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Pembroke in Scotland

Last week the Pembroke College Cambridge Society celebrated its 65th Annual Scottish Dinner, held at the New Club in central Edinburgh. Kit Smart grabbed her pet passport and headed north to investigate.

Scottish Dinner Elizabeth Dawson compDr Henning Grunwald also travelled to Edinburgh to represent the College as the official speaker, providing an update on news and developments at Pembroke. Henning’s speech led to some lively debate, including a discussion concerning the date of the first Scottish Dinner.

The Pembroke College Cambridge Society has been holding its Annual Dinner in London since 1920, but it wasn’t until after the Second World War that Pembroke members based in Scotland began to grumble about the choice of location. As the Annual Gazette No. 25, published in December 1951, records: “On 11 May 1951, a Pembroke Dinner was held at the Caledonian Hotel, Edinburgh. It is no exaggeration to say that this dinner – claimed to be the first to be held in Scotland by a College of either Cambridge or Oxford – was a notable success.” The dinner was attended by twenty-five “old Pembroke men”, but lacked any representative of the College, as the organisers felt it would be “presumptuous to invite a guest from the College to make the long journey to Edinburgh”. The absence of official representation was sorely felt, however, and the Gazette’s correspondent made sure to comment that this should perhaps be remedied if a similar dinner was held again in Edinburgh.

Two years later, the Scottish Valencians got their wish: the then Master of Pembroke, Sir Sydney Castle Roberts, journeyed to Edinburgh for the “third Dinner for old Pembroke men resident in Scotland”. He was greeted with resounding enthusiasm and noted appreciation for his trip, “a spontaneous gesture that involved a double-air journey”. The only gripe this year concerned the as-yet-unofficial status of the dinner. Pointing out the difficulty faced by Scottish members in attending the London dinner, the organisers note that “if this function [the Edinburgh dinner] is to remain an annual event, an even greater measure of support would make their work easier”.

Roberts, Sir Sydney Castle (1887-1966)

Sir Sydney Castle Roberts

College apparently took this complaint seriously, as the following year the Edinburgh dinner was held under the banner of the Pembroke College Cambridge Society; it was now an official event on a par with London. In the next couple of years, the guest list expanded to cover “the most northerly Counties of England” in addition to Scotland, although the dinner remained located at “its usual haunt”, the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh.

Fast-forward sixty years, and the gathering of “old Pembroke men” has moved to a different venue (albeit only a few hundred yards along the road) and now contains some women. The Edinburgh Dinner this year followed closely on the heels of another event, the Pembroke Roundtable Dinner, which was held in Edinburgh in September this year with the purpose of discussing ‘Scottish Students at Pembroke: Past, Present and Future’. The number of Scottish students applying to study at Cambridge University has dropped significantly since the introduction in England of £9000 annual fees, which constitute a considerable financial barrier when compared to the free higher education offered to Scottish students within Scotland. The College’s Admissions Tutor, Dr Caroline Burt, and the Schools Liaison Officer, Laura McGarty, wished to explore options for continuing to attract Scottish students and circumventing the financial barrier. A programme of recruitment and outreach is currently under way in Scotland, with yearly conferences held in Edinburgh and Glasgow to inform and encourage Scottish students considering applying to Cambridge.

Booking details for the 66th Annual Scottish Dinner next year will be circulated with the Martlet magazine in Spring 2016.

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