Henry MacLennan Lauder was born on 4 August 1870 at 4 Bridge Street, Portobello, the eldest of 7 children of John Lauder and his wife, Isabella Urquhart Lauder, nee McLeod. His mother had been born in Arbroath.The family moved to Derbyshire in 1882 and it was there that John died of pneumonia on 20 April 1882. The sudden death of John left the family virtually penniless apart from the proceeds of a life insurance policy amounting to £15. Perhaps the only option left to them was to move to Arbroath, where they could be supported by Isabella's family.
To pay for the cost of his education after free compulsory education finished at the age of 11 years, Henry, or as he was also known Harry, worked at a flax-mill. A career in show business began with an appearance at the Oddfellows' Hall in Arbroath, where he won first prize. The family was once again on the move - this time to Hamilton. For 10 years Lauder worked in the Eddlewood Colliery earning 10/- per week. Meanwhile he was much in demand in the music halls of the time, appearing at the Metropole Theatre, Glasgow and then touring throughout the country with concert parties.
In March 1900, Lauder achieved great success at the Charing Cross Music Hall in London; he headed up the cast at the pantomime in Howard and Wyndham's Theatre Royal, Glasgow. It was there that he first performed 'I love a Lassie'. There seemed to be nothing now stopping Lauder from becoming an international star. In 1907 he made his first tour of America and five years later he appeared before King George V in a private show at Sandringham. At the first Royal Command Performance in 1912, Lauder was top of the bill in the presence of the King. During his career, he made 22 trips to the United States, along with trips to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In 1925 such was his popularity that in Cape Town en route to Australia 20,000 people lined the streets of that city. At the height of his success he could earn £12,700 per performance plus expenses. In 1911, Lauder was the highest paid performer in the world and the first British artiste to sell more than a million records; he sold double that in 1928.
Lauder contributed in a number of different ways to the war effort during The Great War. He encouraged recruitment, performed at concerts for the troops and raised vast amounts for good causes. On 17 November 1917 at a Rotary Club of Toronto Luncheon as a result of his appeal, 3/4 million dollars worth of bonds were purchased for Canada's Victory Loan. Lauder also set up the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund for disabled soldiers and sailors to enable them to return to a healthier life and back into civilian life. His reward was to be a Knighthood in 1919.
On 19 June 1891, Lauder had married Ann, daughter of James Vallance, a colliery manager at Hamilton. They had only one son, John Currie Lauder. He was given the educational opportunities which his parents did not have. he was educated at the City of London School and Jesus College, Cambridge. John was commissioned as a Captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and sadly was killed in action on 28 December 1916 at Pozieres. Three days later after having heard of his son's death, Lauder took to the stage with a song especially composed in memory of John , 'Keep right on to the end of the Road'. John was buried in the War Cemetery at Ovillers, France. His fiance, Mildred Thomson, never married and lived with her parents in London. She died in 1975. Three years after her death, Mildred donated funds to open a new ward at Erskine, the Lauder-Thomson Ward. A monument commemorating John's death was erected on his father's estate at Glenbranter, Argyll. Previously, Lauder had owned a house in Dunoon, Laudervale; he was a member of St John 's Church and he donated a Memorial Window there to his son and his wife. Lady Lauder was buried at Glenbranter after her death on 31 July 1927.
The estate at Glenbranter was subsequently leased to the Forestry Commission and Lauder spent his later years at Lauder Ha', near Strathaven. Lauder died on 26 February 1950. His Funeral took place in Cadzow Church, Hamilton on 2 March 1950. Previously there had been a private service at Lauder Ha’. The cortege consisted of six cars filled with wreaths. One of them was from Churchill and read ‘ In grateful remembrance of a grand life’s work’. The Queen also sent a Wreath.There were other tributes from The Duke of Hamilton, Nina, Duchess of Hamilton, Lord Glentannar, Lanark County County Council and many others. The Service was conducted at the Church by the blind Minister, the Rev. T.F. Harkness Graham.The Duke of Hamilton, a close friend, was among the mourners at his Funeral and read the Lesson in the Church. The Hymns sung at the Service included ‘Abide with Me’ and ‘Lead Kindly Light’. The coffin was carried from the Church to the strains of ‘Keep right on to the end of the Road’. When the official party moved off, these cars were joined about a further 200 cars. Outside Bent Cemetery, Hamilton, crowds stretching 200 yards lined the streets.
The Service at the graveside was conducted by the Revs. C. Arthur Robertson, Avonside Old Parish Church, Strathaven and John McEchern, Inverness. Among the pall-bearers were family members including Lauder’s niece, Margaret and Sir Alexander King. Churchill was represented at the Funeral; others present were the Duke of Hamilton, The Earl of Selkirk, Lord Inverclyde, the American Consul-General in Glasgow, Sir Patrick Dollan and representatives of Lord Weir of Eastwood, The Marquis of Bute, the Lord Provosts of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Erskine Hospital and many others. Showbusiness was represented by F.Elliot Dobie, Jack Radcliffe, Dave Willis, Harry Gordon, Alec Finlay. After the conclusion of the Service, the ordinary mourners, who had waited outside the Cemetery, were permitted to pay their respects. It is worth comment that a young man, who had begun life working in a colliery, now had become a good friend of one of the great and good of the land.
Henry MacLennan Lauder was initiated in Lodge Dramatic No 571 on 28 January 1897, along with 5 other Candidates. He received his Fellowcraft Degree on 11 February 1898, his Master Mason Degree on 25 February 1898 and also advanced to the Mark Degree. In 1898, he became a Life Member of the Lodge. On 23 November 1899, Lauder was installed as Bible Bearer and according to the Minute Book performed at the Harmony. When he joined the Lodge, he resided at 32 Dundas Street, Glasgow, aged 26 years, and his occupation is recorded as Artiste.
There can be no doubt that Lauder was a highly successful music hall artiste and that many of his songs have lasted the test of time. However, many felt that the image he created of the Scottish persona was not positive. Nevertheless, Lauder brought enjoyment and laughter in difficult times, for himself as well as for many others. The death of his only son must have been devastating for Lauder, his wife, and John's fiance. Truly a giant of a man and a Freemason, although small in stature!
Article researched and written by Brother Alistair Henderson, IPPGM and Past Master of Lodge St. John Whiteinch No. 683.