In just under three years time GAS will be celebrating its sesquicentennial: one hundred and fifty years of lectures, publications and excursions. The Council is looking at a number of ways of celebrating this anniversary (e.g. a themed lectures series, excursions, special publications, an exhibition) and has begun to organise and prepare for the proposed events, though they are only possibilities at present.

One idea Council do intend to take forward is to ask members to provide their own memories of GAS. Be it particularly interesting lectures or exotic excursions or articles that inspired, space will be made available in the pages of ‘A Touch of GAS’ to let you share your experiences with other members. Dig out those old snapshots, check your old lecture programmes, rummage for those GAS Bulletins lurking in your cupboards…

A number of articles will appear over the next few editions of ‘A Touch of GAS’ to give members a clearer idea of the history of the Society and to encourage everyone to take part in celebrating our 150th anniversary in 2006/07. As a starter, here is the original report from the Glasgow Herald of 8 December 1856 which announced the forming of the Society:

"On Friday afternoon a meeting of gentlemen favourable to the formation of an Archaeological Society in Glasgow was held in the Director’s Room of the Merchants Hall, Hutcheson Street. On the motion of Dr Strang, the Lord Provost was called to the chair.

His Lordship said that he understood this was a preliminary meeting, called for the purpose, if possible, of bringing together those gentlemen who took an interest in archaeological matters and antiquarian researches. Such societies had already been established in many English towns and very lately there was a large meeting of archaeologists in Edinburgh, who were very cordially received, and whose account of research afforded a vast amount of information. Were it possible to foster a taste for similar matters in Glasgow he had no doubt it would be productive of very great benefit. He believed that in former days many enlightened gentlemen met for a like purpose but up till now there was nothing like an attempt at organising a body; and if it were possible to bring together those whose tastes lay in that direction, greater advancement might be made in the science than by mere individual study.

Mr Honeyman, Jun., interim secretary, stated that the idea had occurred to several gentlemen almost simultaneously and that to carry out the object certain rules had been drawn up, which would be submitted, along with a list of proposed office bearers. John Baird, Esq., architect, then read the code of rules as follows:

      1. The object of the Society shall be to encourage the study of archaeology generally and more particularly in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, to record interesting antiquarian discoveries and to disseminate information regarding antiquities, which might, without the aid of such a society, be entirely lost or merely confined to individuals. Note: to effect these ends, it is proposed that there should be started monthly meetings throughout the session, at which papers will be read, and drawings, photographs and other objects of interest exhibited. It is also expected that one or more excursions may be arranged annually, and it is further intended that papers which are deemed by the council sufficiently important to warrant their publication shall be printed and circulated amongst the members.
      2. The Society shall consist of ordinary and honorary members. Honorary memberships shall only be conferred on foreigners or gentlemen residing at a distance distinguished as archaeologists.
      3. The office bearers of the Society shall consist of a president, two Vice-presidents, a Secretary, a Treasurer, who with say eight other members shall form the council. Three members of the council shall form a quorum.
      4. Candidates for admission shall be recommended in writing by two members.
      5. Applications for admission shall not be disposed of until the meeting after that on which they were given in.
      6. Members shall be elected by ballot at a meeting of the Society and the proportion of votes requisite for their election shall be four-fifths of the ballot.
      7. The President of the Society shall be elected for three years. The other office-bearers shall be elected annually. Two of the Council shall retire annually by rotation, but all office-bearers shall be eligible for re-election.
      8. The members shall pay an annual contribution of 10s 6d, payable in advance, on the first Monday of October.
      9. The annual general meeting shall be held on the first Monday of October to receive and deliberate upon the report of the Council and to elect the office-bearers for the ensuing year. The session of the Society shall terminate on the first Monday in March.
      10. No alteration of the laws shall be made without the consent of two-thirds of the members voting, and notice of any proposed alteration must be sent to the Council at least a month before the annual general meeting.

He said he was astonished that in a place like Glasgow which was of so great historical importance, there should be no effort made, except what had been done by private individuals to preserve memorials of historical influence in our city and neighbourhood. Without some combined effort there was little hope of the attempt succeeding. As was stated in the rules, the Society was not to be confined to buildings purely but was to embrace everything, whether it be historic or artistic. The rules were then referred to the Council of the Society for revisal.

Mr Baird stated, in reply to a question by the Lord Provost, that they could rely at present upon fifty members. Michael Connal, Esq., after expressing concurrence in the object of the meeting, proposed the following gentlemen as office-bearers:

President: The Honourable, The Lord Provost
Vice-presidents: John Strang, Esq. LL.D.; Wm. Euing Esq.
Council: John Buchanan, Esq.; Gab. Neil Esq.; Laurence Hill Esq.; John
Baird, Esq.; William Keddie, Esq.; John Honeyman Jun. Esq.
Hon. Secretary: J.H. Simpson Esq.
Hon. Treasurer: Wm Church Jun. Esq.

The list was unanimously approved of.

J.T. Rochead Esq., architect, said that Glasgow and its neighbourhood were a favourable field for the progress and operations of such a society as this. When they looked at the magnificent old remains, at the Roman wall at the Roman forts at Kirkintilloch, it was with regret that they knew they were not in possession of all the particulars regarding them. He said that there was an old house in Great Clyde Street, belonging at one time to a family called Dreghorn, the ceilings of which were covered with hand wrought plasterwork and not with stucco.

John Carmichael, Esq., hoped that each party present would endeavour to give the proposal as much publicity as possible. David Dreghorn Esq., remarked that a very great use might be made of photography. Mr Carmichael, then, in a few eulogistic terms proposed a vote of thanks to the Lord provost for presiding. The motion was carried by acclamation. His Lordship having acknowledged the compliment, the meeting separated."

The Herald report contains a number of interesting points, such as:

    • The first president of the Society was the then Lord Provost of Glasgow, Sir Andrew Orr;
    • All the original members were male (which raises the question who was our first female member and when did she join?);
    • The fees were set at 10 shillings and sixpence (which is what in today’s money?);
    • The constitution of the Society is fairly familiar looking with the current focus on lectures, publications and excursions set out at the very start;
    • It could be harder to become a member than to change the constitution!

Further research has shown that the Society didn’t actually hold its first fully constituted meeting until 4 November 1857 in its rooms at 207 Bath Street. Yes, we actually had our own ‘rooms’ – though it appears we rented space from the Royal Philosophical Society! The Society nearly died off in the early 1870s – due to lack of activity and low membership apparently – and it was proposed that it should cease to be a separate body and become a section of the Philosophical Society. This was rejected by a general meeting of the members and GAS became much more active from 1877 onwards.

The archives of the Royal Philosophical Society – which celebrated its own 200th anniversary in 2002 – are kept at Glasgow University and investigation of these might throw some light on this early phase of GAS. In the meantime, research is being carried out into our own archives and the next article will look at reports of the early excursions of the Society.