History of the Society

The Society was founded in the year 1780 when Glasgow had only 43,000 inhabitants.   The city was, however, well set for extension and development but the very nature of its prosperity, arising as it did from trades which had their ups and downs, had lent itself to the formation of many worthy schemes for relief of distress among the people.   In the Eighteenth Century, the Trades House with the Fourteen Incorporations, the Merchants House, Hutchisons' Trust, the Clan Societies and many other similar bodies all stood for benevolence and a great deal of good work was being done by them.   It was out of the multiplicity of these that the SOCIETY OF DEACONS AND FREE PRESESES arose, but the origin could not be better explained than in the language of the preamble of the original Articles and Regulations which reads:-

"Among the numerous Associations in their City for charitable purposes none hitherto formed answers the end of establishing such a connection between them as that schemes might thereby be derived for the benefit of the whole and advantage also accrue to the public; men also who had devoted great part of their time and attention in raising and managing funds for the support of the poor seemed to be no better provided for when their own circumstances fail and when in sickness and old age than others who have not contributed so much to the public benefit."

"These considerations induced a number of Deacons and Free Preseses within the City to erect themselves into a Society and begin the contribution and raising of a fund which in process of time through the blessing of God might prove the mean of relief and support to such of their brethren as now or hereafter may think proper to join them in this laudable scheme or of their widows when in poor circumstances so as they may be decently supported while in sickness and distress, wherefore they did and do hereby erect themselves into a Society for the aforesaid purposes to be called in all time coming The SOCIETY OF DEACONS AND FREE PRESESES within the City and Burgh of Glasgow."

These articles provided that membership was confined to "any person who had been a Deacon of one of the Incorporations of this City or a Preses of some charitable society and is a Burgess and Guild Brother of the City of Glasgow of a good and moral character", and included among the members of the Society were Lord Provosts, Magistrates, Deans of Guild, Deacon Conveners, many Deacons of Incorporations, Presidents of such societies as The Grand Antiquity Society and The Anderston Weavers Society; but that the terms of the original constitution were in the process of time being gradually departed from as seen by the frequent appearance of the names of other societies and bodies not primarily benevolent.

For some years up to 1857, many Deacons of the Incorporations of the Trades House were admitted to membership of the Society but the institution in that year of the Association of Deacons of the Fourteen Incorporated Trades of Glasgow caused a major reduction in the number of new members joining the Society from the Incorporations.   Thereafter direct contact between the Society and the Trades House and its Incorporations gradually diminished.

In 1876 the Rules of the Society were altered to provide for applicants being admitted who "were not and had not been Deacons or Preseses, but were desirous of joining the Society from motives of philanthropy" and from that date the rule has remained in this form.

Happily the rift which had developed between the Society and the Trades House was healed when, in 1989, a formal deed was entered into between the Deacon of the Society and the Deacon Convener of the Trades of Glasgow in terms of which, while acknowledging the independence and autonomy of each body, they undertook to strive for a closer association between them and to assist and co-operate with each other in achieving their charitable objectives.   That closer relationship continues today.

The formation of the Master Court has varied little in the history of the Society.   In the Rules two principal Office Bearers are referred to always as "Preses" and "Treasurer" but since 1876 all the records refer to them as "Deacon" and "Collector".   This has subsequently been changed back to "Preses" and "Treasurer".

Careful and sympathetic consideration is given to all cases of hardship that come before them and assistance has been granted by way of pensions or precepts in relief in many cases.   Following a change in the Rules in 1974, limited Grants can be made to Charities and individuals not connected with the Society; many Charities have benefitted and continue to benefit, from these provisions.

The original Rules of the Society provided that there should be "a Box or Charter Chest wherein to deposit their bonds, bills and valuable papers", the Box is still a cherished possession and there is now in it a collection of records and articles of no little historical interest which have been added to from time to time to mark the passing of the years.

The centenary of the Society in 1880 was marked by the acquisition of what was described as a "handsome medal and chain of office" for the Deacon.   This silver medal was, however, passed on to the Collector in 1897 when a medal of solid gold was purchased for the Deacon and these two medals are in use today.

The bicentenary of the Society was celebrated in 1980 with a Dinner in Glasgow which was attended by a number of distinguished guests including the Lord Provost of Glasgow, the Deacon Convener of the Trades of Glasgow and the Minister of Glasgow Cathedral.