All Our Yester Years
All Our Yester Years was published by the Govan Reminiscence Group in 1991, the booklet contains edited transcripts of some of the oral histories made by the group, the booklet has been digitised and most parts are now available below. You can also download a pdf version of the full booklet here.
Among the aims of the Govan Reminiscence Group is the resolve to record on tape recollections of the people of Govan. To leave to posterity a living record, in their own words, of what ordinary older people felt and thought and did in the district in the first half of the twentieth century. A library of some 40 tapes, made during the past three years by the group, is the archive from which transcriptions have been selected for this book. It will allow our members to have a permanent printed record of past experiences of themselves, their parents, and in some cases their grandparents. Other readers who originated in Govan might well identify themselves with some of the stories, and have interesting tales to add themselves, so why not Add Your Own Story Here!
This is intended to be the first of a series of books setting down in print the local contemporary scene. Contemporary, that is, with the youthful days of people now aged between 40 and 90, and it is hoped that it will be of interest not only to older locals but to the rising generation as well. There must be a great many people who were born and brought up in Govan who are now scattered around the world, some of whom might read these extracts. If the stories trigger memories of interesting experiences of bygone Govan, we ask them, as well as those nearer home, do please try to let us have them. The GRG was formed during the summer of the Garden Festival year of 1988. Meeting places are currently held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons in Elderpark Workspace. To keep the record straight, in some cases where the spoken word did not transcribe into easy reading, to make their contribution more readable certain members elected to abridge their stories. However, this may have had the opposite effect, with more details being added than were present in the original recordings - which served to increase the interest!
AT THE SEASIDE
My first memories of the seaside occurred in the Autumn of 1910. Why I am so precise about the date is because I was in Tynecastle in 1911. I remember being puzzled as to why the sky was getting dark over the Fife coast, while it was bright on the other side. I was very young and was being led by the hand and remember ladies in white dresses passing by. This was at Portobello, and I brought back little daisies which I put into an eggcup. At dusk they closed their eyes, which surprised me.
I remember the water-chute at Tynecastle, and the screams of joy of the holidaymakers. During the First World War I was with the family at Richmond. We were on a pleasure boat stuck on a sandbank. As it grew dark searchlights swept the sky looking for German Zeppelins and I heard someone say, "We are sitting ducks," which meant nothing to me.
I cannot remember much of my holiday at the seaside as I was four at the time. We crossed in the boat from Greenock to Craigendoran. We stayed in Helensburgh, also holidayed in Dunoon. I never learned to swim, which I now regret.
My first visit to the seaside was up north to the village of Hopeman, seven miles from Elgin. I would be about seven years of age, and my mother took me to the Central Station, and put me in charge of the train guard. I had a ticket round my neck with "Elgin via Forres" marked on it. When I arrived at Forres the guard put me into the train for Elgin. I was met by my cousins and taken to their village. Hopeman is a lovely little village with fine sands and rocks, which I enjoyed very much.
I was used to heated swimming pools in Glasgow, and found the sea very cold. The children of the village could not swim and came down to the beach to watch me. On Sunday mornings the villagers would come to the harbour to watch me swimming. They would throw three-penny pieces into the water, which I retrieved from the bottom. The money paid for my ice-cream.
The family holidays were in Troon. We packed our holiday hamper and travelled by train. My parents praised Troon with its flower beds, and the streets were so clean. The street cleaners had a blade on the back of the brush head. After brushing the road, they would turn it over and scrape the surface.
Troon had a large beach with long sandy stretches. The first place we youngsters visited was the sea and sand. Enjoyed the fresh air, the smell of the sea and the seaweed. There was a large open air swimming pool, and galas were held during the evenings. The pool was flood lit for the events, and a treasure hunt organised. Tins of fruit and salmon were thrown into the pond and the swimmers had to find them. What I treasure of those days, walking with the family on the prom. The older people discussing how to solve the problems of the world, and admiring the stars.
I was about three or four years of age when I went to Troon. Tommy Stewart is my brother. My two uncles were with us. They rolled their trouser legs above the knees and waded into the sea. I was with them and they went out too far. They were interested in boats and forgot all about me. My granny was sitting on the sand with her knitting. She happened to look up and noticed my head above the water, and she screamed at my uncles.
My memories of Troon are different from Tommy‘s. When I grew up I enjoyed the dancing. The Territorials had their summer camp in Gailes, and they came to Troon for the dancing. Those were the days.
When I first visited the seaside for a holiday, I was very young and my brother was a babe in arms. We went to Dunoon. This I do remember: My father, mother and young brother went to Ardentinny by horse drawn charabanc. I was left in the custody of my older cousin, a girl. The charabanc driver cracked the whip, blew his horn and they were away. I suddenly realised my father and mother had left me, and I howled for dear life.
When I was about ten or eleven years old we went on a holiday to Gourock. I was the youngest of a large family and I had never seen my father swimming, although I knew he had been very good as a young man. I suppose I thought he was too old to still be a good swimmer, and considered myself to be quite good. He soon put that notion out of my head by leaving my brother and I far behind. Lesson One. Then he took us out on a rowing boat and lost both oars, and when he leaned over the side to retrieve it the boat nearly capsized. Then he leant over the other side with the same result, so that he had us both really scared. It wasn't until much later I realised that the oars were lost at different times! Lesson Two — don‘t monkey about on a rowing boat!
Every year when we got our holidays we went to Lunderston Bay. My mother and father were very good friends with our next door neighbours, who had a huge square tent complete with wooden floor, which came in sections that could be assembled together. It held two iron bedsteads, a cupboard for the food, and a couple of big wooden kists for the clothes. An extra mattress was taken and laid down on the floor for the kids. Our local coal lorry was given a cleandown and loaded up with all the gear, then off we went with the children tucked in on the back of the lorry among the bedding. We stayed there for the whole of the school summer holidays, which was longer than the schools get today, as there were less holidays during the rest of the year. Nine weeks then, not the seven weeks of today. It was a great time, and somehow I only remember the long hot summers. This arrangement continued until the war broke out, when the army took over the ground for a camp. This was the only holiday we had when I was young. I could go on and write a book about our seaside days, they were the happiest of my life.
My first memory of a holiday is of Aberdeen in 1935, travelling there by Alexander's Bluebird bus, with the journey taking all day and loving every minute of it. Many happy hours were spent on the beach making sandcastles, and watching the fishing boats and other craft leaving and entering the harbour. The fishing boat, drifters I think they were called, seemed to depart in procession, sailing out in a line and getting smaller and smaller until they disappeared over the horizon. With the 20/20 eyesight of a child and a crystal clear atmosphere, it was possible to see the hull going down out of sight over the earth's curvature, while the funnel and sail was still visible, childish ignorance the phenomenon caused me to wonder, ‘did they have to sail underwater catch the fish?’ These boats were small and quite distinctive, with a tall thin funnel, and the mainmast close behind with a small triangular sail hung on it. Sails in those days were always white, but these sails were coal black. 'Was it the thick black smoke which poured continuously from the funnel that caused this?‘ I wondered. South of the beach was the gasworks, the sulphurous smell of which during days when the wind came from that direction, I found ‘repulsively attractive!’ We stayed with a Mrs Paul who lived in Skene Street near the Marischal College. Other trips were made to Duthie Park to see the swans and go on the paddle boats. In a memorable but disappointing trip we went to Loch Ness, but the monster failed to appear.
INTERESTING EVENTS IN GOVAN'S HISTORY
I was working aboard a ship on the stocks in the Fairfield yard, when looking south I noticed a pall of smoke rising upwards. When a ship is on the stocks, it stands high and one can see over the roofs of the tenements. All those working on the ship agreed that it was a fire, but where? Some thought it was the Vogue Cinema, others, the south Govan Town Hall. Word came round later, that it was the Govan High School. Next day I visited the scene of the fire, and the building looked structurally sound, not a pane of glass broken. The fire started in the attics of the science laboratory, the highest part of the building, and it was the very warm afternoon of a June day in 1962. The school was opened by the Govan Parish School Board, 1910.
I was in the Home Guard in Stephens shipyard during the war. We were issued with a uniform and a rifle for patrolling the yard. I thought this rather silly, with the rifle you got a clip of bullets. You put them in your pocket and did not load them into the rifle. We had some scares, and two of us were patrolling the yard about midnight on the 14th of March, 1941. We saw a parachute descending from the heavens. At first we thought it might be a paratrooper, but it was a mine. It just missed the cruiser, H.M.S. HERMIONE lying alongside the Shieldhall Wharf and demolished a tenement across the Govan Road.
Jimmy Thomson was a fireman in the Govan Brigade, and was involved in the incident aboard the cruiser H.M.S. SUSSEX. She was berthed at Yorkhill on the 14th of March, 1941. German aircraft raided the Clyde area and a bomb penetrated the deck between the funnels and did not explode. When the Govan Brigade arrived, other units were desperately trying to get the situation under control. The firemen received orders from an official to leave the ship and go into one of the dockside sheds. There was the fear of an explosion, and if that happened, the men would have had no chance of surviving. The men were only about sixty yards from the likely explosion. If the bomb and magazine had exploded, everything within half a mile radius would have been obliterated.
The "DAPHNE" Disaster. On the 3rd of July, 1883, the passenger steamer "Daphne," built by Alexander Stephen of Linthouse for the Laird Line, was ready for launching. When moving down the slipway and entering the river, the hull capsized. One hundred and twenty six workers from Govan and Partick lost their lives. As well as drowning, loose plates and baulks of heavy timber came crashing down on the men causing many fatalities. The two towns were plunged into mourning, and many bodies were washed downriver. The hull was raised fourteen days later and many more recovered. Queen Victoria sent her sympathy and condolences to the bereaved. A fund was set up to give financial assistance to the families.
The inquiry ruled that only a certain number of workers had to be on board a ship at time of launching.
On investigation no memorial to those who lost their lives in the disaster was erected in Govan or Partick, to the greatest shipyard tragedy in the world.
This is the story of the "Work-In" which first started in Govan during the years of 1971-72 in the Fairfield Shipyard, a unit of Upper Clyde No. 3 Shipbuilders. It was one of the most important industrial disputes in Britain.
The "Work—In" was a new tactic and it helped to break the image that we were ‘strike happy‘ workers. A fighting fund of £46,000 had been collected from 23rd of June till August throughout Britain. It cost £6,000 a week to pay the men in the shipyards, and that was to meet the wages. Industrial history was made during this period.
The idea of "Work-In" spread, and there were 190 factory occupations in Britain between July 1971 and December 1975. This situation cannot arise again as the Courts have seen to that. It proved in Govan that the workers desired a greater say with management and the Government of the time.
I first came to Linthouse in 1947. Visited the Elderpark Library and on display were historical relics of Govan in a bygone age. There were three cases containing relics, namely: a police baton, a bullseye lantern, the last birch rod used by the Govan Police. There was three silk handkerchiefs woven in Morris Pollok's silk mill. When Queen Victoria sailed upriver to Glasgow in 1849, the female employees gathered on the bank and waved their specially woven handkerchiefs as she sailed by.
I can remember the night during the Second World War, when a German plane crashed into Shieldhall. Our house is on a hill, and after the All Clear my father said, "Come and see this," the whole place was ablaze. It is hard to believe this, young women with their children and babes in arm, came to view the wrecked plane.
There are two events in Govan's history which are not well-known to the people of the district. First; Saint Saviour‘s School in Summertown Road was founded in 1897. In those early times, the school log book listed the staff and pupils, outgoings, incomings and expenses. It was more of a social document. There was one particular winter when absenteeism was very high. The Staff were so concerned that they visited those absent and were appalled by what they saw. It is recorded that they found whole families on the brink of starvation. The housing conditions in which those unfortunate families lived was distressing, and the houses can be described as hovels. With the aid of a few local business men, an emergency operation was set up to feed and clothe those unfortunate families. This at a time when the British Empire was at the zenith of its power and riches.
The second: The accident to the submarine "K.13" in the Gareloch during 1917. The submarine was built by Fairfield of Govan. The tragedy was due to a series of misjudgements and blunders by those in charge of operations. It was sheer bureaucratic delay that cost the lives of so many men. It was a miracle that so many of the crew and shipyard workers survived.
This incident occurred in the summer of 1938 during a fair in Pirrie Park to celebrate the opening of the Vogue cinema. The park was Harland & Wolff's employees sports ground and lay south of Langlands Road opposite Mambeg Drive. Among the various side shows in tents and stalls, with fortune tellers, roll-a-penny, coconut shies, etc., was a high tent with a generator standing outside. Entry was a penny to see the ‘electric man’, so with a group of pals we paid up and trooped inside. A young fit and bronzed man wearing only shorts, which intrigued us for he appeared as a kind of Tarzan figure, stood in the centre of the crowd holding a metal rod. Everyone was kept well back while a round cage, tall and narrow andwith shiny bars, was lowered over him by block and tackle. When the cage was in position, at a signal the generator was started up. Then holding the rod with both hands he began running it up and down the bars, gently at first, then with increasing effort, but with no effect that we could see. Except that after a few moments he started to show signs of strain, with beads of sweat forming and running down. Without knowing what we were supposed to see it was still obvious something had gone wrong, for with each touch of the bar the note of the generator changed slightly. Then an assistant appeared and asked the young fellow if he was getting a ‘kick’? "There's plenty of kick but no sparks," he answered, obviously "under stress. We got our entrance fee refunded, and it seems now that the dc generator's current control system had developed a fault. Soon after, that same young man was seen in evening dress in the foyer of the cinema in some kind of supervisory roll, and it turned out that he was a member of the owner's family, the Singletons.
The IBROX Disaster. This tragic accident happened at lbrox Park on the 5th of April, 1902. An international football match was in progress between Scotland and England. About halftime a portion of the terracing collapsed. In that period of time the terracing was not built of earthworks but of scaffolding comprising large beams of timber criss-crossing each other. With the collapse of the terracing, many spectators were thrown to the ground and crushed by the beams. As a result 24 people were killed and over 600 seriously injured.
It is recorded that my great grandmother always carried her Bible under her handkerchief. My mother was a member of the Church of England, and her brother became a member of the Church of Scotland.
When I was about sixteen years of age, my mother sent me to Confirmation Classes. I stopped attending Church when I was seventeen years of age, saying that I was giving up Religious superstition for science. Now I have given up Scientific superstition for what?
In our small area of Govan, we have our fair share of Ministers and Priests. The Protestant and Catholic churches have many volunteer workers. Govan used to have many Mission Halls.
As children we usually went to the Mission meetings and received tea and buns. Many young people attend Church, by just following their parents' wishes.
In my early days I attended the Harmony Row Club for young people. I was not always a perfect attender, and used to miss meetings for a game of football. Even though my attendances were poor, I managed to win the examinations. Also attended the Christian Volunteers in Harmony Row.
Was a member of the Boys‘ Brigade in the Old Govan Parish Church. Used to go to the Leckie Memorial Hall. A few weeks ago I went to the Old Govan Parish Church to buy a copy of the History of the Church. In the Saint Steven Chapel there was a half hour service.
My grandparents were of Highland descent and a very God fearing couple. It was instilled in me that God was always watching you. Due to my granny, I still attend Church. I attended Sunday School, not in Govan, but a church in Cowcaddens. In Port Dundas I attended the Boatmans' Institute. My grandmother gave me a three penny piece for the meeting. When I arrived at the hall, I got a bag containing a Napoleon Hat and a German Biscuit. I also got a cup of tea. There were I also lantern slides of Bible Times.
I attend Church every Sunday, and it does one good.
I was brought up in the Burgh of Kinning Park. I was a member of Kinning Park Parish Church from 1912 to 1940. I joined the School when I was five years old and left it when I was thirty five. When I joined the Sunday School it had a roll of two hundred pupils. One hundred and twenty girls and eighty boys. The Sunday School was from 3pm to 4pm in the aftenoon. The Superintendent opened with a Hymn and a Prayer, then the teachers took over. The collections were either half-pennies or pennies.
We had Bible exams and the top scholars received prizes. There were Christmas parties and School trips in the summer. I became a teacher when I was twenty. In the 19305 a boy in my class had been put out of other classes for bad behaviour. One Sunday he used foul language during a Prayer. I overheard this, gave him a slap and put him out. The Superintendent was very annoyed with me, and told me I did not require‘ to smack the boy. After this incident I resigned from the Sunday School.
I was about six years of age and my attendance at Sunday School was very short. It was in the Coronation Year of 1953. I lived in Thistle Street in the Gorbals.
The wee boy from next door asked me if I would go to Sunday School with him. As it happened it was a Flower Festival that Sunday. It was great, I came away with sweets, apples, oranges and flowers. Next Sunday I was dressed and ready to go. What a disappointment I got, there was no fruit and flowers. I had to put threepence in the box, so I did not go back again.
It does not matter what Church I go to in Govan, either Saint Anthony's or Saint Constantine. If my friends were going to their Church, sometimes I joined them. If you have good friends on either side, it really doesn't matter.
My first Sunday School which I joined when I was five was in Sandyford Parish Church in 1924. We moved to Paisley in 1926 and I joined the Sunday School, Life Boys, Boys‘ Brigade and Bible Class in Sherwood Church. We left Paisley in 1933 and moved to Carsaig Drive in Craigton. After a lapse of many years I joined Linthouse Parish Church in the late 1950s. I was a Deacon, then an elder and Church Treasurer. In 1972 we joined Inchinnan Parish Church.
Sunday morning churchgoing was very important to our family. We belonged to St. Anthony's Parish (living in Crossloan Road). My mother often took me with her to weekday mass as well. I loved the brass candelabra which shone with what seemed to me a thousand candles. I can still remember the smell of incense after High Mass, and the hymns sung in Latin. The women attended Sacred Heart Sodality monthly meetings, as did the men. There were youth clubs for boys and girls, and billiards in the parochial hall for the men in which my father was very active. Matches were arranged between the parishes, and any small profit made from these evenings went to the church funds. Social evenings were also held in the church hall which was at the top of Nethan Street. I can still remember the sound of Harry McGaw's band echoing up the street.
I became interested in photography as a hobby in 1935 when I was 16 years of age. My first camera was a Kodak Box Brownie bought in 1925 for 10/-. I still have this vintage camera in my possession. During the Second World War I did not use the camera. During the war I got a French Lumiere folding camera, also German Naval binoculars. After the war I purchased my first 35mm camera, an Ilford. It was followed a few years later by an Agfa 35mm rangefinder camera. At present I use two 35mm single reﬂex cameras, an Olympus 10 and a Pentax P30, also a compact 35mm.
In the 1960s I branched into Standard 8mm movie cameras. During the 1970s I purchased a Eumig Super 8mm silent movie camera. A few years later I bought a Canon Super 8mm sound camera. My chief interest in photography is land-scapes, architecture, transport and shipping, also processions.
I do my own processing in Black and White.
Hobbies, a word of unknown origin, but which the dictionary describes as an activity pursued in spare time for pleasure and relaxation. This gives a wide interpretation of what is a hobby or what becomes a lifelong interest. For a boy it was usually collecting cigarette cards or a girl collecting scraps to be pasted in a book.
Model boatbuilding can lead to making models with one's grandchildren for sailing in the local pond. Books and stamp collecting, sketching or painting can start as a hobby and become a lifelong interest. Model Railways are also an interest and can be developed over the years. Books are the most interesting, if they can be called a hobby. A visit to a friend and a glance at his bookcase will give an opinion of his lifestyle. I am not going to mention stamp collecting, as I found it a most inert pastime.
As a young boy during the 1914-18 War, I collected army badges and brass buttons. Soldiers on their tunics wore brass insignia and on their collars. I remember having quite a collection of infantry badges and cap badges. I gave them all away for cigarette cards when the war finished.
I kept two sets of cards. New cards for an album and second rate ones for exchanging or playing games with. It was surprising the information you could pick up from cards. There were cards such as: British Birds, British Castles, Famous Ships, Famous Soldiers, Fish of the Deep, Sailors, Airmen, Flowers and Trees. All those cards are worth quite a lot of money today, unfortunately I do not have any.
Then came football cards, and they were shield shaped. When you saved so many of those cards you could send away for a football. I was interested in stamps and over a long number of years collected about 20,000. I sold 10,000 cards a few years ago, and made quite a lot of money from them. There was a craze for Matchbox cars a few years ago, so I was in on that.
The collecting bug is still with me, and I collect newspaper cuttings, mainly on Jack House's replies to readers questions on Old Glasgow. I have another file on Govan, as well as local churches, and of course the Minutes of the Govan Reminiscence Group.
Whenever hobbies are mentioned I think back to what teachers and youth leaders directed young people towards: bird watching, stamp collecting, even butterfly collecting. When I was young we collected the registrations of buses in the Langlands Road. We also started listing names and house colours of tugs that sailed on the Clyde. Like most boys I tried most of them, but found them negative and lacking in interest. Our attraction to hobbies change with the oncoming years of our lives, and very few people retain an interest in a hobby throughout their lives.
All our family have been obsessed with sport, either football or swimming. There were three professional footballers in our family, and I being the youngest thought I would like to be a footballer too. But after many years I found that I was not as good as I thought. In swimming it was much the same. However, I was in a water polo team and travelled playing all over the country.
The expression "Home Cooking" implies that the result of the goods for sale were up to the standards of the domestic kitchen. This is far from the truth, as not every man and woman could cut a clean slice of bread before the machine variety was introduced. Many could not make lump free porridge, or provide the right degree of saltiness.
A fried egg in the wrong hands could resemble plastic, and a boiled egg like a stone. One year when my wife was on holiday in America, she arranged to have a woman to cook for the family. Things did not turn out as it should, as the soup tumed out to be mince.
When I was four or five years old my grandmother had a back to back oven. The coal fire in the kitchen heated the oven. She was always baking, especially, shortbread.
I was camping beside Loch Lomond, and was elected to be the camp cook. My attempts to make French Toast was not very successful. I have never been much of a cook, tried to boil eggs and burned the pan.
My mother was a professional cook before she married. My mother made all the meals, and on a Sunday my father did the baking. My father would spend the whole of the Sunday moming baking apple squares and pancakes. He was a wonderful baker.
My sister always cooked pot roast, and I cooked the meat dishes. She would instruct me what to do, and how much water and fat to put into the pot. I was no cook till my sister taught me.
I never cooked a meal, and my mother took the line that food was too scarce to be wasted, by giving me a chance to cook.
When I got married, my wife maintained that I was too careless in my habits to cook a meal.
When I served in the Navy, and it was my turn to cook, I got out of it by giving my mates my rum ration. I can make a cup of tea and a plate of porridge.
lt has been proved that the Scottish people have one of the unhealthiest diets in the World.
Our inputs of sugar and fats are too high. The offal is put into sausages, pies, cans of meat, and impregnated with salts and peppers. Many years ago we were advised to eat plenty of eggs as they were good for our diet. Nowadays we are warned not to eat too many eggs, as they raise the cholesterol level in the bloodstream.
I enjoy black puddings and treat myself to one occasionally and suffer for it during the night.
My mother was a very good cook. Everything that came out of that black iron stew pot was plain but delicious. For me the speciality was 'Griskins's.' These were pieces of pork stewed with onions, which were delicious with thinly cut pan bread and butter. In recent years I have asked butchers about them but none seem to have heard of them. Tasty soup was also made in a large black soup pot which bubbled away on the gas stove in the range. These pots were almost indestructible and even today cooks will tell you that they are the best utensils for cooking in. On Shrove Tuesdays great round tins of apple cakes were dredged with sugar as they appeared from the oven, and laid on the table on wire coolers, tempting the whole family.
Decoration of homes has greatly changed since 1919, with the types of paint and wallpapers.
I always found papering a boring and tedious job, the scraping and preparing of the walls. In days gone by, the wallpaper had to be trimmed, which was very tiring. One had to be careful when matching the paper. The paste used to be made up with flour and water, usually it turned lumpy. After the Second World War, emulsion and paint rollers were introduced.
With wallpaper not available, people emulsioned the wall to the colour of their choice, and stippled the surface with a sponge. I must say the paste powder supplied today is excellent and does not lump when mixed with water. The non-drip paints and trimmed rolls of wallpaper now supplied, are a boon to the home decorator.
In the old days the walls of a room were plastered with mortar containing horse hair. This allowed the walls to breathe and prevented condensation. Nowadays many plastics are used and high gloss paints which are the source of condensation. For many years people stippled the walls instead of papering.
I used to do wallpapering, painting and signwriting. One of the jobs I detested was holding the ceiling paper up with a brush. My usual job was scrape the walls, and if there was many layers of paper, it took a few days to strip. Most of my experience was gained in decorating for other people. I enjoyed painting and all one required was a steady hand and a good brush. One thing I did learn was to paint the sashes on the windows without marking the glass.
Like most people, I have spent a lifetime in making one's home a place to live in and enjoy through decoration. I can remember days when in a new house, one spent nights under candle light withdrawing headless nails from the floor boards, and filling in cracks on the wall before papering. After my mother died, I moved from Kelvinhaugh Street to a top ﬂat in Argyle Street.
The front bedroom had no less than seventeen layers of paper on the walls. The lobby had six doors, so I only required two rolls of paper. I have much pleasure now looking out to the garden as in my present house. I have planted eight trees in front, and elderberry bushes in the back, also poplars and an infant oak tree.
I remember home decorating as being a bit of a nightmare. My father was inclined to be bad tempered and when papering, if it did not please him, he would pull the paper off the wall. My mother was a very skilful woman, and she finished papering the wall. I have never done any wallpapering. My husband does the decorating, and I help him by holding the end of the paper.
HUMOUR AT WORK
We had a young lad in our shop who was given the job of filling the pipes with sand before hot bending. The boy was a labourer and subject to fits. One day he was on a ladder filling a pipe with sand. The foreman's attention was drawn to this and he was ordered to come down the ladder to floor level.
The following day he did not report for work. It was noticed that a pair of boots were showing above the pipe lowered to the floor. On investigation the boots were found to be empty. The boy played a trick on the foreman.
One year I was working as a holiday relief in a hospital and had to look out case histories for the various clinics. As it happened I could not find the card I was looking for. Seeing I was in trouble, a nurse came forward and said: "I do not think you will find the girls card under the circumcising cases."
You will remember the apprentice at his first day in work being told by the journeyman to go for a "long stand." Another about a workman putting his bread and cheese sandwich on the hot plate for toasting. His mate played a prank on him by covering the sandwich with a shamrock. The other story about a policeman who shifted a dead horse into Crow Road, as he could not spell Balshagray Avenue.
In 1960 I was attending the Corporation Transport's driving school. During the first session to put the group at ease the chief instructor, Jimmy Dunlop told this story. An old tram driver, an Irishman, had been having trouble with derailments at a certain set of points along Govan Road. These incidents required written reports to be submitted, but he was making them lengthy and long winded. The traffic inspector whose job it was to investigate the details to see if disciplinary action was required, was becoming exasperated with the pages and pages of unnecessary detail. So he called the driver up before him and said, "Look Finniegan, cut it down a bit, you are putting in far more information than is needed." Sure enough a week later it happened again, and when the report came in, it read: "Off again, on again, away again, Finniegan."
This was my first day at work and I had reached the manly age of fourteen. I was in a man‘s world and started my first shift. The other boys suggested that we go and play at see-saws. Said to myself, "men going to play at see-saws? surely THEY MUST be kidding me." We went to the dockside and lying there were two empty cable drums and two planks. The boys started jumping up and down on those huge things, they were about eight feet in diameter and made them roll like acrobats. This had been going on for some time and the boys got tired of the game.
A plank, thirty feet long was placed on the highest drum with three boys at each end. To alter this they moved along the plank till it was twelve feet from the ground. Now it was my turn, two boys at one end and myself at the other end of the plank. I was now high above the ground, and if I tried to get down they gave it a jolt. I was laughing and taking it in good part, when the boys turned it round and I found myself thirty feet above the Clyde. I remember it quite clearly, and with my hands clutching the plank, I said, "let's hope it floats." Suddenly it was rolled away from the water's edge and I was lowered to the dockside. This was an experience I shall never forget.
After we left school, myself and my two pals started as apprentice plumbers in a local shipyard. One of the boys, wee Georgie Steel had a terrible stutter. The manager said to wee Georgie, "away tae that fire", and to me, "go up those wooden stairs to the copper shop, ask for Adam Buchan and he will take you on". Wee Georgie spoke to the man at the fire and received a belt on the ear. He picked himself up and asked the man, "what was that for?" The reply given by the man in a hesitant manner, "for making a fool of me." Georgie replied, "I stutter too."
In the old days many homes had brass shoe lifts, brass and copper hooks for the buttoning of the high legged boots and shoes of those days. Toast forks and button boxes were not uncommon. A trivet was fixed in front of the fire where steak could be cooked in a stone jam jar. The cooked meat had an exquisite taste.
A lady who knew that I was a member of the Govan Fair Association told me this story - Her son bought a house in Saint Vincent Street, and was renewing the doors, and on removing a plate holding the handle in position, found that it was a plaque from the Govan Fire Station. It had apparently been above the stables in pre-motorised days. The plaque bore the names of some of the horses that pulled the old type of fire engines. It is now in the People's Palace, Glasgow Green.
Every house had a candle stick, either homemade, or commercial, to be kept beside the bed. Tureen covers hanging on the wall had to be cleaned every Friday, and they were of various sizes. Many single ends had inside toilets without any natural or artificial lighting.
A single end contained the following: sink with a swan neck tap, an inset bed. The iron kettle with jorries (marbles) inside to prevent it furring. Meat covers on the top shelf and Toby jugs. Kitchen range with hot bricks in the oven, to be put into the beds during the cold winter nights.
A three legged stool, a flat iron, a griddle for baking. A chiming clock, wally dogs and gas mantles. Wash board, a clothes wringer. Coal bunker in the lobby. Stone ginger jar and a chamber pot under the bed we used to look forward to the gas man coming to read the meter, as we always got a few shillings back.
Let me describe the "middens" of Govan in the 1930s. They were of brick construction, and joined the walls dividing the back courts. Were 9ft. x 9ft. with a roof 7ft. high. The floors were of cement and a four feet high wall at the front. Into this receptacle the householders threw their domestic waste. The dustmen cleared the "middens" in the early hours of the morning. The men had lights on the front of their caps. In those days, the bulk of the refuse was ashes from the coal fires.
We children climbed over the wall into the dirt and ashes. What I remember most about those dreadful disease carrying "middens" was the ashes and a smell of sauce. Having to spend ages cleaning my shoes and clothes before I went home.
Wooden or cardboard boxes proved very useful to us, as we used them to build barrows. If anything interesting was found, it was christened a "lucky midden."
For the first three years of my life, I lived in Edinburgh. There was no such thing as "middens." The householders put their refuse into parcels. The parcels were put into the road every morning to be collected by the bin men.
In Garnethill Street and Dalhousie Street in Glasgow, the householders put parcels outside at night to be collected by the dustmen.
There was only one case of which I heard was a "lucky midden." A lodger brought back to his landlady a parcel, saying "look what I found." When opened the parcel was found to contain gramophone records.
I can go back to 1925 when I left school. There were no "lucky middens" where I stayed. Six or seven of us boys went for a walk to Hurtlet, to a play park.
We left the play park and walked down Crookston Road, and walked along Paisley Road West to Jura Street. In Paisley Road there were a few Cafes. The "midden" at the back of the shop could be seen from the street. It was amazing what one found, mine was a packet of cigarettes.
I was five or six years of age when we moved from Alexandria to Renton. The houses were built of red sandstone, and the "middens" were at the back of the houses. The front walls of the "middens" were not very high. My Grandmother being not very tall, she could throw the rubbish over the low wall. It was at the end of the washing house with two water closets.
Into it was put mainly ash from the fires, also glass and broken crockery. I got a row from my mother when I played with the broken china. I used to consider that the broken china with the gold lines on them was my find from the "lucky midden."
I lived in Linthouse at the western end of Govan. The middens here were slightly different in having a slab of slate between two and three feet high across the opening. We sometimes had to rake through the rubbish when looking for a particular item for a game, such as a can for kick-the—can, or one of a special type, Boumville Cocoa was one, for the lamplighters carbide banger game. Old polish tins were handy for games of pever. Around 1938 the piece of slate was removed and six square dustbins were put in, keeping the midden much tidier and making it a lot ’ easier for the bin men.
In the 1930s a common saying among Glasgow people was "See ma hoose its like Annacker's Midden," or it might be, " He gets his claes in Annacker's midden." Pierre Annacker was a continental butcher who came to Glasgow in the 1850s, and did very well as a specialist in sausage meat. When he died he left 16 shops to his son, who then built a sausage meat factory in William Street, Anderston. All their scrag ends, bones and offal were put outside the shop in bins for destitute people to rummage through. What the public didn‘t want was scattered around for stray dogs of the district. Annacker's middens were notorious as evil smelling and filthy places. A back street poet who might have been an advertising copywriter for Waddells wrote:
Waddells sausages are the best,
In your belly they do rest,
Annacker's sausages are the worst,
In your belly they do burst.
PUBS IN GOVAN
When in a pub, I started a discussion to find out how many there were in Govan. It was said that there was a pub in every comer of the district, also pawn shops with a church in between.
I remember when people asked directions to a certain street, you told them to pass a well known pub.
The old time Govan pubs were terrible places, just drinking dens. Of course that was true of all the industrial towns in Scotland. The noise in the shop was constant, and in the background, the clink of money, with orders being shouted.
In the country a pub was entirely different. Things were quieter and the customer seemed to have a changed attitude towards drinking.
Since the change of licensing hours, and the admittance of women, things have changed for the better.
Some of you may remember John Scott, he had the ‚Queens Bar‚ along the Govan Road. John was an Irishman and ran a good shop. He had a surprise for us a new lounge, with upholstered chairs, and nicely decorated.
He told me that his customers had supplied him with a good living, and it was only right that he should return their generosity.
The next time I passed by, John was reading the "riot act." When he closed on the Saturday night, one table nearest the door and four chairs had disappeared.
I will say this much for him, it did not deter him in his Christian charity.
Before the Licensing Laws were introduced, there were about thirty Public Houses or Inns in Govan. In the eighteenth century it was no disgrace if a man slept off the effects of his Bacchanalian weekend on the Monday.
With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and the hard drinking of the Period, it concerned the factory owner, if working time and profits were lost.
The Temperance Movement was instituted to warn the workers of the perils of heavy drinking. The Movement brought a double living standard to the nation, from which, we are just recovering.
I remember one night during the war listening to Lord Haw Haw on the wireless. Lord Haw Haw was an Irishman, a German sympathiser whose real name was William Joyce, who broadcast Nazi propaganda from Germany almost every night. The nick-name was given to him because of his very "upper class" accent, beginning his talks saying "Jarmany calling." During one particular broadcast he referred to Govan, mentioning many aspects and assuring us that he was well informed about conditions there. He ended by saying they would not need to bomb Govan as the people would drink themselves to death! There were many pubs in Govan in those days. All were busy, with three shipyards and many thirsty customers. When women began visiting pubs in large numbers those which welcomed them were given derogatory names, which was an unkind reflection on the fair sex. The local one was called "The Beauty Parlour." Most districts had a drinking den of ill repute, and there was one in the South Side called "the Beastie Bar!" The message to us males is "cast not the first stone." Finally, drink is the worst drug of all, it is the easiest to obtain, the greatest killer and cause of more ruined lives. There is a certain inverted snobbery among drug addicts and alcoholics, and, oh yes, I know the Apostle Paul said, "A little wine is good for the stomach."
POLITICS IN GOVAN
My father was not the person to tell a boy to keep quiet. He explained things to me at an early age. What was going on during the Rent Strike of 1915. After the strike ended, the Govan Housing Association still survived.
This takes me back to 1918 when Lloyd George brought in the troops and tanks to George Square, in an attempt to quell the supposed uprising of the workers.
During the voting, Govan came up trumps. A Socialist and an Anti-war candidate were elected.
In 1920 I joined John MacLean's Socialist Sunday School. The National Guild of Youth was formed in Manchester in 1925. A branch was formed in Glasgow, and I was the first to join. The same year I joined my Trade Union.
I was working in Harland and Wolff's and tried to organise the clerical staff into a Union. They were very snobbish, even though their pay was two pounds less than the manual workers.
In 1925 the Trade Unions asked their members to march from George Square to Glasgow Green. We marched from Govan with our banners flying.
In 1929, Britain was hit by the Depression. The workers were betrayed by Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden.
I had become active in trying to organise the clerks and was a Lecturer with the National Council of Labour. I applied for a course in the Ruskin College.
After 1945 a group of us travelled to East Germany.
My education started when I entered the shipyards at the age of 15. In my younger days I gained some knowledge from books on politics. It was in the yards that experience of the ‘practical side of work was gained, for practice without theory is dangerous, and theory without practice is useless. Not only will one learn a trade but will inevitably become involved in the ‘class struggle.‘ I joined a trade union, the purpose of which is to protect the wages and conditions of the workers. The employers had their organisation called the Masters Federation and, if required, the police and armed forces in times of critical disputes. Having always been aware of the bad working conditions, I fully understood the vital necessity for change. It wasn't all politics. A trade had to be mastered, for which a five year apprenticeship had to be completed. I was a quick learner and soaked up everything I needed to know. Apprentices in general were an enthusiastic group, quick to understand the ins and outs of politics, among whom I became politically mature. Proletarian science is the declaration of independence of the proletarian mind from the control of the capitalist mind. Man is the highest developed being and it is necessary to ensure that all degrading conditions everywhere are banished, so I became a socialist.
STREET NAMES IN GOVAN
The "Golly" was at the bottom of Harmony Row on the Govan Road. The statue of Sir William Pearce, known in Govan as the "Black Man" stands at the comer of Burleigh Street and the Govan Road. Burleigh Street was originally named Morrison Street.
I was brought up in Linthouse and discovered that the name of Burghead Drive was named after the village of Burghead in Aberdeenshire, which was associated with the Stephen family. Emanuel Shinwell the M.P. lived for a time in the Linthouse Buildings on the Govan Road. The Three Ell Lane was named after a weavers measure.
Albert Street and Victoria Street were so named to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Alma Street was named after the Battle of Alma, a victory won by British troops during the Crimean War. King Street and Princes Street named after Royalty.
Of the shipbuilding fratemity, the following streets were named: Elder, Napier and Pearce. From the estates in Govan: Plantation, Craigiehall, Cessnock and Middleton. Mair Street from a former owner of Craigiehall Estate. Cornwall Street after a relative of Mrs Macbean. Blackburn Street from an English town. Whiteﬁeld Road from a fomier estate.
Many streets in Glasgow had similar names. After protests from the Post Office, Glasgow Corporation renamed many of the streets in Govan.
I was born in Queen Street between Summertown Road and Brighton Street. From Summertown Road to Govan Road our street was named Victoria Street, also known as "The Irish Channel." This seems strange a straight street with two names. The answer seems to be, Victoria Street was built first and at a later date, King and Queen Streets were erected parallel to one another. This was a real royal quarter, with Princes, Windsor Street, Albert Street, Queen Street and King Street.
THE NOT SO GAY ´NINETIES IN GOVAN
Towards the end of the Nineteenth Century the Municipal Fathers were ahead of the Times, or farsighted, with Public Baths in Summertown Road. The installation of a swimming pool in the basement of Lorne School. Govan was ahead in matters of street lighting, and the introduction of electric lighting for domestic and business use.
The Burgh of Govan had a lower death rate than many other towns. During that time there was no appreciation of the effects of sunlight on health, with the polluted air from industrial and domestic coal fires.
About that time, small iron plates were attached to houses where there had been overcrowding. The number on the plate indicating how many people should be in a house. Inspectors were not immune to abuse when they called at 4 a.m. in the morning to check the numbers living in the house. This state of affairs lasted till the 19305.
In those days it was a straight fight between Conservative and Liberal candidates for the Parliamentary elections. When the General Election of 1885 was reached and the new electorate exercised their vote. At that time there was in Govan an Association known as the Govan Liberal Association. In that year another association came into being, the Radical 600. The Conservatives had no difficulties, they were ready with a candidate. In 1886 Sir William Pearce was the Conservative candidate for Govan. The election of 1895, the Independent Labour Party received 450 votes. Britain had a Labour -Government in 1924.
In the summer of 1896 the industrial forces of Clydeside was torn in the fight for an eight hour day. Many trades were involved and caused much hardship to those who could least afford it, but it was a fight to be won. Before that, a man had to start work at 6 a.m., return home for breakfast at eight, and then return to work. In those days the working man's conditions were wretched.
One invention of the era which made homes brighter, was the gas mantle, as previously it was the fish—tailed gas burner. Oil lamps and candles were in wide use. The carbon electric lamps gave off a yellowish light.
The period also talked of boys stoning trains and putting obstructions on the rails. At this time the Sanitary Department were kept busy in Govan. They inspected food shops, butchers and dairies who watered down milk, and bakeries, taking away samples for testing. The ointments sold by chemists were examined for their fat content.
The inspectors also kept a check on the hours worked by young people. The limit was seventy four hours a week including meals. There was fines on employers who overworked both sexes.
It was a social disgrace for a member of the family to fall ill with tuberculosis. Cases have been for the sufferer to go to hospital, and the family to say that the person concerned was away working in another town. Conditions may have altered today, but we still send children out in all weathers to deliver milk.
GOVAN IN THE 1920s
Govan has changed out of all recognition since the Second World War. In the 1920s life followed a fixed pattern of routine. Let us start with the early morning scene, when the streets were astir with cleaners going to the offices in the shipyards.
The housewife bringing in the early rolls for breakfast, along with the morning paper. Children out for foodstuffs, as the mother prepared the infant for the day. The streets resounded to the hobnailed boots of the labourers, with their "duds," as few could afford dungarees or overalls. The tradesmen were dressed better and the engineers were known by their shiny peaked caps.
The patrolling policeman would be shining his torch on the still closed premises. Early on the morning scene were the milk boys, with their long handled pitchers. They worked to a strict routine. Children going for bread in those days usually carried a pillowcase to hold the unwrapped and unsliced bread. Girls were sent for the vegetables to make a pot of soup. The price was 11/2 old pence for carrot and turnip. If the shopkeeper gave the child a bad vegetable, she was sent back to the shop forthwith. Many a child was sent back to the butcher with bad meat, and with the school bell ringing, knowing that she would receive the strap if late. Those who really counted their pennies were out early and into town to form a queue outside the large grocers where perishable foodstuffs were sold off cheaply, being the previous days leftovers.
The street sweepers were out early, and after rain, deposits from industrial and domestic soot plus horse dung, made a fall in the street a serious matter. The call of "coal" from the coalman with his horse and cart was always constant. The chimney sweep was always busy. Those who did without a sweep usually set the chimney on fire. The best days for a chimney fire, was a windy day or even better, a foggy one. If a policeman thought the fire was a serious one, the Fire Brigade was called out.
The housewife took her turn of the washhouse in the back court with her neighbours in the close. The night before, father taken down the sticks and coal to light the fire under the boiler next morning. A large mangle was in the washhouse to wring out the clothes. The clothes hung on the washing line, and woe betide any child who dirtied them when out playing.
Canteens were not in general use in shipyards and factories during the 19205. If living locally the man of the house came home for his midday meal. The housewife had it timed and when her husband approached the close, the meal was on the table. In a well cared house, dinner consisting of soup, then mince or boiled beef, followed by treacle or apple dumpling, or custard and prunes. In the afternoon the housewife was kept busy, darning or sewing clothes for the family. There were few wirelesses to entertain the housewife, and there were constant serenades from the backcourt singers. Some of the singers were genuinely hard up and were pleased with a few coppers and a sandwich. Others only wanted the money and threw the sandwich away. There was also sellers of notepaper, bootlaces, soaps, flowers and matches.
The noise from traffic was so bad that it was very difficult to make conversation outside in the streets. The worst offenders were the high bread vans, usually drawn by two horses whose iron shoes produced sparks from the cobblestones.
In those far off days, the streets of Govan were much busier than they are today. The housewife had to do more shopping, as goods were seldom left overnight in the shops. Without a fridge, food was sometimes a problem. The shops shut at 9 p.m. and never opened on a Sunday.
THE GOVAN TRADERS´ ASSOCIATION
After the end of the Second World War there was no immediate return to the shops of goods that were in short supply, and many foodstuffs were still rationed. New technological developments of goods for the market. Plastics were being introduced and making home life easier.
Mr John Hall of the Govan Music House was responsible for the formation of the Govan Traders´ Association, and assisted by Mr Harry McNab, director of the John Cossar Press of Govan. In 1954 a trade exhibition of post war goods was displayed in the South Govan Town Hall. This exhibition was opened by Cliff Hanley, broadcaster and journalist. As well as Govan Music House, the goods of other well known shops in the Govan area were on display. Namely: Crosbie‘s Stores, Andy McNeil of the cycle shop, Brays the Chemists, Nicol‘s Stores, the Gas and Electricity Boards. Display of paints from McWade and Hutcheson. There was also a tearoom for visitors and supplied by Wyper's Bakeries of Langlands Road.
In 1956 prizes were provided by the traders and presented to the lucky winners by Dave Willis the famous Glasgow comedian of stage fame. In the photograph of E. Garner & Co. the furniture shop in Elder Street, you will see Dave Willis with the owners.
The following year, Lex Maclean the comedian opened the exhibition, and Ma Logan present the prizes. In 1958 Ma Logan opened the exhibition and the Govan Fair Queen and Maids presented the prizes. The following year Jack Radcliffe of stage fame opened the show and the Govan Fair Queen presented the prizes.
One year a Fashion Show was included, and six local girls were chosen as mannequins, The girls were trained in deportment of how to show clothes to their best advantage. Arnott Simpson of Argyle Street supplied the clothes. The fashions were compered by Mrs McNab.
However all things have a beginning and an end. With the introduction of more goods to the shops, interest in the exhibitions waned, and no more displays were staged in the South Govan Town Hall.
In 1960 the S.C.W.S. took over the venture, and thus ended another episode in the Social History of Govan.