Oysters and a Pearl of a Club

If you mention oysters to most people the reaction is either “yummy” or “yeuch” with little, or nothing, in between. The original Oyster Club was founded by James Hutton, often said to be the father of the science of geology and among the first to theorise about the antiquity of our planet. He, Joseph Black a chemistry scientist and the famous economist and author Adam Smith established the Oyster Club as a weekly meeting for Edinburgh intellectuals as well as visiting thinkers like James Watt and Benjamin Franklin.

Other members in the beginning were David Hume, John Clerk, Adam Ferguson and William Robertson. They were all avid oyster eaters and would meet each week in a different tavern to discuss art, architecture, philosophy, politics, science and economics. Each member gave a brief update on their projects. In Hutton’s words the discussions were “informal and amusing, despite their great learning.”

The Oyster Club was one of many supper clubs for the “literati” who spent time in the taverns of the Old Town during the latter half of the 18th century. At that time – as now – Edinburgh was a city full of hostelries offering dinner in the early evening with copious amounts of claret, champagne, gin, ale brandy and whisky on tap. These clubs were forums for men of varied professions to meet and share ideas and humour over such delicacies as dried salt haddock and, of course, oysters.

Today’s Oyster Club, under the chairmanship of former Lord Provost Eric Milligan follows a similar pattern, though in today’s busy pace of life the Club does not meet weekly. Another major difference is that, unlike its 18th century equivalent, women are permitted to join.

Eric MilliganCouncillor Milligan refers to the newly refurbished Caves in South Niddry Street as “the spiritual home of the Oyster Club” and indeed there is evidence that this hostelry was where it first began. It was described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “It is a rabbit warren not only by the number of its twists and turns but by its dark stairs frequented by loiterers and other such low characters and as treacherous a place as I saw.”

What remains the same, though, is the eclectic mix of “movers and shakers”, writers and politicians, artists and business people. Authors like Ian Rankin and Michael Shea, Lord and Lady Steel, judges and civil servants as well as a sprinkling of politicians make up the “invitation only” membership.

The Club still moves round the city, from New Club, to the Oyster Bar to the Caves and other city centre venues. Yes, oysters are still consumed, wine is taken and there is always an interesting talk. Dried salt haddock, however, is no longer on the menu.

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Published by

Christine Richard OBE FRSA

http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Christine.jpg Christine has over 25 years' experience in public life in Scotland in the fields of politics, education, public relations and charity work. For 12 years she served on the City of Edinburgh District Council and was her Group's leader for 4 years. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1992 she was made an OBE. Christine is a member of the Board of The Friends of the Royal Scottish Academy. She has just completed six years on the Board of The Edinburgh International Festival. Christine's business experience has covered the fields of theatre, economic development, science, coal mining, education and training. She has held a number of non-executive directorships in these disciplines. She is a trained and experienced personal relationships counsellor and a business and personal mentor. In 2005 Christine established Christine Richard Associates who undertake Event Management and Public Relations as well as company and individual profiling. She coordinated the 'Yes to Edinburgh' campaign on congestion charging in Edinburgh. ten years ago Christine co-founded West Lothian Women in Business, which is a network for women who are self-employed and also for women managers. Christine has now stepped down from the Chair of this thriving organisation. For 5 years Christine was a magistrate in the District Court. She was also a member of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on the appointment of Justices of the Peace. She has been an adviser to Government in various areas of policy, including health, local government and education. Christine is a trained and experienced radio and television broadcaster and writer as well as an entertaining and accomplished speaker. She has a wealth of topics on which she is invited to speak. These range from witty after lunch and after dinner speaking to the more serious topics of the economy, health, education, enterprise, the Powers of the Mind and Life/work balance. She writes reviews and articles for lifestyle magazine, Lothian Life. She took part as a contestant in an ITV gourmet TV show, Chef V Britain, challenging TV chef Gino D'Acampo to cook her signature dish, Posh Cottage Pie. Currently Christine is a member of the Goodison Group in Scotland and Scotland's Futures. Also she is involved in the group Changing the Chemistry of Scottish Boards. Her first novel, Whitewalls, a modern Scottish family saga has been published by New Generation Publishing and is available on all internet books siets and from libraries. She is writing a sequel Autumn at Whitewalls. Her leisure interests include her family, literature, music, theatre, food, wine and horse racing. She is a member of a racing syndicate, which has two horses in training.

4 thoughts on “Oysters and a Pearl of a Club”

  1. Would love to hear some of the intellectual disdcussions by members of your group such as Maidie Cahill.

  2. I am visiting Edinburgh to look into the life and work of James Hutton and wish to know more about the famous but very little known Oyster Club. Thus far searches of various library archives has turned up little not already known. Contemporary accounts of meetings of the Oyster Club, including who attended and what transpired, seem to be completely lacking. Hopefully somethng is recorded somewhere. Any leads in this would be very much appreciated.

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