The Highland Society of London was founded in 1778, during the aftermath of the ’Forty-five and the horrific exactions perpetrated by the Duke of Cumberland and the Westminster Government. The Society’s objects were primarily to try to alleviate the hardships caused to the Highlands and their inhabitants, and to prevent the loss of the unique way of life of the Highlanders. There was a second and hardly less important, though unwritten, object: the repeal of the Disarming Act of 1746 and the restoration of confiscated lands.
In 1781, at a time when in Parliament Members of the Society were campaigning hard for the repeal of the Act, the Highland Society held a piping competition. This took place on 10th October in that year, in Falkirk. That town lies almost exactly on the division between Highlands and lowlands, and it would have been very difficult to prove that a tune played there was played in the Highlands and so fell foul of the Act. Thirteen pipers competed, each playing two or more tunes. The winner was Patrick MacGregor, son of that John MacGregor who had been piper to Prince Charles Edward during the ’Forty-five. He became Piper to the Society. The competition was a great success, and continued annually, later in Edinburgh, and then became triennial, and paved the way for piping competitions as we know them today. The Society has presented awards for piping ever since, and still presents the Gold Medals at the Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting.