scottish_history

History of Magic Clubs

INTRODUCTION By EDWIN A. DAWES

Honorary Life President  Scottish Association of Magical Societies

Scotland has a rich magical heritage dating from the thirteenth century when the renowned Michael Scott first practised his fabled magic in the Eildon Hills, but it was the dawn of the 19th century before any detailed knowledge of authentic magical entertainers became readily available. Then with Minorie, Thomas Ingleby, Andrew Macallister, John Henry Carr and the greatest of them all, the flamboyant Great Wizard of the North, John Henry Anderson, who took his magic around the world, Scottish magic blossomed, and that century ended with a young 'Doctor' Walford Bodie working his novel electrical wonders and apparently curing the halt and the lame.

As the twentieth century draws to a close, in Britain alone there are well over 150 magical societies, so it is perhaps difficult to appreciate that a hundred years ago magicians did not enjoy the benefits of organisations dedicated to their interests. Small groups might meet socially in one another's homes or on Sunday nights at one of the dealers, such as Frank Hiam's in London, but that was all. From such occasions the club concept gradually developed.

Thus magical societies are entirely a phenomenon of the twentieth century. In Britain the first functional organisations were founded in 1905 when the British Magical Society in Birmingham and The Magic Circle in London came into existence, some three years after the Society of American Magicians had pioneered the way in 1902. Happily all three societies are still flourishing today but such has not been the case with some of those clubs that followed. In Scotland the first magical society was not founded until 1911 when the Dundee Society of Magicians was inaugurated on 16 March. Thereafter, over the years, societies gradually appeared in the major Scottish cities and towns.

Scotland can point to a lasting achievement in bringing its individual societies together under a national Organisation, the Scottish Association of Magical Societies, inaugurated in December 1951. The concept of an association of magical societies was first fostered by The Magic Circle in 1911 but it was ten years later before the Affiliation of Magical Societies to The Magic Circle became a reality and some Scottish clubs came under its umbrella. It was eventually wound up in 1944 to make way for a new Organisation, the National Association of Magical Societies which, alas, had only a brief existence and was formally dissolved in 1951. In stark contrast, the Scottish Association is fast approaching its Golden Jubilee.

The first magical society I joined was the Scottish Conjurers' Association in Glasgow and through that body I was fortunate to meet and become good friends with three stalwarts of Scottish magic - De Vega (Alexander M. Stewart), James B. Findlay and Duncan Johnstone, all of whom had been founder members of the club in 1924. My magical education was greatly enriched by their knowledge and enthusiasm and thus it was a singular honour when I was elected Honorary Life President of the society, following in the footsteps of John Ramsay and Jimmy Findlay. This present year marks the 75th anniversary of the club, to be crowned with a celebration convention in September.

Jimmy Findlay was Scotland's premier magic historian and through his many writings he recorded the magic of his homeland. His Scottish Conjuring Bibliography (1951) and Magic over Scotland, which appeared serially in The Thistle and was later reprinted in the SAMS Magazine, remain invaluable reference sources. Indeed the latter, with expansion to include information that has become available during the past half-century, deserves assembling as an individual book, a task that has been attracting my attention for some time. In it Jimmy traced the founding of some Scottish societies, and this was expanded during my editorship of the SAMS Magazine by inviting individual societies to provide historical information about themselves. However, the data assembled over a quarter of a century ago is relatively meagre in relation to the number of clubs that now exist in Scotland and so we are fortunate that the compiler of this present reference source has tackled the task of researching and updating with unabated vigour.

Jim Cuthbert's interest in magic history, so he tells me, was aroused on the occasion of the Paisley Magic Circle's Golden Jubilee Convention in 1988 when I gave my talk on "Magic and Mystery Through the Ages". If that be true, then I can only say this present work represents for me a splendid bonus deriving from that lecture! Jim has kept me abreast of his researches over the past few years and I have been impressed by both his enthusiasm and tenacity, and I am delighted to be able to add this valuable reference source to my library.

Jim Cuthbert

I first started to take an interest in magic around 1975 and soon joined Paisley Magic Circle.  I, like most others, attempted most categories of magic  over the years although I would confess to a preference towards children's magic and mentalism.

I was President of The Scottish Association of Magical Societies  in 1988/89 and Secretary for six years.  I also was Secretary of Paisley Magic Circle for twelve years and President in 1992/93.

The starting point of  the history of the Magical Clubs in Scotland  came about after reading the introduction, by E. A. Dawes, to the book "Capital Magic" produced by the Edinburgh Magic Circle in 1986. The reading of this book coincided with a magical history lecture by E. A. Dawes as part of Paisley Magic Circle's 50 years' celebration. The bug had bitten.

It surprised me that a record of  all the Scottish clubs had never been brought up to date since the  Jimmy Findlay articles in  The Thistle. It was difficult finding any information about the magical clubs as most of the early ones kept no records, or they were lost through time. It was fun searching out people who remembered the old clubs and the lengthy discussions which followed.

As I print the last comma I can only hope that you enjoy reading the history of the magical clubs in Scotland as much as I have researching them.

This was presented  in booklet form to  the magicians attending the talk I gave at the I.B.M British Ring  Collectors session organised by Eddie Dawes

If you are thinking of making a visit to Scotland you might like to add just a little magic to the occasion. I have listed the contact person for all the magic clubs in Scotland and I am sure that if there are no meetings at the time the contact person will endeavour  to meet up with you  and no doubt talk will get around to magic.

There are a number of places worth visiting during your stay. If you are in the area of Ayr you should visit the Ramsay Garden. This is sited on the north side of the River Ayr. You should walk over the Old Brig of Ayr, from the High Street , and the Garden is on the right hand side of the Bridge. This is only about one hundred yards from where Johnny had his shop.

While in Ayrshire it is worth making a visit to the Electric Brae where you will see cars coming to a stop on the brae and starting to free wheel back up the brae. This is probably the largest Illusion you will ever see.

A visit to Glasgow is not complete without  a visit to Tam Shepherd’s Magic Shop in Queens Street. This shop is one of the oldest magical shops in Britain. Here you can meet Roy Walton and his wife Jean, two well known names in magic. There is also a good chance that some of the local magicians will be there. Within four hundred yards you will be able to see  158 West Regent Street which was the meeting place of The Glasgow Society of Magicians in 1919. Look up at the stone work above the door. The stone carving is a work of art. Again from Tam Shepherd’s you could walk about one mile and see the Coliseum. at 85/97  Eglington Street . This was the theatre, built in 1905, where the famous Bodie riots took place in 1909. You might also like to visit the Mitchell Library  which has a large collection of magical book and newspapers from early 1900.

You could try and pick up a copy of See Glasgow  See Theatre which leads you through the streets of  Glasgow to see the original sights of over 26 theatres from 1762 to present.

If you go over to Edinburgh try and visit the grave of Lafayette in Piershill Cemetery in Portobello. The Shepherds Hall in India Street is only a few hundred yards away from the  castle and this was where the Society of Scottish Magicians met in 1912. On Princes Street you will see The North British Hotel, the first meeting place of The Scottish Association of Magical Societies in  December 1951 Europe's longest running magical association. A visit to the National Library is like entering Aladdin's cave. Many magical books are available including some very old ones from about 1840 and before.

From Edinburgh it is only seventy miles to Dundee. It was here that the first Scottish Magic Club held their meetings in The Mathers Hotel. The hotel is no longer operational but the building still stands and can be seen at 1 Commercial Street in the old part of the town.

As you go further north a visit to Aberdeen is a must where you can visit the grave side of one of the Scottish Greats. John Henry Anderson is interred in St Nicholas Churchyard in Aberdeen. Further north and you will be able  to visit the  Bodie family vault  in the Doune Churchyard in the small town of Macduff. You will also be able to see The Manor House built by Bodie. This was the house that he donated during the first World War to the Forces so they could use it for rest and care for those returning from the war.

Have a nice time in Scotland. J. Cuthbert,
131 Elm Drive, Johnstone. 01505 324559
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