Thomas Horsburgh JP

by Alex

Tom Horsburgh was “one of the Twenty-three Gentlemen” who attended the first ‘Let it Blaw’ in 1881. Son of Master Blacksmith Dickson Horsburgh, he went into the blacksmith’s trade learning from his father in his smiddy at Duddingston Mill . In 1880 Tom moved to Balerno where he rented the smiddy on Glenbrook Road. …..



Born 25th November 1856 at Niddry Mill
Died 11th May 1938 in Edinburgh, aged 82

Not a ‘Founder Member’ but was in attendance at the Club’s first Supper in 1881

1910,  1911,  1912,  1913,  1914,  1915,  1916,  1917,  1918
1919,  1920,  1921,  1922,  1923,  1924,  1925,  1926
1927,  1928,  1929,  1930,  1931,  1932,  1933
1934,  1935,  1936,  1937,  1938

 Proposer of the Toast  “Agricultural Interests of the District”  1887,  1909,  1927

Proposer of the Toast  “Absent Friends”  1888,  1909,  1920

Proposer of the Toast  “Let it Blaw – the Balerno Burns Club”  1898,  1910,  1911

Proposer of the Toast  “The Lasses”  1892,  1895

Proposer of the Toast  “Commercial Interests of the District”  1894,  1922,  1926 

Proposer of the Toast  “The Navy & The Army” or “Imperial Forces”   1896,  1898,  1920,  1921,  1922,  1923,  1925

Reply to the Toast  “Commercial Interests of the District”  1908

Proposer of the Toast  “Our Hosts” or “The Landlord – Landlady”  1910,  1911,  1921,  1929

Reply to the Toast  “Let it Blaw – the Balerno Burns Club”  1914,  1921,  1922,  1924, 1931,  1934

Proposer of the Toast  “The Croupiers”  1922,  1923

Proposer of the Toast  “New Members”  1923,  1930

Reply to the Toast  “Agricultural Interests of the District”   1924

Reply to the Toast  “Other Poets”   1925 ( together with Andrew Falconer )

Proposer of the Toast  “The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns”   1926

Reply to the Toast  “The Lasses”   1928

Served on the Club Committee
1885,  1886,  1887,  1888,  1889,  1892,  1893,  1894,  1895,  1896

He married Isabella Rennie in 1878 and its thought they had the one daughter Agnes. In the late 1870s they were staying at MacKays Buildings, Duddingston while, presumably, Tom continued to work in his father’s business.

The original Horsburgh Smiddy at Duddingston

In 1880, Tom moved to Balerno where re rented the smiddy at what’s now the corner of Johnsburn Road and Glenbrook Road, then owned by the Merchant Company Education Board.

 The business appears to have flourished with the family moving to a larger house at Bankhead, Balerno, then owned by Barbara Thomson of Glenpark.

At some point prior to 1920 Tom rented a second smithy in Main Street, Balerno (now David Cameron – Hairdressers) which, at that time, was owned by fellow ‘Let it Blaw’ member William Hook Snr. It’s believed that James and William Horsburgh, Tom’s younger brothers, moved to Currie for a short time staying in a cottage in the old Currie Village where they also worked as blacksmiths. They may well have worked with Tom at one of his smiddies but, there were so many blacksmiths required in those days, they could have been working at any one of countless smiddies in the Currie and Balerno area.

Tom Horsburgh was not one of Let it Blaw’s Founder Members. However, Club Records tell us he was one of the “Company of 23 Gentlemen” who attended the Club’s first Supper in 1881 *. Early Toast Lists were dominated by the Founder Members and one or two of their cronies, so it wasn’t until 1885 that Tom’s participation was recorded when he sang “Frae a’ the Airts the Wind Can Blaw”. From that point he’s recorded as an active member most years, proposing toasts, singing Burns’ songs, and as a Committee Member from 1886. His brother William also attended some of the early Suppers and he too participated in the harmony. In 1896 Tom was appointed Croupier and, in 1898, was elected as Club President & Supper Chairman for the first time. It wasn’t until 1910 that he took the Chair for the second time but, on this occasion, it was the start of an era in which he was to become one of the Club’s stalwarts; one of the Big names in the history of the Balerno Burns Club being re-elected as Chairman for 29 consecutive years until his death.

Tom Horsburgh was one of the founders of Baberton Golf Club in 1893. In the world of golf he’ll always be remembered for combining his love of golf with his skill as a blacksmith by inventing the steel shafted golf club which he patented on 1st May 1894. He’s described in Baberton Golf Club records as a “Man before his Time” as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club were less than impressed with the steel shaft development despite it attracting the attention of many professional players and golf club manufacturers of the day. It was 1929 before they sanctioned the use of such clubs by which time the patent had expired and passed to an American Company who had taken out a new patent. A selection of Horsburgh’s original steel shafted clubs are on display in the new clubhouse of Baberton Golf Club. He was Captain of Baberton Golf Club from 1914 to 1917 and again from 1929 to 1931. Latterly he became known to one all as “Old Tom.” Click here to read Baberton Golf Club’s tribute to Tom : Tom Horsburgh at Baberton Golf Club

Tom Horsburgh’s sporting life went further than the golf course though ! He was an International Curler and member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club of which he rose to the position of Vice President. He was also one of the first Presidents of Balerno Bowling Club.

In 1917 he was elected as Councillor for the Currie South ward of the Midlothian County Council and appointed Justice of the Peace. This ward included the village of Balerno in addition to part of Currie, and he represented the people there continuously until his death some 31 years later.

Despite all his other activities, it’s for his huge part he played in the history of our Club for which we at ‘Let it Blaw’ will remember him. He was President during the years of the first World War when, together with long time Secretary John Fairbairn, he kept things ticking over prior to the resurgence of the club in the 1920s. It was something of a coincidence that following the Club’s first Supper held by that “Company of 23 Gentlemen” in 1881, it was another Company of 23 Gentlemen who sat down together on 23rd January 1920 when activities resumed. In an extract from the Midlothian Advertiser reporting the Supper, Club Secretary John Fairbairn was quoted in his ‘Toast to Other Poets’ as saying that “the Club was now in its 40th year. There were now only two original members, Mr Horsburgh and himself, while Mr R Butler and Mr A Falconer had been members for 36 years.”

At a Committee Meeting on 29th January 1920, the following was recorded; “The Secretary (John Fairbairn) brought forward his proposal which he had intimated at the Dinner to present the President, Mr Horsburgh, with his portrait. He stated that Mr Horsburgh had now occupied the Chair for 12 years and, considering the large amount of work involved in carrying out the Socials for the returned servicemen, he thought it was most desirable that some recognition should be taken of his highly deserving services. The motion was unanimously agreed to.”

At a later meeting on 14th May 1920, it was recorded that “In accordance with the resolution at the last meeting, the presentation to Mr & Mrs Horsburgh of their portraits took place this evening in the Balerno Workmen’s Clubroom.”

Tom Horsburgh remained the foundation stone on which ‘Let it Blaw’ operated for a further 18 years chairing the Supper each year with the exception of 1926 when he handed over the reins to William Hook on the occasion he proposed the Immortal Memory of Burns.

Tom Horsburgh will forever stand out in the list of past members of ‘Let it Blaw.’ His 29 years as President will never be matched, but the manner in which he held together what was left of the Club during the First World War, when most of the Membership enlisted and went off to war, may well be the greatest contribution he made to ‘Let it Blaw’;  it could well be the thing that saw the Club survive that most traumatic period when life in Currie and Balerno changed forever.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Club held at the Malleny Arms on Wednesday 7th December 1938, the following was recorded : “The Club have sustained a great loss in the death of  Thomas Horsburgh.  Mr Horsburgh, who was President/Chairman of the Club for almost 30 years, rendered great service during his long spell in Office and his place will be very hard to fill.”

The Photograph of Tom, together with historic details of his invention of the steel-shafted golf club, were supplied by Baberton Golf Club.
* It’s known Tom was one of the “Twenty-three Gentlemen” who sat down for dinner at the Club’s first Supper.  In an article regarding the 1920 Supper in the “Midlothian Advertiser” the following was recorded as part of John Fairbairn’s Report : The Club is now in its 40th year, the first Chairman being the late James Pearson Snr.  There are now only two original  Members, Thomas Horsburgh and himself (John Fairbairn).