The Edinburgh University Club of London (EUCL) was founded on 27 June 1864 when two graduates of the medical school, Dr Markham and Dr E. H. Sieveking, who graduated in 1841, sought to establish ‘a friendly association of the Graduates of the University of Edinburgh’.
The medical school was the largest faculty of the University at that time, so most of the initial membership base came from there, however graduates from the other faculties soon followed. Membership grew rapidly, to 231 by the end of 1864. It reached about 600 in the early years and remained well over that level until 1939 when war intervened.
The first dinner was held on 1st August 1864, by which time Sir David Brewster had been appointed first President of the Club, and four Vice-presidents were also appointed. In 2019 the Club acquired an early Member’s Badge, also dated 1864.
Links with other Edinburgh graduate clubs across the country were formed quickly, including Manchester (est. 1874), several other English cities, and even internationally; alumni from Canada and South Africa would come to visit.
A particularly splendid 10-course banquet was held in 1884, as part of the celebrations marking the tercentenary of the University. A beautifully engraved seating plan, tickets, and menu for the occasion are preserved in the Club’s archive, now on permanent loan to the Special Collections department of the University Library. The archive also includes the first Minute Book, membership lists, and records of at least 200 events prior to 1939.
The Club’s purpose was simply ‘promoting good fellowship and the interests of the University’ and it became essentially a gentlemen’s dining club meeting quarterly, usually in a London West End restaurant; the principal toast of course being “alma mater”.
The members were notable people of the time including Club presidents such as The Duke of Argyll, The Duke of Edinburgh (Queen Victoria’s son), Sir Joseph Lister and Prime Minister Arthur Balfour.
Founding member Dr Sieveking, later Sir Edward, became Physician Extraordinary to Queen Victoria and Physician-in-Ordinary to The Prince of Wales. Peter Pan creator JM Barrie reflects the literary talent that also existed within the Club, and the finest recorded toast at a dinner is said to be by member Dr Conan Doyle, later Sir Arthur.
Since 1983, membership has been open to all Alumni and Staff of the University of Edinburgh, wherever they live.
As a dining club the EUCL amassed a sizable collection of silver, which the Club still treasures today. Dr. Sieveking presented several items including a traditional Scottish ram’s-head snuff mull to the Club in 1871, and in the same year he arranged a subscription to purchase a loving cup.
The Club’s silver is now held at the Caledonian Club, an apt meeting place in London with a Scottish feel. Some of the more recent acquisitions, including two decanters presented by our President, Dr Stuart Blackie, are used whenever the Club meets there, and most of the full collection is displayed at Annual Dinners and other special events.
The Duke of Edinburgh, who held the Chancellorship of the University from 1953, became the Club’s royal patron after the Club celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1989 in his presence. The Royal Patronage continues today, as HRH The Princess Royal accepted an invitation to become the Club’s patron shortly after succeeding her father as Chancellor in 2011.