Exploring the “land of brown heath and shaggy wood”
Institute conferences have always included a social programme designed to entertain and inform and Bonnie Scotland belied any suggestion of parsimony with a tour de force of Highland visits as it hosted the 1911 “gathering of our clans” at Dundee.
There is no record of how many members and guests attended but numbers were high – as was demonstrated by the need for fleets of special trains to make those visits. As an example of how popular and powerful the Institute was a century ago, the 1910 conference in London held a reception for 1,000 guests!
The 1911 Coronation also helped swell numbers as many overseas members who had travelled to cover the event stayed on to take in more of the Mother Country as well as the conference – so there were members from South Africa, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Shanghai and the Bahamas and many other countries.
To off-set their expense, Institute members had created a fund which subsidised steamship fares to the tune of £12 (£684 by today’s values) from New Zealand, £10 (£570) from Australia, China and Japan, £7.10s (£428) from South Africa, India, Burmah and Ceylon, and £5 (£285) from North America and Egypt. As a further help the Institute had negotiated with shipping lines for discounted fares – 25 per cent off the Cunard and White Star Lines’ first and second class rates, for example – and all agreed to make “special arrangements” on board, if possible, for our members in transit!
Britain’s railways were also anxious to please – to the extent of offering return tickets for the price of a single, but it was their willingness to provide exclusive trains for the trips that impresses.
Dundee’s West Station was pretty busy as our packed excursions left for Dunkeld, Aberfeldy, Pitlochry and the Pass of Killicrankie, or Blair Athol, Dunfermline and Perth. The Tay Bridge station was the train’s departure point for our session at St Andrews University, as it was for the special corridor train on the post-conference five-day, four guineas all-in (£240) tour of the “land of brown heath and shaggy wood”, which took in tea at Balmoral, Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow at the conclusion of the event.
Dundee’s District secretary, R H K Clark, who did the brunt of the organising, got a herogram from the President (Dundee Courier editor-in-chief, John Mitchell) at its local meeting – he presented him with “a purse of sovereigns, a silver-mounted oak tray and a silver spirit kettle” in appreciation.
It was, indeed, a bygone age!