Book Review: Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland

Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland by Sara Sheridan.

Sara Sheridan. Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland. Edinburgh: Historic Environment Scotland, 2019. RRP £9.99 paperback.

In Edinburgh, there are more statues of animals than there are of women. There are only 5 monuments to women in Glasgow. The underrepresentation of women in the built environment is not a uniquely Scottish problem, across the world men are memorialised by monuments, statues, street names, and buildings much more frequently than women. This gives the impression that women just haven’t achieved as much, which is, quite frankly, bullshit. In my Turbulent Londoners and Turbulent Scots blog posts, I recognise and attempt to publicise remarkable women and their achievements. So Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland immediately appealed to me as a creative, and probably more effective, attempt to do the same.

Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland is a guidebook for a hypothetical Scotland in which women are memorialised in the built environment to the same extent as men. Region by region, Sheridan traverses the country, renaming some features and creating others. In each case, she recounts the stories of the women who have contributed to so much, not just in Scotland but around the world. Sheridan also echoes recent calls to move away from statues as a primary form of memorialisation, instead suggesting more creative monuments such as events, benches, murals, fountains, and parks. Each chapter has a beautiful stylised map and sketches of some of the monuments by illustrator and designer Jenny Proudfoot.

The map of central Edinburgh in Where are the Women?

There were times that I found the structure of Where are the Women? a bit repetitive, but this is largely because a guidebook is not meant to be read cover to cover. I am confident that I will go back to this book time again, particularly when I travel in Scotland, and get more out of it each time. Each story does not go into much detail, but Sheridan explains that that this was a deliberate decision: “I wanted to cram this book with stories – making it dense and capturing a real sense of how limited our mainstream history is, in terms of gender” (Sheridan, 2019, p. 411). I found the chapter about Edinburgh easiest to connect too, as it is the only part of Scotland that I have spent any significant amount of time. It frustrated me that I couldn’t get my head around the geography of Scotland’s other regions. However, that is not Sheridan’s fault, and once I stopped trying to figure out how all the monuments related to each other in space (it’s not easy to take off that geographer’s hat!) and just let the stories and memorials wash over me, I enjoyed it much more.

If we want things to change, we need to ask difficult questions about the way our history has been represented and whether some of the things that history currently tells us are valid. We must celebrate our female stories alongside our male ones and make them just as visible.

Sheridan, 2019, p. 14.

Where are the Women? is a beautifully written and designed book that will interest anyone who is interested in histories that have previously been overlooked or ignored. But it is also a demand for history to be represented more equally in the spaces around us. The fact that this book is published by Historic Environment Scotland, the public body charged with protecting and promoting Scotland’s historic spaces, gives me some hope that the demand is being listened to.

Turbulent Scots: Elsie Inglis, 1864-1917

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. In this post I’m looking at Elsie Inglis, a doctor, suffragist, and champion of healthcare for women.


Elsie Inglis, 1864-1917 (Source: BBC News)

Despite being born in India and dying in Newcastle, Dr Elsie Inglis is perhaps one of the most well-respected women in Scottish history. After looking into her story, I can see why she was so admired! After qualifying as a doctor just before her 28th birthday, Elsie dedicated herself to improving women’s healthcare. On the outbreak of the First World War, she organised and led all-female medical teams in Serbia and Russia, becoming the first woman to be awarded the Order of the White Eagle by Serbia.

Elsie was born on 16th August 1864 in Naini Tal, India. She was one of 9 children, and her father was a magistrate in the Indian Civil Service. Her parents believed that women should be educated, and unusually for the time, Elsie started her education in India. She showed an interest in medicine from a young age, covering her dolls in spots so that she could cure them of measles. The family moved to Edinburgh when her father retired, and Elsie finished her education at the Edinburgh Institution for the Education of Young Ladies and at a finishing school in Paris.

Elsie was very close to her father. She wanted to study medicine, but was reluctant to leave her father after the death of her mother in 1885. In 1887, Dr Sophia Jex-Blake opened the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, and Elsie was one of the first students at the School. Jex-Blake was a pioneer, having been one of the first 7 female students to start studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. However, her students found her too strict, and after two other students were expelled, Elsie and her father set up the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women. Elsie continued her studies there, qualifying as a doctor and surgeon in 1892, at a time when women still were not permitted to graduate from University medical schools.

Elsie was shocked by the poor quality of care that female patients received, and the lack of specialisation in issues that affected women. Her first job was at the New Hospital for Women in London, founded by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (another pioneer, she was the first woman to qualify as a doctor and surgeon in Britain). She also worked at the Rotunda, a leading maternity hospital in Dublin. She returned to Edinburgh in 1894 to nurse her father. She also lectured in gynaecology and set up a medical practice with Jessie Maclaren Macgregor. The two women set up a small maternity hospital for poor women, which also had a midwifery training centre. In 1904, the hospital moved to larger premises on the Royal Mile and was renamed The Hospice. By this time the University of Edinburgh had also started allowing women to study medicine, and Elsie graduated in 1899.

For Elsie, the poor standards of medical care for women was intertwined with the fight for women’s suffrage. Opposed to the violent methods of the suffragettes, she became a leading member of the suffragist campaign in Scotland, serving as the secretary of the Edinburgh Society for Women’s Suffrage in the 1890s, and the secretary of the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies from its formation in 1906 until 1914. She traveled Scotland speaking at pro-suffrage meetings, sometimes as many as 4 a week.

Elsie with her team from the Scottish Women’s Hospital that were captured in 1915 (Source: Imperial War Museum).

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Elsie was central to the foundation of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee. She was motivated not just by patriotism, but also by a desire to prove that women were skilled medical staff in fields other than gynaecology and paediatrics. Funded by the suffrage movement, the Committee’s goal was to provide relief hospitals for the war effort that were entirely staffed by women. The British War Office rejected the offer of help, but the French and Serbian government were not so prejudiced. Over the course of the war, the Scottish Women’s Hospital sent 14 units to Belgium, France, Serbia, Salonika, Romania, Malta, Corsica, Serbia and Russia. In the summer of 1915, Elsie led a team to Serbia. Not long after, the region was invaded by Austro-Hungarian and German Forces. Refusing to leave her patients, Elsie was captured. She was released and returned to Edinburgh the following year, where she campaigned for more aid to be sent to Serbia. In August 1916 she led a new team to help Serbian forces in Russia. She knew she had cancer before she left, and by the following autumn she could no longer perform surgery, although she continued to lead the unit. She refused to leave Russia until the Serbian forces did too. She eventually arrived back in Britain on the 26th of November 1917, but died that evening in a hotel in Newcastle.

Remnants of the maternity hospital named after Elsie can still be found in Abbeyhill, Edinburgh (Source: Hannah Awcock).

Elsie Inglis was a skilled and determined woman, who achieved a huge amount in her 53 years. Her funeral took place at St. Giles Cathedral, and was attended by representatives of the British and Serbian royal families. Considering women tend not to be memorialised, there have been quite a few tributes to Elsie over the last century. In 1922 a tablet was erected in St Giles in her memory. In 1925, The Hospice was replaced by the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital in Abbeyhill. It was closed in 1988, but some of the buildings still remain, and there is a small memorial in nearby Holyrood Park. There is a plaque marking the location of her pre-war surgery at 8 Walker Street, and in 2009 she was featured on the £50 note produced by the Clydesdale Bank. There is a memorial fountain dedicated to her in Mladenovac, Serbia, and her photo features on the plinth of the Millicent Garrett Fawcett statue in Westminster. Elsie Inglis was a truly remarkable women, who deserves all of this recognition, and more.

Sources and Further Reading

Leneman, Leah. “Inglis, Elsie Maud.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23rd September 2004, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/34101 (requires a subscription to access).

MacPherson, Hamish. “Greatest Scot? The Many Talents of Dr Elsie Inglis. The National. Last modified 5th May 2020, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://www.thenational.scot/news/18426143.greatest-scot-many-talents-dr-elsie-inglis/

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. “Elsie Inglis.” No date, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://www.rcpe.ac.uk/heritage/college-history/elsie-inglis

Simkin, John. “Elsie Inglis. Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2020, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://spartacus-educational.com/Winglis.htm

Wikipedia. “Elsie Inglis.” Last modified 25th September 2021, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsie_Inglis

Book Review: London Clay-Journeys in the Deep City

London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City by Tom Chivers.

Tom Chivers. London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City. London: Doubleday, 2021. RRP £20 hardback.

Finally, after 7 years of Turbulent London, I feel like I have made it as a blogger. This sense of achievement is because a few weeks ago, I received my first review copy of a book. Top tip: giving me a book is a pretty sure fire way to get on my good side! I really enjoyed reading London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City, which will be released on 9th September, and I would say this even if I had had to pay for it.

Back in 2013, writer, arts producer and Londoner Tom Chivers used the British Geological Survey website to modify a Collins Streetfinder map of London, tracing the city’s geology over the buildings, streets, and open spaces that we are familiar with today. Over the next decade, he used that map to follow the routes of London’s lost rivers in an attempt “to find the essence of this place; to understand the city as a living, breathing landscape” (Chivers, 2021; p.3). London Clay is the result, 8 essays which are not just an attempt to make sense of London, but also the author’s own life. In some timescales, those of urban development and an individual life, for example, 10 years is a long time. A London neighbourhood can change beyond recognition in a decade, transformed by the forces of gentrification and capitalism. Chivers gets marries, has 2 children, and lives through Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic over the course of his explorations. In terms of geological time though, and even in relation to human history, 10 years is nothing at all, a blip that barely registers. In London Clay, Chivers blends these different conceptions of time well, shifting back and forth between the geological past, human history, and his own life story with apparent ease. Chivers’ love for London is palpable, and permeates the entire book.

The structure of London Clay meanders through the city like the buried, forgotten rivers that Chivers’ searches for. It also meanders through Chivers’ own biography; starting with his young adulthood in Aldgate, then jumping to his childhood in Herne Hill and Norwood, then skipping forward to his current family home in Rotherhithe. The book is beautifully produced; as well as the striking cover, each section is accompanied by an illustration, and each chapter starts with a map. The maps, created by Clare Varney, are worthy of note; ignoring most modern roads and streets, they focus on geology, river courses, ancient roads, and a few key landmarks, showing London in a way I’ve never seen it before, both familiar and disconcerting at the same time.

Perhaps because of the nature of the book, the essays that I enjoyed the most are the ones that I have a personal connection with, for example Dead River, which traces the course of the Neckinger through Lambeth, Southwark and Bermondsey. I lived in Borough and Elephant and Castle for 2 and a half years, and I used to walk through the Rockingham Estate, which sits on the mysterious Rockingham Anomaly, twice a week to get to my Zumba class on Great Dover Street. At the time, I had no idea that I was walking over a peat-filled depression in the terrace of gravel which surrounds the Thames. Chivers’ hopes that the book will inspire readers to “think about what lies beneath your feet and by doing so reveal new ways of looking at the world” (Chivers, 2021; p.7). Edinburgh, where I live now, is certainly a city with some interesting geology going on, but London Clay left me thinking more about my past than my present. This is no bad thing – Chivers himself seems a bit surprised at where the book took him and what it became.

London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City is a well-written, well-presented, engaging book, in the same vein as Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem and Scarp by Nick Papadimitrou. If you enjoy books that combine history, travel, and memoir in ways that complicate otherwise familiar places, then you will enjoy London Clay.

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Israel-Palestine

Stickers sympathetic to Palestine are not new, but they began to appear more frequently in Edinburgh after violence flared up in May 2021 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is an incredibly complex one that has been going on for decades. Every so often violence flares up, drawing international attention back to the region. The most recent outbreak started on 10th May 2021, sparked by the predicted eviction of four Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Control of the area is contested, and more than 1000 Palestinian families are currently at risk of eviction.

Most of the protest stickers I have found in the UK are sympathetic to Palestine, it is very rare to find pro-Israeli ones. The conflict is a relatively common topic of stickers (I wrote a blog post about pro-Palestinian stickers in London back in 2017), but when the violence gets worse the frequency of stickers increases. With the outbreak of hostilities in May, the number of stickers in Edinburgh went up. Several of the designs I have seen before in other cities, but some are unique, and some are specific to Edinburgh.

Campaigns to support Palestine is nothing new. I photographed this sticker in 2020, but it is referring to an event in 2016. On 17th August 2016, the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland hosted an event as part of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe to promote Israeli cultural performers. No 2 Brand Israel organised a series of events to oppose this, as part of the BDS strategy. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, and a strategy adopted by organisations around the world in 2005 to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli-made goods, a key element of the BDS strategy. The Palestinian flag, and colours of the flag, are a common feature of pro-Palestinian stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was produced by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an active group that does what it says on the tin really (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that predates the current conflict. It was produced by rs21, otherwise known as Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century, which produces commentary and analysis on a broad range of issues and events. They also support BDS (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was also produced by rs21. Benjamin Netanyahu was Israeli Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999, and 2009 and June 2021. This sticker appeared in the Meadowbank area of Edinburgh in May 2021, but the design dates back to 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that appeared in 2021, but was designed much earlier. I first spotted it in London in 2017. It was produced by the Socialist Worker Student Society, the student section of the Socialist Workers Party, another revolutionary socialist group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Street artists and taggers have used the ‘Hello my name is…’ stickers for a long time because they are cheap and readily available. It is less common to see them used as protest stickers, but they’re effective! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The text on this handwritten sticker is faded, but it reads ‘Palestine will be free” (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
This sticker doesn’t explicitly mention Palestine, but because it is the same pen and handwriting as the previous sticker, and I found them relatively close together near the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, I assume that this one is also about Palestine (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Turbulent Scots: Flora Stevenson, 1839-1905

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. Next up is Flora Stevenson, a philanthropist and education campaigner who has recently been announced as the next face on Scotland’s £50 notes.


A portrait of Flora Roche from around 1904 by Alexander Roche (Source: Scottish National Portrait Gallery).

It was recently announced that philanthropist, educational campaigner and suffragist Flora Stevenson is going to be the first woman featured on the Scottish £50 note. It is very unusual for a woman to be chosen to feature on British currency (apart from the Queen), so I wanted to find out more about the woman who has been deemed worthy of such an honour.

Flora Stevenson was born on 30th October 1839, the youngest of 11 children. Her father was a wealthy Glasgow industrialist; when he retired the family moved to Edinburgh, and Flora spent most of her adult life living at 13 Randolph Crescent in the West End with her 3 sisters. The Stevenson sisters were all active in the mid-nineteenth century Scottish women’s movement. They all supported women’s suffrage, and were founding members of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Educational Association which was founded in 1868 to campaign for higher education for women. Flora was also committed to improving education for society’s poorest children; as a child she started a class in her home to teach messenger girls basic reading, writing, and maths skills.

In 1863 Flora joined the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor as a district visitor, investigating the circumstances of charity claimants and assessing whether or not they were ‘deserving’ of support. She also joined the committee of the United Industrial Schools of Edinburgh, a voluntary body that organised schools for poor children. Flora believed that compulsory school attendance was central to improving the lives of poor children in big cities, but she was opposed to the state providing welfare support, as she believed it undermined the responsibility of parents to provide for their children. She argued that charities coordinating with school authorities was sufficient support.

A pupil from Flora Stevenson Primary School with the new £50 note (Source: Royal Bank Scotland/PA Wire).

In 1873 Flora was elected to the newly formed school board for Edinburgh. School boards were the first public bodies in Scotland which were open to women. As a result of her experience she was placed on the destitute children’s committee, where she was responsible for a scheme that gave food and clothes to poor children on the condition that they attended school. She also persuaded the school board to set up a day school for truants and juvenile delinquents, which was the first of its kind under the control of a school board. Flora’s expertise in this area was well respected; she served on several committees advising the government.

Flora’s belief in women’s rights carried over into her educational philosophy. She believed that girls and boys should be treated the same in education, and argued against the school board’s policy of giving girls 5 hours less teaching than boys every week so they could practice needlework. She believed that boys should be taught household management as well as girls, and that unmarried female teachers should receive equal pay.

Flora’s dedication to Edinburgh’s education system was respected and acknowledged. In 1899 a new primary school in Craigleith was named after her, and in 1900 she was unanimously elected to the Chair of the Edinburgh school board. In 1903 she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh, and two years later she was given the Freedom of the City in recognition of her service to Edinburgh’s philanthropic institutions and the school board. When she died in September 1905, thousands of schoolchildren lined the route of her funeral. She is buried with her family in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.

I may not agree with all of Flora’s politics – she was opposed to Irish Home Rule, and I find her perspectives on state welfare questionable – but there is no doubt that she was a formidable woman, who dedicated her life to public service at a time when women weren’t really supposed to do that. Hopefully her inclusion on the £50 is just the latest step in a long journey to properly acknowledge the contributions that women have made to society throughout history.

Sources and Further Reading

Corr, Helen. “Stevenson, Flora Clift.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23rd September 2004, accessed 30th June 2021. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/46826 [Subscription required to access].

National Records of Scotland. “Flora Clift Stevenson (1839-1905).” No date, accessed 1st July 2021. Available at https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/hall-of-fame/hall-of-fame-a-z/stevenson-flora-clift

Wikipedia. “Flora Stevenson.” Last modified 26th June 2021, accessed 1st July 2021. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flora_Stevenson

Young, Gregor. “First Woman to be Face of New Scottish £50 Note.” The National. Last modified 26th June 2021, accessed 30th June 2021. Available at https://www.thenational.scot/news/19400827.flora-stevenson-first-woman-face-new-scottish-50-note/

Book Review: Sylvia Pankhurst-Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire

Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire by Katherine Connelly.

Katherine Connelly. Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire. London: Pluto Press, 2013. RRP £14.99 paperback.

Sylvia is my favourite Pankhurst. Her mother and older sister Emmeline and Christabel are the most famous Pankhursts, but their conservative and authoritarian tendencies are off putting. Adela is fascinating, but it is hard to like her because of her conversion to far-right nationalism in the 1940s. Sylvia, however, remained committed to her socialist principles throughout her life, and campaigned tirelessly to make like better for marginalised groups of all kinds. She has been one of my heroes for some time, so I was excited to read Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire and find out more about this fierce campaigner. The book is part of Pluto Press’ Revolutionary Lives series: short, critical biographies of prominent radical figures ranging from Gerard Winstanley to Leila Khaled.

Sylvia was above all profoundly committed to a radical, far-reaching conception of democracy for women, for workers and for people struggling to overthrow the dominance of Empire…For those in today’s social movements who want to change the world, Sylvia’s ideas, campaigns and the dilemmas she confronted with are more important that we have been led to believe.

Connelly, 2013; p.3.

Katherine Connelly has written an engaging, well-paced, and insightful biography. Sylvia’s life was so varied and eventful that it would be hard to write a boring biography, but Connelly’s style is clear and logical. The text is punctuated with quotes from Sylvia herself and those who knew and encountered her, which introduces a broad range of perspectives. There is no denying that Sylvia was pretty awesome. From her suffrage activity, to her rejection of stereotypical family values, to her defence of Ethiopia when it was invaded by Italy in 1935, to her rejection of all colonialism, there is lots about her to admire. It is tempting to put historical figures like Sylvia on a pedestal, portraying them as perfect visionaries who cannot be critiqued. Connelly does not fall into this trap, pointing out the moments when Sylvia could have made better strategic decisions, or when her beliefs held her back from building connections with other activists and groups.

Sylvia was involved in a dazzling array of organisations during her lifetime, and left-wing groups are not particularly known for having catchy, easy to remember names. Even Sylvia’s own organisation in the East End of London changed it’s name multiple times to reflect Sylvia’s evolving beliefs. Starting as the East London Federation of the WSPU, it became the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1914, then the Worker’s Suffrage Foundation in 1916, the Worker’s Socialist Federation in 1918, the the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) – not to be confused with the Communist Party of Great Britain – and finally the Communist Worker’s Party before it dissolved itself in 1924. In other books I have read about this period I have got confused by the huge range of radical groups and their different perspectives, but this wasn’t the case as I read Sylvia Pankhurst. Perhaps because the focus is on how Sylvia’s changing political sensibilities were manifested through the organisations she led and worked with rather than the groups themselves, I found it easy to keep everything straight in my head.

Sylvia Pankhurst was a truly fascinating and inspiring woman, and Connelly has done an excellent job of telling her life story. I enjoyed learning more not just about what Sylvia did, but why she did it, how her political beliefs drove and shaped her. If you know Sylvia’s story well then you will still get a lot out of this book, and if you don’t know much about her then you should definitely read it – Sylvia deserves to be better known, and there is much that modern activists could learn from her.

Traces of Turbulent History in Holyrood Park: The Radical Road

The Radical Road is a path that runs around Salisbury Crags in Holyrood Park. The path sits where the gorse becomes bare rock (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

A 500-year old royal park might not be the first place you look for evidence of Scotland’s turbulent history. But that is exactly what the Radical Road is, a trace of a particularly tempestuous period of history in Edinburgh’s famous Holyrood Park. The path was built in 1822 by unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland after a failed uprising two years earlier. Sadly, the path has been closed ever since a large rockfall in 2018, and it isn’t clear when, or if, it will reopen. Nevertheless, the story of the Radical Road and the events that led up to its construction is fascinating.

The Radical Road runs through Holyrood Park (highlighted in red). The name feels out of place for a royal park (Source: Google).

The American and French Revolutions in the late 1700s sparked radical movements and debates across Europe, and Scotland is no exception. I have written before on this blog about the Political Martyrs Memorial in the Old Calton Burial Ground commemorating 5 reformers that were transported to Australia for their part in a campaign for universal male suffrage and annual elections in the 1790s. This growth in radical ideas and groups was also accompanied by fierce oppression by the authorities, the 1819 Peterloo Massacre being perhaps the most famous British example. The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 led to an economic depression that severely impacted living conditions in Scotland. Demands for reform grew, particularly in the west of Scotland – workers believed that the government didn’t care about their poor living and working conditions. On the 1st of April 1820 a proclamation was posted around Glasgow calling for a general strike. The strike started two days later, with tens of thousands of people across central Scotland refusing to work.

The strike was supposed to be accompanied by an armed uprising. The government had a network of spies, informants and agent provocateurs within the reform movement, so the authorities were aware of most of the plans. The impact of this for the radicals was bigger than just losing the element of surprise, however. The agent provocateurs deliberately encouraged unrest in order to expose the radicals, and exaggerated the threat to the government. Because of this, the number of people willing to take part in armed uprising was lower than both the radicals and the government expected. Largely as a result, the uprising was over before it even began. There were several violent clashes between the authorities and strikers around central Scotland over the next few days. For example, on the 8th of April a crowd managed to free 5 prisoners as they were transported to Greenock Jail. Around 20 people were killed or injured in the fighting. The strike and uprising was crushed quite easily, and 88 people were charged with treason, with 3 men – James Wilson, Andrew Hardie, and John Baird – executed.

The defeat of the uprising pretty much put a stop to radical organising in Scotland. Hundreds of radicals emigrated to escape repression, and the reform movement was decimated. In 1822, George IV visited Scotland. It was the first time a British monarch had visited Scotland in nearly 200 years, and he proved incredibly popular. The visit increased loyalty to the monarchy and further dampened the radical movement. Sir Walter Scott had an important role in organising the visit, and helped to reinvigorate Scottish national identity in the process.

After George IV’s visit, Scott suggested that unemployed weavers from the west of Scotland could be used to build a path in Holyrood Park. As well as giving the men work, it was also designed to discourage further unrest. The work was hard and tiring, leaving the men little time to organise, and they were separated from their local communities and activist networks. A local nursery rhyme was inspired by they scheme:

Round and round the Radical Road the radical rascal ran

If you can tell me how many ‘r’s are in that you can catch me if you can.

The Radical Road in April 2021. The path has been closed since 2018 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Radical Road became a popular path in Holyrood Park, with views over central Edinburgh and towards the Pentland Hills. In September 2018, 50 tonnes of rock fell onto the path during the daytime, and it was decided the path could no longer remain open. Discussions about how to make it safe for use are ongoing, but the Park’s status as a Ancient Monument makes the situation more complicated. Hopefully it will reopen one day, but until then it remains an important trace of Scotland’s radical history, hidden in plain sight.

Sources and Further Reading

Armstrong, Murray. The Fight for Scottish Democracy: Rebellion and Reform in 1820. London: Pluto Press, 2020.

Baxter, Ian. “Radical Road, Radical Response.” Heritage Futures. Last modified 3rd November 2019, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://heritagefutures.wordpress.com/2019/11/03/radical-road-radical-response/

Dickson, Alan. Songlines: The Road to Bonnymuir – An Anthology of Late 18th/Early 19th Century Political Song. Glasgow: Rowth, 2020.

Our Edinburgh Friends. “The Radical Road.” Last modified 15th June 2018, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://ouredinburghfriends.scot/2018/06/15/the-radical-road/

MacAskill, Kenny. Radical Scotland: Uncovering Scotland’s Radical History from the French Revolutionary Era to the 1820 Rising. London: Biteback, 2020.

The Scotsman. “The Forgotten History of Edinburgh’s Radical Road.” Last modified 30th March 2016, accessed 4th May 2021. Available at https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/forgotten-history-edinburghs-radical-road-1479781

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Climate Change and the Environment

A #ClimateCrisis message on a lamppost opposite Holyrood (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

It often feels like events like Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have forced climate change down the political priority list. Movements such as Extinction Rebellion and School Strikes for Climate have lost momentum, and they are not getting the same kind of press coverage as they were in 2019. Nevertheless, climate change continues to be an urgent issue, and it keeps cropping up in Edinburgh’s protest stickers, alongside other environmental issues. With the next UN Conference on Climate Change being held in Glasgow in November 2021, Scotland might see an increase in environmental activism.

Founded in 2018, Extinction Rebellion quickly became one of the most well-known environmental direct action groups. They are quite active in Edinburgh (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The Socialist Workers Party is a revolutionary socialist party. Many groups believe that climate change cannot be halted without widespread change to our economic and political systems (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The Green Anti-Capitalist Front (GAF) argues that capitalism is responsible for the environmental crisis, and the impacts of climate change are disproportionately affecting the most poor and powerless. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There are 3 branches of the GAF in Scotland: Glasgow, Edinburgh, and the Borders. Whoever designs their stickers has a knack for it! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is a reference to the 1997 song by Aqua ‘Barbie Girl’. One of the lines from the chorus is “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic.” The sticker is clever, but looking back at the song lyrics I’m a little disturbed at the image of a 6-year-old me singing along to it! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Straight to the point (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The words on this sticker have faded, but they read: “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction.”(Photo: Hannah Awcock).
rs21’s full name is Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (you can see why they shortened it!) They aim to create a space where socialist ideas are discussed, reinterpreted for the modern era, and acted on. This sticker demonstrates how climate changes is only one of the issues that concerns them. In fact, climate change and the environment is one of 10 key themes that rs21 organise around (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker also links climate change and capitalism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Of course I had to give Mr T the last word! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Cramond Island’s Political Graffiti

The World War Two fortifications that remain on Cramond Island are a popular canvas for graffiti artists (Photo: Hannah Awcock)

Cramond Island sits about a mile off the coast on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The Island can be reached on foot via a concrete causeway at low tide, and it is a popular spot for Edinburgers to visit. There is a long history of human use of the Island, but the most prominent human-made features date from the Second World War. The Island was part of a string of defenses designed to protect the Firth of Forth, and many of the concrete structures used to house searchlights, guns, stores, and generators remain. This uninhabited coastal environment is not the kind of place that you would expect to find graffiti, but it seems the smooth grey concrete is an irresistible canvas, with tags ranging from basic scrawls to elaborate designs covering every available surface. I was even more surprised to discover that quite a lot of the graffiti is political, turning this little island into a radical outpost.

“Housing is Healthcare.” Edinburgh is the second most expensive city to live in in the UK after London, and house prices have continued to rise during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Healthcare is a human right.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Anti-sexist action.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Feminist Antifa.” Antifa is short for anti-fascism. Despite Trump’s attempts to classify it as a ‘terrorist organisation’, antifa is a loose network of activists rather than a single group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Men are fuckin trash. Grrrl style revolution now.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
“Fuck TERFS.” Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists are those who hold and promote transphobic views. The term was used in 2008, but seems to have gained more popular traction in recent years, as debates about the rights of people who are transgender rumble on (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
“Bi Pride.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Queer as in fuck u.” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Fuck the Tories.” The Conservative Party isn’t exactly popular in Scotland, although this sentiment isn’t unique to this part of the UK! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“ACAB.” A popular acronym amongst left-wing radicals, ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Fuck Duda.” Andrzej Duda is the President of Poland. He promotes ‘traditional’ values and is actively opposed to LGBT rights. Underneath the “Fuck Duda” it is just possible to make out “Fuck Boris”, creating a palimpsest of controversial European leaders (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
“Anarchy is the mother of order.” This is an adaptation of a quote by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, one of anarchism’s most influential philosophers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Turbulent Scots: Helen Crawfurd, 1877-1954

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. Next up is Helen Crawfurd, a feminist and socialist campaigner.


Helen Crawfurd, 1877-1954 (Source: Women’s History Scotland).

Helen Crawfurd was a dedicated and talented campaigner. She worked for the causes of women’s rights and socialism for more than four decades. Over the course of her life, she lent her skills to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), as well as numerous other groups, movements, and committees.

Born in Glasgow on the 9th of November 1877, Helen was the fourth of seven children. The family moved to Ipswich when Helen was young, and returned to Glasgow when she was 17. The family was religious and politically active, so Helen would have grown up surrounded by debate and discussion. Her father was a baker and an enthusiastic union member, and both parents were active in the Conservative Party. In 1898 Helen married the Reverend Alexander Montgomery Crawfurd, a temperance campaigner and opponent of militarism.

Her family may have primed Helen for a life of politics, but the beliefs she developed were quite different to her parents. Shocked by the inequality and poverty that she saw in Glasgow, Helen became a socialist, although the early years of her campaigning were dedicated to the women’s suffrage movement. She joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in around 1900 and put her debating skills to good use, becoming one of the most popular speakers in the Scottish suffrage movement. Like many other women, Helen grew frustrated with the slow progress of the movement, and joined the WSPU in 1910, embracing their militant tactics. She was imprisoned several times for her participation in WSPU protests, including being sentenced to two years for her alleged role in the bombing of the botanical gardens in Glasgow in 1914. When in prison, she went on hunger strikes.

1914 was a tumultuous year for Helen. Both her husband and mother died, and she left the WSPU when it came out in support of the First World War. She did not slow down though, joining the ILP. She became Secretary of the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association, and alongside Mary Barbour and Agnes Dollan was instrumental in the 1915 Glasgow rent strikes, which convinced the government to fix rents throughout the UK for the duration of the war. She remained a committed anti-militant, an unpopular stance during the war. In November 1915 she and Agnes formed the Glasgow branch of the Women’s International League, a pressure group opposed to the war. The League had few working class members however, and did not support militant tactics, so in 1916 she helped form the Women’s Peace Crusade. Within a year the Crusade became a national organisation, with Helen as Honorary Secretary.

By the end of the war Helen was a well-known figure, and was appointed Vice-chair of the Scottish divisional council of the ILP. She grew frustrated with what she saw as a lack of radicalism in the ILP though, and became interested by attempts to establish a Communist party in Britain. In July 1920 she traveled to Moscow and interviewed Lenin. Helen tried to establish a Communist faction within the ILP, and when this failed she left and joined the recently formed CPGB, quickly being appointed to it’s executive committee. She worked on increasing female membership, including editing a women’s page of the party’s official paper, the Communist. Helen also continued to campaign on other issues close to her heart. In 1919 she was part of the British delegation to the Conference of the Women’s International League in Zurich, alongside other formidable women such as Charlotte Despard, Ellen Wilkinson and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.

Helen with Methil Women’s Communist Party in 1925. (Source: Glasgow Caledonian University Special Collections and Archives, Gallacher Memorial Library).

In 1922 Helen became secretary of the Worker’s International Relief Organisation, which provided aid and support in struggling industrial regions. She visited Ireland in support of Home Rule, and was involved in organising several international conferences. She threw her efforts behind the 1926 General Strike, giving speeches and distributing food. Helen stood as a Communist candidate in the 1929 and 1931 general elections, losing on both occasions.

During the 1930s Helen worked with the Friends of the Soviet Union, which coordinated global solidarity efforts with the Soviet Union. She also recognised the rising threat of fascism however, and in 1933 became the honorary secretary of two committees aimed at combating fascism and anti-Semitism in Scotland. In 1938 she organised the Peace and Empire Congress, with the goal of coordinating a peace movement across the British Commonwealth. Like many members of the CPGB, she was ambivalent towards the Second World War, arguing the Communists had to be convinced Britain was commited to fighting fascism before they could support it.

During the Second World War, Helen retired to Dunoon in Argyll and Bute. Even retirement did not stop her campaigning efforts however. After the war she served as Dunoon’s first female Councillor for 2 years, and she started a local discussion group on Marxist literature. In 1947 she married George Anderson, a fellow member of the CPGB. She passed away on the 18th of April 1954.

The list of Helen’s activities and achievements throughout her life is formidable. She worked tirelessly for what she believed in, and certainly made her mark on Scotland’s, and in fact British and European, radical culture.

Sources and Further Reading

Corr, Helen. “Crawfurd [née Jack; other married name Anderson], Helen.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23rd September 2010, accessed 10th February 2021. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/40301 [Subscription required to access].

Couzin, John. “Helen Crawfurd.” Saltaire Society Scotland. No date, accessed 10th February 2021. Available at https://www.saltiresociety.org.uk/awards/outstanding-women/2015-nominees/helen-crawfurd/

Simkin, John. “Helen Crawfurd.” Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2020, accessed 10th February 2021. Available at https://spartacus-educational.com/CRIcrawfordH.htm

Todd, Amy. “Women and Peace: Helen Crawfurd.” On History. Last modified 6th May 2019, accessed 10th February 2021. Available at https://blog.history.ac.uk/2019/05/women-and-peace-helen-crawfurd/