On a snowy afternoon about the middle of January 1881, a few of the Worthies of the Village were seated in Mr Hendersons over a social glass: James Pearson, a Joiner from Ravelrig, James Fairbairn Snr, a Joiner from Balerno, James Craik, a Coal Merchant from Balerno, George Henderson, a Coal Merchant from Balerno, William Garlick, the manager of Hannahfield Quarries, and and the Inn-keeper Alex. Henderson were of the Company.
A conversation naturally arose in the propriety of celebrating in a social manner the birthday of Scotland’s National Bard. While so engaged devising in what manner this might best be carried out, there entered the room all covered with snow another worthy, James Wales, a butcher from Currie
who by strange but happy coincidence had been thinking about the same laudable object. His arrival was hailed with a hearty cheer and a happy inspiration prompted him in reply to their shout of welcome to break out with ‘He’ll hae misfortunes great an sma’, But aye a heart aboon them a’, He’ll be a credit tae us a’ , We’ll a’ be prood ower Robin.’
Recognising this outburst as a good omen of success, the resolution to have a social meeting on the anniversary of the Poet was instantly and enthusiastically adopted. Arrangements were immediately made with Mr Henderson regarding the providing what was necessary for so important and occasion.
On the evening of the ever-memorable 25th January 1881, there assembled in responses to the very short invitation given, a Company of 23 gentlemen. The Chair was occupied by Mr James Pearson (Snr.), Ravelrig. He presided with his accustomed dignity and joviality of manner and by the charm of his great sociability, contributed in no small degree to the hilarity and harmony of the evening. He also entertained the Company with his favourite song:-
‘There lives a lass by yonder burn,
that jinks aboot the seggan,
An’ aft’ she gied her sheep a turn,
To feed among the bracken,
Could I believe, She’d woo’ wi’ me,
An’ tak’ me for her laddie,
I’d oftimes slip oot ower the lea,
an’ row her in my plaidie.
I maun awa, I canna’ stay
Should a’ gang tapselteerie,
Tho’ bogles meet me in the way
This nicht I’ll see my dearie.’
Mr James Fairbairn, Joiner, filled the position of Croupier. The health of the “Queen and Royal Family” having been right loyally drunk by the Company, the Chairman, in his ever pithy style, then called upon those assembled to drink to the “Honoured Memory of Robert Burns.” Various songs were sung throughout the evening and, when the hour of eleven struck, each one felt “the golden hours had swiftly flown.” Then, grasping hand in hand, the Company sang with feelings of kindliest sympathy, “Auld Lang Syne”. So ended the first celebration.” (Extract from the Records of the Balerno Burns Club – January 1881 )
The Club’s reputation spread fast throughout Balerno and Currie, with an entry in the Club Records of a meeting in Christmas Week 1882 stating: “ the Tickets for the Haggis were taken up by 18th January 1883 – great anxiety being shown to obtain them e.g. the Treasurer was solicited for tickets in the Kirk Lobby on Sunday. “
The Club grew in membership with our first Secretary, John Fairbairn, keeping excellent handwritten records of every Meeting and Annual Supper for over 50 years until 1932. Suppers in memory of Robert Burns have been held annually since 1881 with breaks during the two World Wars, the second of which lasted until the Club reconvened in 1955.
A sign of a different age was the 1889 Supper being cancelled following the death of club member Peter Henderson, in 1901 following the death of Queen Victoria, and in 1906 and 1913, following the deaths of Club stalwarts David Fairbairn and George Robertson. That ‘bothy ballad’ sung by James Pearson in 1881, given the name “The Balerno Song” by some past Club member, is still sung at all of our annual Suppers and is as good a way of commemorating the efforts of our Founder Members and that first Club celebration as any.
The small farming village of Balerno, home of ‘Let it Blaw’, has changed a lot since 1881 with the ways of the City creeping westwards. Henderson’s Inn, home of those first meetings, now the Grey Horse Inn, is still the same popular local inn as it was when that first discussion took place regarding “ the propriety of celebrating in a social manner the birthday of Scotland’s National Bard.”
Today, almost 140 years on, the Club carries on very much as it’s always done, the Annual Supper being the main event of our year. All toasts, replies, songs and recitations are given by Club Members. Numbers attending the Supper have exceeded 110 on one or two occasions and membership, which is limited by the accommodation available for the Supper within Balerno, has increased with the figure now being 90 or thereabouts; and there’s always new blood ready to fill any vacancies.