The History of Leith

March 21, 2011

Edinburgh Clubs in the 18th century

As a change for a time from history and statistics, we propose now to lake a brief glance at some old manners in the last century (18th century), and at the curious and
often quaintly-designated clubs, wherein our forefathers roystered, and held their ” high jinks ” as they phrased them, and when tavern dissipation, now so rare among respectable classes of th« community, ” engrossed,” says Chambers, ” the leisure
hours of all professional men, scarcely excepting even the most stern and dignified. No rank, class, or profession, indeed, formed an exception to this rule.”
Such gatherings and roystering$ formed, in the eighteenth century, a marked feature of life in the deep dark closes and picturesque wynds of ” Au!d Reekie,” a sobriquet which, though attributed to James VI., the aforenamed writer affirms cannot be traced beyond the reign of Charles II., and assigns it to a old Fifeshire gentleman, Durham of Largo, who regulated the hour of family worship and his children’s bed-time as he Saw the smoke of evening gather over the summits of the venerable city.
To the famous Crochallan Club, the Poker and Mirror Clubs, and the various golf clubs, we have already referred in their various localities, but, taken in chronological order, probably the Horn Order, instituted in 1705, when the Duke of Arglie was Lord High Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament, was the first attempt to constitute
a species of fashionable club.
It was founded as a coterie of ladies and gentlemen mostly by the influence and exertions of one who was a leader in Scottish society in those days and a distinguished beau, John, third Earl of Selkirk (previously Earl of Ruglan). Its curious designation had its origin in a whim of the moment. At some convivial meeting a common horn spoon had been used, and it occurred to the members of the club—then in its infancy—that this
homely implement should be adopted as their private badge; and it was further agreed by all present, that the ” Order of the Horn” would be a pleasant caricature of various ancient and highly sanctioned dignities.
For many a day after this strange designation was adopted the members constituting the Horn Order met and caroused, but the commonalty of the city put a very evil construction on the hitherto unheard of reunions ; and, ” indeed, if all accounts
be true, it must have been a specks of masquerade, in which the sexes were mixed, and all ranks confounded”
The Union Club is next heard of after this, but of its foundation, or membership, nothing is known; doubtless the unpopularity of the name would soon lead to its dissolution and doom.
Impious dubs, strange to say, next make their appearance in that rigid, strict, and strait-laced period of Scottish life ; but they were chiefly branches of or societies affiliated to those clubs in London, against which an Order in Council “was issued on the a 8th of April, 1721, wherein they wete denounced as scandalous meetings held for
the purpose of ridiculing religion and morality. These fraternities of free-living gentlemen, who were unbounded in indulgence, and exhibited an outrageous disposition to mock all solemn things, though centring, as we have said, in London, established
their branches in Fxlinburgh and Dublin, and to both these cities their secretaries came to impart to them “as far as wanting, a proper spirit.”
Their toasts were, beyond all modem belief fearfully blasphemous. Sulphureous flames and fumes were raised in their rooms to simulate the infernal regions and common folk would tell with bated breath, now after drinking some unusually horrible toast, the proposer would be struck dead with his cup in his hand, In 1726 the Rev, Robert Wodrow adverts to the rumour of the existence in Edinburgh of these oftshoots
of impious clubs in London ; and he records with honor and dismay that the secretary of the Hell-fire Club, a Scotsman, was reported to have come north to establish a branch of that awful community; but, he records iu his Analecta, the secretary ” fell into melancholy, as it was called, but probably horror of conscience and despair, and at length tamed road. Nobody was allowed to see him ; the physicians prescribed bathing for him, and he died mad at the first bathing. The Lord pity us, wickedness is come to a terrible height !

to be continued

Some Text