IN PEACE AND WAR
Maternal origins –
Rent strike of 1915 –
A narrow escape –
Ideal grandfather –
Rhymes & Games –
Sunday expeditions –
Reluctant catholic –
Telephones & the telegraph services –
Pleasures of a pipe smoker -
The 'Black Hole' Toilet -
Joe Chambers passes away –
Mother & a favourite aunt –
Paternal ancestors –
St. Mary’s Church Members records –
St. Mary’s Church records –
A popular Dad –
Cameron Highlander –
Drunk’s barrow –
Fashions & customs of the times –
A Canadian interlude –
The Independent Labour Party Govan branch –
Jimmy Maxton –
Mayday demonstrations –
Party activist –
Street corner meetings –
Paternal grandmother -
Memories of another house –
Fifty pitches –
Some odd sights – A national crisis, the abdication
FAMILY BACKGROUND – MATERNAL ORIGINS
My mother's family were the favourites. Grandma, quiet and likeable, had a very difficult time with health problems during much of her life. Mum used to say of her that she was at death's door many times and had been in every hospital in Glasgow. That was an exaggeration certainly but it contained some truth. She was one of ten children and her father, James Himsley (b Dundee 1829), was a whaler. He had married Mary Cairns in 1861, and a morbid family legend which is probably true as it came from more than one source, is that in the late 1870s she found him dead in bed beside her. He married fairly late in life at 32 to have fathered ten children, but his wife was nine years younger than him. Another curious story about the families of these ancestors was that two brothers had married two sisters. Checking the records found that this is not quite correct but the facts are remarkable enough. It appears that a brother and a sister had married a sister and a brother eleven years apart. Below are two extract from the 1987 Mormon International Genealogical Index (the I.G.I) page 49,348. The first entry is of my great-grandparents:
|Mary Himsley c1895|
James Himsley-m-Mary Cairns at Dundee on 26/08/1861
James Cairns-m-Christina Himsley at Dundee on 17/10/1872
Mary Himsley (b1875 d1949) was my grandmother. What I recall of her is with her grey hair braided into pigtails that were pulled tight and coiled into a bun at the back of her head in a fashion of the time, and needing specially designed shoes to accommodate her bunions. A soft-focus studio portrait photograph of her mother, the above Mary Cairns, hung in the bedroom of her house at 13 Hutton drive. In it great grandma looked very much like grandma herself when near the end of her life, but great grandma wore her hair with the pigtails coiled into earphone buns. A feature of photographs of working class women during the 18th and 19th centuries is that almost all had the pigtail hair style which could be dangerous when working with machinery anywhere, but particularly in the jute industry, weaving and carpet making. Many were severely injured or killed when their pigtails were caught and drawn into a machine. Coiling the braids up into buns to be held in place with hairpins, or kirbygrips as they were called, usually kept them safely out of the way. Later, hair-nets were used for this which then became a fashion item when worn by women for normal dress. The Mary Cairns photo referred to above is missing.
THE RENT STRIKE of 1915
During WWI many extra workers were required in the industrial areas around Britain. Shipbuilding in particular was affected and this caused a great influx of people into Clydeside in 1915 to work in the shipyards and their equipment suppliers. The new arrivals required accommodation which caused a shortage of housing, and through their factors, unscrupulous property owners attempted to take advantage of this by imposing rent increases, not just for new arrivals but on existing tenants as well. Few married women worked in those days, and a husband's wages needed careful management to cover rent and other essentials. Some would have been war widows with a meagre pension. Living at 13 Hutton Drive Linthouse in the house indicated with the arrow below, Mary Chambers was an activist in the rent strike in the campaign against those factors who tried to take advantage of the situation. The second photo below is a 1920s Chambers family group with Joe Chambers, Mary, Mum & her sister Molly taken in the field at the rear of the Shieldhall fever hospital referred to previously before Carlieth Quadrant was built.
|1900s Note the cobbled street surface|
The strike in Govan in 1915 was organised by a Mrs. Mary Barbour who, when it was formed, became leader of the Tenants Defence Association. The event came to a head in September of that year in a campaign that was supposed to have been nation-wide, to affect other industrial areas throughout Britain where rent increases were being imposed. But it was almost exclusively confined to Glasgow and Clydebank, and most of the protest action was centred in Govan. The most serious aspect of the trouble was that families of soldiers fighting and dying on the battlefields of France and Belgium were affected. In the struggle against increased rents women on the home front used this point to great effect by getting the serving men themselves, through the Military authorities, to complain that while their men-folk were fighting for their country, their wives and families were being persecuted by greedy landlords.
Contemporary accounts of the campaign convey an impression that the experience should have been traumatic for members of any household that was involved. For someone like my mother whose fourteenth birthday occurred at that time, she should have remembered it with some degree of clarity. However, despite close questioning in later years she could recall exasperatingly little, (she died in 1993 at the age of 91). This was despite the turmoil it caused at the time which almost amounted to disorder bordering on rioting. Repeated questioning would cause her eyes to take on a faraway look, and she would say with regret that despite her legendary good memory she wished she could be more helpful. It may have been that the threat to the family of eviction from the home so frightened her that she put it out of her mind. In other words she could not bear to think about what might happen to the family they might be made homeless.
At the height of the campaign, from the large percentage of tenants who refused to pay the increases that were imposed, the property owners selected a few and took them to court. When judgement was given against the tenants and they still refused to or couldn't pay, warrant sales of their possessions were authorised and sheriff's officers instructed to enforce them. Newspaper reports of the time and descriptions in books on the subject, state that the women formed committees in districts around Govan and the other areas affected, in groups mainly made up of those who would have been at home or nearby during the day. They set up early warning systems to alert residents of the approach of the sheriff's officers to the houses concerned, the contents of which were to be sold off.
Warnings were often carried by older children using whistles or bells, and when alerted a large crowd of people assembled round the tenement close where the house affected was situated ready to obstruct the officers. Police were then summoned, but the crowd defied them too and refused to disperse, and at that point the officer in charge decided that a different approach was needed. The photo below shows a scene being enacted in front of a close, numbered 10 but otherwise unidentified, quite in keeping with what would be expected to cause the police, long before the days of tear-gas, riot shields, clubs and helmets, to stand by without taking any action.
Poor quality prints of that incident, probably photocopies made on early versions of these machines, had been seen in the press over the years, but the print below found later is so clear that a woman can be seen in the foreground (circled) that looks very like and probably is Mary Chambers wearing the same hat. Assurances had been given in the 1980s by others whose parents and grandparents were also involved, and who remember more of the details heard in their family circles than did my mother. that it was taken in Hutton Drive. Living at number 13 which is almost opposite number 10, and being involved in the campaign, it is virtually certain that Mary would have been there. Having in the course of researching the subject, revisited the location and examined the stone coursing round the close and compared it with that seen in the photograph, there is every reason to believe that this is the location. It shows a large, grimly determined looking crowd of mainly women milling around in front of the close, which had suspended above the entrance a sign with the words;
GOD HELP THE
WHO ENTERS HERE
Newspaper reports of the incident stated that when the officers tried to force their way in they were roughly handled, stripped of their trousers and dumped in the back court midden.
Another figure is visible that may also be significant. School teacher John McLean was born in Pollokshaws in the 1879, and taught in schools in Pollokshaws (Pollok Academy) and Lorne School Govan. A very popular political agitator against every form of social injustice and particularly so against the war, Mclean was so outspoken and persistent about the latter that within a year or two he was accused of sedition and was jailed three or four times before it ended. In prison he was so badly treated that his health suffered and he died in 1923. A rent strike like this was a situation he was most likely to be involved in. Left of centre in the photograph a man is seen who could be McLean, standing head and shoulders above the crowd and addressing them. A book in my collection entitled JOHN MACLEAN, a biography by his daughter Nan Milton, page 88, gives a more comprehensive account of the events.
With the action by the enforcing officials frustrated the authorities adopted a different approach. Summonses were issued to selected strikers for a court appearance. Among them was Mary Chambers and her brother Charles Himsley, also a rent striker who at that time lived in a ground floor house also at number 13. The campaign lasted several months, and eventually, according to my mother, her Uncle Chairlie had a fine imposed while her mother got off, but no reason for this discrepancy has been found. Like the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) workers in the early 1970s, with foresight the strike committee had set up a fighting fund which covered fines and other expenses, contributions to which came from some surprising sources as well as from men and women affected. One to the UCS strikers fund came from an amazing source, a cheque signed
from John & Yoko! of Beatles fame.
The rent strike dispute was finally resolved by thousands of workers downing tools, an illegal act in wartime, and marching to the seat of local government in Glasgow, the Municipal Building in George Square. The National Government then took fright and became involved, the landlords backed down and legislation was introduced to combat profiteering on rent. Looking through copies of The Govan Press, the local paper of the time it was found that although many columns were devoted to the affair, none of the reports mention the names of any of those involved and were taken to court.
In February 1987 Channel 4 TV showed an hour-long documentary film made by the now defunct Sheffield Film Theatre entitled Red Skirts on Clydeside. Its theme was of women's place in society and the fight for their rights which concentrated on the rent strike. I got in touch with the Sheffield FT and told Mary Chamber's story, and asked if there was any chance of acquiring a copy of the video tape. They very kindly supplied one and said they were sorry they hadn't known about my Grandmother as her story would have certainly been included. Initially much of what I knew of the event was gained from the Red Skirts programme. When I became involved with the Govan Reminiscence Group later that year, after a time I decide to hand the tape over to be held in their archive.
In 2005, Channel 4 TV commissioned Wall to Wall TV Company to make a series entitled NOT FORGOTTEN, about women who in the early part of 20th century showed great initiative and bravery in helping others who were being oppressed. There was to be three one hour programmes, each of which was to have four subjects, one of which was about the Govan rent strike. In the early stages the company made enquiries around Govan to find anyone who could remember anything second or third hand about it. They contacted the Reminiscence Group who gave them Mary Barbour's name and mine. Mary's grandmother of the same name was the main organiser of the strike, and she and I became involved and our stories were recorded on video tape with interviewer Ian Hislop. The photo below was taken at the Ardniesh Street corner in Drumoyne where she was living on the day of the interviews with Mary and Ian. Mary and her sister Jean, both now deceased, were contributors to the Red Skirts programme, so I brought it to the attention of Wall to Wall thinking that it would help with their research and might provide them with re-usable footage.
The Reminiscence Group was asked for the tape so that the W-to-W Company could view it, but when the archive was searched it could not be found. So they approached C4 and asked if there was a copy in their archive. Apparently about ten years before, it had been one of many programmes on film cassettes that had been handed over to an outside archive storage facility but it could not found there either. Another disappointment was in store for me. When programme 3 of the NOT FORGOTTEN tapes was being made up, the rent strike footage overran the time available. It was with great regret, the director said in a phone call of apology to me a week before it was due to be shown, my contribution had to be left out. As the strike organiser, Mary Barbour's story was rightly considered to be more important than was that of Mary Chambers. However, I was pleased when Wall to Wall sent me a DVD of programme three containing the Govan footage and a video cassette tape with my contributions. Copies of The Red Skirts programme are now available and can be called up on the internet.
A NARROW ESCAPE
Mary Chambers had no sense of smell, a condition known as anosmia, which on one occasion almost cost her and Joe their lives, A story told by my mother of an event that occurred probably before she was born, when Mary and Joe lived in their first house at 12 Harmony Row, is that her father had come off night shift and was in bed asleep. Mary had been feeling unwell, but running low on coal she was watching for a passing coal-man, and when one arrived in the street she called to him from a window requesting a delivery. But when the man entered the house carrying the bag on his back, he immediately dropped it on to the floor and said 'Fur Goad's sake, Missies, yer hoose’s fula gas, open a' yer windies quick’. Coal gas is toxic, more so I believe than natural gas. A gas tap must have been turned on accidentally and un-lit, the house was filling up and it was making her feel ill. If she had lost consciousness neither would have survived and I wouldn’t be here to write about it!
While she was by no means an invalid, the frequent spells of poor health she endured were debilitating. In later life she sometimes made pease brose for a meal, a dish favoured by people with a weak digestion so that may have been her main health problem. Made with pease meal, dried peas ground up into flour, pease brose was regularly consumed in the past by older people who would be well acquainted with it and aware that it was nourishing and easily digested. It has long gone out of fashion because there are other rather more appetising (or less repulsive looking) invalid foods available, such as Complan and Parrish's Chemical Food. When cooked, peas meal turns into a kind of thick, dark green and very unappetising looking porage. Today I might be prepared to try it, and perhaps even benefit from it. Back then, to my eyes and nose it was the most revolting form of food imaginable which I refused to taste.
Mary and Joe Chambers came to Glasgow from Dundee before the turn of the 20th century, and they brought with them many words and expressions of the period from the east that have long since past out of use. They used to intrigue me, and when mentioned in other people’s reminiscences they bring them into sharp focus. One of the words was dighted, applied to a scatterbrained individual or someone with poor judgement, or perhaps someone today who would be diagnosed as having the dreaded conditions, dementia or Alzheimer’s. On one occasion Mary had an argument on the stair landing with an absentminded neighbour. She came back into the kitchen shaking her head and saying, 'She's dighted!' (pronounced as in lighted and not to be confused with dicht, meaning wipe. If my nose was running I was told to dicht my neb!). Another expression was redd-up. At the end of a meal, to clear the table and do the dishes she would say 'Wha's turn is it tae redd-up?' An untidy clutter was truck, and mud stains on shoes and clothing were gutters. Another curious saying heard from her if you were eating slowly during a meal, was to c’mon ‘eat it up - it’ll stick to your ribs’. Another saying if I was slow at eating something I didn’t like she urged me to ‘come on, get it down the red brae’ (throat). A child given a sweetie and displaying enjoyment was 'as happy as a wee pig among clover'.
Like most people she had a shoe horn, known today as a shoe-lift, which was made originally of the material from which the name was derived, cow’s horn. Yet another expression from the period, used in irritation as well as on other occasions girls when being questioned about who the fellow was they had been seen with. With a glare the answer was liable to be "Who d’ye think it wis, big Aggie’s man?" meaning mind your own business.
Mary Chambers died in the house in Pollok when I was in Egypt on army National Service, where she had been staying during the autumn of 1949. She had a heart attack and passed away later the same day. Having so much to write about Granda Joe in the following section, I regret not having more to tell about Mary. I liked her a great deal, although for reasons that will become apparent in the next section, much less time was spent in her company than with Joe.
THE IDEAL GRANDFATHER
Of the people encountered during childhood, without a shadow of doubt the person I loved best, dare I set it down here, even more than either of my parents, was Joe Chambers. In his 60s he was a short portly man who wore a rather crumpled suit with a handkerchief in the breast pocket, a flower in a lapel of the jacket, and a waistcoat. A thin leather strap was usually worn slung across the front of the vest (waistcoat), which on Sundays was exchanged for a chain. Attached to the strap he had a pocket watch enclosed in a dust-proof container with a window on one side, which he kept in one of the half-dozen shallow waistcoat pockets stacked, three on each side. From that pocket the strap looped across to a button hole in which a crossbar on the end of the strap engaged. A Sunday chain had a second loop with a fob on the end, an ornament formerly used as an impression for marking a wax seal which went into a pocket on the opposite side. Below is a photo of Joe Chamber with a grand-daughter at the Fifty Pitches, with the embankment that carried the Moss Road Berryknows Road (seen in the photo in part) over the railway line in 1938. The trees on the embankment in the background are on the approaches to the bridge over the Glasgow Paisley railway line.
He wore glasses of a kind sometimes seen in old films and photographs, pince-nez, attached by a ribbon to a button hole in the lapel of his jacket. When not in use the glasses were carried in the breast pocket of his jacket or, at risk of damage, in a waistcoat pocket. Being stout, there was a certain amount of strain in that region. The pince-nez glasses held a peculiar fascination for me, and I longed to be old enough to have glasses like that.
The defective colour vision which passed from my mother to me came from him. As a boy early in his working life it was the means of him being sacked from a job in a Dundee carpet factory. The first time he was given the task of setting up the coloured hemp strands in the carpet weaving machine, he had mixed them up to such an extent that he was fired on the spot. It might seem strange that he undertook such work as he must have been well aware of the defect and the trouble it was bound to cause him. But employment was hard to come by and the affliction was partial, as it is with me. It is highly likely that need, desperation even, caused him to brass-neck it hoping he might get by. In my case, and very likely his and my mother's, the Ishihara test for the condition classified it as strong deutera-nomalia.
With this degree of the defect all the colours are seen, but it is difficult, impossible even, to correctly name certain ones, as the following two examples of my experience of the affliction will illustrate. In the days of domestic electric cable (flex) with the rubber insulation of the pre-plastic 1960s era, in which the live wire was red, black the return, and green was earth, to my eyes the two most important (red and green) were indistinguishable. While a difference was apparent I soon learned not to try guessing which was which. The other example was the colour tests undertaken during a medical examination when called up for the army. Sheets of paper containing an apparently random jumble of coloured shapes are set out by the examiner, which probably was a form of the Ishihara test. On some sheets a letter, a number, or a shape was immediately visible, while others showed nothing I could identify, for one or two of which I needed assurance that there really was something there. There was, and even when they were pointed out I still couldn't see them!
After I passed driving tests for motor-cycle, car, and PSV (Public Service Vehicle) to drive buses, people used to ask how I managed at traffic lights. Up to the 1960s most of the older lights still had STOP in black letters across the red lens; because of it's the position at the top of the three illuminated lenses in the vertical display, my answer was that 'you'd have to be illiterate as well as colour-blind to get it wrong!' When I applied to Glasgow Corporation Transport Department for a job as a bus driver in 1960 the interviewer asked if I could recognise colours, so I said confidently, 'Yes'. He then produced a set of miniature traffic lights and switched them on one after the other in order top to bottom. Getting them right he said 'you'll do!' If the amber had been switched on first I might just have been caught out, or if they had been displayed mixed in a horizontal row that could have caught me out!
Joe Chambers was interested in and knowledgeable about the world around him. He had a physical peculiarity, a pinkie with a kink that was reputedly the result of an accident at work, but it was probably a condition now known as Dupuytren's contracture. It was very noticeable when he laid his hands palm down on a flat surface, because the first joint from the knuckles of the pinkies were raised up like an inverted 'V'. When I first became aware of it there came over me what can only be described as a fixation, and when the hand was on a flat surface, an overwhelming urge to lean on it to straighten it out. To stop me he would say severely that it was my doing, that I had caused it by some forgotten prank, which made me back off. A tv programme in 2002 reported that DNA research had shown that the condition originated in Viking Scandinavia, and anyone with it is likely to have ancestors who came from that part of the world.
My Mother's birth certificate has her father's occupation described as a 'hole-borer'. A more technically appropriate description would be 'driller' who bored the holes in steel plates and the ribs and stringers for the rivets used then in ship construction. When he came to Glasgow before he married in the 1890s he lived at first in digs in McLellan Street, Kinning Park, and worked at Fairfield shipyard. From 1934, when he was 61, when they were living one-flight-up at 13 Hutton Drive Linthouse until he retired, he was at employed at John Browns shipyard in Clydebank during the period of construction of what were then the largest ships in the world, the liners Queen Mary 80,000 tons (1936) and Queen Elizabeth 82,000 tons launched 1938 (seen in the photos below). While it is not known if he actually worked on the ships, he would have been involved in preparing the materials used in their construction.
|Queen Mary passing Dalmuir 1936|
|QM passing Bowling Harbour 1936|
The ships were the latest technological developments of the age. Today it would be like having a close family member working on the production of space shuttles and satellite launch vehicles, actually working on the hardware of manned space rockets and artificial moons, and not hundreds or thousands of miles away sitting at a computer terminal. That was just one of the reasons why in the late 1930s I held him in such veneration. It was all very well hearing about these exciting developments and, in the later years of the decade, reading about them, but to have someone actually within the family circle who helped prepare the materials used was awe inspiring. I used to hang on to his every word about progress of work on the second of the Queens, and sometimes wonder now what he thought about being the centre of such rapt attention.
The only failing Joe had that I am aware of now is that he was an alcoholic. He used to hit the bottle occasionally, but it did not make him unpleasant or quarrelsome. He became very jolly and generous, to the extent that he would give away his last ha'penny when homeward bound after one of the occasional drinking sessions on a pay day evening. Street urchins were always on the lookout for drunks rolling home, and would crowd round them hoping that they would have a few pence left and be in the frame of mind to share them out. On reaching a certain age I was one of these scroungers, although I always hung back on the fringe of the group and have no memory of actually benefiting from any such hand-out. The feeling of wanting to keep my distance came from seeing him subjected to it.
|John Brown's shipyard employees 1934 with the QUEEN MARY under
construction on the slip in the background.|
Is Joe Chambers here?
It seems to me that alcohol has the power to bring out the true nature of people who indulge too well. Although it generated some sad occasional times for me with my grandfather, it pleases me a great deal now to think that it seemed to show his nature was basically good. With Grandma, and mother's sister Molly, there was much wringing of hands and moaning each time he went on the randan, but my mother was unsympathetic and even inclined to be vicious with him. While the other two were helping him up the stairs and into the house then putting him to bed, they would have to fend her off from assaulting him in her frustration through not knowing how to make him reform.
One occasion stands out clearly as another powerful memory. Four of us, Grandma, Mum, Aunt Molly and me were at his house early on a Friday evening of pay day, waiting for him to arrive so that we could have our tea together. As it drew past tea time and on into the evening they began to fear the worst. The term used at the time, ('on the randan', is Gaelic which in the highland form is pronounced as in gal and not Gaylic which is Irish), means 'having a good time'. And so it proved. He appeared eventually rolling into Hutton Drive and immediately a swarm of children surged round him in the usual begging game, in the process displacing another group from a street he had already passed through. While conscious of the drama that followed having happened before, until then I had then been too young for it to be fully impressed on my mind.
Having reached the stage of being able to take in and understand what was going on, I became aware of the attempts being made to keep me away from the unpleasantness to come by confining me to the kitchen at the rear of the house with the door shut. However, it was possible to hear the women who were watching from the room window at the front. Comments from Grandma like 'Oh no, wid ye look at that, he's dishin' oot his chienge (remaining cash) tae a' thae weans,' and muttering about what the neighbours were saying and the shame he was causing to the family. They were not well off, virtually every penny had to be accounted for, and Mother said that in the early years of their married life certain items for the home that were necessities, they had to do without.
When he came to the close Molly and Grandma rushed down to help him up the stairs, while my mother stood in the lobby with a grim set face waiting for them. She didn't dare go down with the others, as she was sure to have caused a scene that would have been the talk of the street and had the neighbours sending for the polis to have her accused of assault! I later heard the word fizzing used to describe someone who was very angry, and knew immediately what it meant. After the sounds of scuffle and struggle had faded into the bedroom, mother entered the kitchen with her expression at its most formidable, chin jutting out, eyes flashing and face dark with anger. She caught hold of me by the arm and pulled me rather roughly into the room. She then almost dangled me in front of Granda, who was sprawled senseless and half stripped on a couch, and said in a voice full of her frustration, 'There ye are, whit d'ye think o' yer favourite Granda noo!' The only thing that mollifies me in my feeling towards Mother in her treatment of her father on these occasions is that it wasn't known then that he was suffering from an addictive illness. Instead of scorn and abuse, what he needed was treatment and he, poor soul, had no chance of getting it.
Having described in A Govan Childhood how Granda often took me with him when he went walking, what wasn't mention was that he sometimes went into a pub we happened to pass for a quick one, and of course I had to be left outside. He used to say to one of the loungers who invariably hung around outside such establishments, 'Wid ye keep yer eye on the boy for a few 'meenits', and reappear up to half-an-hour later. He never overindulged on these occasions, but I used to wonder what his reaction would have been, if on coming out he failed to find me waiting. I remember being rather unnerved by this, and was aware that the other family members wouldn't approve if they knew. But afraid of loosing the privilege of his company I said nothing about, it until one day it slipped out accidentally. Of course it provoked an unholy row and such recriminations that some time passed before I was allowed to go with him again.
A time came when in his house (above) I became aware that he would disappear occasionally, which caused the others present to frown and mutter disapprovingly. He would open the kitchen press door and stand behind it hidden from sight. Then the sound of a screw-top bottle being opened was heard, followed by the chink of glass and the glugging of liquor. After a minute or two he reappeared wiping his mouth and wearing a satisfied look in his face. This of course was intended to keep what he was doing from my sight. On one occasion the empty tumbler was left at the sink with no-one around, so I had a sniff and then a sip of the dregs, expecting something like a sweet, rich and fruity taste; and was left with the puzzle, how on earth could anyone enjoy this horrible sensation. It was so vile I was convinced it was poison. Like my Dad I have never liked it; I don't like the taste or the effect it has on me.
My love of music was inherited from Granda Joe. Obviously unmindful of the crystal set he made himself and listened to often, Mother used to say she was puzzled how he got the opportunity to hear the highbrow music that gave him such great enjoyment. She herself liked light music and opera. In a reference in AGC to the early days of broadcasting, from around the turn of the century I wrote that anyone with the ability, materials and the knowledge of how to go about it could build a crystal set, as the early receivers were called. Joe could do this and my Mother said he had made one or two over the years, and that there had been one working in the house as far back as she could remember. His liking for classical music must have developed during this time. He loved dancing, and in his teens had attended a course of rather regimented dancing lessons in which, to strengthen their feet, learners were made to jump off a table (kitchen table was referred to in the story) like ballet dancers on to the points of their toes. As a result of this, although it didn't affect his walking, he suffered from other foot trouble in old age.
He like opera, with a preference for the music from Schubert's Lilac Time, Tales from Vienna's Woods, the ballet music from Rosamunda, and the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. His favourite piece was known to the family as Granda's March, the March Militaire, one of three composed by Schubert and published under D number 733. A story had it that I would be a music lover because at a year old, one day sitting in my pram in their house the March Militaire was played on the by this time battery operated wireless. Much amazement was created when I began to make conducting movements with clenched fist with index finger stuck out. What probably happened was that having seen him doing this I was simply copying.
In the late '30s he caused a sensation among family members by having a letter published in a local newspaper. I still enjoy with undiminished glee recalling the look of utter astonishment on the faces of Mum and her sister when, as usual Aunty Molly would be first to see it, and of her reading it out to the her with awe. In the letter he described his musical preferences, of how much enjoyment he got from listening to opera and ballet music, with Schubert as his favourite composer, and listening to singers like Beniamino Gigli, John McCormick, Tetrazzini, and Dame Nellie Melba. He was soon to become a fan of Scots tenor Sidney McEwan. He ended by stating how privileged he considered himself to be, with this facility so conveniently available, which enabled him to settle down at his own fireside and listen to the best artists and music from around the world.
A very significant comment I heard my mother make was that there were times when he would listen to music with tears running down his cheeks. I know exactly how he felt. Much of the music I have gathered on tapes over time has this effect on me. In the late 1940s and during the '50s I regularly attended the then Scottish Orchestra concerts (leader Jean Rennie, conductor Walter Susskind) in the St Andrew's Hall, but could not do so now if the programme contained anything that might cause embarrassment for me and to others sitting near me. One powerful event like that affected me was watching a tv programme with all the family in Mum and Dad's house in Pollok in the 1960s. It was about the preserved A4 streamlined LNER locomotive UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA (the photos below are of two others of the class. During it there was a long distance, long exposure shot of the train approaching on a long straight of the long since closed east coast line between Forfar and Coupar Angus. The music accompaniment was Stravinsky's ballet music from Petrushka, the section from the Easter Fair with a beat that exactly matched the puffing of the engine.
I was sitting at the back and with everyone watching the screen, and the combination of the two aspects of the scene overwhelmed me. I managed to stifle the emotion and wipe my face without anyone noticing. This sensation has increased for me with the passing years, so that now, living mostly on my own I can indulge in it anytime. I imagine older people who have never experienced it asking why, if it causes me to break down, do I listen to it. My answer would be that it is such a pleasurable sensation, like being in love again, that I would not avoid it, in fact I often do it. There was one piece of music that caused embarrassment in a different way. When still in my pre-teens I heard Roger Quilter's Children's Overture which featured nursery rhymes that are virtually never encountered now. One of them was 'Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry'. I was so incredibly thin skinned and naive that I felt that it was meant for me and everyone around me knew about it; so much so that I hated it for many years!
Stories of Joe's odd eating habits were legion, one of which was of him using a of fruit cake to mop up his ham and eggs plate. He was born in 1873, but at this time of writing not much is known about his ancestry. He had only one sibling, a sister called Bridget who was known to the family as Auntie Bridgie and we visited her when in Dundee. Bridget was unmarried but had a daughter. The following entry found on page 18554 in the I.G.I. is of his parent's marriage:
Joseph Chambers -m- Mary Dollan at Dundee on 25/02/1870.
In their Hutton Drive house Mary and Joe slept in the recessed bed in the kitchen. Another family tale was told of the occasion on a very cold winter's evening when Mary was visited by two friends. The women were having a good old blether sitting round the kitchen range fire and time was passing, but Joe, who was bored stiff with women's talk, and feeling tired, wanted to go to bed. More time passed and there was no sign of the women leaving, so in exasperation he said to them 'look up the lum for a meenit' and changed into his pyjamas and climbed into the bed out of sight behind the curtains of the recess!
RHYMES AND GAMES
Joe Chambers had many of the qualities that make an adult popular with children. He had an endless stories and songs, and nursery and nonsense rhymes that today would be called jingles. There were a number of games and activities like paper folding to make aeroplanes, hats or boats, and paper tearing now called origami - we didn't know that then. A few of the jingles he entertained me with during my pre-school-age are recalled here:
Wee chooky burdie tow-lo-lo
Laid an egg on the windae sole
The windae sole began tae kraak
Wee chooky burdie roared an' grat.
The windae sole is, of course, window sill rendered in his Dundee accent. The tune to which it was chanted is fresh in my mind but I regret being unable to convey it here. The following is only partly recalled, a local rhyme of which the very act of remembering brings on a surge of long forgotten and very dear memories:-
A clap-a-clap a shell
The dog's away tae Hamilton
Tae buy a new bell,
If you don’t tak’ it
Ah’ll tak’ it tae masel’
A Ring-a-ring a-roses
A clap-a-clap a shell
Here too the puzzlement this caused me and still does is quite sharp. Accepting it as fact, I used to wonder why a dog would behave in such an un-dog-like way? But lacking experience with dogs made me consider that there might be clever dogs around that could 'go for messages'. Thinking about it now leads to the conclusion that the dog referred to was a nickname or pseudonym for a person, an official perhaps. Maybe the rhyme had been composed sometime in the distant past when it would mean something, in the same way as there is a very real and sinister meaning behind the rhyme Four and Twenty Blackbirds Baked in a Pie. Could there be a connection with Mary Queen of Scots? After her army was defeated at Langside, she rushed away towards Hamilton when trying to escape capture. Other rhymes of his which go with a tune are:
Hey jock ma cuddy (horse),
ma cuddy’s ower the dyke
An' if ye touch ma cuddy,
ma cuddy'll gie ye a bite.
One two three a leary
Four five six a leary
Seven eight nine spin a peerie
Ten eleven postman.
A third was known as 'O’Hara’s barra (barrow):-
That fly wee Jock (pronounced as joke)
He stuck tae ma rope
So ah'm gonae stick tae ‘ies barra.
Aw the bonnie wee barra's mine
It disnae belang tae O'Hara
But the barra broke
At six o'clock (rendered as 'a'cloak')
So ah lost ma hurl (ride) in the barra.
That was sung to the tune of the regimental quick march of the British Grenadier Guards. To adult perception most of these are nonsense rhymes made up to fit the tune by someone good with lyrics. But to a child each line of the last one held such an element of fascination that it induced the urge to go round nearby streets looking for the rope and the barrow, and asking if anyone knew Jock and O'Hara?
Joe could perform an entertaining trick with a piece of string called making a cat's cradle. He did it using a loop about three feet long then, holding his hands out parallel with palms facing within the loop, it was passed over the backs and held taut. He would make a further series of complicated loops involving crossovers and different fingers until his palms were six inches apart, with the string forming a number of strands between them. At this point he would hold it out and invite me to 'pull that one', indicating a particular strand. When I did so the whole lot, without apparently coming off his fingers, would fall apart into the original single loop.
That description makes it seem tame and pointless compared with the effect it had then, and indicates how such seemingly simple home-made amusements were the equivalent of today's TV, computer games and electronic toys. Despite being shown how to do it many times into adulthood it was never mastered, and to this day I still don't know how to do it. Also remembered is the disappointment felt when the cat failed to appear. In more recent times I saw it demonstrated on a children’s’ tv programme but still couldn’t understand how the presenter did it.
Another pastime was to cut from card, the heavier the better, a disc around two to three inches in diameter. Sometimes a wide-mouth pint card milk bottle top of the time was used. Put two holes in it on opposite sides of centre, then thread a length of string through them and make a loop by tying the ends together, and place the disc in the centre. With a finger in each end of the loop, relax tension and with a few flicks put some turns on the disc. Put tension on the loop quickly by pulling the ends apart and the disc will spin to unwind. At the point when it is fully unwound, relax tension, and the momentum of the spinning disc will cause it to wind the other way until the momentum is used up. From there on it was another repetitive and seemingly boring activity, but could be indulged in by groups of children in the competitive way of the time, to see who could keep going the longest.
Some time after writing the foregoing, while watching a programme on tv about Kurdish refugees, there was a brief glimpse of children playing with strings-and-discs. But as no reference was made to what they were doing, how many people watching would know? Only a few oldsters, I suppose – the presenter certainly didn’t
He could make dot-to-dot designs with paper and pencil. One was an accurate drawing of a Maltese cross, and another was a seemingly three dimensional perspective line drawing of a large letter S, achieving the same effect with the latter as would doing it on a greasy surface with a fingertip, but on a larger scale.
When he bought a gyroscope kit it gave so much pleasure I can still visualise it, even to the box it came in. It was made from a loop of chromed metal of rounded section about four inches in diameter, with another rather lighter one welded inside at ninety degrees to form the open frame of a globe. In the centre of the frame there was a shaft with a flywheel, which turned on pinpoint bearings set in the heavier of the two rings with the lighter ring lying in the same plane as the flywheel. When a piece of string was wound round the shaft and pulled sharply off, it drove the heavy wheel at high speed.
Small metal balls were welded on the outside of the frame at both points of the bearings of the shaft. When it was set in motion it could be placed sitting with the ball in a cup at the apex of a small tripod mounting that was part of the kit. Set spinning with a strong pull of the string the gyroscope could be placed at any angle, lying horizontal even, with the ball resting in the cup on the stand where the centrifugal force made it appear to defy the law of gravity. It would continue to hold this apparently impossible position until the speed dropped below a certain level then it slowly subsided and dropped off onto the table top. Another great favourite probably provided by him was a set consisting of assorted small coloured architectural bricks, pillars, windows and pediments of polished wood, from which a variety of building facades could be assembled on a flat surface.
Joe Chambers was whar some people would have regarded as being nosy. An example of this was when out for a Sunday stroll wearing his bowler and an umbrella over an arm and dressed in his creased best suit, if a motor vehicle approached he would pause to study it. Puffing away at his pipe and pivoting round as it passed; watching until it was out of sight. In comparison with present day traffic, of course, motor vehicles were infrequent on Sundays then, and having a keen interest in the latest technological developments, the usual horses pulling carts received only a glance.
In 1938 a report in the press that a tug had sank in the river above the entrance to Princes Dock caused him to take me along to see it. There it was sitting in the channel with only its funnel and mast showing. It had been working at the stern of a ship that had its propeller turning over to assist with manoeuvring, but the tug had come too close and had been struck by a blade and holed. The crew were unconcerned about their safety, they were all experienced and knew the depth at that point and had climbed up the mast and waited to be rescued. In the photo below note the funnel of the one that's sunk rising up just beyond the mast of the one on the right of the nearest of the two pairs of 'puffers' of the four used for the recovery. Note that the one on the right had a covered wheelhouse, while the one on the left at the dockside with Port of Registration 'Glasgow' just seen has the steering wheel in the open, had no cabin!
His normal present to me were books. One was a fascinating encyclopaedia for children which described the latest discoveries in technology. Another entitled Highest, Biggest, Longest, was a thick tome with descriptions in easy-to-absorb detail of subjects like the tallest buildings in the world (the Empire State building in New York had been completed in 1932), the biggest and fastest cars, aeroplanes and ships, longest bridges, railways of Britain and other countries, and many other aspects of building and engineering. It was before I could read, but the pictures in it alone made it of inestimable value as much of it dealt with those aspects of life which were beginning to interest me most.
THE RELUCTANT CATHOLIC
My mother's family were catholic, and at that time attendance at a Sunday Mass was mandatory for all practising Catholics who, unless incapacitated, had to attend a service, the last of which started at mid-day. Because Govan was a densely populate area with a large number of parishioners of mainly Irish origin, to accommodate them there were hourly services at St. Constantine's Church between 7 a.m. and mid-day, the early services were for workers. The service for children was the ten o'clock Mass which I usually attended, and after it was over I made my way to his house in Hutton Drive to see if he would be doing anything interesting that day. He was a late riser, but sometimes he would be out early and we might meet, so there would be the pleasure of walking with him along Langlands Road to the church. On other occasions, on returning from the children's service I called at his house to find that he still had to go out. Invariably I went along with him, and in doing so attend two services on the one day, which made other people comment on how 'good' it was for me. My own feeling about this was of indifference towards the religious aspect, but it was an indication of how much I longed for his company.
He liked to go to different churches, so we might walk to St. Anthony's or St. Saviours in East Govan, or Lourdes at Cardonald, and once or twice we travelled to a seemingly enormous church, St Francis's, in Cumberland Street at the corner of Mathieson Street in the Gorbals, which suited me fine for it meant a lengthy trip by tram. The memory of the architectural splendour of that church has stayed with me ever since, although because of the re-development of the district during the 1970s I was rather hazy as to its whereabouts. Until the demolition of the Queen Elizabeth Square high flats in September 1993, that is, when from an observation point in the Southern Necropolis I became aware of the church nearby. Seen above in the 1950s it's now used as a community centre, it is still an impressive grade one preserved building.
On one occasion after leaving St. Francis's we walked on eastwards and crossed the river and found ourselves in a district unknown to me then, but which I now identify as Bridgeton. Passing a gasworks we were amazed to find that although it was Sunday, a load of coal was in the process of being delivered there by rail. What made the day so memorable was that access was by lines of rail tramway crossing the road from an adjacent goods yard, which seems now to have been Poplin Street. The train deliveries were frequent and extended hold-ups were caused by the shunting of a train of wagons crossing the road which blocked it to vehicles.
Of exceptional interest was that spaced out tracks left the goods yard through gates in the wall and crossed the road. Situated inset from the rear edge of the pavement footbridges consisting of stairs of brick and concrete in 'A' form had been built over the tracks to allow pedestrians to pass the obstruction. These foot-bridges proved to be ideal vantage points from which to watch the shunting, and it being a warm sunny summer's day, that Sunday walk was dreamed of and talked about with longing for years after. Having delayed so long we missed dinner, and got into trouble for returning home very late and just in time for tea.
Joe Chambers and his neighbour Alec Paterson were friendly but they tended to argue rather a lot about politics. One day Granda and I were going out for a walk when we met Sandy and he was invited to go along. During a stroll out Renfrew Road towards Shieldhall they went at it hammer and tongs, and one word, used mainly by Sandy, kept cropping up. It was totalitarianism, which had absolutely no meaning for me and made me heartily wish we hadn't met him. I would have much preferred to have had my favourite all to my self, for him to describe the interesting things and places we were passing and go on relating his fascinating stories. Totalitarianism is a society in which only the ruling party is allowed to make political decisions.
TELEPHONES AND THE TELEGRAPH SERVICE
It was the 1950s before houses in working class areas began to have telephones installed. Before then urgent communications between people living far apart were conducted by the telegraph service. Sending a telegram involved visiting a post office to fill in a telegram form using as few words as possible, as payment was so much per word which included the names and addresses of the sender and recipient. A good example would be COME QUICK MOTHER ILL. The sending office would pass it on by telephone to the post office nearest the destination address. All main district offices had a telegraph boy on duty, the central offices having more than one to deal with a greater number of calls dealt with. The main George Square PO covered the 6pm to 9am and week-end service with a squad of boys. The Post Office in Govan Road opposite Helen Street provided the local daytime service with one or two boys, They wore a uniform not unlike the Boys Brigade of the time having a patent leather belt with a small pouch and sash strap and a pill box hat, and their transport was distinctive red painted upright bicycles.
The boys were invariably school-leavers, 14 and 15 year-olds filling in their time before starting an apprenticeship in the post office itself or a trade at 16. I seem to remember most of them were still in short trousers. They were looked on as bringers of bad news, and one appearing in your district brought on a feeling of apprehension. They seemed to live up to the requirements of urgency as they peddled furiously, recklessly even, through the streets, and on arrival abandoned the bike with a clatter at the pavement edge and hurried into the close. If a reply was required it was noted down and paid for on the spot.
PLEASURE OF A PIPE SMOKER
Pipe tobacco was available prepared ready to use in wrapped one-ounce packets, but many older men bought theirs by the stick cut from a rope or coil from newsagents and specialist tobacconist's shops. The leaf was compressed and rolled to resemble rope of a size and consistency similar to pepperoni sausage, and the amount requested was cut from the coil, weighed and handed over unwrapped. Most popular was called Thick Black, and there were other brands, one of which was Bogie Roll, smokers of which were generally considered to have an above average constitution to withstand it, because it was powerful stuff. When bought by the ounce the dense packed coil was lifted from a drawer below the counter, and the `rope' end was uncoiled and laid out on a board. The requested amount was usually an estimated half-ounce or ounce, to be cut off with a knife, the blade of which was encrusted with what looked like tar, and weighed on scales.
Preparing for a smoke was a ritual which began with assembling the items needed, a plug of tobacco, a penknife with a blade much reduced by honing on a grindstone which needed to be used occasionally, his soft leather tobacco pouch that was considerably worn through years of use, and a small, much scored flat piece of hardwood. He had a rack at home containing half-a-dozen pipes hanging on the wall by his chair beside the kitchen range, from which he chose one. His favourites had caps with spring-loaded retaining clips which fitted over the bowl. Other pipes in his collection were open. Also to hand were tapers or a box of matches.
First, a few thin slices were cut from the plug, then laying them on the wood he cut them up carefully into smaller and smaller pieces, turning them this way and that as he did so. What fascinated me was how he managed to do this without cutting himself, for his fingers were constantly in close proximity to the slicing motion of the blade. The resultant crumbs were then rubbed in small amounts between his palms until they reached a desired texture, which may explain why in some adverts for packets of cut tobacco, certain brands were described as Ready Cut and Ready Rubbed.
The pipe selected was then held with the bowl resting at the outer end of the crease in the palm of his hand, and a little of the rubbings were guided carefully into it and tamped down with a fine judgement of pressure. Not too firm or it wouldn't draw, or too light or the tobacco would burn up quickly. Usually the whole plug was treated and the rubbings stored in the pouch. Then, with the pipe gripped firmly between his teeth and using a match, or taper lit from the fire, gas stove or light mantle, he applied the flame to the tobacco. After a few deep draws to get it going he sat back and puffed away contentedly.
Pubs of the time had spitoons laid out on the floors for the convenience of smokers. Granda had one sitting on the floor at the side of his chair. It was a low white-enamelled plate-size metal dish, the loose lid of which had a shallow full-width depression with channels running down to a hole in the centre. Memories of these scenes are the source of another emotional conflict, for although the smoke induced spasms of coughing and unpleasant feelings in my bronchial tubes, the smell of it has ever since generated and continues to do so in certain circumstances a sensation of longing for a return of the happy times I spent with him.
THE ‘BLACK HOLE’ TOILET
Joe Chambers bought Thick Black tobacco, the reek of which always caused me to have a coughing spasm, so he would lay it aside when I arrived at his home. The house had no electricity to the end of the tenancy in 1949. In common with most other gas-lit houses of similar design there was no light in the toilet, or the lobby from which it was accessed. It was a tiny 5 x 4 foot cubicle which gave me problems when I needed to use it at night, for I had a child's fear of the dark. The only illumination to penetrate into it came from the stair landing through a tiny slit window set high up in a wall. Even on the brightest days only faint daylight penetrated, and at night the stair-head gaslight was weak and too low down to be of any use, and after dark you had to do the business in pitch darkness.
It was a case of finding your bearings with the doors to kitchen and toilet open to illuminate the interior, then closing the latter and hoping for the best. It had the usual high chain-pull cistern, and the seat was a 4 x 2 foot smooth board with a hole that was hinged at the back, but another board standing vertical below supporting the front edge of the seat made it uncomfortable to use. It could on occasion be a dreadfully dark, smelly and frightening though not unclean place to enter, but the biggest drawback for me was after granda had spent time in it enjoying a smoke while on a natural function known as ‘a number 2'! If during this time there was an urgent need to go I had to wait until he was finished, and there were occasions when on dashing in desperate for relief I found myself in a much worse state, for the tiny compartment was full of smoke, a predicament I experienced elsewhere in later life.
For economy reasons there was no such luxury as tissue toilet paper. What happened was that newspapers were torn up into handy sized squares, and with a hole pierced in a corner of each sheet, a length of string was put through them and tied into a loop. The loop with its bunch of sheets was then hung from a nail convenient to hand. I do not recommend anyone on an economy drive to try it because, speaking from experience it really does not work. But then, because of expense there was no alternative!
Of the brands of tobacco and cigarettes then available, one or two had exotic names. One was made by a Paisley company called Dobbie and their brand name was Dobbie’s `Four Square', meaning a square deal for your money. Their product ready to use was sold in round flat silvery tins of two-ounce capacity. Another brand was called ‘Balkan Sobranie'. Reading a work by Alexander Solzhzenitsyn some time ago, Sobranie (sobranyie) was described as a Slavic word meaning `pick of the crop'. John Player sold ready rubbed tobacco and cigarettes called Prize Crop, and W D & H O Wills had another known as Gold Flake. Two other brands of less popular cigarettes come to mind - Craven A, with the advertisement inviting you to `For Your Throat's Sake Smoke Craven A'(!), and De Riske Minors (and Majors?). Tobacco had been scarce during WWII, and when it ended a supply of cheaper stuff was imported from Turkey called Pasha, which had a peculiar smell that made it unpopular.
Described above, with more smoking then, spitting was more common and pubs had sawdust scattered and spittoons strategically placed on floors. The worst offenders for spitting were older men who chewed tobacco, and public transport used to have notices prominently displayed at the front of lower decks reading `No Smoking', and on the upper deck where smokers were confined, `No spitting - Penalty 40 Shillings'. Having had to keep away from tobacco smoke, I never-the-less sometimes wonder if 'Willy Woodbines' made by WD & HO Wills are still available?
Despite having ultra-sensitive bronchial tubes, which would probably now be designated as an allergy, smoking fascinated me. I fondly imagined it was the thing to do and that nearly all men did it and, hoping I would grow out of the sensitivity to smoke, I couldn't wait to grow up to indulge in it. There was an occasion when I found myself in the possession three-halfpence, and through listening to talk among pals knew that two Woodbine cigarettes could be bought with that sum, extracted by the shopkeeper from the then popular unsealed paper pack of five.
Confiding in the boy who was then my closest buddy who was willing to try it, we went into nearby Dick's Newsagent & Tobacconist and bought two Woodbines. The old man in the shop gave me an odd look but handed them over for the three-half-pence, the penny from him and my halfpenny, and having made sure to acquire a few matches well in advance we retired to a place of concealment. We lit one each and puffed away for a while, assuring each other how much we were enjoying the experience, although it seemed to me that he felt the same way as I did - rather queasy.
Sometime later the urge to repeat the experience occurred, but on going into Dick's with the same request, he regarded me rather severely and said `If you don't stop this I'm going to tell your father!' On his way home from work Dad called there each evening for his Evening Citizen newspaper so, quite apart from not really enjoying the experience that put a stop to the smoking experiments for a while. From that time on I looked on Mr Dick as an ogre who had deprived me of the opportunity to experiment with adult things. He was a rather sad figure with a deformed leg and walked with a painful limp from a wound received during WWI. But he is recognised now, rather late in the day, as someone to be congratulated for trying to keep me away from something that if I continued to experiment with it, it could have had an unpleasant effect on my health in later life. Many years ago I learned that the word ‘news’ was first made up by people in the early days of newspapers as being information from North, East, West & South.
Then someone mentioned that tea could be smoked in a pipe like tobacco. In another friend's house when his parents were out I mentioned this, and his father being a smoker he produced a clay pipe and the tea caddy and we tried it. Be assured it works, producing a peculiarly pungent aroma. Later, when his mother arrived home she went around the house sniffing and looking at us suspiciously, in a way which indicated that she was sure we had been up to something. Quite rightly, she suspected me, and I was never again invited into that house. Then we found an alternative in cinnamon stick. I noticed them on sale for a ha'penny a stick in Annie Bennie's sweet shop across the street from us but never had the inclination to try them, until one of our group announced that he had heard they could be smoked like cigarettes.
This revelation electrified us. With much secrecy, which probably meant that half the street’s occupants knew what we were up to, we tried it out and found that it too worked. So for a brief few days my ha'penny a day pocket money was spent on a cinnamon stick for smoking without inhaling, which was the ‘in' thing until our mothers started asking awkward questions about the peculiar smell clinging to us when we went home. At that point I decided that smoking was a dead loss and it was better to find something else to spend my halfpenny-a-day pocket money on. By then we had become tired of the smoking experiments and were longing for the usual fare of soor plumes, swizzles, sherbet fountains, liquorice sticks, and the figures moulded from cheap chocolate which could be bought with our ha'pennies.
Describe elsewhere in these writings, the name penknives came from a time when virtually all men had one. They were small knives with usually two blades, one at each end, which folded away into a socket in the handle so they could be carried safely in a pocket. Back in the days when the only writing implements were made from feathers from one of the bigger bird, pens were made by cutting the stem near the point at a shallow angle using a very sharp knife. With the pointed end of the cut laid down on a piece of wood, the point of the knife was applied to the stem to make a cut about half-an-inch long up from the point to a small hole. When the cut tip of the feather was dipped in ink, the hole retained a few drops of it, from which it was fed to the point by capillary action. At the time being written about, carrying one of these knives was common, they were used for whittling, cutting string and carving your name on seats in the park benches and classroom desks. Half a lifetime later they came to be regarded as dangerous weapons, and if found in your possession you could be charged by the police.
JOE CHAMBERS PASSES AWAY
When he died in 1947 it was in very sad circumstances. I was then aged 16 and living in the family home a fair distance away in Pollok, and therefore saw him much less often than in former years. We lived in the council residential area called Old Pollok consisting of the area bounded by Braidcraft Road, Damshot Road and Crescent, and Carnock Road. Set amid green fields at the western extremity of Pollok golf course, it still is regarded as an upmarket district at the edge of the country. On more than one occasion during periods of good weather in summer he was invited to come and live with us. He did so once, but stayed for only a few days before returning home saying that he preferred his own house. His health was failing and he was becoming increasingly housebound, then in 1947 he suffered a heart attack that occurred late one night.
When the symptoms began Mary contacted a friend, a neighbour who lived in the house above them, and the two walked along to the Southern General Hospital with frequent pauses to let him recover enough to continue. He was admitted never to get out again. His condition continued to deteriorate, and the strain, today it would be called depression, increasingly affected his mind, until one day during a meal he kicked over a wheeled table that straddled his bed. After that incident he was transferred to what is probably now known as the psycho-geriatric ward, where died soon after at the age of 73. There is no recollection of seeing him in hospital although visits would have been made at the beginning, but the feeling was very deep seated that I did not want to see him in the psycho ward, preferring to remember him as I had known him. When his life ended he provided a final treat, although the real credit for that is due to whoever organised his funeral. When they arrived from the Co-op Funeral Service the cars were Rolls Royces. It was the only time I got to travel in one.
MOTHER AND A FAVOURITE AUNT
|c1920. The policeman on points duty should be wearing his white gloves|
When she left school in 1915 at the age of 14, my Mother worked first in Irwin's tailors and outfitters shop at the corner of Govan Road and Helen Street (above). Then she and her sister Molly (b1903 d1970) moved to the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society's (SCWS) tailoring factory in the works complex at Shieldhall, as men's clothing machinists. The photo below was taken in a tailoring factory workroom in 1920, in which Molly is visible in the foreground and Mother is somewhere among a large number of faintly seen but unidentifiable faces in the background. Molly was a trousers machinist and Mother was a vest (waistcoat) and jacket machinist. Working conditions and wages at the Co-op then were among the best in the industry, but after a few years, in a surprising bad move Mum left, which worried family and friends. Within a couple of months of going to work for Moore Taggart's manufacturing tailors in Trongate, actually in their tailor's work-room upstairs round the corner in a close in High street, she very much regretted it and returned to Shieldhall. Moore Taggart's retail premises are seen in the other photo below.
The sisters had quite different temperaments. While my Mother didn't make friends easily there were a few she retained for life, all of whom she outlived. As well as the knitting described previously, two other activities she indulged in during her late teens and twenties were dancing, and in early married life she joined the Co-op women's guild. As time passed the attraction of the former waned while the latter became a preoccupation from the 1930s to the '70s, so that eventually she found herself appointed to committees and regularly attended conferences. On one occasion in the 1950s she went off for a week to attend an international co-operative gathering in Gothenburg, Sweden, as a member of a delegation from the British Co-op movement. The experience was talked about with awe, and photographs were produced at any excuse for many years after.
|c1920. The policeman on points duty should be wearing his white gloves|
By nature she was generous and kind-hearted, but occasionally consideration for others had to be worked on by Dad, the only one who could influence her. If by some minor misdemeanour I had incurred her wrath, it occasionally generated punishment out of proportion to what was deserved. She could be very intimidating when the occasion warranted and sometimes when it wasn't, and the purse of her mouth usually indicated her mood. Like almost all women then, she stopped working when she married Dad in 1927. Mainly the middle and upper classes who could afford to employ other women as child minders or housekeepers, up to the 1960s married women with a job were rare. She and Dad met in the early 1920s, and they were married in October 1927.
Molly Chambers continued to work at Shieldhall until she married James O'Neil in February 1937. She was a very religious person, who became involved in the organisations within the Catholic Church in both West Govan parishes, St. Anthony's and St. Constantine's. She had a very good singing voice and was a member of the church choir, and attended the church women's guild and the Legion of Mary etc., and had lots of friends, some of whom I knew but who are now fixed in my mind mainly because they had Irish names. There was a memorable occasion in the mid thirties when I attended a Sunday mid-day Mass with Mum at St. Anthony's Church, during which the choir in the upper gallery at the rear sang hymns as part of the service. On this occasion and being that way inclined, much of the music appealed to me and I listened to a beautiful voice singing solo with rapt attention. Mother bent down and whispered 'That's your Aunt Molly singing', but I found the church atmosphere too intimidating to turn round to look for her.
In her early thirties, Molly Chambers had been going out with James O'Neil from Renfrew for five years. He was four years older than Molly and there had been speculation among others of the family on why they were taking so long to get married. Both Aunt Molly and Uncle Jimmy were special favourites of mine, especially Molly, because circumstances meant that I was often in her company. More outgoing and sociable than her sister, Molly had a placid, even-tempered disposition and made friends easily, so that she enjoyed a greater degree of popularity than her sister. She was a cheerful, happy person who was more gentle and considerate than Mum. My Mother was rather hard-edged and more introverted, and had a slightly suspicious and intolerant aspect to her nature that inhibited her from making and keeping many friends.
It has become apparent to me only in recent times that she may have suffered from a form of autism which was passed on to me and my sister. While my own family do not seem to have inherited the condition from me, Nancy’s daughter Susan may have it, because they constantly argued and find fault with each other. Autism takes many forms and can affect people differently. I always read reports in the press about the latest progress in medical and psychological research. One article in The Herald on 5/8/09 is, ‘People in general use other people’s body movements and postures, and faces and voices, to asses how they feel. Anyone with this form of autism is less able to make use of these clues to make accurate judgments about how others are feeling’. In other words we tend to say things that irritate, offend, or anger people without realising it’.
It was only in later years I learned to watch for people looking at me in strange way after I said something. Two friends have stayed with me and they probably understood the condition and made allowances, but there are others who I would have liked to retain, who for no apparent reason, after a time suddenly became distant and broke off contact, probably for the above reason.
Remembering how young I was then, there were occasions when I secretly wished my Mum was more like her sister. Molly had an unusual, desirable trait; she was the kind of person who, if anything exciting or unusual happened she would be among the first to hear about it, and if it was a local event the odds were good that she would have been present. During my life there have been encounters on rare occasions with people you could seldom surprise with news or scandal, they nearly always seemed to get to know about it first. She was my very first example of this phenomenon. No doubt it played a large part in her popularity as everybody wanted to talk to her to hear the latest gossip, including me. An example of this was the time she electrified the household (well, me anyway), by telling us that going to Renfrew on a tram that day, and travelling on the top deck, she saw a plane-crashing at the aerodrome.
There were times before the move from Howat Street to Skipness Drive when my parents were having a night out, and Molly, and sometimes Jimmy too, stayed with me at Howat Street or they would take me to Hutton Drive. On one occasion I was being taken there by a parent where she still lived with her parents to be left for the early part of the evening and taken home later. My grandparents were away at the time, probably visiting their families, brothers and sisters, in Dundee, but Molly, with Jimmy who were spending the evening together had for some reason agreed to keep me at her home during the early part of the evening.
We arrived there after dark but the house appeared to be unoccupied. Entering the kitchen, except for a glimmer from the turned-down gaslight and a dim flickering light from the fire, it was in darkness and there was no sound or any movement. With the simple concern of a child I was worried about what would happen if no one turned up soon. Where could they be? Then, as our eyes became accustomed to the low level of light, we became aware of two figures, apparently asleep, sitting in the easy chairs on either side of the fireplace. Realising they were spotted they jumped up with loud cries. I was then aged about four and they had arranged this surprise for my benefit, but that incident and the following one remain clear.
The second event happened probably on that same evening when they were taking me home in mid-evening. Walking down Hutton Drive to Govan Road to take a tram to Howat Street, Uncle Jimmy suddenly bent down to me and whispered 'Huv ye goat a wee bawbee fur the caur?' A bawbee was an old name for a halfpenny (others were ‘curdy’ or ‘mek). This worried and perplexed me. Surely one of them would pay my fare, anyway I had no money and also being under five I shouldn't have to pay...and...and... While aware of them watching the changing expressions on my face, it left me sorely puzzled as to what answer I should give. After a few seconds had passed both began to laugh, and when their amusement subsided they took me into the (mid evening?) sweetie shop near the corner of Drive Road and bought me my favourite, a Chinese Luncheon.
That confection had been available during the pre-war years but it disappeared like many of the others soon after the war started, and unlike some others it did not reappear when it ended. It was a sausage shaped length of mallow that had been rolled while still soft and sticky in, what I assume from the name, was expanded or popped sugared rice grains. It was the very thing to appeal to my sweet tooth.
William James Albert Rountree b1863 d1926 below was photographed in the Lyceum Studio c1900. The first time I saw this photo with the cloud in the background I used to wonder why his head was on fire! He is recorded aged 18 in the 1881 census at Headworth, Monkton, County Durham, along with his mother, Sarah (m.s. May) as having been born in Ireland. Efforts to trace him in the Irish records have been unsuccessful, but it was later discovered from WJAR's 1887 marriage certificate that his father, also William, was a labourer in a soda works in Jarrow or South Shields, and his grandfather had been a farmer in that area. It was noticed in these records that the spelling of the name is Rowntree, and WJAR was the first to use the spelling Rountree, the wedding certificate being the first known evidence of this.
Members of my father's own family said that WJAR had a Geordie (North East of England) accent and he had been born in Yorkshire. Following up this supposition meant much time and expense was wasted searching for his birth in the records there. But it seems that his mother, of Irish origin, had returned to her family there for the birth. It appears also that he was an only child. He was a barber before coming to Govan and continued the profession here. He eventually had his own saloon (salon?) at 56 Queen (which later became Neptune) Street above right. My father's mother was one of a family of nine; her father, the Alexander McFarlane referred to previously, is recorded living at five different addresses in Govan in the 1881, '91 and 1901 censuses and council tenant tax records, living in the area between Helen Street and Drive Road.
Before the area between Golspie Street and Elderpark Street was redeveloped in the 1970s the premises in the tenement on the corner of Govan Road and Elderpark Street were a curiosity. There was a pub called, strangely at first sight, Number 1, but the explanation is that there was another pub in the same position at the next corner, Elder Street, called Number 2. That came about because Linthouse was then what was called a dry area where by law no licensed premises were allowed, so these two pubs were in sequence for potential customers making their way into Govan for a drink. Up to the early 1900s pubs were commonly known as beer shops, and the name persisted among the older people for decades after this.
ST. MARY'S CHURCH GOVAN CROSS -
The family were members of what was then St. Mary's United Free Church at Govan Cross, a connection that continued until 1929 when a split occurred in that church. The ruling body (Synod?) decided to give up its 'Free' status (i.e. without state aid) and rejoin the Church of Scotland, but some members of St. Mary's, among them were the Rountrees, chose to leave rather than remain with the majority. This split was known as the 'disjunction'. The small but significant part of the congregation that left, for a time held their Sunday services in cramped premises facing the church upstairs in the still extant building in Water Row next to Govan Cross Mansions seen below the 1900s photo and Chris Fletcher's sketch. But within a year or two they obtained permission to use the hall of a Gaelic Church in Burndyke Street, where services continued to be held for a time.
|1977. Now without the steeple|
As the congregation increased funds became available, and during the 1930s they were able to build a church of their own in Moss Road, Shieldhall opposite the Langlands Road junction. This was very convenient for the three families of Dad's relations who lived nearby at that time, the Rountrees in Rigmuir Road, Curries in Langcroft Road, and Haggarts in Carlieth Quadrant. But road widening in 1964 connected with the building of the Clyde Tunnel caused the first church building to be demolished. The UF church there today is the second one on the site and stands about thirty feet farther back from the road than the original one. The family membership continued there until the last of them, Jemima and Donald Currie passed away in 1967.
|Govan Cross Mansions and the YMCA in Water Row 1900s. The Aitken fountain is on the right|
ST. MARY'S CHURCH RECORDS
At the start of researching the family history, I realised that there should be references to them in the church records of the time, not least of which would be christenings, and possibly all eleven that were born in Govan in the early 1890s. But when I tried to trace them in the mid 1980s, an unhelpful minister claimed there were none, that they were lost in a fire at a church officer's house. However, it was later discovered that the loss occurred in 1901, and records after that time show entries for some of the family which are now held in the church archives in Edinburgh.
Around 1904 the family moved from 40 Elderpark Street to 72 Craigton Road. Living there as a boy of 13 Dad would have seen Galbraith's Bakery, the red brick building later occupied by Govan Initiative, being built in Craigton Road in 1911 more or less through the wall from their house. A faint recollection from childhood is of hearing talk of him playing at a pickle works across the road, and the large scale 1913 OS map of the time shows Rowat's Imperial Pickle Works in that location.
A POPULAR DAD
He was a keen footballer and played for St. Mary's Church team in 1914 above, Dad is in the middle row, second player from the right. He may have picked up the attitude of religious bigotry at this time. Despite that aspect of my childhood being very occasionally mildly unpleasant, home life was tranquil. Like most marriage partners, their restrained intermittent arguing never went beyond that, and I am conscious of the fact that if that particular difference hadn't been there, perhaps other pretexts might have been invented which could have made things much worse.
THE CAMERON HIGHLANDER
When Dad's cousin Alec McFarlane was killed in France in 1916 it is likely that he was caught up in the vengeful enthusiasm that affected so many young men at the time. He volunteered for the army and was sent to France, but would never talk in detail about his experiences there. If asked he would be brief about events away from the fighting, and only a few details can now be recalled. The brainwashing received at that time from the main media of the day, newspapers, and organised street public meetings, caused large numbers of men to volunteer for something they knew nothing about except the seemingly never ending published casualty lists. The situation, highlighted in the dramatic performance of a play, THE BIG PICNIC in Govan in the mid 1990s was re-shown on tv in 2014. Among the men affected, the war was referred to before experiencing it as a big picnic which subsequently changed to horror and scorn.
In October 1915, when he had turned 17 and was still six months under the legal limit of seventeen and a half, he enlisted giving a false date of birth and was accepted. He joined the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, becoming Number S-49870 Private Rountree G. In 1916, before going to France he became disillusioned and wanted out, but declaring his true age made no difference. The only way was if you had sufficient money to buy a discharge, which of course he did not have. This subject may seem out of place in reminiscences of the 1930s, but the relevance will become apparent below.
According to military law of the time, junior servicemen could not be posted overseas if they were under the legal military age, so he was made to work on a farm in East Lothian for six months, and as soon as he reached the serving age he was despatched to France. It is known that he was in one major campaign, probably one of the last battles of Ypres. He did say he had taken part in a number of 'over the top' (from the trenches) bayonet charges, and received a minor wound when a bullet grazed him above an eye.
|Studio photo c1917|
|Dad is at front row right above and his campaign medals are below.|
When asked about it in later years, other relatives, the one or two left who might have known, had no memory of this and there was no scar. But pondering the matter, from his faintly recalled description, which included a gesture, a finger drawn swiftly across his forehead accompanied by a toss of his head, perhaps he was indicating the bullet had passed close so that he had heard and felt its passing. In late 1916 the Germans used poison gas at Ypres for the first time in the war. Many soldiers died because of it then and later, and he was reputed to have received a whiff of it in 1917 or 1918, and Mother always said the chest complaints he used to suffer from were caused by that incident.
So many men had been to France during the campaigns that after the war a number of French words and phrases were in common use when I was young that are seldom encountered today. Because of their constant usage by ex-servicemen everyone then knew what they meant, and he was able to oblige with a few words when asked. I recall hearing him saying 'Sil vous pleys' for 'If you please', 'San feriez (fairy) an' for 'I don't care', and 'Pleys sil vous terbu marie beaucoup' for 'Thank you very much'. 'Tout suite' was 'quickly' etc. The foregoing are probably set down all wrong, but it's the best that can be done due to the many decades having passed since my last French lesson. He was retained in Germany as a member of the Armistice Commission Force and spent a further year there. In later life he spoke warmly of his experiences and had a liking the ordinary German people. At the end of WW2 a photograph of Cologne Cathedral appeared in a newspaper showing the devastation surrounding it caused by Allied bombing although it appeared undamaged. He had been inside the building and talked of it as a wonderful sight. While most other members of his family were Tory supporters, as he may have been also up to the time of his army service. No doubt his experiences in France contributed to his later socialist leanings.
The Ministry Of Defence Records Office was contacted and asked if his service record was available, but the reply was that some of the records were lost by enemy action in the bombing in 1940 and his appeared to be among them. However, this leads to suspicion that perhaps there's something there that they thought should remained hidden, and it might be worth while to try again later.
After military service, as a socialist my Dad always had anti-royalist and atheistic beliefs. He was a sports enthusiast and favoured boxing, and may have indulged in it at amateur level because he displayed a certain skill when sparring with me when in my early teens. I have never liked combat or contact sports, especially boxing, which may stem from trying with utter futility to cope with his lightening reflexes, although he never hurt me. So fast were they, he gave the impression of being able to freeze time for his opponents while he seemed free to take advantage of it.
At the time of his marriage in 1927 my father had continued to live with his mother, a widow of a year, at 40 Rigmuir Road, Shieldhall. In the above wedding group is Mum and Dad with her sister Molly Chambers, Best Maid, and Alec Rountree Dad's younger brother Best Man. Although he never was a member of the Masons or the Orange Lodge, his anti-Catholic attitude (kept well concealed within our home) could be as hostile as the members of those organisations, although that aspect may have had its origins in his political outlook.
While there is no recollection of hearing him sing The Sash, I remember hearing other anti-Catholic songs of the time. One of these, thankfully forgotten today, was sung in a mildly taunting way to annoy mother. It used the regimental tune, The British Grenadiers March, to which words were added that included 'At The Battle O' Boyne (pronounced bine) Water' of 1690 notoriety. That tune is associated with the 'O'Hara's' Barra' children's rhyme referred to previously. In the innocence of childhood I used to imagine the reference was to holy water. The only other fragment of another of those songs recalled now was sung to the tune of the American civil war song 'Marching through Georgia', with the line 'Hurrah, Hurrah, we bring the Jubilee'. The words used were 'Hurrah, Hurrah, we are The Billy Boys', and ended 'we are the Govan Billy Boys', Billy being a reference to King William of Orange.
Although my mother and her sister were fairly close, Mum was lukewarm towards the church activities that Molly took part in. But this may have been partly because of Dad's anti-Catholic outlook because he could be quite hostile in his utterances against the church. It has to be said that during these early years he was bigoted, so much so that the parish priest never visited our house as they were supposed to. As the years passed his attitude changed, he mellowed and became less prejudiced, and although his views remained atheistic, he could at talk about religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular without bias. Visiting my parents on one occasion in Pollok in the 1970s after he retired, after a lifetime experience of his anti-religious outlook, it was with incredulity I heard Mum say the priest from the church in Househillwood had paid a visit and Dad and he had enjoyed a good old chinwag.
My father was a tidy man with a good dress sense. While I like casual attire and I'm none too careful about cleanliness, he was always smartly dressed away from work and was clean and neat. Dapper was a word I sometimes heard used to describe him although I've no idea of its derivation, so it probably came from a previous age. Another one applied to him when he dressed for special occasions was that 'he looked as if he came out a band-box'. As a very young child I remember him wearing a kind of protective waterproof cover (gabardine?) called spats over the uppers of his shoes, which buttoned at the side and were held in place by an elasticated strap slung underneath the shoe arch. When dressed formally for walking out with Mum, he wore a smart suit and a bowler hat, and carried a rolled umbrella. He had a set of golf clubs and went golfing at weekends at this time for which he wore trousers called plus-fours with the bottoms tucked into the tops of his stockings.
Today's socks with broad gentle elastic tops do not usually give problems in keeping them in position, but in those days there was no such efficient system, and men had to wear garters with top hose, as knee high stockings were called. Juvenile stocking-wearer's garters were often just an elastic band worn under the folded-over material at the top. But in this position below the knee, constriction by the elastic was sometimes blamed for causing circulation problems in later life, such as varicose veins. Men, particularly the elderly, were prone to this complaint but the problem was partly overcome by using a suspender belt. So far as I know suspenders are rare and may be unknown to later generations, so clarification might be needed.
Bearing in mind that what we know as braces for holding up trousers, in American they are call suspenders. In this country, sock suspenders, broad clip-held elasticated straps which spread the adjustable constriction, were worn over the calf below the knee, from which another clip hung down to grip the top of the sock to hold it up. Before tights became available in the 1950s women also wore a stocking belt that was also known as a suspender belt, that fastened around the hips with two clips that dangled down each thigh to grip and hold up individual stockings.
Most women with an expanded waistline wore a corset which most wearers described as devices of torture. It was a garment about eighteen inches high stiffened with strips of whalebone fixed inside it, that was worn round the lower body covering it from the breast bone to the hips. Kept in place by a row of many small metal hooks which fastened into eyes at the front, it was supplied in different sizes. The torture part of it was that wearers had to choose one that was a tight fit and battle with the fasteners by taking a deep breath and at the same time drawing in the waist to get the hooks into the eyes. One of my very earliest memories is as an infant seeing my Mother fight this battle! If a corset was worn, the suspender belt wasn't needed because the corset too had the stocking suspender clips.
THE DRUNK’S BARROW
Dad used to say that when he was in his mid ‘teens around 1914 he could earn sixpence - 6d - 2½p, by pushing the laden polis's drunk’s barrow from the area west of the Cross along to the Police Office in Orkney Street. This was in the days before they had motorised transport. The barrow was a waist-high two-wheeler with a load-bed resembling a stretcher used to transport drunk and incapable individuals picked up in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights.
In the early 1960s I became aware that the barrow had survived as an exhibit, it was on display first in Elder Park Library, then in the newly established first transport museum in the old Corporation tramcar works in Albert Drive. It was labelled as originally having belonged to the Burgh of Govan, and had been in store in the old police station in Orkney Street. When a youth myself, what used to puzzle me about Dad’s story was that 6d was a lot of money, even in the 1940s when I first heard about it, so was he exaggerating? Much later it became apparent that what he had said was 'helping' and 'we', meaning he and his pals, so the 6p would have been spread over half-a-dozen or more boys.
Some time after it was established and never having been there, my father expressed an interest in visiting the Transport Museum, so I took him along. Having in the meantime forgotten about the barrow, as we walked round among the displayed items and were approaching the place where it was exhibited, realisation dawned. I turned to tell him about it, but before I could utter a word he suddenly stopped and stood with his mouth open, pointing. He exclaimed, again but this time with astonishment, 'That’s the barra we used tae get sixpence fur helpin' the polis tae shove past Govan Cross tae Orkney Street!' That would have been just before the First World War.
Mum used to tell of how she and Dad first met at the dancing, the 'jiggin' in local parlance, in Old Govan Town Hall around 1922. Special black dancing shoes of patent leather were worn by men. The material they were made of isn't known to me; perhaps it wasn't real leather, and was some kind of composition? It surface had a shine that was far better than could be achieved with ordinary leather dress shoes. It was softer and thinner but to my junior eyes, because it reflected very well especially the lights of the dance hall, it imparted to wearers a kind of flashy appearance.
FASHIONS AND CUSTOMS
Other than a few individuals who were know as ‘oddities’, at one time there were positive divisions between what people said, did, and wore, and, nearly everyone was careful not to be seen doing anything considered as belonging to the opposite sex. Today, dress, hair-styles, and clothing fashions are regarded as being fairly interchangeable. So too are the simplest of day-to-day tasks like shopping, washing and ironing clothes, cleaning windows and other household tasks. In the 1930s you seldom saw a man with a basket shopping for groceries. How single men fared I do not know, other than perhaps they persuaded a neighbour, relative, or the wife of a friend to do his shopping.
Many other examples could be quoted, but totally tabooed was for a man to be seen pushing a pram. Mother used to tell of what she had to do when I was a baby and Dad was available, to get him to take me out to let her get on with the housework. Nothing would convince him that he wouldn't be the laughing stock of Govan if he pushed the pram for three blocks along the road to Elder Park. She had to go along and leave us in the park, and return for us later. By the time my sister Nancy came along ten years later things were slightly better, but only a little. He would push her pram with one hand while walking to the side, and whistling and looking about him in an apparently disinterested and self conscious way that was so comical. It was as if he was trying to give the impression that it wasn't really him who was in charge.
Like Joe Chambers, my father too had a hand deformity; he had lost half of a thumb in an accident at work so that it ended in a rounded swelling at the outer joint. At one time he was a heavy smoker of up to sixty a day, but probably because of my chest ailments he gave it up when I was an infant, and I never once saw him with a cigarette. As for drink, other than a miniature of brandy for medicinal purposes, there never was any in our house at this time. Like most members of his family he suffered from a stomach complaint, for which when he experienced an upset there was always a small jar of Dr. Gregory's Mixture in the house, a commercial product which was also used as a laxative. The Mixture looked like pepper and, taken mixed in milk as I was sometimes imposed on to do, tasted like what I imagined would a mouthful of seasoned dust.
The work was seasonal and didn't last, and after an extended period with no work and funds running low, he was having difficulty paying his lodgings, which so embarrassed him that he told his landlady he was dining out. But often on returning without having had anything to eat and feeling weak for the want of food, she had called him in to the dining room and made him sit down and eat a supper. This and other experiences gave him a favourable opinion of Canadians, and he said that in later years he would have loved to be able to remain there. With the help of a loan from his mother, after eighteen months away he returned home which was repaid in full.
Because of a continuing post-war depression, four years after he had served his time as an engineer dad went to Canada and remained there for eighteen months hoping to find employment suited to his engineering qualifications. The intention was that if he was successfully established in work Mum would join him and they would marry and settle there. Mum had Himsley cousins living in Hamilton, Ontario, and for a time dad lived in lodgings in that town. At the age of 24 he left home and travelled to Canada by ship on 27/7/23, arriving at Quebec with £10 in his pocket. After a time he got a job as deck hand on one of the boats that operated on the St. Lawrence River above Niagara and into the Great Lakes. This was before the Seaway was constructed which allows seagoing ships to pass through the locks and go directly up into the lakes. Before then, cargos from ships for ports on the lakes had to be transhipped and moved by land to above Niagara, then loaded on distinctive smaller, long narrow ships that sailed on the lakes, and it was on one of them my father worked for a brief period. But the depression in North America being just as severe as it was in the UK, he found it difficult to get permanent employment.
Like many socialists my father’s political outlook was towards pacifism, which manifested itself in a way that used to irritate me. He was very much against firearms, real and imitation, which I considered most unfair because most of my friends had cap firing six-shooters (we called the caps 'keps'). Much of the fun of playing cowboys and Indians with a roughly cut piece of wood from an orange box, carved tree branch or other substitute, was lost in the face of ridicule by the other participants. Then I received as a present a toy, the main part of which was an excellent replica of a pistol, the picture-gun described in the ‘toys’ section in AGC. But it was essential for the main purpose of the set of which it was part, and was reckoned to be too good to be taken out of the house in case anything happened to it. It took time, but eventually Dad's objection to guns was overcome, and I was able to use it in the required manner in outdoor games.
The caps referred to above were contained in small round card boxes that were sold in newsagents. They were tiny discs of brown laminated paper about three-eights of an inch in diameter for use in revolver type toy guns. They had spots of explosive powder in the centre within the lamination, and were put into a small depression in line with the barrel which was fired by a trigger operated hammer. As caps would fall out from the firing pan because of movement, other caps for pistols were on continuous strips as a roll that fitted inside the imitation weapon, and worked by being propelled one-at-a-time by a lever operated by the trigger.
THE INDEPENDENT LABOUR PARTY (ILP) GOVAN BRANCH
By the 1930s the ILP was past the peak of its power which even at its greatest with only a handful of MPs was tiny. But having a dad who was a member of and a party worker for the Govan branch, and hearing discussions going on between him and acquaintances at the branch premises, the impression gained was that it was forging ahead and was destined to dominate the political scene in the future. The meeting place was a large shop on the north side of Govan Road near the dry docks. Branch officials were keen organisers of social functions, using them to attract support from among the local but perhaps less politically aware or indifferent people.
This view of Govan Cross looking west (below) and Dad striding past the lamp post with the tram stop sign at lower left above him, probably going from Howat Street to the ILP hall in the building to the east near the dry-docks. Also seen here, the Aitken fountain is glimpsed at the right edge. The Pearce Institute building and its clock is the upper one of the two seen in the centre.
Despite counter attractions of wireless and cinema, the hall was regularly used in evenings and at weekends for meetings, socials, concerts, whist drives, dances and wedding receptions. With their love of dancing my parents attended these functions at every opportunity. In winter a regular dance held each Saturday evening was attended by all the dancing enthusiasts among the membership, and as many outsiders as could be persuaded to come along in the hope that they might join the party, if not for the politics perhaps for the social life.
As described before, when Mum and Dad attended these functions an arrangement had to be made for someone to look after me, for which Mum's sister Molly usually took on the role of child minder. Then as I approached school age it became possible for me to go along with them and pass the time playing with other children present. Memories of these functions make them seem rather incongruous, and do not fit in with what would be expected of the socialist ideals of the party at that time. The men wore evening suits, white shirts with black bow ties and the flashy patent leather shoes. The women wore gowns of seemingly remarkable elegance, although it could be that what are recalled of these occasions were actually special events.
JIMMY MAXTON MP
At this time James Maxton MP, an uncle of John Maxton who was MP for Cathcart in the 1980s and '90s, was the leader of the ILP. Jimmy was a brilliant public speaker and popular figure, and away from Parliament he regularly made speeches at political meetings around the country, and he occasionally came to Govan to address meetings there. An event not witnessed by me, but is described graphically by a Govanite of an event in the early '30s, James Wilson, member of The Salvation Army, formerly of Govan Citadel and later of Mill Hill, London. He said Maxton on one occasion addressed a meeting from on top of the canopy over the entrance to Govan Cross subway station at that time in Greenhaugh Street, seen on the left in the photo in AGC part 2, having been thrust up on it by enthusiastic supporters.
Another name from the past among members of the Govan branch, and one encountered when reading accounts of national political history, was Bob Edwards. There was an elderly (to my juvenile eyes) white-haired man with that name who lived in the Summertown Road area. He was one of a handful of individuals who would nearly always be present on any visit to the hall when I was taken there. Now I wonder was this the same man? Another individual who was much reviled by the membership at that time was John McGovern. The reason for this appeared to be linked to the fact that at one time he had been a powerful supporter of the ILP, but had defected to the Labour Party. This was done probably from his viewpoint of transferring from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in an ocean in which he hoped to be big eventually. This move was regarded as the basest treachery and was bitterly resented by ILP supporters.
Maxton often attended party rallies in Scotland, although my memories of him are faint, because when I was there with Mum and Dad it was simply to have fun with the other children present and not the boring speeches. They were great family gatherings, large picnics really which, as well as lectures on left wing politics, included sports events and entertainment. ILP branches around the country collaborated to arrange a gathering on a Sunday during the summer months, with everyone, transported by buses to assemble at such places in the central belt as Perth, Stirling or Ayr etc. Family and friends and any outsider who wanted to buy a ticket could come along.
It was at one of these rallies a photograph, now lost sight of that I would dearly love to trace, was taken of Maxton among a group of children at a rally in which I am standing 'stage centre' beside him. A well remembered feature of these gatherings was the company singing the Red Flag and the Socialist anthem the Internationale. All that can be recalled is the first line of the latter, 'Arise ye starvelings from your slumber', the rest of which is along the lines of encouraging the poor and the downtrodden to 'throw off the yoke of the oppressors'.
Mentioned elsewhere in these writings is the biography of political agitator John Mclean that was published by his daughter, Nan Milton c1973, a copy of which is in my collection. The ILP is mentioned in it frequently, so that some idea of the relationship between his activities and the party can be gained. It would have been expected that his ideas of socialism would have made the ILP attractive to him. But at that time the number of socialist movements with miniscule differences between their views was so diverse, and his views being so focused, not enough of them matched up to what he believed to be the ideal. This, generally, meant that even as little as a word added to a party manifesto could cause people to leave one socialist party and join or set up another. They were so busy arguing, quarrelling and fighting with each other that it took decades for socialists of different persuasions to agree a common manifesto and come to the fore as Labour and be electable.
MAY DAY DEMONSTRATIONS
In Glasgow in the early 21st century, the May Day demonstrations are only a faint shadow of what they were when compared with those of the early and middle decades of the 20th and may even be extinct now. In the '30s, '40s & '50s they were in the form of a long procession made up of many groups carrying banners that attracted left wing supporters, and my father never missed attending the parade until long after he retired. I have memories of going with him to walk in the procession in the late 1930s carrying a collecting can for contributions to party funds, from the city centre along Victoria Road to Queens Park sports ground, although my interest in the event diminished when the speeches began. This parade is heading to the Queen's Park c1950, where politicians and trade unionists would give speeches. The Independent Labour Party members with ILP sign are seen marching behind the nearest tram.
|May Day demonstration in Victoria Road 1950s|
On one occasion at school the following Monday an argument developed between a class-mate and me which threatened to become violent. He had been taken along as a spectator, saw me in the procession and accused me of being a communist. It didn't occur to me at the time to ask why he was there, for it was well outside his home territory. The person who brought him along was probably of the same political persuasion as my father.
It might be difficult for young people to understand today that despite living conditions being much worse then, in the thirties active supporters of left wing politics were in a minority in the community, but as seen on the photo there was always a good turnout for the spectacle along the route of the procession and at the meetings in the park. There was an atmosphere of hatred between the right and left wings of politics born of an establishment-generated fear of communism on the right, and the resentment by the masses of those in power who, behind a facade of supposedly doing good for their communities used their positions to enrich themselves. Today most people prefer the pub, sport and the bookies, or the fantasy world of TV, computer games and the internet.
THE PARTY ACTIVIST - THE NEW LEADER, FLYPOSTING
AND CHALKING THE STREETS
During the decades from 1920s to ‘60s my father used some of his spare time working for the branch, selling copies of a weekly party newspaper the New Leader and fly-posting and writing political statements on street surfaces with chalk. While he did not seem to take part in any organising or decision making, he was deeply involved with the foot-slogging aspects, giving out handbills, leaflets and delivering copies of the paper to regular customers in the area of West Govan and Linthouse, calling on them each Friday evening or Saturday afternoon, during the course of which he had to carry around, ‘humph’ in the local patois, and deliver up to 40 copies. For a brief period he had a pitch at the Cross where he sold them to passers-by on Friday evenings, standing among the other paper sellers of the time, with his bundle under his arm and a billboard sheet having the paper’s title tied with string around his waist.
Paper sellers were a common sight where many people walked or congregated, although he did not usually call out like the others. For a short time, too, he walked round the west Govan streets on Friday and Saturday evenings, this time calling out as other paper sellers did on the streets while scanning house windows for chance sales. The other rather disreputable task he undertook was fly-posting. This was pasting bills advertising meetings or setting out the views of the ILP on contentious political matters on any convenient wall, sometimes illegally, in places where there were plenty of passers-by to see them. As much frowned on by the authorities then as it is today, it had to be done during darkness while keeping a lookout for the polis.
Chalking the streets was a legal alternative to or supplementing fly-posting. It involved setting out in large format on a smooth road surface using pipe clay, advertisements for meetings. These messages seldom lasted for more than twenty-four hours so they had to be done during evenings or at night. The most suitable locations for them were side streets with asphalt surfaces adjacent to a main road for preference, where it would be visible to the greatest number of people. Individuals with a bee in their bonnet about a topic they considered of vital importance to mankind also used to set out their messages on the road for all to see. With today’s traffic levels such a thing would be impossible, but in these times of quiet, relatively traffic free side-streets it flourished. A perfect location would be a side-street corner with a suitable road surface near a busy main street tram or bus stop. The subject was usually laid out in large letters using as few words as possible to be taken in at a glance, but often as an elaborate panel with an artistic border and pleasing calligraphy. Of course like the housewife with her washing it would only be successful during dry weather, and many an extensive message covering a lot of ground, laboriously laid out at night in dry conditions, could be completely washed away by early morning rain.
The actual chalking was done in letters big enough to be legible for a reasonable distance using either whitening applied with a paint brush. More often it was done with a cake of pipe-clay about the size of a thick chocolate bar using the width of the narrow end of a moistened cake. Headings using extra large letters to catch the attention like newspaper headlines were employed. This activity intensified among rival political parties before an election, and when done by someone with artistic flair, even with a boring message it produced a pleasing effect. There was one occasion, probably during the run-up to an election in the late 1930s, I was up unusually late and Dad had come in with his hands covered with pipe clay, boasting gleefully how he and a friend had managed to cover so many good pitches, getting in before the other party workers.
STREET CORNER MEETINGS
Another common sight of the time was these street corner meetings. Certain places regularly saw such gatherings at week-ends and, less often, on weekday evenings. They were almost invariably political or religious gatherings much the same as the Salvation Army members used to conduct until recent years. Below is an SA meeting at the corner of Shaw Street c1910. Large crowds would gather when the subject was political. Such meetings were usually advertised in advance by the aforementioned chalked messages, fly-posting and handbills. Today, a gathering like this in the street would most likely be because of an accident, or an event involving law enforcement. Street message writers then were anyone with the urge and the ability indulged in it, and people seemed to have more time to spare and the inclination to stand and listen, when there were fewer distractions than the many forms of entertainment and activities that currently clamour for our attention.
A crowd of up to a couple of hundred would gather in the street round a speaker in a large circle, hoping for entertainment in the form of heckling as much as to listen to what was being said. The strange thing is that people did not usually crowd round close to the speaker, as is often depicted in present day period drama scenes. They formed a large circle with the speaker at a point on the circumference. If anyone tried to do such a thing today anywhere other than in an open space, park or city centre pedestrian precinct, they would be regarded closely to see if they were loopy, with scorn, or simply ignored. The most frequented place in Govan for such meetings was in the open space by the Aitken fountain at the Cross, sometimes with more than one meeting on different subjects going on at the same time.
Also attracted by a crowd would be newspaper and ice cream sellers and pamphlet distributors. But popular also were any of the side street corners along Govan Road and Langlands Road, and my father would join any meeting when politics was the subject. Shaw Street was a popular place and sometimes when out walking with him, if we came across such a meeting I had to hang around and wait for him.
Something that has puzzled me in recent years is that in the '30s there was an ILP hall in Linthouse, in Burghead Drive at the corner of Penninver Drive. I now wonder why my father, living there only a few minutes walk away from it, chose to continue to attend the larger and perhaps busier premises situated about a mile away in Govan Road opposite Burndyke Street. Having accompanied him so often to the east Govan hall, it is peculiar that I had no recollection of ever being inside the Linthouse hall. But this may have been because when he first joined the ILP he was living nearer central Govan, and after moving to Linthouse he had opted to remain as a member of the Govan Branch.
My paternal grand-mother Isabella McFarlane's ancestry has proved much easier to research. Her parents came from Falkirk before 1871 to live in Port Dundas north of Glasgow, where she was born prior to moving to Govan. The marriage certificate of William and Isabella’s records that the ceremony took place at 1 Elderpark Street Govan in July 1887. It was at the house of her father Alexander McFarlane and her stepmother Margaret Barr. In my time that street ran south from Govan Road to a dead-end beyond Nimmo Drive, so initially it was thought that number one was the close next to Govan Road. But contemporary maps show that in 1887 the section of the street alongside Elder Park between Govan Road and Langlands Road was named Thomson Street. Therefore the number 1 Elderpark Street of the certificate was not at the Govan Road end but near the north east corner of its junction with Langlands Road. The Thomson name was made to disappear in 1912 when Govan was taken over to become a suburb of Glasgow and the whole length became Elderpark Street.
While the original tenement block on the west side is still standing, the one on the east side containing number one was demolished during redevelopment in the 1970s. If the redevelopment caused the numbering of Elderpark Street to revert to what it was originally, then still surviving at the present time is the close at number 40 containing the house in which my father and five of his siblings were born. After the marriage William and Isabella went to live on Tyneside. However, around 1894 the family returned to Govan with their first two children that had been born there, and lived for a brief period at 13 Hamilton (later Nethan) Street before moving to 40 Elderpark Street.
MEMORIES OF ANOTHER HOUSE
In the early 1930s my paternal grandparent’s house at 40 Rigmuir Road, Shieldhall had a well kept garden that was probably looked after by Dad and his younger brothers. They were still living at home in the four (or five) apartment semi villa council house in the Shieldhall Housing Scheme to which they had moved from 72 Craigton Road in 1925. A feature of the path from pavement to house that made a lasting impression on me was two mountain ash (rowan) tree saplings standing one on either side of the gate at the entrance. These seemed of enormous significance because of the link with the family name.
Tending to be rather thin skinned, initially I disliked my name and resented being called by the then perceived as insulting, now regarded as innocuous, nicknames it generated. Realisation came with maturity that there were advantages in having an uncommon surname. A black Scotch terrier called Jock was one of the inhabitants of the house, but who owned it I never discovered. It seemed in venerable old age so may have originally belonged to the grandfather who died four years before I was born.
By the time my grandmother Isabella moved from Rigmuir Road to the smaller, three apartment house at 18 Langcroft Road in 1935, Dad’s brothers Alec and Jack were the only members of the family still living with her. When she died in November 1937 my father made the arrangements for the funeral. His name is on the undertaker’s bill found among the family memorabilia, and a scene from that day is imprinted in my memory. With Dad attending the funeral, I remained with Mum, and the two of us walked from Skipness Drive to stand in Moss Road at the corner of Langcroft Road.
We watched as the cortege with the hearse set off from the house travelling at walking pace until it left the street, as was always done in those days. Passing close to where we were standing, it turned south into Moss Road for the short trip to Craigton cemetery. As it passed us we saw dimly among the occupants of the car behind the hearse, a figure in the back raising a hand holding a bowler hat and moving it slowly up and down once or twice. It was Dad acknowledging us on that sad occasion. That hat is seen in the family photos of the time.
One of Dad's sisters worked for Blackadder, a retailer of photographic equipment whose name is still in existence in that business today. Dad bought a Kodak folding Brownie Autographic camera from the company that was used for taking family snaps until the mid 1960s which is marked by the last of the black and white photos in the family collection. The Autographic facility was a panel in the back of the camera body that opened to allowed exposure details to be written on backing paper of the special film, using a stylus attached to the camera. This remarkable feature was never used, but would have been invaluable if any manufacturer had re-introduced it for that type of camera. Many early family photographs were taken with it, some of which are included with these stories. I took it with me during the year and-and-a-half of national service, first to London then Egypt 1949/50. To allow it fold up flat it had a bellows between film and lens which ageing caused light leaks that subsequently caused trouble with some of the photos.
THE FIFTY PITCHES
The angle of the Rigmuir Road and Fulbar Road junction overlooked a large open space laid out as football pitches known as The Fifty Pitches. Although there were many I never counted them, and more than half a century on would guess there were at least a couple of dozen. None exist there today, because much of the land of the pitches was taken over in the 1970s when the M8 motorway was constructed and the rest landscaped. In later years the publishers of the Daily Record built a printing plant on part of the remainder of the ground. In the 1930s near the entrance to the pitches, at the junction of Moss Road and Rigmuir Road, there was a long wooden hut with a corrugated iron roof lying parallel with Rigmuir Road containing toilets and changing rooms for schools and amateur club teams like the one seen in image 19 in part one. The nearest house in the photo near the end of part one is 40 Rigmuir Road
My only experience of playing football there was in a Saturday morning school inter-class match, and on another occasion played cricket, again inter-class, at a grassy strip on the western end of the area that now lies on the south side of the motorway. That area is accessible today by the loop road which passes under the motorway through the bridge from Shieldhall Road opposite Hardgate Road.
A large area between the pitches and what was the LMS Glasgow to Paisley railway line was laid out as allotment gardens, while a smaller grassy portion next to the Moss Road - Berryknowes Road over-bridge served as a junior play-park. The important feature of this house for me was its proximity to the railway, which in those days had four tracks and was dead straight for four miles between Gower Street and Arkleston. The main reason I liked to go to Rigmuir Road was to watch the trains.
SOME ODD SIGHTS
There were many more people with physical disabilities and mental conditions than are encountered today, a number of the former of which suffered from one of the wasting diseases. Perhaps this is simply because today there are far fewer of them, and those that do exist lead sheltered lives and are better cared for. Individuals with a malformed foot, what was called a club foot, were relatively common as were the ones with limbs or parts of limbs missing or malformed, most of whom were ex-servicemen. People referred to today as the disabled were then known collectively as cripples. Squints (crossed eyes) were a minor though very common and now easily corrected affliction. More serious were those with deformed spines which caused a hump, making them a hunchback.
Another disability was people with legs of different lengths. This was overcome by wearing a boot with an extension to the sole of the foot of the shorter leg (below). A simple thin iron frame made up the height difference that in the worst cases may have been as much as six inches. The part that came into contact with the ground was made from a strip shaped like the edge of the boot sole and heel, so that the metal part in contact with the pavement gave their usually pitching gait a very distinctive clunking sound. Others with the lower part of a leg missing stumped around on a padded socket with a heavy brush-pole-like extension known as a 'peg-leg', and a crutch like the pirate Long John Silver in the film of Robert Louis Stevenson's story Treasure Island.
There were people with cleft palates who had no roof to their mouth which caused them to speak with an almost incomprehensible lisp. Anyone with this affliction was marked with a diagonal scar that ran from the corner of the nose and across the mouth to the chin, and was known as 'a hair lip'. This was the outward sign so that you were forewarned before they attempted to speak. To give an idea of what they had to endure, try talking without letting your tongue touch the roof of your mouth. That affliction is never encountered in the west now. It still affects many children in developing countries but a simple operation can correct it if carried out when the afflicted are young.
A few unfortunate individuals were born with mental defects, but some had sustained very bad head injuries, the worst cases of which were rendered idiots or imbeciles. Among children, these poor souls were talked about with bated breath as having been kicked by a horse. The first time I heard this it altered my feeling of affection towards horses, and made me resolve in future always to keep well clear of their rear ends. Other individuals were totally helpless. They suffered from encephalitis lethargica, known then as sleeping sickness. Adults so afflicted were confined to heavy wheelchairs constructed so that the occupants lay in an almost prone position on what was virtually a stretcher on wheels. Their demeanour was always that of someone heavily sedated. Yet another affliction was known as water on the brain. It is occasionally encountered today and is known variously as hydro-encephalomyelitis or simply encephalitis. Many were cared for at home, with the carers never receiving any official help or financial consideration other than through charities.
NATIONAL CRISIS – THE ABDICATION
Royalty, often anathema to working class socialists, is dealt with here purely because of the intense interest it generated at that time, many of the details of which remain quite prominent.
The national event that became international news in 1936 was the constitutional crisis involving the monarchy that began with the death of King George the Fifth. Next in line of succession to the throne was the Duke of Windsor who actually reigned as Edward the Eighth for eleven months. But because of his involvement with an American divorcee, Mrs. Simpson, there was disagreement within government and Church of England authorities as to whether he was a suitable person to be Monarch. It might seem a trivial affair now, and would surely be treated rather less hysterically if anything like it happened today, but at that time the country and the whole world (or so we were led to believe) were desperate for the latest news about the scandal. Some reports, which seem fantastic today, suggested that the nation and the 'Empire' would collapse if the matter wasn't resolved quickly. Every news bulletin on the wireless, cinema and all the papers except those of the extreme left wing press, The New Leader and Forward, were full of it, and after it commenced in January 1936 the furore continued until it was resolved in December.
Of course the reason it'is mention here is because of the way the subject dominated the media of the time. Without understanding any of it, what I clearly recall is how seriously seemingly everybody, except my father and like minded people, regarded it. Dad was rabidly anti-royalist, and his fulminations about these goings-on were scathing. He called them parasites funded by the government from taxes taken from workers who had barely enough to live on. Previous to her marriage Mum had been one of the women royal watchers who followed these events closely.
Many, even among those who were then called 'the lower orders', followed the doings of people who were definitely spongers. Without loosing that interest, my mother was to come round to agreeing with Dad's views in later years. Resolution of the situation took place during the time I was in Mearnskirk Hospital, and despite what is written in a previous part about listening to a wireless there, there is no recollection of being aware of the outcome at that time. This situation could be resolved if the grants to the royal family was stopped, and funds provided for it as a charity by contributions from anyone who wanted to!