session by Mrs Mary Hilburd or Paterson of 4 Hotspur Street, Kelvinside North, Glasgow, widow of Archibald Paterson, pipe major 5th (Reserve) Battalion The Cameronians, and his son and daughter, against the Corporation of Glasgow for £1800 in all in respect of the death of her husband. Pipe Major Paterson served 22 years in the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry, and retired from the Army in 1902. He was attached to the 5th Cameronians, and on November 5th took part in a route march. He was marching at the head of the column along the Great Western Road, playing his pipes, when he was knocked down by a tramcar which had overtaken and passed the remainder of the column. He died the same night without recovering consciousness. At the time of the accident it was necessary for the column to incline to the right to avoid vehicles drawn up on the street. The defenders deny fault and plead contributory negligence. They deny that the car was proceeding at an excessive and dangerous speed, and maintain that it was being driven carefully and at a moderate speed. The column was marching parallel to the car rails, and the car was about to pass the two leading pipers when the deceased suddenly and without warning stepped in front of the car. The motorman could not have prevented the accident.’ A further article on the 19th March reported that a settlement had been reached in the claim for damages of £1800, which was £1500 for the widow and £150 each for her son and daughter in respect of the death of Pipe Major Paterson. £600 had been paid by the Corporation, £500 to the widow and £50 each to her son and daughter, with expenses.

Amateur competitions had been held from 1912 onwards. On 25th  November 1915  the Southern Reporter, Selkirk, mentioned a local dancer who had been a prize winner at the fourth amateur competition of  Scottish PipersandDancers’ Association, held in the Central Halls, Glasgow, on Saturday. The Hamilton Advertiser of 7th April 1917 reported that; ‘Master Joseph Calderwood, son of Mr Joseph Calderwood, Gunn’s Land, Clydesdale Street, New Stevenston, has for the second week in succession won a silver cup for piping. Piper Calderwood carried off the premier award for B.B. piping at the competition of the Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Association held in Govan on Saturday’. Competitions were held in 1918 and 1919 but after this some of the Union’s trophies were handed on to the new Scottish Pipers’ Association. The first names on the Farquhar MacRae Trophy are Peter Ferguson in 1918 and W G Ross in 1919. On the Cameron Cup the names are John (Iain) MacPherson in 1918 and Charles MacEachern in 1919 and on the Chisholm Cup the first name is Iain MacPherson in 1919. Iain MacPherson and Charles MacEachern were two of the founder members of the SPA. These three trophies are still awarded annually at the Juvenile Amateur Competition.

The Scottish Pipers’ Association.

A group of pipers had begun to meet on a Saturday afternoon in the back shop of the bagpipe maker Peter Henderson. John MacDougall Gillies was the shop manager and did some of his teaching there. Sometimes the popularity of the Saturday afternoon meetings could prove embarrassing, for the shop would be full of pipers who had just dropped in to meet for a chat. David Ross told of how Gillies used to disperse the crowd tactfully as opening time for the bars came near, by blowing up his pipe and playing The Men Went to Drink. These informal meetings were to become The Scottish Pipers’ Association. The twelve founder members were recorded as John MacDougall Gillies, James MacIvor (Caithness), George Yardley (Cambuslang), William Gray (Glasgow Police), Iain Macpherson, Alastair Hutcheon, Charles MacEachern, Robert Reid (Slamannan), George MacDonald (Dunoon), Archie McPhedran (Knightswood), William MacLean (Kilcreggan) and John C MacLean (Gourock). Many of

these men had previously been involved with the Scottish Pipers’ and Dancers’ Union.

The Scottish Pipers’ Association was formally instituted on the 10th January 1920 and an extract from the minutes of that date shows that John MacDougall Gillies was the President, John MacKenzie was Vice President, Malcolm MacLean Currie (Islay) was the Secretary and John MacLeod (Lewis) was the Treasurer. The committee members were James MacIvor, James Wilson, Alasdair Hutcheon, William Gray, D. Walker, H. Lothian, James Bairnett, Iain Macpherson, Robert Mann and Charles MacEachern.

The objects of the Association, set out in the Constitution in 1920 are:

‘The study and practice of the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe, the banding together of the pipers of Scotland and the fostering of the spirit of comradeship amongst them.’