By Morag Cross
Are there women in Sulman’s aerial perspective of Glasgow?
Yes, they inhabit, own and work in the buildings he shows. The amazing image can been used to show the surroundings where female entrepreneurs and employers, shopkeepers and factory workers, lived, loved and laboured. There is no shortage of stories about women’s lives, as this second blog by Morag Cross also shows.
A RUNAWAY HORSE
Queen Arcade was an indoors ‘safe space’ for women to meet and browse, reassured by the benign surveillance of fellow shoppers. One morning in 1866, this security was breached by a runaway horse, which collided with an unsuspecting female, and careered through both the Queen and Wellington Arcades.
Traders in close proximity can also attract less desirable human visitors – in 1866, illiterate Ann Mills received ‘seven years’ penal servitude’ for stealing corsets and 5 yards of coarse cloth from Jane Collins’s shop. Mills had 8 previous convictions including 4 years for theft, an obvious measure of her desperation when the harsh punishments didn’t put her off. The National Records of Scotland’s online catalogue reveals Mills was a musician’s wife from Belfast, living in the congested slums of Bridgegate. The street was known for its large Irish community, and numerous used-clothing dealers, where Mills could have sold her goods for ready cash. Corset-maker Mrs Collins and her extended family featured in the previous blog. Mary Jane Dobbins, a cousin-by-marriage, was targeted in 1871 by Mary Wilson, another repeat offender. Wilson took ’32 yards of jean cloth and a crinoline’, and served 8 months in prison. She was obviously unable to conceal so much bulky material about her person, and like Mills, probably lived a chaotic, miserable existence.
A MARVEL OF MISDIRECTION
Crinoline frames were made in arcade workshops; seamstress Mrs Mary Ann Stirling advertised in 1861 as ‘inventress of the hand notted [sic] crinoline … keeps the shape better … also much cheaper’. Twice widowed, she concealed her true age and first marriage from her third husband – three marriages might seem embarrassingly excessive. Her death certificate, from 1900, is a marvel of misdirection – she had obviously knocked three years off her age, falsified her mother’s and second spouse’s names, and omitted ‘Mr Stirling’ altogether. She can never have expected to be found out!
DEATH BY CRINOLINE
Unwieldy crinolines frames were absurdly impractical and also dangerous –gruesome ‘death by crinoline’ was often reported, where the extended skirts were ignited by naked flames. Fanny Appleton, wife of the poet H W Longfellow, was one such victim. ‘Crinoline protector’ guards were even sold with cooking ranges. A wonderfully vivid account of the Glasgow public touring the warship ‘Centurion’ in 1861, relates: ‘Ladies were crushing their crinolines into gigantic sandwiches amid coils of rope, barrels and pails’. One woman descending a ladder was unable to see her feet, until a ‘gallant sailor … crushed every reef out of the floating crinoline’.
Queen Arcade’s female traders largely depended on meeting the demands of home dressmakers who pursued the latest elaborate styles. Those on modest budgets would normally update collars, flounces or decoration on existing clothing, as new outfits were a major investment. Dress-accessories and haberdashery provided an entire branch of retail for women workers, which vanished as braid and long hems were replaced by mass-produced clothing after World War 1. There were at least four of these miniature emporiums in the arcade over time, under specialist names like ‘furnishings’, ‘smallwares’, and ‘fancy warehouses’.
A BEWILDERING VARIETY OF EVERY COMMODITY
Esther Smith (born Caithness, 1805) saved enough working as a servant to open an arcade toyshop in the mid-1850s. She expanded her stock to ‘furnishings’ while hosting her teenage nephew, an apprentice plasterer. One of the Martin staymaker family lodged with her in 1871 (showing the inter-dependency of the arcade women’s household incomes), and ten years later, presumably retired, she was living with her niece, another ‘smallware dealer’ from Caithness. Something soon went tragically wrong – her 1883 death certificate calls her a ‘pauper’.
Mrs Stirling, discussed above, sold ‘dress furnishings’, and contemporary adverts show this might include endless varieties of hairnets, stamped and velvet ribbons (all widths), steel buckles, trimmings, silk and worsted yarns, milliner’s feathers, jet and nickel buttons, eyelets, fringes, jacket ornaments, veil nets, and ‘plated portrait brooches’. The bewildering varieties of every commodity demonstrate the minute subdivision of labour, and global import market – German sundries being especially noted.
A ‘DECIDEDLY DINGY PASSAGE’
The mall (opened c1842), was a shabby, ‘decidedly dingy passage’ by the 1870s. Paint merchant Andrew Yuille bought the entire complex and invested in the necessary renovations in 1875. The floor was ‘rodent-proofed’ with asphalt, and mosaics of the city’s arms. ‘Unusually liberal use of silverised plate glass and gilding’ included huge etched mirrors over the entrances. The new roof was 12 feet higher, allowing for white and gold pillared shopfronts (with more mirrors), beneath ornamental gargoyle heads. The architects were Knox & Halley, with paint schemes by local artist T Byron Lyle and decorator James Lyle. The latter’s widow, Agnes, opened her own paint store at the wonderfully-named 265½ Buchanan St in the 1880s.
A VANITY-CENTRED MARKETING PLOY
At the celebratory dance for the tenants, the speaker praised ‘all those beautiful mirrors which so faithfully reflected ladies’ charms as they passed.’ When word of this looking-glass hall spread, ladies would flock to examine (or admire) themselves, and ‘shopkeepers could secure them as customers and … extract the needful profit’. The decoration was a vanity-centred marketing ploy, although most women were presumably canny enough to resist! The glaziers, J & G Rae, later supplied glass for the famous C R Mackintosh-designed Willow Tearooms.
Some women were granted the vote in school board and municipal elections in 1872, and 1881 respectively. It’s a mystery why these major feminist landmarks are never celebrated, and only 1918 is recognised for female suffrage. In 1881, under the new property qualification, three female ratepayers in Queen Arcade appear on the ‘List of Female persons entitled … to vote for town councillors’. They were corset-makers Isabella and Mary Jane Dobbin, and Janet Sommerville, who ran dairies in and around the arcade for 32 years. She was another of those unsung spinster aunts, who brought up her nephew and worked until her seventies. In turn, Janet was cared for by his family, received the newly-introduced state pension in 1908, and died at the great age of 90 in 1922.
IT ENDED IN A RIOT..
The 1885 rateable valuation roll shows that ‘Elizabeth Broydo & Co’ owned a portrait studio. This was still a rare job for a woman, although one of history’s most celebrated female photographers – Clementina Elphinstone Fleeming (1822-65), later Lady Hawarden, came from nearby Cumbernauld. Joseph Broydo, an emigre Russian picture-framer, had married Elizabeth Morgan from County Down. He had four studios in Glasgow and Belfast, and even spoke at Irish home-rule meetings. When Broydo faced bankruptcy, the premises were put in Elizabeth’s name. Joseph’s fate is unknown, but Elizabeth re-emerges back in Newry in 1896. During a volatile sibling dispute, she accused her own brother of assault and withholding her wages, but settled out of court.
We began with a bolting horse, and end with a riot. Two sisters, the Misses Ronald, had occupied the double shop at Nos 1-3 as mantle-makers (short, loose coats). The new tenant in 1899 was one James Keir Hardie, former and future MP, co-founder of the Labour Party, but at that time, editor of the ‘Labour Leader’ newspaper.
The Glasgow Herald described a rally against the Boer War (attended by Hardie) in March 1900 as ‘a travelling troupe of Stop-the-War propagandists’, who ‘slandered the nation’. Counter-demonstrators smashed Hardie’s plate-glass office windows in Queen Arcade, such was the depth of feeling on both sides. Hardie claimed £16 damages for repairs, which the city council refused to pay. The so-called (and self-contradictory) ‘peace riot’ ends this brief saunter past the women’s lives among one of Glasgow’s early shopping malls. Their imposing architecture has been justly celebrated, but the feminine social worlds contained therein also deserve a hearing. Meanwhile, Sulman has microscopic pedestrians traversing his streets, some of them wearing crinolines, which make them identifiable as women, although cartography was surely never envisaged as a reason to wear them!
Morag Cross is an independent researcher and archaeologist, specialising in histories of buildings and land ownership. Her archival research explores the unexpected links between previously unknown figures, especially women, and their social networks. She has worked on over 80 projects including business histories for the Mackintosh Architecture website, Glasgow Council’s official WW1 website, M74 industrial archaeology research, and Edinburgh’s India Buildings, Victoria St.