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London Caithness Association History
1957 to 1976
Thus closed the first hundred years of the Association, and it now entered its second centenary with high hopes of continuing its happy existence. The usual activities of socials, dances, whist drives and dramatic items were enjoyed. Visits were paid to the Royal Caledonian Schools, the Highland Games in London were patronised, first at Clapham Common, and later at Richmond. Members of the Association entered exhibits in the various classes for baking and handicrafts, while Highland dancing and piping competitions were also tried. The Blue Bonnets Band, of which the honorary piper Alex Dunnet was a member, was particularly successful at the Richmond Games.
There have been changes during the last two decades. Quite a number of older members retired, either in Caithness or to parts of the country too far from London. Death took from them the old stalwarts, Mr Phimister, Mr Houston, Mr Brock and Mrs Brash, better known under her maiden name of Madge Harwood. The influx of young men and women from Caithness to London fell off, for the very good reason that work became more plentiful in the North, especially with the development of the atomic works at Dounreay. As Robert Maclennan, Member of Parliament for Caithness and Sutherland said at the dinner in 1967, "the decline in numbers in the Association is the measure of the prosperity in the home county, and this is all to the good".
There are now quite a number of associate members, who have all the privileges of full membership, except the right to vote or to serve on the committee. They give the same loyalty and take the same deep interest in the functions as do the full members and without them the meetings would be very much poorer.
The friendly warmth which pervaded the gatherings of the members right from the beginning is, if anything, more marked than ever. Under the genial influence of the President, Mr William Gunn, backed by an excellent committee, the members enjoy to the full the socials and particularly the Burns Supper, which in later years has eclipsed all but the dinner.
Owing to the general prosperity throughout the country, there have been no calls for individual relief, but the Association continues to make a donation to the Royal Scottish Corporation, which handles all such claims, also assists the Royal Caledonian Schools by Deed of Covenant as mentioned earlier. Extra donations have also been given on special occasion for particular objects. Thus the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster fund received a donation. The Association also sponsored the fund to equip the croft at Laidhay as a folk museum, thus helping to encourage the interest in Caithness culture of a bygone age. The town of Thurso got a donation towards the building of their swimming pool, the Neil Gunn Memorial was also supported, and Wick Town Improvements Committee was not forgotten.
It was a great blow to the London Caithness Association, no less than to the other London Scottish Associations when the Royal Scottish Corporation disposed of their property in Fetter Lane, which had been the home of the societies for so many years. However, a meeting place was found elsewhere, and now the Association had been fortunate in having the use of St Mary's Church Hall, Paddington Green, while still maintaining contact with the Corporation through their own honorary secretary Mr Gordon Leask, who is also on the staff of the Corporation.
The age-long connection with noble families in the County continues with Viscount Thurso and the young Earl of Caithness both graciously consenting to become Honorary Presidents. They have attended the dinners, as have also various members of Viscount Thurso's family, his son John making a most delightful impression with his speech in 1974. In the more recent years, the committee has tended to get its speakers from the home county whenever possible. In this capacity the Association has had the pleasure of welcoming respectively Mr John Sinclair, former Provost of Thurso and Lord Lieutenant of Caithness, also Mr Donald Carmichael from Dounreay, ex-Provost Mowat from Wick, Mr Robert Mowat of the Portland Arms, Lybster and Mr Alec Rugg, County Convenor. On one historic occasion, the dinner of 1968, the speakers were all "Moads", the Provost, his brother John, and Mr George Mowat of the Edinburgh Caithness Association.
Last year, Sir Ralph Anstruther, Equerry to Her Majesty the Queen Mother, expressed a wish to join the Association, a wish that was readily gratified. Sir Ralph, who spends quite some time in Caithness through his royal duties and who has the farm of Watten Mains, also was the chief speaker at last year's dinner, in company with ex-Provost Mowat. The Association being anxious to have the honour of Mr Mowat's company, he being the last Provost, owing to regionalisation.
There remains little more to say, except to express the fervent hope that the London Caithness Association may long continue to carry out the kindly humane ideals of those first sixteen Caithness men. Giving friendship to their fellow Caithnessians and a continuing welcome, which is more than money to the otherwise lonely and isolated folk from the North, even if the North is not so far distant in these days of better transport. Ends 1976