THE ALAMO BURNS CLUB www.alamoburnsclub.org.uk

Almost 112 years ago, in 1896, a magnificent statue was erected in Paisley to mark the centenary of the death of Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard.

 

The statue was well worthy of note: like its brother statue of the Paisley poet Robert Tannahill it had been funded mainly by open air concerts given by the public-spirited members of the Tannahill Choir. These concerts, which took place in beautiful countryside in the Glenfield Estate at the foot of the Paisley’s scenic Gleniffer Braes, were the social event of the year in the town. In their heyday a huge choir of around 700 voices would sing Scots songs to an enormous audience of around 30,000 concertgoers, and the audiences were scarcely less at the Burns statue series, where around 400 choristers would sing to an audience of around 20,000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Glen” concerts, which started in 1874, also raised money for many other good causes, continuing well into the Twentieth century with the last series of concerts taking place between 1924 and 1936, when it was decided that they should come to an end, due to dwindling support.

 

Paisley’s World Famous Burns Statue

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The “Glen” concert, 1910

The choir itself consisted mainly of the working girls of Paisley; mill girls along with a few male singers, who were led by a succession of local conductors, usually local music teachers. Such a man was J. Roy Fraser, a Burns enthusiast who led the choir at the time of the Burns concerts.

This therefore, was a statue that was donated to the town by its public, rather than a statue erected by the great and good of the town to commemorate one of their own.

 

The statue is today considered by many to be the finest memorial to Robert Burns in existence. This is as much due to the taste, efforts and attention to detail of the original Burns Statue Committee as it is to the substantial sum of money made available to them.

 

 

 

Many of the leading sculptors of the day were asked to submit designs including the Scots William Kellock Brown and John Tweed, who was a close neighbour of James McNeil Whistler in Cheyne Walk, London. The subject must have been of great significance to Brown in particular, as on his death in 1934 he left a colossal, unfinished statue of the bard. A bronze model of Tweed’s design for the statue is still on display in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh.

In the event, however, the committee wisely decided to select the design of prominent London sculptor F.W. Pomeroy who had previously designed a frieze for the County Buildings, which are today used as the Paisley Sheriff Court. Amongst Pomeroy’s other works are the famous statue of “ Blind Justice” on top of the Old Bailey, London, the statue of Gladstone in the Palace of Westminster and “Perseus”, models of which are in art galleries and museums around the world.

“ Blind Justice”

Old Bailey, London

 

All in all the erection of the statue was a highly commendable achievement of the people of Paisley in their attempt to honour the memory of their National Bard, but why did the Paisley public go to so much trouble to produce what is often thought to be the World’s finest memorial to the poet, when he hailed from so many miles away in Ayrshire?

Paisley’s attachment to Burns goes back a very long way indeed, and many Burns’s many connections to the town are well known. Jean Armour, Burns’s eventual wife was sent to stay there with her uncle, Andrew Purdie, during her first confinement. Some of Burns’s closest friends and supporters lived in the area, including the Earl of Glencairn, subject of the famous “Lament”, who lived nearby at Finlaystone House in Langbank; there was also Alexander Pattison, whom Burns dubbed “The Bookseller” after he disposed of 92 copies of his 1787 Edinburgh edition to local enthusiasts, and Wilhelmina Alexander, “ The Bonnie Lass O’ Ballochmyle”, who was born and lived for over thirty years just over the town boundary at Newton House, Elderslie. Burns himself visited the town in 1787 and 1788.

Paisley was always a town in the forefront of the appreciation of the Bard’s works, and in 1805 a group of local poets, including Paisley’s own bard Robert Tannahill formed one of the world’s first Burns Clubs, meeting for the first time in January 1805 at the Starr Inn, 29 High Street, to celebrate the anniversary of the poet’s birth.

It was natural enough then, that the townspeople were ready and willing to work to raise funds for a Burns memorial as the centenary of his death approached.

It must have been a pleasant surprise for them, however, to be able to bask in the acclaim with which the statue was greeted. Even before the statue was set on its plinth illustrations of it appeared in newspapers as far away as Aberdeen, but after it was unveiled it drew even greater attention.

 

By January 1905 a virtual copy was erected in Sydney, Australia, and in 1911 Edward Goodwillie’s famous book “The World’s Memorials of Robert Burns” was published in Detroit, in which both statutes received fulsome praise.

In 1921, yet another copy of the statue was unveiled in Auckland by W.F. Massey, the New Zealand Prime Minister.

Today the Paisley statue is at the centre of an annual wreath laying ceremony, when local dignitaries and Burnsians from all over the UK and occasionally from abroad gather to remember the Bard on the anniversary of his death at the Fountain Gardens, Paisley. These normally include the Provost or Deputy Provost of Renfrew District, the President of The World Burns Federation, and the  Presidents and Vice Presidents of County Associations and of Individual Burns Clubs and hosted by the Alamo Burns Club, Paisley. Primarily, however, this is an act of remembrance by the Paisley public.

Many thanks to Iain Shaw FSA, P/P RIABC & P/P Greenock Burns Club

Sydney, Australia

Auckland, New Zealand