Old Glasgow Club
Minutes of ordinary meeting of Club held at Adelaide’s, 209 Bath Street on Thursday 9 December 2010 at 7.30pm
23 intrepid members (excluding huskies)
Ms Sannachan (Vice-President)
Ms Sannachan welcomed everyone who had ventured out to the meeting in the extreme snowy weather; setting aside the Met Offices severe weather warning and exhortations to stay at home unless you really have to go out. Mr Ronnie Knox was seated in the ‘lucky chair’ and received two Annan photographs.
There were apologies from Sam Gordon, Stuart Little, Isabel Haddow, Petrina Cairns, Janette Knox, Robert Pool, Eileen Campbell, G Campbell, Jane Collie, Margaret McCormack, Jim Robertson, M McGuigan.
The minutes of the last ordinary meeting held on 11 November were approved, proposed by Sharon Macys and seconded by Rosemary Sannachan. There were no matters arising.
Mr Gordon being absent there was no President’s Report.
Owing to the adverse weather conditions Mrs McNae decided to omit her report to allow everyone to return home early.
Ms Sannachan introduced Mr Roddy MacPherson, Senior Partner of Messrs. Rutherford and Macpherson, Messengers at Arms, and also a leading light in the Nomads Club, who would speak on the topic of The Citizens Theatre.
Mr MacPherson began his talk by referring to the icy weather conditions; saying that in theatre you do not say ‘break a leg’ but ‘the show must go on’ and that he was glad to see that in contrast to many other events this week The Old Glasgow Club “show” was going on. He was also delighted and relieved to note that there were no reports of any members breaking a leg in the snow and ice!
Cutting a dapper figure in a 3 piece tweed and wellington boots Mr Macpherson added wryly that at the time of his invitation to speak he was indeed Chair of the Board of Governors of the Citizens Theatre but that since then certain matters had come to a head and that he had retired at Michaelmas. He now felt that the addition of an apostrophe held some merit; while the Citizens Theatre did not use the punctuation mark, insertion of one either before or after the s in citizens would shift the meaning sufficiently for him to broaden his talk to include the history of the city’s theatres in the generality.
Mr MacPherson said those of the members who attended his earlier talk would remember that he tended in any case to diversify from his actual subject so enabling the actuality by a grammatical shift was simply a nicety. He hoped everyone would bear with him and reported that he had brought his ‘usual bag of tricks’ from which he produced a book, Dr Strang’s Book on Glasgow and Its Clubs.
His first anecdote culled from the book referred to the first “modern” performance in the city – but not without first a peroration to offer some context.
The theatrical arts had been the preserve of the clergy – each mass or service had been a performance and other mummery had served to deliver some religious message to a largely illiterate populace. Theatre and Acting therefore were associated with Popery, or even worse Anglicanism, and as such were, in the fundamentalist atmosphere of reformation Scotland, banned.
Sir David Lindsay of the Mount was mentioned and claimed as Scotland’s greatest ever playwright with specific reference made to his work “Ane Satyr of the Three Estaitis” written in 1540. Whether this was because the play had been revived in 1948 or that it had been the last great work produced before the Presbyterians swept such Devil worship away remains unclear. Sir David Lindsay of the Mount had also been Lord Lyon King of Arms – the great office of state responsible for creating Messengers at Arms and so, in deference to Mr Macpherson’s profession we were treated to a demonstration of the six audible knocks of the messenger’s wand required by the 1540 citations act. In turn this was related to the “troi coups”, three knocks, required, in France, as honours to the King, the Queen and the People, prior to the commencement of any performance. In the light of this there remains little possibility of discovering the rationale of the mention of the 1540 work “Ane Satyr of the Three Estaitis”.
We had almost arrived at the first anecdote – however this was predated by the erection in 1757 of a lean to wooden building, little more than a hut really, which leaned to against the Bishop’s Palace. This was to be the first venue erected for continuous theatrical performances – although there had been review performances the previous year held in Mr Burrell’s Dancing School. Mr Macpherson regaled us with tales of the nobler patrons of the city being escorted to the theatre by armed guards as they ran the gauntlet of the godly. The small playhouse had not been there long before it attracted George Whitefield to the city. Today we might call Whitefield a Calvinist evangelist however his special power was the incitement of his followers against theatre. They would, by violent means, drive strolling players from country fairs and from city squares. In Glasgow Whitefield so inflamed the bigots harassing the theatre goers that the playhouse was torn down by the mob and the cast driven from the city in order to preserve their lives.
We had almost arrived at the first anecdote – however in order to appreciate it the more Mr Macpherson felt that we should understand a little about a certain Mrs Bellamy. Mrs Bellamy was the leading theatrical light of her age – beautiful, vulnerable and always ready to accept the protection of a gentleman.
Mrs Bellamy had been arrested (no doubt by a Messenger at Arms although this fine point eluded the minute taker) on account of debts unpaid to her creditors before she left London. However the favours of her batting eyes seem to have charmed the legal establishment who announced that the English writ did not run in these matters north of the border and she was released. Five Glasgow natives were present at her benefit performance in Edinburgh and were so taken by her “femininity” that they promised that they would build a theatre in Glasgow if only she would promise to grace its stage.
They were taken at their word and a theatre was indeed built just outside Glasgow in Grahamstown, now the site of central station.
True to her side of the bargain Mrs Bellamy was set to travel to Glasgow – however money for the fare presented a bit of a problem. She sent her maid to sell or pawn a silver watch give to her by the actor manager West Digges, to raise the funds – unfortunately the intended buyer recognised it as one which he had sold to Digges but had not been paid for. The maid was thrown into the cells and it took a frenzy of eyelid batting on Mrs Bellamy’s part to get her maid released and to raise loans for their conveyance to Glasgow.
The audience felt that the first anecdote must by now be drawing close – and they were right.
Mr Macpherson told that Mrs Bellamy’s carriage was intercepted a couple miles short of Glasgow by an actor who had taken it on himself to relay the bad news.
Bad news – the members’ collective intake of breath was audible.
In an astonishing parallel of the events set in train by George Whitfield some 12 years earlier – a mob had been gathered by a this time unidentified, but no less fanatical Methodist preacher, who told them that he had “dreamed a dream”. In that dream Lucifer himself had proposed a toast, “To Mr John Miller of Westerton who has sold his land to build me a house on.” This was enough for the mob and with little ceremony they set fire to the theatre.
Mrs Bellamy was in a fix; no money and no theatre in which to perform. Driven no doubt by necessity she persuaded those she needed to, to make temporary provision as “the show must go on.”
Just to square the circle Mr Macpherson revealed to the audience that one of the pieces performed that night was a short play by Arthur Murphy called “Citizen”. Mr Macpherson also observed without comment either way that Arthur Murphy’s pen name as a playright was Ranger.
Somewhere along the course of the evening we feel there must have been a second anecdote although it was approached via many and various byways which included no doubt some detail of the establishment of the Citizens Theatre; the involvement of James Bridie; the performance of many famous names.
Our notes must be playing us false here since following directly from the jotting “ both founded in Aetheneum – Old Glasgow Club 17 December 1900 and Citizens Co. 11 October 1843.” We have, “First production ‘Holy Isle’ Nicholas Parsons only surviving member of original cast.” If that were true it would make Nicholas Parsons about 190 years old.
One fascinating insight was that the Citz Christmas show always has a 13 letters in its title.
Little nuggets like this led to a fascinating question and answer session.
Vote of thanks
Mrs Anna Forrest proposed the vote of thanks on behalf of all present and not present. Mrs Forrest thanked Mr McPherson for all his wonderful stories and anecdotes saying that he is a fabulous raconteur.
The next directors’ meeting would be on 6 January and the next ordinary meeting on 13 January, where Stuart Nisbet would talk on the subject “Glasgow Sugar Lords”
Ms Sannachan wished all a safe journey home and a good Festive Season.
M Thom, Acting Recording Secretary