History: Pipe Bands in the East of Scotland Part 4

I am extremely grateful to reader Iain McAlister for forwarding the pictures which illustrate this article and for the information on the bands in the photographs. Of the one above, Iain writes: ‘The picture of the band in uniform is Whitrigg, unknown year, Pipe Major Elkie Clark. Kneeling front right is a very young Robert Martin, later to become P/M of Boghall.’

Iain has sent three other very interesting pictures of West Lothian bands which I’ll include below.

The main thrust of this concluding article, however, is to show the continuing strength of bands in the east of Scotland and their successes at the 2023 majors.

These bands are now grouped within three separate branches of the RSPBA: North of Scotland, Dundee, Perth & Angus (DPA) and Lothian & Borders (L&B). The latter two cover the former territories of the old Stirlingshire and Fife branches.  

By Alistair Aitken OBE,
former RSPBA Adjudicator

The North of Scotland has 40 bands registered with the RSPBA, DPA 36 and L&B 73. The total of 149 represents over 50 per cent of the 252 RSPBA bands in the UK as per the March 2023 AGM.

Seventy-two bands competed at this year’s UK Championships at Lurgan, Northern Ireland. Twenty-four (approximately 33%) were registered in the east. Those which achieved top six places were: G1:  Boghall (1st); G2: Buchan Peterson (4th), City of Edinburgh (5th); Juv.: Dollar Acad. (1st), G Watson’s College (2nd), Preston Lodge High School (3rd), G Heriot’s School (4th); Novice A: G Watson’s (1st), Dollar Acad. (3rd), G Heriot’s (4th); Novice B: Lochgelly High School (1st); Dollar Acad.(2nd), Preston Lodge (3rd).

MacRaeBanner ’19
Ayrshire Bagpipes Nov 2020
shepherd banner ’22

Ninety-seven bands competed at the Europeans in Aberdeen on 24 June.  Fifty five were from the east (approximately 57%). Of these, top six places went to: G1:  Boghall (3rd); G2: Portlethen (1st), Buchan Peterson (3rd), City of Edinburgh (4th); G3A: Deeside Cal. (2nd), Denny & Dunipace (4th), Vale of Atholl (5th), City of Inverness (6th); G3B: Ross & Cromarty P&D (1st), Arbroath (2nd), Methil (4th); G4A:  Burntisland (1st); Culter (2nd); Stirling (4th), Couper Angus (6th); G4B: Fraserburgh RBL (2nd), City of Aberdeen (4th); Juv.: Dollar Acad. (1st), G Watson’s (2nd), Preston Lodge (3rd), G Heriot’s (4th); Novice A: G Watson’s (1st), Dollar Acad. (2nd), West Lothian Schools (3rd), High School of Dundee (5th); Novice B:  Erskine’s Stewart Melville (1st), Lochgelly High (3rd); Preston Lodge (4th) and Dollar Acad. (6th).

Iain McAllister writes, ‘This is the East Whitburn Pipe Band around 1919. The band later became Whitrigg Colliery, then changed its name Polkemmet Colliery when Whitrigg pit stopped production in 1972 and Polkemmet took over sponsorship.’ 

One hundred and four bands competed at the Scottish in Dumbarton on 29 July 2023, 55 of them (approximately 53%) registered in the east. Top six places were: G1: Boghall (4th); G2: Portlethen (3rd), City of Edinburgh (6th); G3A: Vale of Atholl (5th); G3B: Ross & Cromarty P&D (2nd), Methil (4th); Gr4A: Burntisland (1st), Perth (5th), Couper Angus (6th); G4B: City of Discovery (3rd), City of Aberdeen (5th); Juv.: Dollar Acad. (1st), G Watson’s (2nd), Preston Lodge (3rd), G Heriot’s (4th); Novice A: Dollar Acad. (1st), West Lothian Schools (5th), Stirling Schools (6th); Novice B: Lochgelly High (2nd), Preston Lodge (4th), Dollar Acad. (5th), Burntisland (6th)

Only four Juvenile pipe bands competed at these Major Championships – all four from the east. 

At the Worlds, 17 East of Scotland pipe bands achieved top six placings including, of course, Boghall’s historic win in Grade 1.

Iain McAlister writes: ‘Bathgate Caledonia taken around the start of the 1900s; I believe that the band later merged with Torphichen Pipe Band to become Torphichen and Bathgate.’

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contribution of the Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSPDT) in recent years.  The SSPDT was formed in 2014, its charitable objectives having been widened from the original East Lothian Pipes and Drums Trust which had existed from 2007.  The Trust works in conjunction with education authorities and other groups in Scotland to provide part funding and loans of instruments for the instruction of piping and pipe band drumming in Scottish state schools, all designed to encourage the formation of state school bands.

The SSPDT initiated the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships in 2013. With around a hundred participants annually, many schools or groups of schools have formed bands to compete at the Championships and some have developed further and registered with the RSPBA. 

The SSPDT has undoubtedly enhanced the teaching of piping and drumming in state schools in the East of Scotland as well as in Scotland generally.  The added bonus is that the school players hopefully will continue their playing and feed into bands in the different grades.

This is Torphichen and Bathgate; the Pipe Major sitting behind the bass drum is Sammy Stein. Sanding middle row third from right is Robert Martin, and back right is leading drummer ‘Bluey’ Collum whose son was lead tip at Carluke, Baron of Lee. Iain McAlister

In conclusion it seems to me that the foregoing statistics and information provide clear evidence that East of Scotland bands are in a strong and stable condition, and have recovered well from the pandemic. 

It is also pleasing to see that the Lothian & Borders Branch had two Grade 1 bands challenging for top places at all Major Championships this year, and one of them took the World Championships title on 19th August. 

East of Scotland bands in other grades have similarly been successful, so this part of the country is still maintaining the strong contribution it has made to the pipe band community in Scotland over the years. 

As I say, the Grade 1 Worlds title is now back in the hands of an East Scotland band after a period of some 45 years.  Hopefully the next one will not take so long!!

The Bagpiper’s Handbook…a must have for all pipers


9 thoughts on “History: Pipe Bands in the East of Scotland Part 4

  1. I had many great years in the 70, 80 and 90’s with Torphichen, Boghall and Polkemmet. I was 19 when Boghall won their first World Championship Grade 3 in 1977 and was one of the older players. Great years playing with Jim Baxter, Gordon Stafford and Billy Stirling at Torphichen, great band managers.
    Such a shame so many of the West Lothian and eastern bands are now gone.

  2. My grandfather Ronald MacKinnon is the man with the moustache in the middle in the old photo of East Whitburn Public Band. He was a piper himself, as was his father Ronald before him, and started the band sometime about 1915/16. I was told they made their first public appearance, without uniforms, at an armistice commemoration at the end of the war. He was president of the band until his death in 1944. I still have a blackthorn walking stick he was presented with just before he died.
    I also have other photos with members of my family, both my mother’s and father’s, as pipers and drummers. I was in the drum corps myself for 25 years.

  3. As an East coaster I still think it’s use in this series is more than loose. The series has had its moment, particularly in it’s recognition of the colliery bands in both Fife and the Lothians. Growing up in the 70s, I was aware of the great camaraderie between the Lothian branch members, and in the other youngsters in Polkemmet, Torphichen as well as Ballingary bands. Our band had it’s origins in Preston Links Colliery out under the Forth, but as Monktonhall under Willie McBride we did our bit too, with players going on to play with at least 6 Grade 1 bands

  4. Also kneeling down beside Bob Martin in the top photo are Jimmy Dummond (I think), Robbie Strathearn and Colin Drummond.

  5. Correction to narrative on Torphichen & Bathgate photograph. The Pipe Major sitting behind the bass drum is George Montgomery and not Sammy Stein. Sammy is standing behind George,

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