The Head of the House is the Lord Dean of Guild, elected annually by the Members of the House. The Lord Dean acts as Chairman at all meetings of the House, and also as Convener of the different committees. The Office of the Dean of Guild ranks next to that of the Lord Provost of the City. Prior to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, the Lord Dean was also the official head and sole judge of the Dean of Guild Court in Glasgow, assisted by four Lyners appointed by the Merchants House and four appointed by the Trades House of Glasgow.
The membership of the Merchants House is drawn from men and women in business, established in Glasgow or the West of Scotland with Glasgow connections if they are in business on their own account to a substantial extent, or in good practice in a recognised profession, or Directors, Managing Directors, Managers or other principal Officers in a significant business body, corporation or authority; or persons of like standing and qualifications established elsewhere in Great Britain who are sons or daughters of members; or are otherwise qualified in ways which, in the opinion of the Directors, would make them eligible members of the House.
The present membership of the House is almost 1300. Thirty six Directors, elected by the members, carry on the active work of the House, together with the Dean and Ex-Deans, who are ex-officio Directors. Twelve of the 36 Directors retire annually and arrangements are made to encourage the election of a proportion of new Directors each year without losing the advantages of experience in the work of the House.
By virtue of various Charters and Acts of Parliament the House elects representatives to a considerable number of Public Institutions, among them being Hutchesons' Hospital, Hutchesons' Educational Trust, The Glasgow Educational and Marshall Trust, The University of Strathclyde ,The Chamber of Commerce, The Adam Smith Chair of Political Economy at Glasgow University , as well as other charitable and educational bodies. The involvement of the House in the affairs of the community is still of importance, although over the years the emphasis has altered and today the House is principally concerned with its many charitable activities.
The House has accumulated considerable funds and has been the recipient of bequests and donations from its inception. However, the opportunities for benevolence of the House are continually extending and additional donations are always welcome. As recently as 2005, to mark the Quatercentenary of the House, an appeal was made which resulted in a number of donations, and transfers of trust funds, amounting in total to over £1 million. The generosity of the benefactors is recorded on a Board in the Committee Room of the House.
In addition to its general funds the House administers funds in trust, some being for special purposes and others not, but in respect of which it has been the custom to retain the name of the Founders as distinctive of their endowments. Of the many generous gifts and bequests extending the scope of the House's charity, amongst the largest is the Inverclyde Bequest Fund for Seamen, which was received by the House in 1926. On the recommendations of local committees the annual revenue of this notable bequest is distributed to seamen's missions in Scotland, Liverpool and Manchester, Belfast and New York and Boston.
Despite state-funded benefits, the experience of the House is that distress among elderly people can only be alleviated by charitable institutions such as the House and, indeed there has been no reduction in the need for assistance. The effect of past periods of inflation continues to be felt and has meant hardship and worry for many whose pensions have not kept pace and the House is greatly concerned to do what it can. All appeals being carefully scrutinized.
Liaison is maintained with other charitable institutions, such as Hutchesons’ Hospital and the Royal Society for Relief of Indigent Gentlewomen of Scotland, so that the most effective assistance may be afforded to those in need.
In addition the benevolence of the House extends to charitable institutions. Amongst those assisted in recent times are Erskine, East Park Home, Guide
Dogs for the Blind, The Boys’ Brigade Glasgow Battalion, Citizens Theatre, Greater Glasgow Scout Council, Princess Royal Maternity Unit and many others.
It is rare that a month passes without fresh appeals being made to the House. All are carefully considered and assistance given to the best of the House's ability. There is no doubt that, were unlimited funds available, the scope is there for increased benevolence by grants to Institutions such as those mentioned above, and others whom the Directors have regretfully had to reject.
The House also makes grants from its funds to various educational institutions and provide bursaries. Special mention should be made of the George Craig Trust. The Bequest made by the late Mr George Craig, Consulting Chemist and Chemical Engineer in Glasgow, provides that the Fund may be applied for by school children, undergraduates or students at central institutions.
A recent trust to come under the Merchants House jurisdiction is the RNVR Club (Scotland) Memorial Trust. The income from this trust enables 12 young people each year between the ages of 16 and 25 to experience a short voyage on a Tall Ship.
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