Sunday 22 November 2015

The Glasgow Poorhouses

The Workhouses, or Poorhouses of Glasgow


As Christmas approaches and we dust off Dickens's book A Christmas Carol for another read, I was left reflecting on what the arrangements in Glasgow were with regards to the workhouse, or as they were more commonly called in Scotland, the Poorhouse or Poor's Houses. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 and in it the themes he often comes back to are to the fore, particularly the need to provide for children in poverty, and the risks of them lacking education and falling into a life of crime. When the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the two children huddled beneath his robe he tells him
"The boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased"
The ghost throws back Scrooge's own words at him, as he earlier had ignored or failed to see the suffering of his fellow man. When he asks the ghost if they have no resources or refuge the ghost replies
" 'Are there no prisons' said the spirit turning on him for the last time with his own words. 'Are there no workhouses' " 

The Deserving and Undeserving Poor 


With Scotland having a separate legal system from the rest of the UK, our arrangements were slightly different from those of the Dickensian workhouses of London and Manchester. Some of the earliest Scottish Laws on poor relief were focused on a theme which the Conservative Party of today still seems to be putting at the centre of their policies, dividing people into the deserving and undeserving poor. A 1424 Act of the Scottish Parliament distinguished between able-bodied beggars and those not physically able to work for their living. The latter could be given a token by authorities allowing them to beg, whilst those deemed to be able-bodied beggars could be arrested and given 40 days to find work or face imprisonment. This seems rather chillingly like Ian Duncan Smith's benefits regime.

The liability of each parish to look after their "deserving poor" was made more formal in an Act of 1535. At this time Glasgow was a town of only 3000 people. Each parish had to now make collections to support their own elderly and infirm poor residents. The 1579 Act For The Punischment of Strang and Idle Beggars, and Reliefe of the Pure and Impotent and a further Act 20 years later shifted responsibility for poor relief to the churches. They could raise money from donations, collections, fees and rents and support those deemed powerless to help themselves. The "aged, impotent and pure people should have lodging and abiding places". The "strong beggars and their bairns" should be employed in "common work". The children of beggars could be taken by land-owners to do unpaid work until the age of 18 for girls and 24 for boys. Unpaid work in return for meagre support was a tool used later in the poorhouses too, and again, sadly, has been revived in our current system.

Town's Hospital and Poorhouse


By 1672 the idea of forcing the poor to work in order to live was stiffened with an Act which made magistrates build "correction houses" or workhouses where beggars could be detained and made to work. The Act of Union of 1707 joins Scotland to England but the Scottish legal system remains separate from the English system. Glasgow now had a population of around 15,000 people and was mainly centred around the High Street and cathedral area. In 1726 Daniel Defoe visited the city and described it as
"The cleanest and best-built city in Britain."
At this time 400 students were attending the University of Glasgow on the High Street, a university which was almost 300 years old by this time. In 1756 James Watt would be working here when he develped his ideas for the steam engine. During this period Tennents open a new brewery in the city, the Foulis brothers begin printing here and John Smith's bookshop opens. In 1731 it is decided that a workhouse is to be founded in the city. Known as the Town's Hospital and Poorhouse it was built on the north bank of the River Clyde, near to where Ropework Lane meets Clyde Street today. St Andrews Cathedral was built at a site west of it in 1816.

The Town's Hospital and Poorhouse in Glasgow was sited
 just to the right of St Andrews Cathedral in this photo

Map from the 1700s showing location of the Town's Hospital on the Clydeside (click to expand)
Managed by directors representing in equal parts the local church parishes, the Trades Guild, the Merchants Guild and the elected town council it was designed to "aliment and educate upwards of 152 men, widows and orphans of the city". An infirmary block was later added at the rear with basement accommodation "for lunatics". A year after opening there were 60 old people and 91 children living here.

Town's Hospital, Glasgow
A later director of the Town's Hospital, Robert McNair, is credited with trying to improve the lot of the "insane folk" accommodated here. After he had raised the funding, a new "Glasgow Asylum for Lunatics" was built from 1810 and opened four years later. An 1888 book on Glasgow medical institutions reports that
"the heart of this good man was touched by the wretched condition of the insane folk, who at the beginning of the century, whatever their social condition, were kept in "the cells" at the Poorhouse at the banks of the Clyde; and, as improvement of the cells was impossible, he determined to procure for them better care and treatment elsewhere"

1845 Scottish Poor Law Act


A Commission of Enquiry established in 1843 into the poor relief system in Scotland found that relief organised at a parish level was being provided mainly to the ill, the physically and mentally infirm and the elderly. This report led to the 1845 Scottish Poor Law Act which maintained this organisational arrangement and introduced a new tier of supervision. Unlike the act in England, in Scotland the act allowed that relief could be given as cash or in kind. A poorhouse could be set up to shelter the sick and destitute, but those deemed able-bodied were excluded. After the new Act of 1845 provision of poor relief in Glasgow was divided into four parishes: City, Barony, Govan and Gorbals.

  • City

In 1841 the Glasgow Asylum for Lunatics was requiring more space, no longer able to expand in the rapidly growing city. They chose a new site, three miles west of the city, and built a new hospital which opened in 1843 as the Royal Asylum at Gartnavel. This consisted of "two separate houses, for the higher and lower class of patients respectively".

The Town's Hospital on the Clydeside was closed in 1845 and the city poorhouse was relocated to the vacated Glasgow Asylum building in the city centre. This became known as The Glasgow City Poorhouse (although as is always the way, it was also known to many still as the Town's Hospital). This meant that the City Poorhouse now had 1500 beds and was one of the largest institutions in Britain. Although it offered food and shelter for those with nowhere else to go, living conditions were maintained at a level that discouraged all but the most desperate. Anyone with living family was expected to seek support from them firstly. Males and females were separated, children were separated from their parents. Reports in the 1880s criticised the poor sanitation and the overcrowding at the institution. One report found that the 290 male residents shared just two baths to take their weekly bath, a process that took 12 hours to complete. You really wouldn't want to be near the end of the queue, would you? Disability of some type, mental or physical, was usually a requirement for admission to these institutions, so they were fitted with infirmary wings and a degree of medical support.

1882 Glasgow map showing location of the City Poorhouse (click to expand)
The City Poorhouse was on the north side of Parliamentary Road, which no longer exists. The alignment of roads around here has changed quite a bit, but this site, south-west of Dobbies Loan, is now roughly where Glasgow Caledonian University sits.

Glasgow Caledonian University now occupies
the site of the Glasgow City Poorhouse

  • Barony

The Barony parish of Glasgow was one of the most densely populated, although the City area had more prevalent poverty. It was located to the north and east of the city centre. Extending over an area of 14 square miles it had a population of almost 300,000 in 1845. In 1853 the poor board built Barnhill Poorhouse in Springburn which had beds for 160 people. It had hospital facilities on the site, which were extended in time with a nearby hospital built, which later was developed to become Stobhill Hospital. A report in 1885 at Barnhill Poorhouse found that
"The women in the washhouse still receive tea and bread in addition to class C diet - an unnecessary, and in some respects mischievous indulgence"
Able-bodied inmates here were obliged to make up to 350 bundles of firewood per day, or break 5cwt. of stones per day. Those not achieving this were put in solitary confinement and given a bread and water diet.

Site of Barnhill Poorhouse, Springburn (click to expand)
Under the 1845 Act, like other parishes, Barony was obliged to provide care and treatment for "lunatics" (as these people were called at the time). As they were no longer able to accommodate the increasing numbers requiring treatment in Barnhill Poorhouse, in 1871 Barony parish bought land at Woodilee, near Lenzie to build Barony Parochial Asylum, later known as Woodilee Hospital.

Plans for Woodilee Hospital, Lenzie (click to expand)

  • Govan and Gorbals
The Gorbals as an area with high deprivation struggled to raise adequate funds for poor relief and never established a poorhouse. In 1873 it was combined with Govan parish for this purpose. Prior to this they had been accommodating some of the poor of the Gorbals in Govan Poorhouse, which was built in 1852. This lay on the west side of Eglington Street, on the site of the former cavalry barracks, which lies roughly underneath the M74 extension now. Prior to that Govan had a poorhouse on Dale Street (now Tradeston Street). With demand rising a new site was found in Merryflatts. Built between 1867-1872 this consisted initially of a poorhouse, a hospital for 240 beds for medical, surgical and obstetric cases and a lunatic asylum for 180 people. As in other poorhouses the nurses were often unpaid and selected from the female residents of the poorhouse.

1912 map showing site of Govan Poorhouse (click to expand)
The map above shows the lay out of the Govan Poorhouse and asylum, which later was to become the Southern General Hospital. From 1902 major extensions added space for 700 more beds at Govan Poorhouse and in 1912 Govan became part of the Glasgow parish. In recent years the old wards at the Southern General Hospital have finally been closed down, with the building of the (so-called) Queen Elizabeth University Hospital here. The main poorhouse building can still be seen on the eastern side of the new hospital site.

Govan Poorhouse, Glasgow, with male and female wings either side of the central entrance.
Later it became the Southern General Hospital

New Queen Elizabeth University Hospital looming over the
old poorhouse/ Southern General wards

With the new hospital now open, most of the old buildings are being demolished
The excellent workhouses.org.uk website have trawled the 1881 census to find the names, ages and occupations of the residents of all the Glasgow poorhouses in that year. Follow the link here to see the names of the Govan Poorhouse inmates that year.

The 20th Century


In 1898 the City and Barony parishes merged to pull their resources. The new single poor law authority of Glasgow commissioned the building of three new establishments: Stobhill Hospital, The Eastern District Hospital and the Western District Hospital . In 1905 the City Poorhouse was closed and residents transferred to Barnhill Poorhouse. The hospital accommodation was now separate from the poorhouse facilities. In 1912 the Govan parish was also merged with Glasgow. 

Stobhill Hospital was the largest of the new poor law hospitals, with nearly 1800 beds, 200 of which were for the management of patients with psychiatric problems. It consisted of 28 two-storey red brick blocks, many of which were linked by corridors over time. It was used to treat the chronically ill, needy children and the residents of the City and Barony areas with tuberculosis. Stobhill Hospital was used during the First World War for wounded servicemen, who arrived by train on a specially built platform in the hospital grounds. 

Stobhill Hospital today, with its B-listed clock tower
There are still psychiatric wards at Stobhill Hospital today, and day care and out-patient facilities. The rest of the  in-patient services have been transferred to other Glasgow hospitals.

The smaller Western District Hospital built from 1902-04 was also known as Oakbank Hospital. It was used for the treatment of acute medical and surgical cases. They also had a labour suite. It has now been demolished but lay at Garscube Cross, on a triangle of land between Possil Road, Garscube Road and the Forth and Clyde Canal. 

Oakbank Hospital, Glasgow
It too was used by the military during the First World War. Bizarrely Muhammad Ali seems to have visited patients in Oakbank Hospital and signed autographs whilst he was in Glasgow in 1965 (then named Cassius Clay). It was closed in 1971 and demolished. This bit of land contains some shabby, modern industrial units now, some of them derelict. 

Site today of the old Western District Hospital / Oakbank Hospital 
Built at the same time was the Eastern District Hospital, usually referred to as Duke Street Hospital. It's grand sandstone entrance block on Duke Street is all that remains, most of the rest of the hospital site now being a car park for a branch of Lidl. When it opened in 1904 it was a 240 bed hospital, with some beds specifically for psychiatric assessment. 

1912 map showing site of Eastern District Hospital on Duke Street (click to expand)
On the left, the remaining block of Duke Street Hospital 
All of these poor law hospitals came under control of the municipal authorities in 1930, and were incorporated into the National Health Service, when it was formed in 1948. All services at Duke Street Hospital finally came to an end in 1996. 

Requesting Poor Relief


The Mitchell Library in Glasgow has the records of all those who made a claim from the city under the Poor Law. I recently went there to look for any of my ancestors who had got into a position of having to claim poor relief. The records kept here show that the enquiries made into their claims went into a great deal of detail at times. They tried to establish the circumstances of the individual, and sought a lot of detail about family members, parentage, marriage and the income of relatives. To undertake a search here look for the names that you are interested in on the computers of the library's archive department on the 5th floor. The archivists can then retrieve the records of the individual's application for you to read. 

I looked up the records on four of my relatives and on only one case were they judged to merit any assistance. The first relative that I found, Johanna, was 23 years old in 1891 when she was requesting help, as she had no means to support herself and her 1 year old son. The interview recorded that her husband had left her 2 weeks before and she had left Kilmarnock to reside with her parents in Govan. She was refused any relief on the grounds that she "Left husband". No matter the details of her situation, she was still expected to be supported by him or her parents.

Her family situation obviously did not improve as 19 years later in 1910 her son John, living with her in a flat in Ibrox, made a claim for poor relief. His claim was also rejected, as they found that a year previously he had been resident in Kyle Union Poorhouse in Ayr. It was therefore deemed that poorhouse liability for him lay with Ayr and he was advised to seek their support. 

Next I looked at a claim by a 75 year old relative of mine in 1905. Margaret was living in Balshagray Avenue. Her husband had died 5 years earlier in the asylum in Ayr. Despite her age, the interview recorded her parents' occupations and the occupations of her deceased husband and of his parents. Fleshers, pithead enginemen and carriers, their job titles evoke the times they lived in. Her children and their occupations were documented too and her claim rejected as she was expected to seek support from her nearest son, who lived and worked in Lenzie. 

Lastly I looked at the claim for support from William, aged 31, in November 1923. He was a "furniture packer" who it was reported, without much detail, had been unable to work for five weeks. His father, an engineer was dead and he was living with his mother, who had no other support, on Delburn Street, Parkhead. It was noted that he had been in the army for three and a half years (during the First World War) and when working was earning 20 shillings a week. He was granted 8 shillings a week but also referred to the Eastern District Hospital. A copy of a letter by the doctor who assessed him at the Eastern District Hospital was included in the file. In this brief letter which led to his detention in hospital, the doctor who signs it declares that "William...., is mental and is requiring hospital treatment." Not really the way doctors would describe someone today I hope, and no further details of William's illness are recorded.

Detained in 1923 for psychiatric treatment
He was treated in the Eastern District Hospital (Duke Street Hospital) for four weeks, before being transferred on Boxing Day 1923 to Woodilee Hospital. He was detained there for five more months before being released in May 1924, the case closed with the single word "Recovered". It is impossible to know what led to his illness, whether it was due to his war service or to other problems that he had, but these cases illustrate the hoops that people without means had to jump through to get help.

Bellgrove Hotel, Glasgow. Are poorhouses really a thing of the past?
I would like to say that we live in more enlightened times, but sadly reading about this and the way the poor were assessed and judged over the past 500 years does seem uncomfortably close to the language and system which we have in place today. Scrooge today can walk past those asking that we help the poor and demand
"Are there no foodbanks? Are there no fitness for work tests?"


NB. Can I heartily recommend that if you want to find out about old Glasgow hospitals a great place to start would be to read "The Medical Institutions of Glasgow. A Handbook" written in 1888, which is reproduced here

Sunday 15 November 2015

Julia Holter. Gig review, Glasgow November 2015

Julia Holter at the Hug and Pint, Glasgow. Nov 2015


Julia Holter is a musician, composer, singer from Los Angeles who I first started following as her first album, Tragedy, appealed to me by being unfashionably inspired by Euripides play Hippolytus. The music was as interesting as the concept, full of breathy voices, field recordings, drones mixed with a medieval dreamy atmosphere. Next album had more pop overtones, but in the manner of Laurie Anderson or David Sylvian. A concept album inspired by Collette's novel Gigi (Loud City Song) and now her latest album Have You In My Wilderness have followed. 

She arrived tonight in Glasgow to tour her latest album, as part of a four piece band made up of herself on keyboards and vocals, Dina Maccabee (viola, vocals), Devin Hoff (double bass), and Corey Fogel (drums, vocals).




For me it was also my first chance to take in a gig at The Hug and Pint. I lived around the corner from here for about ten years, when the pub sported a picture of an old car wheel outside and was called The Hub. It then became The Liquid Ship, using the basement for live music several days a week. They now use the same downstairs space that hosted gigs in its former guise as The Liquid Ship, but with some internal walls knocked down to open up the space a bit. It can accommodate 100 people apparently, and tonight's gig was sold out, making it a cosy affair. Upstairs the large kitchen area leaves a small bar squished into one corner. The food is described as "vegan Far Eastern" and if that is the cuisine that you have been waiting for, then this is the place for you.

First up was Danish singer-songwriter SΓΈren Juul, an indie Jean Michel Jarre. When Julia Holter arrived on stage the start of her set was disrupted a bit by a dodgy microphone and she appeared a bit frazzled, bemoaning being cooped up in a van for 9 hours today, and not being able to get into the toilet to get herslf ready. This is the second time that I have seen her play in Glasgow, she played the CCA a couple of years ago. On both occasions she completed the venue on their LA-style food (or maybe LA on its Glasgow-style food?) Once she warmed up the show ticked along nicely, jazz-tinged electronic pop introduced with a smirk and some droll comments. With a 50:50 mixture of tracks from the new album and some older material the songs varied from baroque harmonies to ones with jaunty whistling. Finishing the main set with a quiet ending and bowed head, someone's perfectly timed phone gave us a Dom Joly ringtone, and raised another smirk.




It was a great show, and surely merited a bigger venue than the cramped basement here. She has definitely outgrown this type of space. With the likes of Ela Orleans, Joanna Newsom, Holly Herndon, Grimes, Zola Jesus, FKA twigs, Lykke Li, etc. it is clear that women are currently making some of the most interesting and cerebral music around.


Saturday 7 November 2015

Votes for Women. Glasgow and the Suffragettes

Suffragettes of Glasgow and Scotland 


As a schoolchild in Glasgow we learnt about the suffragettes in 'O' Grade history. We learnt of their imprisonment, hunger strikes and release and re-arrest under the "Cat and Mouse Act". Emily Davison and her death whilst running in front of the King's horse at the Derby in 1913, and women being granted the vote in 1918 after World War I were also covered. The recent release of the film Suffragette has brought their campaigning to a new audience, covering pretty much the major points I remember from school. What I was less aware of were the actions of suffragettes in Scotland and Glasgow. 


This was brought home to me on hearing that there is a tree in Glasgow, planted in 1918 to commemorate the struggle these suffragettes. I had not been aware of the "Suffragette Oak" until it won the curious accolade as Scotland's tree of the year 2015.

So I have tried to find out some more about these Scottish women, but discovered that sadly there is surprisingly little information widely available on their activities. It is obviously an area that would benefit from more research and those at the Glasgow Women's Library are one of the teams of people trying to address this.


Early campaigners for the vote in the United Kingdom, such as the Chartists, had many in their ranks campaigning for "universal suffrage", for the rights of all men and women to vote. The Representation of the People Act of 1832 (also called the Great Reform Act) was a disappointment to many when the term "male persons" was specifically included in it. This gradually led to the development of a specific campaign to get women the right to vote, women's suffrage. Organisations such as the National Society for Women's Suffrage, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies and the Glasgow and West of Scotland Woman's Suffrage Movement campaigned, organised petitions and held meetings. However as their members saw little progress some women looked to take more militant actions.


There was some political support for their campaigning.The Scottish Labour Party (later becoming the national Independent Labour Party or ILP) founded in 1888 by Keir Hardie, Shaw Maxwell and John Murdoch had "the establishment of universal adult suffrage" as the first item on its programme. When some women members of the ILP felt that its campaigning for women's suffrage was half-hearted, they left to form the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). This was founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst and others in 1903. They opened their first Scottish branch in Glasgow in 1906 at 141 Bath Street in the city centre. From the start their motto was "Deeds, not words". Their aim wasn't just to win votes for women, but by doing so to improve the lives and opportunities for women. 


My grandfather's family were active in the ILP
and this was a card, of Women's Freedom League
founder Charlotte Despard, that he had held onto

There was also the breakaway Women's Freedom League who believed in non-violent protest. One of their founding members was the Edinburgh-born, Anglo-Irish Charlotte Despard. She had previously spent two terms in Holloway Prison but disliked the authoritarian way that Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst ran the WSPU. She had met Gandhi in 1909 and was impressed with his ideas of "passive resistance". She was also a member of the ILP, knew Keir Hardie and had known Eleanor Marx. In Glasgow they established a tea room and bookshop at 302 Sauchiehall Street, before moving to larger premises at 70 St Georges Road, where the M8 now sits at Charing Cross. They preferred passive resistance such as not paying taxes or even dog licences and refused to participate in the 1911 census. They took up the cry of the American colonies from two centuries earlier "No taxation, without representation".

Anna Munro, organiser of the Women's
Freedom League in Scotland
In Glasgow many organisers of the local WSPU held strongly socialist principles, such as Helen Crawfurd and Janie Allan. Helen Crawfurd spent a month in prison in 1912 for smashing the windows at the premises of Education Minister Jack Pease. She had at least two further spells in prison, going on hunger strike on one occasion. When Janie Allan was arrested in London for smashing windows and sentenced to four months imprisonment, a petition from Glasgow signed by over 10,000 people demanded her release. She went on hunger strike in prison and like many others was brutally force fed whilst in jail.

Dr Marion Gilchrist
When the Glasgow offices of the WSPU opened on Bath Street in 1908 Dr Marion Gilchrist made a speech. She was the first woman in Scotland to qualify from university as a medical doctor, graduating from the University of Glasgow in 1894. She became a general practitioner in the west end of Glasgow and worked also as an eye surgeon at the Victoria Infirmary and the Redlands Hospital for Women. A member of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Women's Suffrage Movement since 1903 she left and joined the WSPU in 1907. She said in her 1908 speech that she now saw... 
"...clearly that nobody has done more for the cause than those militant suffragists. They have been the most heroic and deserve the highest praise. They have brought the question to the public notice and that was what the advocates of women suffrage who had carried on the work quietly for 60 years had failed to do"

Initially the actions of the WSPU were focused on raising awareness of their cause, holding public meetings, selling literature and opening new branches. Much of the activity at this time was towards a major march planned in Edinburgh in October 1909. 

March in Edinburgh for Women's Votes, 1909
Many artists in Glasgow such as Helen Fraser, Jessie Newbery and Ann Macbeth were drawn to the suffragette cause. Jessie Newbery founded the embroidery department at Glasgow School of Art and was married to the art school principal. She was an associate of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Ann Macbeth succeeded her as head of the embroidery department in 1911 and was responsible for creating many of the high quality suffragette banners. She herself was imprisoned and endured solitary confinement and forcible feedings in the name of the cause. Her colleagues at GSA supported her protests. In May 1912, she wrote to the Secretary of the School thanking him for his ’kind letter’. 
"I am still very much less vigorous than I anticipated’, she said, ’after a fortnight’s solitary imprisonment with forcible feedings … but the doctor thinks this will improve when I get away"

Like many other women protesters who were force fed, she suffered long-term ill health. She retired to Cumbria, where she continued her design work and her writing.

Ann Macbeth
In March 1912, in Glasgow, Emily Green was arrested for smashing six windows on Sauchiehall Street as protests turned increasingly violent. Attacks in galleries in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London are reported with "a valuable painting" in Kelvingrove Art Gallery being attacked with a hatchet. These actions were reported around the world.

Aug 1909, Boston newspaper report of Glasgow actions of a suffragette

In 1913 Glasgow pillar boxes were attacked with acid by Jessie Stephen, a domestic servant and trade unionist who headed the Domestic Workers' Union. She was never caught for this. She stated afterwards that dressed as a servant nobody paid her any attention as she deposited her acid containing packages. As a working class suffragette and member of the ILP she also apparently enlisted dockers in the ILP to "deal with" hecklers at WSPU meetings. Elsewhere in Scotland suffragettes cut telegraph wires in Dumbarton, Leuchars train station in Fife was burnt to the ground. An attempt was made to burn down the new stand at Kelso racecourse, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire mansions were burnt down, a portrait of the King was slashed at the Royal Academy in Edinburgh and politicians were attacked or heckled throughout the country. Bowling greens in Glasgow had their lawns cut up, the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh was bombed and the marker flags at Balmoral golf course were replaced one night with flags in the WPSU colours of green, white and purple.

WPSU supporters picketing outside Duke Street Prison in Glasgow
Since 1909 imprisoned suffragettes had been going on hunger strike to protest their cause and being force fed whilst imprisoned. This often had severe effects on the health of these women. By 1913 there were increasing numbers of women being arrested for their actions and the authorities struggled to cope with the numbers going on hunger strike. Fearing a death in custody creating a martyr, in 1913 the Liberal government passed the Prisoners Temporary Discharge For Ill-health Act (better known as The Cat and Mouse Act), temporarily releasing prisoners on hunger strike, to re-imprison them when their health improved.

Suffragette protest against the
Cat and Mouse Act
Different prisons in Scotland applied the laws in different ways, with Perth prison having some of the most brutal regimes, with women tied down for days on end and force fed. Arabella Scott, arrested after the fire at Kelso racecourse, endured five weeks of being force fed at Perth Prison after her re-arrest in June 1914 under the Cat and Mouse Act. During this time she was tied to a bed and not allowed to see anyone. Duke Street Prison in Glasgow had a reputation for less severe treatment of their suffragette prisoners with some suggestion that the governess was more sympathetic to their cause, or possibly to their class background. Whatever the reason, one curious artifact which the Glasgow Women's Library possess is an umbrella stand from  the governess's office at the prison. Rescued from a skip when the prison was demolished this was apparently painted in the nearest they could get to the WPSU colours by suffragette prisoners in the jail.

Umbrella stand from Duke Street Prison

Ellison and Margaret Gibb


Assault on Miss Ellison Gibb of Hillhead Glasgow
Beyond these prominent women leading the fight, there were many other lesser lights from around the country taking action and making sacrifices. A pair of Glasgow suffragette sisters that I had never heard of I recently discovered on reading the chess blog of Ilkley Chess Club. 

Ellison Gibb and Margaret Gibb lived at Elliot House, Elliot Street, Hillhead in Glasgow (now 40 Cresswell Street just off Byres Road). Their father was fish merchant Peter Gibb. Their mother, Margaret Skirving Gibb, was the founding member of the Glasgow Ladies Chess Club in 1905. Ellison Gibb was first arrested in 1908 outside 10 Downing Street, and again later on in London for smashing windows. There is a newspaper report of her managing to get into the train compartment next to cabinet minister Winston Churchill on on a Stranraer to Glasgow train in 1912. After haranguing him on the suffragette cause Churchill seems to have lost his temper with her behaviour, and ended their dialogue with "Remove this woman". She was imprisoned several times at Holloway Prison, once for smashing the windows of  Barkers of Kensington and was also on hunger strike whilst in prison. In November 1912 she was imprisoned in Dundee for smashing windows. Afterwards a newspaper recounts (see above) how she was assaulted whilst protesting against the Prime Minister at Ladybank in November 1912. 

Margaret Gibb ("Ann Hunt") in Birmingham Mail, July 1914

Ellison Gibb's younger sister, Margaret Gibb (who also used the alias Ann Hunt), also took up the cudgels for the suffragette cause. In the article above she has been arrested in London for attacking John Millais's portrait of Thomas Carlyle in the the National Portrait Gallery "with a chopper". She is quoted in court unrepentedly as saying
"The picture will have an added value and be of great historical interest because it has been honoured by the attention of a militant"
There is a striking police surveillance photograph of Margaret Gibb on the Museum of London website. It records that she was sentenced to two months in Holloway prison for striking a constable outside the prison with a dog whip.

Margaret Gibb exercising in the yard of Holloway Prison
Their suffragette activities quietened down during the war, but the Ilkley Chess Club blogger tracks the sisters down in later chess matches that they take part in. I do love this report below in the Glasgow Herald of a match played by the Glasgow Ladies Chess Club in 1923 against Paisley Chess Club. "A surprise was in store for the spectators as the ladies were victorious" although the reporter explains away the victory due to a weakened Paisley team, naturally. Both Gibb sisters can be seen to have won their games in this match: from chopping paintings in the National Portrait Gallery, to beating the Paisley men at chess. Well done Margaret Gibb. 



The Campaign Continues


In 1914 the newspapers reported further "Scottish outrages" as the Glasgow Herald put it. Janet Arthur was arrested whilst trying to blow up Burns Cottage in Alloway, Bonnington House in Lanark was completely destroyed by fire. In January 1914 two bombs are placed at the Kibble Palace in Glasgow's Botanic Gardens. Night watchman David Watters discovered a bomb with a burning fuse, which he cut, only to be "stunned" moments later by the blast of another bomb which smashed 27 panes of glass and caused minor damage to some plants. Although nobody was found committing the act, the evidence was clear as the papers report "footprints clearly indicate the high heels of ladies shoes”. Later Helen Crawfurd was arrested in connection with this and sentenced to two years imprisonment, though released after going on hunger strike.

American newspaper report of the incident in January 1914
There were many public meetings held on Glasgow Green for the suffragette cause, often addressed by members of the Pankhurst family on speaking tours. One particular meeting addressed by Emmeline Pankhurst at St Andrews Halls on 9th March 1914 became known as the "battle of Glasgow". At the time the police were trying to re-arrest Mrs Pankhurst under the Cat and Mouse Act and her attendance at the meeting was kept secret, although much anticipated. The front of the stage was decorated with white and purple flowers, which concealed a string of barbed wire and many women at the meeting were apparently armed with clubs, expecting the police to charge the stage. Having smuggled Mrs Pankhurst into the hall past a police cordon outside, as soon as she began to speak the police made their move and 50 police officers who had been in the basement and several plain clothes officers already in the hall charged forwards. A blank was fired from a pistol by one of the women bodyguards present, whilst others revealed the clubs they had concealed about their person or tried to defend Mrs Pankhurst from the police with ju-jitsu that they had been practicing. The actions of the baton-wielding police, at what was a legal meeting, shocked many people and generated publicity for the suffragette cause. The suffragettes also got adverse publicity for their violent response in reports in the Daily Record (which carried the photograph below) and other newspapers. After the meeting 4000 people marched to the Central Police Station to protest. Helen Crawfurd was arrested for attacking police officers who were attempting to arrest the suffragette leader Emily Pankhurst at the public meeting in St. Andrews Halls in Glasgow. Although released later that night without charge, Helen was promptly re-arrested the following night for smashing the windows of the army recruiting offices in Glasgow, and was sentenced to one month's imprisonment in Duke Street prison in Glasgow.

Weapons carried by suffragettes at the meeting in 1914
There was a failed attempt to set fire to the waiting rooms of both platforms of the Shields Road train station in Glasgow and in May 1914 a bomb, which failed to detonate, is discovered under the viaduct bringing water to Glasgow from Loch Katrine.

May 1914


War


In July 1914 war with Germany was declared and the women of Scotland declared a truce with the government, to fight the common enemy. The munitions factories, public transport and farms throughout the land would become largely staffed by women. Women took up roles as nurses and doctors at field hospitals in France, such as Glasgow nurse Agnes Climie, who died when the hospital she was working at in France was bombed by enemy aircraft.

Many suffragettes were also pacifists and opposed the war on principle. Sylvia Pankhurst came to Glasgow to speak at John MacLean's great anti-war demonstrations in the city. Helen Crawfurd held strong anti-war beliefs and turned away from the WSPU and sought new directions for the "women's movement". 

Helen Crawfurd, Oct 1915

Helen's involvement in the WSPU ceased shortly after the outbreak of the first world war because of the pro-war stance of Emily Pankhurst and the WSPU leadership. She became a powerful voice against poverty in the city and for peace. A relentless campaigner, she was secretary of the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association and a key player in the Rent Strikes of 1915, alongside other women such as Mary Barbour. A founder of the Women’s Peace Crusade in Glasgow, Crawfurd was also an associate of John MacLean.

Glasgow Rent Strike 1915

Votes For Women


The women's war effort was acknowledged when the Representation of the People Act 1918 granted women over the age of 30 the vote. A separate act that year also allowed woman to stand for election to Parliament for the first time. A further act in 1928 extended the franchise for women, lowering the age limit to 21, giving women voting equality with men. By the time Lochgelly's Jennie Lee was elected to parliament in 1929 representing the ILP, and becoming the youngest MP in the House of Commons at 24 years of age, she was in the curious position of still being too young to vote. 

Having won the vote, women now had to carry on the fight for their rights, a battle still being waged.


Tuesday 3 November 2015

Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai and friends. Charity Gig, Glasgow

Child Refugee Crisis Appeal, Save The Children Fundraising Concert, Glasgow. November 2015


With the refugee crisis in Europe making headlines around the world, local band Belle and Sebastian announced that they would perform in Glasgow to raise funds to help. Belle and Sebastian were soon joined in the line up by Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill (of Simple Minds), Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, Young Fathers and comedian Josie Long. The point of the concert was to raise money for the Child Refugee Crisis Appeal for Save the Children UK. The gig website stated that 
"Belle and Sebastian, humbly, and with a good will, wish to stand behind the displaced peoples of Syria in their brave attempt to find a better life in Europe. If governments won't help them, then the people must. "
If you are able to contribute to the fundraising appeal, there is information on how to do this via the Save The Children website here.

Neil from Save The Children reminding us why we are here

As for the gig itself it seems churlish to review it as a gig, as the whole point of the evening was to raise money and spread goodwill, but it consisted of a lot of great Scottish bands that I've seen already many times over. So for me the whole evening was just a great big treat. Without meaning to, I ended up getting seats in the front row, which was odd. The Armadillo is such a nice, sedate venue with comfy seats, and they let you take glass bottles to your seat. I was overly aware that about the only row of seats that the bands could see from the stage was the one which had me and my brother sitting in it so I was smiling and on best behaviour. It was a line up that required standing up and swaying, but we just sat back and let them entertain us.

Young Fathers

Edinburgh trio Young Fathers opened the evening. They have been outspoken on immigration and refugee issues before. Their current tour is titled "We Are All Migrants" and in 2014 I had seen them perform at a World Refugee Day gig in the Old Fruitmarket. They are a phenomenal live act and this is the fourth or fifth time I have seen them live. As the earliest act, whilst people are still arriving they didn't let that distract them and just battered out their tunes. They got us to make some noise if we agreed that "Glasgow welcomes refugees". We obliged. I really hope that it is true, as I love my city and don't want to view it through rose-tinted spectacles, but I think that we've got a good record on this. I hope the council step up and offer homes to the people desperately needing them just now, who could bring so much to our city.

If you get the chance ever to see Young Fathers live I would encourage you to take it, as they are a phenomenal act.

Josie Long doing a gag about English politics and transport in London

Comedian Josie Long briefly made an appearance as compere. Her 15 minutes was enough to get the stage set for Mogwai. Post-rock behemoths Mogwai have just released an excellent retrospective compilation, "Central Belters", to mark their 20th year and in June played two nights at the Barrowlands to mark the anniversary.

Dominic Aitchison and Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai

 I love the way that they set up on stage, with a big gap at the middle and the music taking centre stage. They played a barn-storming 45 minutes set, finishing with "Remurdered" from their latest album, Rave Tapes.

Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand

Next up were Franz Ferdinand. They have recently been touring as one half of supergroup FFS, with the Mael brothers of Sparks, on the back of their recent collaborative album. I have seen them performing recently as FFS and previously playing the Barrowlands a few years ago as Franz Ferdinand and they are another great live act. Lead singer Alex Kapranos was the first of two ex-members of Glasgow ska stalwarts The Amphetameanies up on stage tonight. They battered through their hits, raised an arch eyebrow and bid us farewell. Entertaining as always.

Belle and Sebastian giving it laldy

Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian were the organisers of this whole event. Only a few months ago they had played across the car park from tonight's venue at the Hydro, as part of their ongoing world tour. Maybe it was because I was sat in the front row, but tonight's gig seemed a much more comfortable and homely affair for them. As is their want, they got people up to dance, much to the annoyance of the unnecessarily officious stewards at the venue. Really, is a Belle and Sebastian crowd going to start a riot? Lovely to hear some of the best tracks off of their latest album (Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance) plus a couple from If You're Feeling Sinister (Stars of Track and Field and Judy and the Dream of Horses.) They are always best when they've got a bit of brass backing them up and it was great to see Mick Cooke playing with them again (ex-Amphetameanie).

The Simple Minds/ Belle and Sebastian supergroup

The evening finished with the slightly surreal sight of Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill (off of Simple Minds) coming onto the stage to sing, with Belle and Sebastian as their backing band. If, like me, you went to school in the west of Scotland in the 1980s Simple Minds were omnipresent. I was too cool to be into them, but if you were ever on one of those new fangled telephone chatlines at that time, a standard opening gambit would be "What bands are you into, I like U2 and Simple Minds?"

Before Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill performed as Simple Minds, they were seen playing in Glasgow by my mum and dad in about 1977, when they were in punk band Johnny and the Self Abusers. I myself have bizarrely seen them perform twice before. I saw Simple Minds play at Wembley in 1988 when I drove down with my brother to the Nelson Mandela 70th birthday concert and they seemed to play at a fair few things last year at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, one of which I stumbled upon at the BBC building. Although most of the people dancing down in front of the stage wouldn't have been born when they were released, we got a rendition of Promised You a Miracle and Don't You Forget About Me (as featured in The Breakfast Club). Bonkers end to a fantastic night's entertainment.

Jim Kerr hamming it up in front of the
Save The Children logo (what a pro!)
If you are able to contribute to the fundraising appeal, there is information on how to do so on the Save The Children UK website here.