The most enormous party – when we were 500!

Friday 9 March 2012

As the University starts to plan for the final celebratory events of the 600th anniversary season in Autumn 2013, we have been looking back on how our predecessors partied during one gloriously sunny week in 1911.

Lord Balfour of Burleigh and crowd preparing for the procession of dignitaries on 12 September 1911 (St Andrews Muniment Archive UYUY185-2-8-52-3).

Rachel Hart, Muniments Archivist, has been digging through the records to discover what went on. You can find lots more information in the Quincentenary Handbook but here’s a summary. The Scotsman trailed the event in August: “In September, from the 12th to the 15th, the eyes of the educated world will be turned towards St Andrews where will be celebrated, doubtless with more than “modest splendour”, the Quincentenary of the oldest University in Scotland. The intention is to make it a Scottish as well as a St Andrews festival and preparations are being made accordingly.” There certainly seems to have been a real buzz about the town and university that week.

A portrait of Louisa Lumsden from a presentation album, c. 1900 (St Andrews ms38672).

For a few days St Andrews was full! There were even British war vessels at anchor in the bay, in what was then known as the German Ocean – perhaps the equivalent of the RAF flypasts of today?

100 honorary degrees were conferred at a ceremony which also saw the installation of Lord Rosebery as Rector. Recipients included some hugely distinguished men along with two women – Louisa Lumsden [pictured right] (a pioneer of Girton College and founder of St Leonard’s School for Girls, then first Warden of University Hall from 1896) and Mrs Henry Sidgwick (Principal of Newnham, Cambridge from 1896-1910 and an active member of the first Royal Commission on which women were appointed, that on Education).

An address to the University of St Andrews from Universiteit Gent, 1911 (UYUY 185/1911).

Delegates travelled to St Andrews from over 100 universities in the then British Dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, India and South Africa, as well as Egypt and the Soudan, and from America, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. Over 40 learned societies sent representatives who also presented official addresses of congratulation to the University. The guests who attended were described as ‘representatives of the whole of the learned civilised world’ and came from all walks of life, many bringing their wives, daughters and even sisters to St Andrews to join in the fun. Many were accommodated in the homes of staff and friends of the University as far away as 20 miles and many travelled in to St Andrews each day by train.

Events during the week included a torchlight procession, a religious service, an official banquet, the opening of the Bell Pettigrew Museum, a formal Chancellor’s reception and ‘drawing room’ and a whole day in Dundee with a civic reception and trips to places of interest such as jute, linen and confectionery works, the technical college and the city electric light and gas works. The band of the Scots Guard was retained to provide music throughout the week. Various buildings were floodlit for the first time. Journalists and photographers were in abundance to cover the event, although we have only a small number of photographs of the week in our archive.

The band of the Scots Guard, during the procession on 12 September 1911 (St Andrews Muniment Archive UYUY185-5-1-2).

There were about a thousand people in an academic procession which stretched for half a mile and took a quarter of an hour to pass by. The students presented historical tableaux of scenes from the University’s and Scotland’s history. There were two garden parties and a student ball. The total cost of the event was declared to have been £6627.3s. and afterwards £3000 was put into a fund for a graduation hall, as a permanent memorial of the 500th, since most of these events took place in the temporary ‘North Hall’ on the site to the north of the United College buildings where marquees are still to be found for special events today.

An address to the University of St Andrews from the Dundee Chamber of Commerce, 1911 (UYUY 185/1911)

The week was claimed as ‘an exceptionally successful celebration, the programme being comprehensive and thoroughly well organised’ and ‘a judicious mixture of the academic and the festive’. We have a hard act to follow!


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1 thoughts on "The most enormous party – when we were 500!"

  • 52 Weeks of Inspiring Illustrations, Week 37: the Quincentenary scrolls | Echoes from the Vault
    Tuesday 5 March 2013, 10.10am

    [...] This week’s inspiring illustrations are selected from the beautifully crafted presentation addresses from institutions and learned bodies world-wide which were sent to the University of St Andrews in 1911 to commemorate our Quincentenary. [...]


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