Scots in London

‘It is not only when we cross the seas that we go abroad … A Scotsman may tramp the better part of Europe and the United States, and never again receive so vivid an impression of foreign travel and strange lands and manners as on his first excursion into England.’

Robert Louis Stevenson

The Scots Box: origins of Scottish club life

The earliest Scottish ethnic assocation that formalized its activities was an association initially known as the Scots Hospital or Corporation. The association was proposed by a Scottish merchant in the mid-seventeenth century, and, with backing from other Scots at court, received a Royal Charter in 1665. The roots of this association, however, lay even earlier in the seventeenth century, when a so-called Scots Box was set up.

This essentially served as a mutual benefit society—with the aid coming out of the box, so to speak, which was kept to collect funds for relief purposes. The Scots Box was set up to provide support for Scots in London who had fallen ill or were otherwise in need of support. In part this was a direct result of the fact that Scots who lived in the city were not entitled to parish relief. The 1799 account of the Corporation’s establishment provides a clear view on this motivation behind the Scots Box, noting that while the number of Scots in London had increased significantly with the ascension to the throne of James I, they ‘were still aliens in the land which they were helping to people and enrich. … No claim to parochial assistance had been established, and of course no provision made for the dark season of life. To beg, or to perish, was the dreadful alternative.’ The situation was perceived to be so problematic, ‘was sensibly felt and deplored’ that ‘the more affluent of the Scottish Nation, resident in London, found themselves prompted by compassion to take the case of the poor into serious consideration, and to devise a remedy.’ The Scots Box was a first step in doing so.

While there is no surviving manuscript evidence relating to the early operations of the Scots Box, it has been suggested that the box was used by 1613. Whatever the exact date, it is clear that members of the Scots Box association met at King’s Head Tavern in Covent Garden in the late 1650s to discuss the idea of the further formalisation of activities and incorporation; subsequent lobbying work then led the formation of a new voluntary association—the Scottish Corporation—and the granting of its first Royal Charter.

The legacy lives on

The most remarkable aspect of the Scots Box is that its legacy lives on to this day in ScotsCare, providing support for all first and second generation Scots and their children in and around Greater London. 

And the Scots Box has long since been global

In 1812 William Kinloch, a Calcutta-based Scottish merchant, died, leaving the residue of his estate to the Scottish Corporation in London. As Kinloch had detailed in his will:

The residue of my estate … I will and bequeath may be lodged in the British funds at interest, under the management of the Governor and Managers of the fund instituted in London, for the relief of poor and indigent Scotchmen; and that the interest of this residue of my estate, may be received annually … [to] be paid annually to poor and disabled Scotchmen in distress, who may have lost their legs, or arms, eyesight, or otherwise wounded in the army or navy, in the service of their country …

Given that Kinloch had only referred to an ‘institution’ rather than the Corporation specifically, it required a decretal order by the High Court of Chancery in late June 1818 to confirm that the charitable institution to receive the bequest was indeed the Scottish Corporation.

The announcement of that decision was followed by a notice in London papers asking those disabled Scotsmen who fit the categories set out to apply to the Secretary of the Kinloch Bequest at the Scottish Hall in London before 30 June 1819 for support. A number of exclusions were put in place: in-pensioners of Greenwich and Chelsea Hospitals could not apply, and neither could those with an annual income of more than £20. Successful applicants would receive support of no more than £8 and no less than £4. Application materials needed to consist of basic information about the applicant, including when he entered the Army or Navy; when he was discharged from service; in what regiment or ship he served; in what battle he was wounded; the nature of the injury (particularly its impact on gaining active employment); and further particulars on existing pension provisions. Also required were details on the applicant’s personal circumstances, including marital status. Finally, it was ‘necessary that the present condition of the Applicant be certified by a Surgeon belonging to his Majesty’s service … or by a regular and full Surgeon’. All these details had to be certified and signed by the Minister and Elder or Churchwarden of the parish in which the applicant resided.

Funds from Scots abroad regularly played an important role in supporting not only ethnic associational initiatives that in aid of fellow Scots in need, but also broader philanthropic endeavours. Kinloch provides a particularly powerful example in this respect, however, as he did not only make a bequest to the Scottish Hospital. Born in Arbuthnot, the New Statistical Account for Scotland documents that Kinloch also gave money to support ‘the native poor of the parish of Arbuthnot, at the discretion of the kirk-session, who are empowered, by deed of bequest, to receive the claims of the several applicants, and then aid them as they shall see cause.’ Diaspora Scots aiding home, as it were.

The London Scottish

The London Scottish was a reserve infantry regiment originally sponsored by The Highland Society of London and The Caledonian Society of London when a group of individual Scots raised The London Scottish Rifle Volunteers.