Paisley Burns Club was founded on 29th January 1805. Its purpose was not only to celebrate the birthday of Robert Burns but also to cherish the poet’s memory in other ways.
Despite the publication of ’Our monarch’s hindmost year but ane Was five and twenty days begun’ in 1808 it was not until 1819 that celebration took place on the correct day. ( the club favours the view that ,while teaching music in Ayr, RA Smith, a notable founder member, uncovered the truth on inspecting the parish records in 1818 ).
The formation of The Paisley Burns Club was due to a few Paisley men, mainly weavers, chief among whom was Robert Tannahill who was appointed the clubs first secretary. The record of the first meeting (and subsequent ones) in his handwriting constitute the first minute book , on which rests the clubs claim to be the worlds oldest formally constituted Burns Club. William McLaren was appointed first President.
Some seventy men attended the first Anniversary Supper. At the supper it was agreed to meet annually and it was remitted to fifteen named individuals, including Tannahill, McLaren and Smith to conduct the business on the following year
In 1816 the Club took more formal shape. A new set of rules was prepared although there is no record of what the old rules were. New members were to be elected by ballot and pay an entrance fee of 2/6 ; the club was to meet on the first Thursday of each month and a president was to be elected every three months. The membership was limited to thirty (only twenty members are entered in the minute book in 1817)
In 1818 James Armour, a brother of Jean, was made an honorary member in recognition of his gift to the club of Burns favourite caup ( almost two hundred years later it is still on show with other memorabilia at the annual dinner )
The birthdays of Alexander Wilson and Robert Tannahill were celebrated for some years but were latterly neglected. The June summer outing is a relic of the Tannahill commemoration.
The minute book for April 1820 records the disturbance and trouble in the county during this month prevented any meeting of the Club from taking place
On 11th January 1821 RA Smith, responsible for the setting to which My love is like a red red rose is now set presented the club with a copy in Burns own handwriting of O Gude Ale keep my heart aboon , a gift jealously guarded by the secretary of the day.
Limits on membership seem to have been relaxed : in 1830, thirty eight new members were admitted. Monthly meetings were abandoned in January 1832 when it was agreed to meet quarterly. At that meeting a committee of nineteen was appointed indicating a significant membership.
Then on 21st January 1836, there is a minute fixing the Anniversary Dinner for 25th January following. This meeting was adjourned till the following evening. No minute of this adjourned meeting exists.
Nor are there any further minutes for thirty eight years.
The next page in the club’s history is dated 18th March 1874 . Signed by a John Crawford , thought to be he who was admitted a member on 17th April 1825 (forty nine years earlier ? ) it confirms that the anniversary dinner was indeed celebrated in pursuance of the previous minute , that dated 21st January 1836.
Although there are no minutes reporting any formal meetings , it can be reasonably assumed that the surviving members were awaiting the opportune moment for the clubs formal revival.
This happened on 4th December 1874 when in the Sheriff Clerk chambers there met two surviving members , William Hodge, Town Clerk of Paisley and William Hector Sheriff Clerk of Renfrewshire. Together with five other local notables including the Provost of Paisley, David Murray, the club was reconstituted .
On 18th January 1875 Robert Brown of Underwood destined to be the club’s historian was elected a member,
The club, thus revived, held its anniversary dinner on 25th January 1875 in the Globe Hotel . At this dinner a special toast to the memory of RA Smith was proposed.
At the October meeting that year John Barr, Bard of the Caledonian Society of New Zealand attended, the first occasion on which a non-member was present. At that meeting a letter was read from Sir William Stirling-Maxwell offering a piece of the Crookston yew suitable as the Presidents Hammer, in recognition of which gesture honorary membership was ultimately conferred.
In 1880 it was proposed that there should be a reading from the bard’s works at each meeting of the club. Although established practice today, it is surprising that it was not always so and indeed was not the case until the early 1900s.
On 3rd May 1888 it was agreed to increase the membership from 30 to 40.
At the meeting on 7th November 1889 it was agreed, after lengthy discussion that in future readings should be accompanied by commentary and explanation.
Meetings were held in the County Hotel from 1890.
The club eventually agreed to affiliate to the Burns Federation in November 1891 largely, it would appear, to facilitate the lodging of a protest against the claim of the Greenock club to have been instituted in 1802.
At the meeting on 5th October 1893 it is recorded that a copy of Robert Brown’s History of Paisley Burns Clubs, then recently published, was presented to each of the members by the author.
The minute of 7th November 1895 records the gratification of the club on the election of the secretary J Edward Campbell as an honorary member of Greenock Burns Club.
In 1896 it is recorded that the Cottage Homes at Mauchline were in course of erection. The clubs practice of contributing annually to their cost continues in a modest way to this day.
From October 1900 the Commercial Hotel became the locus of club meetings.
The annual dinner was not held in 1901 following Queen Victoria’s death on 22nd January.
The centenary of the club passed without any special celebration.
Anniversary dinners were not held in the years 1915-1918.
AA Spiers of Elderslie was elected an honorary member in April 1908 in recognition of the gift by Lady Anne Spiers of the box made from the oak from the Wallace tree.
On April 13th 1913 it was agreed to levy the members to provide a subscription towards the publication of Burns poems in braille.
After the sale of the Globe Hotel in 1914 the club met in the Commercial Hotel, thereafter in the board room of the Town Hall until 1920. For many years thereafter Dr Clows consulting rooms at 97 Causeyside Streer and latterly Cotton Street provided the club with a home.
The minutes of 11th December 1919 record the decision to purchase tumblers and the other essentials of hospitality as the club no longer met in licensed premises.
A memorial to R A Smith in Paisley Abbey was unveiled in January 1923 .
WD Cocker was welcomed to the club on 2nd April 1925.
George Eyre Todd, on 2nd December 1926, was the second famous Scots writer to be invited to an ordinary meeting of the club.
During the years to 1930, the club were in receipt of a number of additions to their collection of memorabilia; prominently the gift of the Snuff Horn originally the property of the Tailors Society.
In April 1930 it was first agreed to support financially the aims of the Scottish National Dictionary.
At the meeting on 5th March 1931 it was agreed to initiate efforts to have the Burns statue moved from Fountain Gardens to the corner of Gauze Street and Cotton Street.
The practice of having the toast to Our Founder and First Secretary proposed without a speech and responded to in the clubs unique way was introduced in 1932.
Tannahill’s Cottage was accepted as a gift on 2nd November 1933 , and at the December meeting that year it was reported that the building had been disponed to the office bearers in trust for the club as a perpetual Club room and as a memorial to Robert Tannahill.
At the dinner in January 1935 , the donor was revealed as Miss Margaret Robertson of Sunnyside.
It was determined to restore the cottage, as far as possible, to the condition in which it was in Tannahill’s lifetime. The first meeting, in December that year, decided that it would be a suitable meeting place for the club and it was formally opened in January 1936.