Govan's Hidden Histories

Ongoing creative projects about Govan's hidden histories Celebrating Govan's heritage, women's roles in protest movements, and the life and work of Isabella Elder

Strong Women of Clydeside; Looking back and forward

The WHP (Women’s Histories & Protests) team are gathering again to take our next steps in preserving and celebrating the amazing contributions to society made by some of the Strong Women of Clydeside. It’s a good time for us to have a look back, and so we’d love to share a more detailed account of our ‘‘Strong Women of Clydeside’ –  guided walk & public art action which took place in August last year.

Unless otherwise described, all the people mentioned in this post are members of the WHP team, who have spent time since 2013 investigating, researching and becoming super-fans of some of the Strong Women of Clydeside. The team-members who led the walk in August were Alice Gordon, Chani Bond, Elaine Addington, Ian McCracken, Lydia Levett, Max White, Susan Haddow, Tam McGarvey, Trish Caird, and tsBeall.

We started our journey in the Riverside Museum, at the UCS Banner Display where Tam shared a brief history of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, and their famous work-in. We had the honour of hearing from one of the veterans of that very work-in, and a stalwart trade-unionist, Linda Hamill. Linda is one of the people which the team has undertaken Oral Histories with, in our attempt to counter the lack of recorded information available (outside living memory) on Women’s roles in protest movements. Linda commented  how happy to be asked to participate and be included in this walk…while she was still alive!

Elaine drew our attention to a card within the UCS display (pictured below) which was given to the UCS protesters, along with a wheel of roses and a cheque, by Yoko Ono and John Lennon. You can read more about this here.

We shared photographs amongst the group, of women within the Work-in marching and protesting.

Within the museum we then made our way to the Edwardian Dress Maker’s Shop Display, on the old street. During the course of the WHP team’s research and exploration, in 2013 and in 2015, we have been interested in how women’s histories are/ aren’t depicted in museums. One way in which women’s histories are represented in the Riverside Museum is through various displays of fashion. The Dress Maker’s display shows fashions at the height of the Suffragette movement. It was here that Elaine spoke of the extreme hardships, and physical abuse that women faced in their fight for the vote. Susan introduced one of our Strong Women of Clydeside, Helen Crawfurd, and spoke of her suffragette activity. Max shared the words of Elspeth King (formerly of Glasgow’s People’s Palace) about the omission of women’s stories or feminism within the history of the labor movement. The entire group performed a human megaphone with her words.

We then departed the Riverside Museum, and took the Ferry across the water to Govan; where so many of our Strong Women of Clydeside lived, worked or fought.

On the Govan Riverside Alice and Lydia had drawn out a timeline of Womens’ Protest Movements, and the group were taken on a whistlestop tour. Ian shared letters sent home to Govan during the first world war, providing a window into the historical context of the Rent Strikes, and the great personal sacrifices and hardships ordinary working men and women faced at that time.

We named the riverside ‘RED SKIRTS DRIVE’ in recognition and thanks to the tremendous film ‘Red Skirts on Clydeside‘ which has inspired and informed our group a great deal in our exploration.

We didn’t have far to go to get to the site of ‘Jack’s Rolls’, a famous bakery once found on Water Row. Our interest in the bakery stemmed from the fact that Helen Crawfurd was the sister of ‘Jack’, and although these were not the women’s rolls in Protest movements that we were primarily interested in, exploration around the bakery brought us to meeting Helen Crawfurd’s nephew; James Jack. Susan had made this fantastic connection, which has led to the donation of artefacts relating to the bakery being donated to Glasgow Museums, and crucially for us an Oral History being recorded with James Jack about his memories of Helen.

Max shared some of James’ words about his ‘Red Aunt’, and Susan spoke of some of Helen’s many achievements and efforts in her highly politicized, life-long commitment to working-class people, the peace movement, and rights for women.

We passed around some photographs of Helen Crawfurd, and Lydia pasted up Helen’s election poster for the Communist Party.

The next woman we honoured on our walk was Lady Dinah Elizabeth Pearce. We chalked ‘HIS WIFE WAS PURE DED BRILLIANT’ on the pavement before her husband Sir William Pearce’s statue (AKA ‘The Black Man’), because it’s true! Though largely unsung, Lady Dinah Pearce contributed a great deal to Govan. tara spoke about the social and religious devotion in Lady Dinah’s philanthropy, and her relationship with ‘The Bible Wumman’ Margaret McGregor.

Elaine spoke about current activities going on in Lady Dinah’s most enduring gift to Govan, the Pearce Institute.  There are many organisations, groups and meetings there, where people are gathering, and pushing for democracy and human rights in contemporary struggles.

We left Lady Dinah’s  ‘Govan Trumps‘ card, and a rose as we went.

We made our way next to 68 Shaw Street next, and the site of the Morris Hall, where tara and Ian spoke of the crucial meetings that took place there.  Mary Barbour, Agnes Dollan and Helen Crawfurd would have organised and formed strategies that led to one of Scotland’s most successful protest movement’s in history, the Rent Strikes.

Posters giving notice of such meetings were passed around the group, and we dubbed the street ‘BARBOUR SQUAD STREET’ in honour of Mary Barbour.

Our next point was 966 Govan Road, part of the Portal. Tam described some of the regeneration which has taken place in the area, and the strategic community development which was planned with the regeneration of this row of shops. Phyllis Anderson, an active community member who participates and runs groups that meet in this space spoke of the groups’ experience in coming together and forming community led groups.’Bead ‘n’ Blether‘ and ‘Woolly Wednesdays‘ group members joined the WHP team in viewing banners at the Burrell Collection’s Conservation Room. Inspired by banners from Scotland’s first women’s cooperative guild, at the nearby Kinning Park, they went on to create their own beautiful banners (pictured below) with Artist Geraldine Greene.

This was not the only connection to Kinning Park which we honoured here. Helen Kyle is an activist, and promoter of arts and culture in the Greater Govan area, and beyond. Her organisation ‘Scotland in Europe’ was once based at 966 Govan Road. Helen played a big part in the 55 day sit-in at Kinning Park Complex, keeping the much-needed space open for the community. tara shared Helen’s words about this time, and the nature of women’s roles in protest.

We named this space ‘ SIT IN PLACE’ to commemorate the action taken by those people who fought for their community’s rights and needs in Kinning Park.

We then made our way to Fairfield Heritage, and gathered outside the iconic shipyard gates, where tara spoke of the knowledge we have of the work women did in the shipyard and in the work-in, and critically all the information that is missing or untraceable. Chani shared the story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s gift to the men and the women of the UCS fighting for workers’ rights.

We also heard first-hand anecdotes about life in Fairfields from UCS veteran Linda Hamill, and Trish led our human megaphone with a transcript from an Oral Histrory interview conducted with Betty Kennedy (the telephone supervisor who refused to disconnect the lines when the work-in began).

We dubbed this ‘WOMEN’S WORK-IN PLACE’, passed around photos of women marching side-by-side with their male comrades in protest of the closures, and left a rose to echo that gift from John & Yoko.

We then walked through Elder Park, the green space given to the people of Govan by Isabella Elder, pausing briefly by the statue of her husband John Elder to chalk ‘HIS WIFE WAS PURE DED GALLUS’.

Passing by the library that the Gallus Isabella Elder gave the people of Govan, we made our way to 43 Uist Street, or Ure Street as it was known. As well as having been once named Ure Street, Isabella Elder’s maiden name, the firebrand  and rent-strike organiser extraordinaire, Mary Barbour once lived here at no. 43.

tara and Ian shared some of what we know of Mary Barbour, and then the group sang some songs inspired by the Rent-Strikes. We sang ‘Mrs Barbour’s Army‘ by Alistair Hulett, and ‘Stair Heid Livin’, by our very own Trish Caird.

We placed Mary Barbour’s election poster in the window of a shop on the corner, and chalk-sprayed the street name ‘TAKE BACK URE STREET’.

We made our way to the beautiful rose garden in Elder Park, and by the statue of Isabella Elder in her academic robes, Chani led a thanks giving for all of Isabella’s gifts; particularly giving thanks to her pioneering spirit in promoting education for women, and investing in the welfare of working families.

The final gathering on our walk was the site of a rent-strike demonstration 100 years ago at 10 Hutton Drive.

Image taken from George Rountree's book 'Bygone Govan'.

Image taken from George Rountree’s book ‘Bygone Govan’.

Local fount of historical knowledge, Colin Quigley, shared some of his research on the rent strikes. Alice also spoke about the rent strikes, and related them to current struggles and protest movements.

We renamed this street ‘CRAMMININ DRIVE’, and passed around the photo from above. We left the street singing again, in celebration of those brave and canny women, who stood up for the housing rights of working people of Govan, and beyond.

We rounded out our tour at Fairfield Heritage, and were honoured to be joined there by Betty Kennedy (UCS veteran). We enjoyed a cup of tea and the after-glow of a truly wonderful day spent giving props to some Strong Women of Clydeside.

Our sincere and humble thanks go out to everyone who came along and took part, and helped make it a joyous day of celebration, and giving thanks to some seriously strong women. A big thank you to our partners, the Riverside Museum and Glasgow Women’s Library, and to Fairfield Heritage also.

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© Govan's Hidden Histories & tsBeall 2013-16, unless otherwise noted
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