Mary Barbour

Remember Mary Barbour is a campaign to create a lasting memorial to one of Glasgow’s greatest heroes. Mary (1875-1938) was a Scottish political activist who is particularly remembered for her role leading the Rent Strikes of 1915. Unscrupulous landlords thought they could take of advantage of thousands of workers flocking to Glasgow to jobs in the shipyards and munitions factories during WW1.  Also, as many men were away fighting or in German prisoner of war camps, the landlords thought the women would be a soft touch. Step in Mrs Barbour and her Army! Read more on the campaign’s page but, suffice it to say, the landlords didn’t get away with it and Parliament passed the Rent Restriction Act, the first of its kind in Europe, setting rents for the duration of the war and for six months afterwards at pre-war levels.

It would be wonderful to have a statue of Mary in Govan, her home, in time for the centenary of the Rent Strikes next year. The campaign has so far raised enough money to commission maquettes (small-scale models) of five shortlisted designs. These were on display at the People’s Palace yesterday, and I went to have a look. Hover over the gallery to see the captions with the names of the sculptors.

Opinions were being collected – which would you have favoured? I like the one of Mary vigorously brandishing a placard, or the one with her hand in the air and her army following behind. They both have a sense of movement and determination. However, any of them would be an asset to a city which, as yet, has only three statues of women.

If you’re in Glasgow, or have Glasgow connections, keep an eye on the campaign’s website for news of more viewings. There is also a page on JustGiving if you wish to donate.


Scottish Screen Archive

Hillington Industrial Estate is not generally a very exciting place – but it has some surprising tenants. The Scottish Screen Archive has been located there for the past 9 years, and earlier today I had a fascinating tour of its premises with a group from Glasgow Women’s Library. A rather soulless building has been made attractive with colourful posters and displays of film related artefacts.

We were welcomed by Emily Munro, Learning and Outreach Officer, who gave us a brief introduction to the collection before taking us round the various departments to meet some of the 15 staff and find out what they do.

The collection was founded in 1976 and became part of the National Library of Scotland in 2007. It comprises mainly non fiction / social history material, though also includes anything funded by Creative Scotland. Films date from 1895 onwards and include both professional material (e.g. STV Archive – the BBC has its own – and all Gaelic TV broadcasts) and amateur films such as home movies.  The variety of formats is challenging as we saw later! The archive also holds paper records such as stills, press cuttings, scripts, ephemera and so on. Some SSA “shelfies”:

Next, we met staff from the acquisitions and metadata sections. Material is not usually purchased but donated, and they are very selective about what they accept in terms of subject matter and quality – only about 30%. Films are physically examined and repaired to be watched, assessed, and catalogued if accepted. Some material is referred on to more appropriate collections, e.g. BFI. Copyright and data protection must be carefully considered and agreements can change over time – the subjects of a home movie donated in the 1970s might not be happy to appear online, for example.

In the final part of the visit, Alan Russell, Preservation and Technical Manager, showed us the array of machines required to access and maintain the collection, many of which are irreplaceable.

Some of the less pleasant challenges in handling old film include vinegar syndrome, when the acetate breaks down, fungal growth on the gelatine, chalk separating out of videotape and, most alarmingly, the instability of nitrate film which can explode! (Unless you have some 35mm film from the 50s lying around you should be ok….)

Alan explained that digital restoration aims to make the film appear as it would have done when new, not upgrade it to modern standards or make amateur film look professional. It’s expensive and time-consuming to do, so tends to be restricted to unique items such as colour footage of the Queen Mary’s first voyage down the Clyde.

Find out more about the Archive and its holdings on its website (a new one is launching at the end of the month). Hillington is rather out-of-the-way and viewing facilities are very limited (see the Visiting us page for how to make an appointment) – but this will change in September next year when the Archive will move to the much more central Kelvin Hall alongside sports facilities and the stores of Glasgow Museums and Glasgow University’s Hunterian. This will provide event space, an exhibition area and drop-in access facilities as well as opportunities for cross-organisation co-operation. It sounds amazing!

Thanks to Emily, Alan and all the other staff for a brilliant visit. Before I finish, there is a link with another GWL trip I went on last week to the Glasgow Sculpture Studios. After looking at the current exhibition we took a trip on their Creative Cargo canal barge. It was fitted up as a mini-cinema, in conjunction with SSA, and one of the films on offer was The Bowler and the Bunnet, a 1967 documentary narrated and directed by Sean Connery on industrial relations at Fairfields’s shipyard in Govan. It wasn’t as dry as it sounds! We didn’t have time to see it all, but I was fascinated by discussion of what were then  new-fangled management methods such as job-evaluation. There are a couple of clips on the SSA’s catalogue record if you want a flavour of it.

Never a dull moment with GWL!

March of Women – Part 2

(The background to this project is in March of Women Part 1.)

March of Women has been and gone and it was a great day! The start wasn’t promising because the rain was pouring down when I arrived at Glasgow Women’s Library for the final rehearsals at 11am, but by the time we all spilled out into the streets at 2pm it had cleared and it stayed dry until we finished.

There were three parts to the event:

1. The pageant

In Cicely Hamilton’s 1909 Pageant of Great Women, Woman appeals to Justice for freedom and Prejudice gives reasons why she is not worthy (not clever enough, not brave enough – you get the picture). Three wonderful paid actors played these parts – Lesley Hart (Prejudice), Lucianne McEvoy (Justice) and Patricia Panther (Woman).

Woman makes her case by calling on significant women from history. In our version, Cicely Hamilton’s women had non-speaking parts and we wrote our own parts using mainly, but not exclusively, Scottish women. These are just a few – aren’t we all splendid? I was proud to represent Isabella Elder, and highlighted her contribution to allowing Scottish women access to higher education at the end of the 19th century.

2. The March

After the verdict (and it probably isn’t a spoiler to tell you that Woman wins her case) we formed a procession and marched to Glasgow Green where we were welcomed by SheBoom (a local women’s drumming troop).

3. The Event on the Green

This was the only part of the day in which I felt out of my comfort zone! Because I turned up to a particular rehearsal, I got roped into the choreographed event at the end of the March, on the old drying greens at Glasgow Green. The washing poles are still there – cue many jokes about pole dancing. My partner and I went slightly wrong at the end, but we survived. Then we had our photos taken in our groups, and it was over. I think we all felt elated that it went so well, but sad that we wouldn’t be doing it again. Still, there’s always the film to come…

All photos by John Marsh, who got himself a great seat right at the front. Thanks, John!

March of Women – Part 1

About 18 months ago, I joined a group at Glasgow Women’s Library called Drama Queens. We met at lunchtime or in the early evening and read plays from the library’s collection. One of those was A Pageant of Great Women, written by Cicely Hamilton in 1909, in which Prejudice puts the case against women’s suffrage and Woman rebuts his arguments with examples of great women from history. Now GWL is putting on its own version on 7th March (the eve of International Women’s Day), revised and updated with historic Scottish women. I’m proud to be representing Isabella Elder in this March of Women.

The day itself will merit its own post, but there has been an enormous amount happening in the meantime. Workshops, for example: research / writing workshops to create lines for “our” women and craft workshops to make banners, sashes and rosettes (being hopelessly ham-fisted I’ve opted out of this bit). A lecture (below, left) by Katharine Cockin, Professor of English at the University of Hull and author of Edith Craig (1869-1947): Dramatic Lives – Edith was the director of the original performance. Katharine explained that suffrage supporters in the arts were encouraged to use their expertise, resources and contacts to help spread the word, and in the period 1905-14 many women wrote a play, a poem or a short story, for the first time. Pageants and public spectacles had very specific meanings at that time, and I also found Linda Fleming’s article in Women’s History Scotland helpful in understanding that.

We had a Christmas party at which I did a bit of play-reading with Dr Anna Birch of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (above, right). Anna is March of Women’s Director – she has already directed A Pageant of Great Women, in Hull in 2011 so we are in experienced hands. The third photo above shows rehearsals beginning. These will culminate in a dress rehearsal on Friday 6th: we’ve all had to find white clothing which has not necessarily been easy!

Finally, I spent a very cold couple of hours last Friday in Glasgow Necropolis, where Isabella Elder is buried, being filmed talking about why I chose her. Some of that might make it into the documentary which is being made about the event. I’d like to say come and see us next Saturday, but the pageant is a sell-out. However, you can join us at 2pm outside GWL’s doors as we process to Glasgow Green (details via link in first paragraph). And if you can’t do anything else, please keep your fingers crossed for a dry day!

A family history

Some time ago, I came across the Glasgow University project A History of Working Class Marriage which was appealing for photographs of couples and families from the 1860s to the 1970s. I knew that my Mum had albums of old photographs, and together we chose some to scan and send. They can now be seen on the project’s Photos, love letters and diaries page, and not only that, the process has inspired my Mum to start writing about her early life and I’ve set up a blog for her. She has also been interviewed for her memories by one of the researchers. Here are the photographs which started it all off.

Above left are my great-great-grandparents Carson, seen here with Jenny Bell, a child from a branch of the family which had emigrated to America. On the right are John and Janet Sinclair, my great-grandparents. John Sinclair (b. 1866) came from Islay and worked as a ploughman around the west of Scotland, eventually ending up at the Carsons’ farm, The Green, in Kilmacolm. He married one of their daughters, Janet (b.1864), although not until after John, their first child and only son, was born in 1886. They are shown above, around 1888, with John and Meg, the eldest of their seven daughters, all of whom were born before 1901.

The Sinclairs lived on various farms until, in his fifties, John gave up farm work and returned to Kilmacolm as chief road mender. They moved into the Bridgend Toll House, which came with the job, with the youngest three girls. The four older girls had all moved on. Meg emigrated with her husband, Donald McPhail (below left, c 1910) to Western Australia and Belle and Jen went to Saskatchewan, Canada. Kate married before the 1914 war in which her husband, Stewart McClure, was given the MM – shown below right about 1918 with elder daughter, Nettie (Janet).

The three girls left at home all married between 1925 and 1931. Left to right, Christina, my grandmother, married my grandfather, Percy Stroud in 1925. Mary married Tom Stevenson in 1927 (I suspect wearing the same dress as her big sister) and is also shown in a “courting” photo. Her bridesmaid is the youngest sister, Annie, who married Bob Maskell in 1931. Wedding fashions had obviously moved on by then!

My grandparents had two daughters: my mum, another Chris, and my Aunt Annabel, and they had a double wedding to John Mitchell, my dad, and Jim McInnes. This photo was taken at the Tontine Hotel, Greenock on the 15th of August, 1956. My Mum and Dad had been engaged for 6 years. Dad worked on a farm when he left school, then in Hasties in Greenock before training for the Methodist ministry – 3 years as a student in Leeds and 3 years as a probationer in Findochty. The church did not allow marriage until after ordination. Basically, they didn’t pay enough to allow the men to “keep” a wife! On the extreme right are my grandparents, Chris and Percy, and on the extreme left are Anna and Bob Maskell who stood in as “parents of the bride” for my aunt. Anna and Chris turned up in the same dress – but different colours, apparently.

A double wedding
A double wedding

There are many more old photos and memories going onto my Mum’s blog, It was always sunnyAs I started a blog for my Dad last year when he gave up preaching, John Mitchell – called and sent, I now have two octogenarian bloggers in the family! I’m so proud of them both.

The Mackintosh Architecture Project


You would think, with Charles Rennie Mackintosh being so revered, especially in Glasgow, that a definitive survey of his architecture would have been made long ago. Wrong! The Mackintosh Architecture project, led by the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University, will be the first authoritative survey of all known architectural projects by Mackintosh and also, for the period of his professional career in Glasgow (1889 to 1913), of projects by John Honeyman & Keppie (from 1901 Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh). At the moment, the project link leads to sample pages from the resulting catalogue – the whole database goes live in July, and will be accompanied by a major exhibition at the Hunterian.

One of the researchers, Dr Nicky Imrie, recently came to the MmITS AGM to give a talk on her experiences of working on this fascinating project. She discussed the challenges of identifying Mackintosh’s architectural work, how they tackled the process of cataloguing and digitising the diverse sources, and some of the perils faced along the way, such as being accidentally locked into the odd building! The website now has 358 project entries and 2700 images and, although the catalogue is at its heart, it also contains biographies of contractors and clients, essays, a glossary and a map.

As a result, lesser known and under-researched architecture and buildings to which Mackintosh merely made a contribution have been documented. As they were working, researchers gave each a building a “Mack Factor” to indicate Mackintosh’s involvement. These ranged from 1 (beyond doubt) to 4 (executed during his period of employment but with no evidence of his involvement). There were two buildings mentioned which I know well, but which I had no idea had anything to do with Mackintosh.

I have walked past Ayton House in Dowanhill many times. Originally built around 1859, it was damaged in the 1941 blitz and almost demolished in the 1980s. However, a developer took it over and restored it with a decidedly 21st century penthouse. I’ve always been so fascinated by this that I’ve never looked round the side and noticed what Nicky identified as a Mackintosh extension with Mack Factor 1. Since the talk, I have been back to the house to photograph it:

The other building is Jordanhill School. I worked for many years at Jordanhill College / Campus which overlooked what was originally its demonstration school. I’m not sure what its Mack Factor is, as Nicky only mentioned it in passing but, according to Stuart McLean’s Jordanhill Local History site,  it was built by Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh after a design competition in 1912, and Mackintosh received £250 as his part in it – though there might have been some dispute about the exact attribution. I took the photograph below when I was documenting the campus before it closed in 2012.

Jordanhill School
Jordanhill School

All in all, this was a fascinating talk and I’m really looking forward to the exhibition and website going live so that I can find out more.

Disaster on the Green: the Templeton Disaster of 1889

Templeton Carpet Factory
Templeton Carpet Factory

In 1889, 29 young women lost their lives when a wall blew down in a gale at Templeton Carpet Factory on Glasgow Green. Last month, the Mitchell Library hosted a lecture, Disaster on the Green, by local history researcher Bill Black. As the disaster features in one of Glasgow Women’s Library’s Women’s Heritage Walks, a few of us from GWL’s Women Make History Group decided to go along. It was a fascinating, if sombre, evening.

The tragedy happened while the factory was under construction alongside the existing weaving sheds. James Templeton had hired architect William Leiper to produce the amazing west façade you can see above – apparently, wealthy residents of nearby Monteith Row did not want to live next to a factory, so the design was modelled on the Doge’s Palace in Venice in order to fit in with its upmarket surroundings, and also to match the grandeur of the carpets it would produce. However, engineer Alexander Harvey was responsible for the more functional mill behind it.

On 1 November 1889, an evening of driving rain, the builders finished at 5 pm, but the women at the 40 looms in the weaving sheds weren’t due to finish till 6. At 5.15 pm, three great gusts of wind brought the five storey mill building down onto the sheds. A rescue operation went on throughout the night, with the last of the 29 bodies being brought out at 3 am. In addition, 32 women were injured.

Bill discussed various possible causes for the collapse, but it seems that the flimsier east wall, which was insecurely fixed, fell first bringing Leiper’s west façade with it. At the time, there were no building regulations and local builders worked mostly with stone, not the brick used here. In addition, Templeton himself does not seem to have liaised very well between Leiper and Alexander, who never actually met. There was an enquiry, but this was more to find facts than to throw blame.

More interesting to me was hearing some of the personal stories of the women who died. Most were teenagers – the youngest 14 and the oldest 25. One girl was identified only by her stockings. Another had been planning to go to a ball that evening. Ellen Wallace was one of the few married women. She had a small son, but her husband had been made redundant so she went back to work. Templeton, who was considered a good employer by the standards of the day, paid for the funerals and a relief fund started by Lord Provost James King raised £9000 for the families. You can see a page from a notebook detailing the names of the dead, injured and those who donated on the stoddardtempleton blog. As for the factory, it was rebuilt by 1892 – using steel.

There is a memorial to the dead opposite Templeton’s, which is now a business centre, at 423 London Road (Thenue Housing Association). It was recently refurbished to include paving stones with the names of all the women. A few days ago, I went to see it and took a few pictures. It was rather wet, but I think you can still make out the names. It’s a low-key, but touching, tribute.

The talk o’ the Steamie

"The Steamie" postcard autographed by Sheila Donald
“The Steamie” postcard autographed by Sheila Donald

In collaboration with the Glasgow Film Theatre’s youth initiative, Pop-Up Programmers, Glasgow Women’s Library hosted two rare screenings of the classic STV Production (1988) of Tony Roper’s The Steamie in this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. I went along to the matinée on Saturday and helped to serve afternoon tea afterwards. Many of the staff and volunteers (not me!) were dressed in 50s costume, in keeping with the setting, and there was a very special guest – Sheila Donald who played Mrs Culfeathers. It was, as they say in Glasgow, a “rerr terr”. We laughed, we cried, and Sheila got a huge ovation.

Although filmed on a set, The Steamie looked very authentic (compare to the photograph of washing pens on The Glasgow Story and the exhibit below from The People’s Palace.)

Steamie exhibit, People's Palace
Steamie exhibit, People’s Palace

The play gives a really good picture of the hardships in women’s lives – I can’t imagine living like that – but, amazingly, steamies were only phased out in the 1980s, although the phrase “talk of the steamie” lives on, to indicate something that is well worth gossiping about. In 1986, a young photographer called Allan Bovill gained access to three steamies in Glasgow – Parnie Street, in the city centre; Bluevale Street in Dennistoun and in the city’s Anderston. His black and white pictures were exhibited in 2012 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the play – I wish I’d known. Read more in this review by the Evening Times.

You can see pictures of the day itself – including costumed staff, “Mrs Culfeathers”, posh china and platefuls of Tunnocks – on my Storify.

Scottish Women on Wikipedia

Bridgeton Library exterior
Bridgeton Library

I’ve often dipped into Wikipedia, but I didn’t start to take it seriously until a couple of years ago when I attended a Teachmeet at which one of the presenters changed my mind. He convinced me that Wikipedia was more accurate than I had thought – and where it isn’t accurate, it says so. It tracks and discusses revisions so, rather than banning students from using it, they should be taught to use it responsibly. However, it never occurred to me to become an editor until Glasgow Women’s Library, where I volunteer, was approached by Graeme Arnott with a proposal for an “Editathon” on Scottish Women on Wikipedia. The title had two implications – to get more Scottish women editing Wikipedia, and to increase the content about Scottish women. Graeme, myself and Laura Dolan of GWL made some plans and the event took place at Bridgeton Library on Saturday, assisted by Ally Crockford, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland. We ended up with eight potential new editors, two complete articles (so far) and several in preparation.

Although advertised as a drop-in, most people were there all day. We spent the morning learning the basics from Graeme (a very patient teacher) and were then let loose in the afternoon. I’ve been blogging for a long time and use several social media platforms, but I found Wikipedia harder than all of them because you have to do more of the formatting yourself. However, once you’ve mastered a few rules and realised you can basically copy the code from other articles it becomes easier – but still very fiddly. It’s not something I can see myself wanting to do everyday, although I am keen to do more. We had all brought along some information that we wanted to make available, and I just managed to get my pre-drafted article on Isabella Elder published before we closed at 4pm. I was very proud to be the first! Jennifer Higgins finished her article on Jude Burkhauser the following day. Check out the articles to find out why these women are important.

It was also a pleasure to work in the recently opened Bridgeton Library which has moved from its old, Carnegie premises (now occupied by GWL) to the refurbished Britannia Building, a former theatre. It’s bright and modern with good computer facilities and a café which, sadly for us, doesn’t open on Saturdays. Like many Glasgow Libraries, the children’s area is particularly colourful.

GWL still has a substantial list of women who feature, for example, on their Women’s Heritage Walks but who are not on Wikipedia (or only briefly) and I have started my own list of possible subjects. I’ll be looking out for more Editathons too – watch this space!

Some related material on Wikipedia and Editathons:

BioFluff – post about an Editathon in Manchester which also highlights the gender disparity

FemgineerCalling all women: contribute to wikipedia

MIT Technology ReviewThe decline of Wikipedia. (Huh?)

JISC WebinarTales from the Wikimedian in Residence at the NLS

Storify – about this event

THE – report of an editathon on women scientists

Wikipedia gender – graphic showing the ratio of female to male editors (1:6.7)

Wikipedia:GLAM/National Library of Scotland

Youtube: Sarah Stierch – various presentations on Wikimedia, including the gender gap