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The Society of Advocates 

For about 300 years they had conducted their meetings in The New Inn, the Lemon Tree Inn or the Record Office, although from 1820 they had been given the use of a room in the new Courthouse and had furnished it in 'a proper manner' with book-presses.  The construction of a magnificent new home must have been a cause of enormous pride and self congratulation.  The opening of their 1st Hall, which built in 1837 to a design by John Smith, and which stood at the corner of Back 'Wynd and Union Street, was the occasion for a formal banquet, attended by 170 people. On this occasion, the Advocates really let their hair down. Apart from the official guests, each member was permitted to bring one friend. There were 53 toasts, and it was directed that no toast might be proposed until the list was exhausted.  Each member had to see to the comfort of his friend during the evening, and one is tempted to suppose that this instruction included the responsibility for scraping him off the floor and carrying him home.

That 1st Hall, from all accounts a beautifully appointed building, was put up for sale in 1870, when the Society built, to a design by James Matthews, a new Advocates' Hall in Concert Court, which was more conveniently adjacent to the recently reconstructed Sheriff Courts. The fireplaces and the books were transported to their new home, and the old Hall became the property of Lockhart & Salmond, confectioners. It had become known as the Queen's Buildings, and may have stumbled on the explanation for the Royal connection. Soon after the Hall was open for business, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert.  As part of the public celebration the members agreed that an appropriate transparency should be placed on the front of the building, and John Smith, the City Architect was requested to arrange it. The Hall at that time stood alone, flanked on one side by St Nicholas churchyard, and on the other by waste ground. Any decoration on such a prominent building must have made an impression on the citizens, and the display of a large portrait of Queen Victoria on its frontage might easily have led to the building's being thereafter known as the Queen's. It went through many vicissitudes, was externally much altered, and was for a long time a Cinema.

James Lockhart b. 1819 Kirkcaldy d. 1881 Aberdeen was the co-founder with brother in law John Salmond of Lockhart & Salmond, bakers, confectioners, restaurateurs and lemonade manufacturers in various locations Aberdeen City from 1859-1953, last address 31-33 Forbes Street.

During alterations in 1928 the foundation stone was extracted. Enclosed within was a glass bottle, which had been specially made in Leith and which contained specimens of coins, editions of newspapers, and the names of the members who subscribed to the costs of erecting the building. The bottle was ceremonially returned to the Society, and has since vanished, along with the contents. The original elegant interior of the building, including the domed ceiling of the Hall, was destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1936.  No ceremony seems to have accompanied the removal to Concert Court and the opening of the New Hall. Perhaps the advocates were too busy. But even in the vigorous commercial confidence of the 2nd half of the 19th century, the gentlemen, although they were in their offices from nine until 5 each day, and from 7 until nine each evening, (clerks who were members of the Society of Writers were permitted to leave at 4 on Saturday so that they could attend their meetings), were not averse to a little innocent diversion. They wrote law textbooks and books that they considered more frivolous.

One or two 'communed with the Muse'. They organized a Social Science Conversazione, attended by 1000 people, and caused dancing cloths (whatever they were) and pianos to be placed in the Dining Hall, and entertained ladies, not forgetting to lay in a stock of pins and a hairbrush. How many members have there been of this august and unsentimental body? We have to go back to William KennedyPresident of the Society in 1820, who undertook to retrieve, from such records as were available to him, as much as possible of the Society's own records which had been lost in 1720, in a fire at the Record Office (Inset). From Alexander Paip, whose date of entry is given as 1549, until the name of the most recently admitted member before the latest amendments to the Bye-Laws dragged the Society belatedly into the 20th century - 994 was the total . How many advocates there were before Alexander Paip (who must have been admitted into some previous body of members) will never now be ascertained, but still the final total cannot be far beyond 1000. What of the Society now? Has it any function at all, apart the amenity offered by its Library, (still growing, although the books in General Literature were sold at auction in 1976, and the members consequently are no longer so Enlightened), and the occasional social event?

From a knowledge of its history comes a knowledge of its aims and aspirations. It should continue to be the voice of the legal profession in Aberdeen and the surrounding area. It should continue to keep in close touch with the Law Faculty of the University. The members, women now as well as men, should continue to regard membership of the Society of Advocates in Aberdeen as an extension of their calling, requiring enhanced standards of service. They owe it to that small band of dedicated gentlemen who created the Society, moulded it and cherished it, and handed it to them as a unique and valued heirloom. - Dorothea Bruce

Advocates Hall/Concert Court
Broad Street
AB10 1BS

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Last modified: 01/09/2013