In Scotland’s near diaspora regional centres were especially important in the development of Scottish associational culture, including, for instance, Norwich. A Scots Society was established there in 1775, and eventually was given the name of the Society of Universal Good-Will, under which it began to operate from the early 1780s—though the Scots Society name was largely maintained. It was at a celebration of Scotland’s patron saint that the decision was made to combine sociability with philanthropy when ‘an overplus of three shillings and sixpence’, to which ‘ten shillings were added, to relieve any poor Scotchman who might come to Norwich in distress’. Regular subscriptions were taken from the end of 1777, which is also when objects were formalized. As is outlined in an account of the Society’s first years of operation, the main objective was similar to that of the early Scottish clubs in London, designed expressly
to supply the defect in the English law, with regard to the natives of Scotland, who are by these laws, in common with natives of all other nations, deemed foreigners or strangers, concerning whom it is said, that “a stranger coming into England and not having obtained a proper parish settlement, is not entitled to parish relief, that no body is obliged to relieve him, but that they might let him starve.”
In Norwich, by 1779, proceedings were formalized, and annual meetings on or around St Andrew’s Day now comprised a business and a social element. Amongst the earliest subscribers of the organisation we find the Right Hon. Earl of Roseberry, and there were also benefactors and subscribers from outside of Norwich, including Edward Cairns from Birmingham, Clement Francis from Bengal, or Robert Murray, based in Rhode Island. For 1782 we also find the name of Mrs Hayley, who is listed as the ‘Directress of the Society of Universal Good Will, N. America’, documenting a strong international link.
Initially numbers of those relieved were small, but there was a steady increase. Support varied from cash allowances to the covering of burial expenses, and the Society supported local hospitals in Norwich. The Society also began to aid soldiers, and ‘[f]rom this and other circumstances, the utility of the Society became more and more conspicuous, and its reputation increased.’
Another interesting development in Norwich was that the Society began to broaden its focus to non-Scots. Not only were they able to become honorary members, the Society’s remit too was opened up so that non-Scots could receive support. By 1784, the Scottish founders of the association were no longer in the majority, and while Scots were still supported, objectives were changed to permit the dispensation of aid to natives not only of the whole of Great Britain, but the natives of foreign countries too. The parochial report on ‘the state of the poor’ from the late 1790s provides evidence of this shift, listing the numbers of those aided and their country of origin – while the majority still came from Scotland, there were also recipients of aid from Ireland, Germany and Sweden to name only a few.
For further details see: An Account of the Scots Society in Norwich, From its Rise in 1775, until it Received the Addditional Name of the Society of Universal Good-Will in 1784 (2nd edn’, Norwich: W. Chase and Co., n.d.).