Every February our reading room is busy with first year students researching the history of the town and University in preparation for their interviews as new members of the Kate Kennedy Club. This year there were 43 candidates who made use of our reading room.
The Kate Kennedy Club is perhaps unique among student groups at St Andrews in that it has the post of Archivist on its committee. This year, the archivist has been very active in updating the club’s historic collection, which is deposited in Special Collections for safe-keeping. He has also been busy over the past few weeks preparing for the celebrations of the Club’s 90th anniversary which was commemorated last weekend and which marked a significant opening up of the club to the wider community.
There was an anticipatory buzz around the town last Saturday as life-size cut outs of historic characters appeared as part of a family activity trail, and ‘The Great St Andrews Tapestry’, a banner featuring sketches of 80 procession characters produced with local schools in advance of the Procession, appeared on the railings outside the Chapel. There were children’s activities and a community lunch in a marquee on Lower College lawn, and there was a display of the Club’s archive across the road in the Napier Reading Room of Martyrs Kirk. Hosted by Special Collections, but managed by the club, the display had been open to the public and life and honorary members on the Friday evening as well as on Saturday morning before the parade. Over 75 people came to look at the selection of photographs, minutes, lists of members and College Echoes and procession programmes through the years. There were many memories exchanged, old friends met up and much reminiscing took place, stimulated by the well-chosen display.
After the doors closed on the display, the current members and some old friends of the club went off to dress for the procession. To the accompaniment of pipe bands, bells from St Salvator’s Chapel and the carillon of Holy Trinity church, the story of the town and University was re-told once again in the traditional celebration of the arrival of Spring. A new Kate Kennedy was chosen from aspiring bejants and Archbishop Sharp was murdered many times as his carriage passed through the streets! There were some beautiful new costumes, new characters and some new heraldry this year, and some of the parts in the procession were taken by Friends of Special Collections. Of particular note from the early history was Henry Ogilvy, bearer of the papal bulls from the Pope in 1414 and Bishop Wardlaw, played with aplomb by Dr Barbara Crawford. Barbara, as Chair of the Strathmartine Trust, was behind the erection in 2013 of the magnificent bronze statue commemorating Wardlaw which sits in St Mary’s quadrangle. Frank Quinault also made a magnificent bishop. Mary Queen of Scots walked this year, instead of riding, and was accompanied by her four Marys and a lute player. Graeme Scott once again diligently manipulated his bones as Napier of Merchiston, Benjamin Franklin carried the kite which was instrumental in his experiments with electricity, for which he was awarded a St Andrews LLD in 1759, and the Club archivist, Hilaire, became a very dapper Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair. Robin Evetts once again very convincingly evoked Principal Sir James Irvine and John Matthews portrayed Sir James Black, a new addition to the parade.
Although the club continues to provoke strong opinions, it was very encouraging to see the openness of the archive to the public in support of the Club’s stated aims of upholding and improving town and gown relations and maintaining the traditions of the town and University.