Episode 3: Mapping Queer Glasgow, with Jeffrey Meek, Glasgow University

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, everyone. I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to if Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. 

In this episode, we’ll be talking about Scottish Queer History and places and how Queer Stories are researched and interpreted. Today, LGBT+ people in Scotland can marry, adopt children and pursue wonderful careers. Political leaders and public figures openly identify as gay or bisexual and Scotland recently topped two European league tables measuring legal protections offered to LGBT+ people. 

But this is all very recent, as for many years, Scotland was actually behind England and Wales in recognising sexual diversity. Instead, gay and bisexual men and women were starved of acceptance and recognition and subjected to intense homophobia. 

Scotland did not decriminalise gay sex between consenting men until 1980. To quote from James Adair, who was a former Lord Protector of Scottish Morality in Glasgow “Open homosexuality would elicit public disgust, promote male prostitution, and enable perverts to practice sinning for the sake of sinning”. And this is a revealing point of view as Adair, who lived in Pollockshields and was Commissioner from the Presbytery of Glasgow and associated with the National Vigilance Association of Scotland, he was a minority voice amongst the 11 men and women who sat on the committee chaired by Sir John Wolfenden, which produced the Wolfenden report in 1957, which eventually led to the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which changed the law in England and Wales so that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be considered a criminal offence. 

So at the same time, there were no laws against gay women and, lesbians were basically invisible, untouched by the law, but victims of the same stigma and discrimination. So looking back, it is important to appreciate that the path to an enlightened Scotland was filled with many obstacles. 

The concept of queerness, as discussed in relation to public space versus private space, in a nutshell was basically, I don’t mind what you do in your own home, but don’t do it in public. So this is the reason why queer spaces, bars, pubs, bookshops have such an important role in queer history. But how can we research and collect queer stories and make them relevant again, and what sort of traces past queer people left behind? 

Today we have a great guest to explore these topics and many more.

 Dr. Jeff Meek is a lecturer in economic and social history at Glasgow University. His area of expertise is LGBT+  history with a focus on gay and bisexual men, religion, medicine and the law, from 1885 to 1980. So Jeff has also been researching male prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow for his forthcoming book, “Queer trades society and the law, male prostitution in Interwar Scotland” he is also involved in mapping queer spaces in historical Scotland, and you can check out his work for yourself at www.queerscotland.com.  So on this fascinating website you can find historical maps to queer places and spaces in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and across the wider Central Belt. The purpose of these interactive maps is to be able to browse the venues and spaces that have attracted non heterosexual Glaswegians over the past 150 years. 

So after he done talks for Glasgow Doors Open Days festival, last year, Jeff wrote an interesting article for Glasgow Live called “Meet me at the knob”, and this was about the history of Glasgow’s gay scene but in particular about the notorious white hats, a gang of male prostitutes based on the Broomielaw in the 1920s. So in the article, Jeff says that the names that the White Hats used, are interesting because there are mostly a Variety Hall artists who performed at the Empire, Panopticon and the Pavilion. So in the early 20th century, queer people could discreetly socialise at venues such as the Theatre Royal, the Citizens, the Central Hotel and Green’s Playhouse on Renfield Street, as well as in cafes on the Broomielaw, by the 1960s Glasgow’s gay community, included the cocktail bar in the Royal along with guys standing on Hope Street. But by the 1970s you were getting the Scottish Minorities Group opening, the Glasgow Gay Centre at 534 Sauchiehall Street, which was the first such publicly named Centre in the UK. And there were three further places for Glasgow’s lesbian, gay and transexual community, including the Waterloo on Waterloo Street, the Duke of Wellington, which it is just next door in Argyle Street, and Vintners on Clyde Street. But it was only in the 1980s and 90s onwards that more openly gay mixed bars such as Bennett’s now AXM on Glassford Street, ClubX on  Royal Exchange Square,  Delmonicas on Virginia Street and Sadie Frost’s beneath Queen Street Station, started to appear. However, a lot of this is transitory and prone to disappear as the city regenerates, for instance, both Sadie Frost’s and Glasgow Gay Centre, which was later based on Dixon Street, have both recently been demolished for redevelopment. And with that the knowledge of these key spaces for one of Glasgow’s communities also becomes ephemeral. So it’s these suppressed or marginalised stories which Jeff is trying to reveal. Therefore, welcome to the podcast. Jeff.

Jeffrey Meek  

 Thanks very much. Thanks for having me.

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure. So first off, what can you tell me about the Queer Scotland website? How did it start?

Jeffrey Meek  

Well, really, it was, it was a case of historical nosiness. I just finished my PhD and it was a way of keeping myself occupied. While I looked for jobs, basically, I was fascinated by the stories that were coming out from the research that weren’t necessarily going to be central to my PhD. And when you, when you enter academia, you’re never entirely sure if you’re going to revisit these things again. So it can drag you off in various directions. And I was frustrated at that point that that didn’t seem to be much information out there on LGBT+  history in Scotland.

The website was a way of communicating with audiences across the web. And it was trying to capture particular moments in time, particular spaces that, you know, popped out in my research, whether that was through, you know, the interviews I did with gay and bisexual men who lived in Scotland in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Or through the archival research I did in terms of going to Edinburgh and looking at the archives there and I felt I wanted to share that. And 10-15 years ago, there were so little information out there about LGBT history in Glasgow and in Scotland. To be fair, things hadn’t radically changed in that regards. But I thought at the time the information was much too valuable, important, interesting to sit on a file on my computer gathering digital dust. So that’s how.

Niall Murphy  

I have to say it’s been sometimes, as I’m getting older, I’m kind of become much more interested in it, because it’s about traces of people’s lives and how they kind of disappeared over time. And so yeah, I’ve been been reading of late, things like Gay New York, this one, George, George Chauncey, and the Gay Metropolis by Charles Kaiser, all these kind of books, I’ve sort of gradually sort of developing a little kind of archive of them in my library and it’s because they do tell the story. 

So it’s, it’s really interesting to, to realise that there were those stories here too. And it’s you that’s beginning to tease them out. 

So Okay, next, next question on the website there are all these kind of interactive maps that you put together a Scotland’s queer history, spaces and places. So how did you start collecting that information to populate these maps? And are they still a work in progress and do you still get submissions for them? 

Jeffrey Meek

Yeah, I mean, again, this goes back to when I was doing my research for my PhD, and then latterly, for the book “Queer voices”. And I was trying to find a way to help me and my research of  kind of plotting, of noting, of mapping all the places that sprang out of the research, whether it was particular towns for those particular spots, and particular towns or if there are particular buildings. And I thought the best way of doing that was to actually place them on a map. And so I started placing them on Google Maps just as a way of seeing if we have particular venues for particular cruising areas, we have particular hotspots for arrests, where, over that kind of period, especially the first half of that period, 1885 into the 1950s. Right, so it started with 30, with Glasgow and Edinburgh, just one or two plots at a time. But before long, it was running into into hundreds of different places. And to be honest, it was beginning to take on a life of its own. So I thought I better do something with this, rather than just let it, let it set. So what started as me plotting where sodomy cases where and that was the first thing I did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it grew into a map of places and spaces that seemed to me to be important not just as LGBT history, but as a way of kind of representing LGBT experiences as well. 

So then from criminal cases it moved into, you know venues and hostelries, rather than just locations or the fences, or cruising areas. And the men I spoke to when I was doing my PhD research and research for “Queer voices”, were offering up this variety of places and spaces, places that I hadn’t even considered as being important to the LGBT experiences in Glasgow, I mean, I came to Glasgow in what ,1990 and there were places that I had no knowledge of, that  had operated in the decade, this is a couple of decades before. 

So most of the information on the maps does actually come out of my own research. But I do get occasional emails, or comments on the website recommending other places and spaces. And also there was a recent post there by Willie who was reflecting on his own experiences of coming out in Glasgow in  the 1950s, and 1960s. So I’m always very happy for people, that’s, that’s a wonderful person. Yeah, of course, high kicks and law morals. Really, really interesting. Yeah, yep. So that was a great thing. I mean, it was really, really appreciative of really getting in touch to share his story. 

So if people want to do that, then by all means, get in touch, even if it’s just to say -Oh, you’ve missed something from Greenock in the 1970s. That’s great, it adds to the knowledge and kind of builds the momentum of the map. 

And I hold my hand up here and say, you know, because my research focus was gay and bisexual men, it has a very gay and bisexual men leaning, in the sense that most of the information there is about that. And that’s not because I decided, I don’t want to include lesbian, bi, or trans experience, it was simply that I didn’t have the information. So if people have that kind of information, then yeah, I’d be delighted to add, to add a more diverse dynamic to the maps as they stand. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, absolutely. I mean, it is, it is really interesting to see these maps, it’s also interesting contrast, some say with the Glasgow Women’s Library, brought out a map, an actual guided guided tour, which went through the city centre, and it was interesting. Looking at that, because I was conscious are there some places that are sort of missing off that but of course, you’ve only got so much space when you’re putting one of these leaflets together, so I can understand that. But it also made me laugh too, because it had things like Sadie Frost’s in it, which hasn’t existed for a while, and I’m thinking, oh, I painted the ceilings in Sadie Frost’s, some kind of, you know, that’s how it so it disappears  and part of your own life has disappeared. And that’s, that’s how kind of ephemeral some of these spaces are, or, you know, ClubX, first nightclub I ever went to, doesn’t exist anymore. So it’s, it’s funny, it does change really, really quickly. And that’s just part, part of what the scene is like. 

So moving on, then. In an article that you published in Glasgow Live in February 2021 you said  “It wasn’t all oil and cigarettes, there are more voices that need to be heard”. 

So how do you look for those stories and voices, and is it easy to find queer stories in the city’s archives, or do you do rely mainly on oral history? 

Jeffrey Meek  

I mean, it would be great, you know, to go into an archive and open a file, and a deluge of information pours out about LGBT experience. But of course, that, that doesn’t happen. It never happens like that, you have to pick out small details from material and kind of broaden the parameters of your research. So you end up using a whole variety of sources to try and find out more information about particular people, about particular places and spaces. 

So often, the kind of gay, queer, LGBT dynamic of something is hidden under layers of different materials. Things have kind of changed in the past 10 to 15 years in the sense that, for example, the National Library and the National Records of Scotland have quite handy LGBT research guides, which didn’t exist, you know, 10-15 years ago, which are really helpful if you’re aiming to try and explore LGBT history and experience, and other archives, I think are beginning to follow that pathway. 

It’s come a long way since the days gone past in the early 2000s, or the mid 2000s when I went into an archive, which I wouldn’t mention, and ask the archivist, if they had any LGBT content and the person I was speaking to was was a little shocked, and a little horrified that I was asking that. 

So oral histories are vitally important in that process as well. We need more, I think research that focuses on the diversity of LGBT + experience. The research is not focused on nor white, middle class, gay men. I mean, it’s really difficult, for example, to find a good Scottish, lesbian, bi women’s history, not to mention, not to mention trans histories as well. These are really difficult to get any information about Yeah. But also think one of, one of the best ways to do this is by linking with community groups and heritage organisations as part of that process. Because there is this kind of obstacle sometimes I think that people perceive academics to be set apart in some way from community groups or heritage organisations, that we write for an elite audience. And we’re not interested in  broadening our research this way, I do wish there was a better kind of cooperation between these different, you know, vitally important components and exploring histories, marginalised histories.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, very, very much. And I think I think that’s, that’s a, that’s a very good point. I know, people like Scottish Civic Trust, have been doing a very similar exercise over the last couple of years. So I think it’s incredibly important. And it’s something that I’m conscious that we have to do as an organisation. It’s to be able to take those histories and present them to  everybody in Glasgow. So it’s not just to an exclusive audience. It can’t just be academic, it’s got to be for everybody. Because, you know, we’re serving everybody. 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I like to think that when I write, I don’t write terribly academic, in the sense that I think my material is reasonably accessible. I’ve done a fair bit of writing for different organisations and different newspapers, etc. But I think there is a kind of desperateness about LGBT history research in Scotland, for example, if you were to ask me to name four other academics in Scotland, that are examining this, I would really struggle to do that. And that’s been the way it has been for the last 10-15 years. And it’s great that we have organisations such as Our Story Scotland, actively collecting and collating oral histories from the LGBT plus communities across Scotland. But still, in terms of research, in terms of exploring the diversity of LGBT experience, you know, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in order to bring that on par with gay and bisexual men’s history. Sure, absolutely. 

Niall Murphy  

No, I mean, from, from personal experience, being an architect, you know, I can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of out architects that I actually know and, and it’s been like that for decades. There’s really not that many. So there are those architecture, LGBT plus who were kind of based down in England, and they are trying to set up with , it’s Mark Cairns from New Practice taking the lead on this at the moment. They’re trying to set up in the city just now. So again, it’s all part of understanding that there is a broader community, but it’s relatively invisible, except for a couple of days a year. And it’s teasing out and say, actually, we’re here all the time, you know. So it’s, it’s, it’s Yeah, it’s all part of that process. So, okay, well, moving on then. 

So what would you say, are the most important iconic, historical places and buildings linked to queer history? I mean, in your article, you talked about the White Hats, gangs and the Broomielaw and you also refer to the knob, which is the monument of Admiral Nelson on Glasgow Green. So can you tell us a bit more about all of that, and how that ties in with gay histories? 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah. I mean, it’s actually difficult to think of particular buildings that have some sort of resonance with LGBT experience. For me, it’s more about spaces and places. And I think that Nelson’s monument is a key example of that, because that was, if you like, a gay hotspot, in the late 19th century right through to the interwar period. It features I think, centrally and in numerous cases, in the High Court and sheriff court throughout that period, the police went to significant extremes to seek it out. 

They were hiding in bushes  for hours on end, waiting for some unfortunate couple to engage in sexual behaviours. And it’s interesting that if you were a heterosexual couple, and you were doing the similar type of thing you generally were given a stand talking to and told to go home. They were only really interested in the gay stuff. So that’s and, and also the Rowing Club. I can’t remember the official name of the Rowing Club there. That was also another place that features quite prominently.

Niall Murphy  

How interesting, it is having a restoration at the moment, so they will actually, there are two rowing clubs. So yes, yeah. 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, what  makes it so important. I think it’s because, it was a monument in the sense that it was something that could be seen. It was something it could be accessed. It was, it was a visible presence on the riverside horizon and acted in a way like a beacon in the night hours, and it was part of a queer promenades, effectively that stretched from McAlpine Street for the long Broomielaw linked up with several of the theatres in the city centre, and incorporated Glasgow Green, as well. And that’s where the police kind of focus much of their activity during this period, the police were well aware of what was going on, who was participating.

Niall Murphy  

Well, they had, their headquarters is literally right next door. It’s very handy because the central police station was just out St. Andrew’s Square.

Jeffrey Meek  

And  if it was a particularly slow week, the police knew what could really kick up that arrest figures, which have been popping along to Glasgow green. And what this kind of suggests to me is that places and spaces during this period, extended the shape, they extended the shape of themselves, extending the meaning to bring about an LGBT dynamic to places that the rest of the population would be totally oblivious to. Absolutely, yep. Yes. Yeah. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s fascinating. And it’s, it’s, there are so many histories and cities I can think of that kind of are similar to that. What’s particularly fascinating about Glasgow, I suppose, is that I’m not sure that still happens anymore. I am not, certainly not on my map or anything. But I suspect that some to do with you know, what happened in Glasgow, with the comprehensive development areas, the loss of industry, etc, etc. and a massive loss of population around Glasgow Green, you know, Glasgow Green would have been hemmed in with these very densely populated districts, and none of that’s left now. 

So you, whereas in the past, you know, all of those people in those densely populated areas would have needed that kind of outlet. It’s much more dissipated nowadays. So it’s probably completely changed. 

And again, when you when you look at the Broomielaw in particular, this is the touch on urbanism. When you look at it now, it’s what the Danish urbanist Jan Gehl, would call a 50 miles, miles an hour city, it’s got all of these kind of buildings, which don’t have very many entrances on them, they get one huge big entrance, and it’s all geared being passed at speed in the car. It’s not geared to promenading, which is what you would have wanted back then. And when you look at what historic photographs of what that area was actually like, it’s much more like the Water of Leith than it is now where it’s much more of an expressway with these huge kind of quite anonymous corporate buildings on a completely different area. And that kind of Water of Leith environment would have been much more conducive with you know, small cafes, all these outlets, places you could go to, what you’re talking about than it is now so it just shows you how a city changing can destabilise things and get people to shift their activities somewhere else, by the nature of what you know, replaces the original. 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, very much so that I was you know, plucking out the Broomielaw, McAlpine Street, you know, Clyde Street and these different areas at the time when I was looking at the research material, I was thinking to myself, that’s a pretty risky area just to go wandering about and then realising that, you know, 100 years ago, this was mobbed. There were people there was a throng of people here so it was much more. Yes, you’re able to be anonymous and invisible. When there are more people than it is now, yeah, I did a radio documentary a couple of years ago, kind of briefly introducing the White Hats, we actually went to McAlpine Street to where  the White Hats at the base and McAlpine Street, the worksite of William Paton was the leader of the White Hats and his mother, Agnes run this fish restaurant. So we went there to film,  to record this documentary. And of course, there’s nothing there. It’s just a wasteland McAlpine Street, Yes. But we did manage to find the cobbles that formed the the base of the back court of a two to four Broomielaw, which linked in to the house and McAlpine Street. So despite the fact that there was nothing there, I still felt some sort of connection with the past. And the sense that I’m standing on the cobbles that the white hats would have, you know, clicked along in there in their kitten heels. 

Niall Murphy  

Just stood on as well. Yeah, this again, this is what fascinates me about Glasgow, I got roped in at the very last minute to do a walking tour for the BBC Coast programme. This is a while back, and you know how we begun to be introduced to Neil Oliver and kind of this is your party, off you go. And oh, my God, it was such a difficult tour to do, because there was nothing left. And you were having to describe all of these buildings and spaces and activity, and hope that people could imagine it. And that was a real tough gig. And it wasn’t until we eventually got to the Clyde Port building  and it’s when you do a walking tour, you can you can tell whether people are interested, not because you just have to get the whites of their eyes. And if they start glazing over, you have lost your audience. And it wasn’t until we got to the Clyde Port that they suddenly sprung back up into life again, because that was really having to kind of work it to tell the story of something that they just couldn’t see for themselves, a really difficult thing to do. So. But again, it’s just, it’s, that’s the point that city has disappeared. 

Jeffrey Meek  

It has, it was much easier doing on the radio, of course, when the viewers couldn’t see that there was nothing there. Yes, exactly. That’s probably the gig on radio you get you’ve got to describe it. So yeah, because it was it was fun. But yeah, I mean, it’s so McAlpine, Street, Broomielaw, that part’s gone. The other place that that the white hats congregated or met was  Stobcross Street, I think. And of course, that part’s gone as well. Fundamentally changed. I saw this kind of rush for post war reconstruction and redevelopment has obliterated, you know, many of the buildings that that we, I could associate with LGBT history. And it’s a case of trying to not see that as a significant loss in terms of the story, the story  still exists, the people still existed, that building, these buildings still existed. And it’s trying to, you know, encourage the same level of excitement that I get when I read about it, in other people and assuring them that because the building isn’t there anymore, does not devalue or take anything away from the story, although it’d be much better if it was there. And if anyone, if anyone has a photograph of the corner of Broomileaw and McAlpine Street, when there were buildings there, I’d be very grateful because nobody seems to have a photograph of that venue. So I would still like to see it.

Niall Murphy  

 I wonder to wether our patron, John Hume, Professor John Hume might well do, he was in that 1960s and kind of early 70s, he was photographing everything around there. He’s his kind of Scotland’s top expert on kind of industrial architecture and archaeology. And he just photographed everything. So he’s got it all and he’s given it all to Historic Environment Scotland, so but there are, there are occasional nuggets of gold you can find in his, his photographs and when you see them at all, so that makes sense again, because you appreciate what was once there and what the city was like. But yeah, all very sadly swept away. So okay to go back to the legal side of things. Scotland didn’t decriminalise gay sex between consenting men until 1980, obviously on the back of what happened with Adair and for this reason, queer stories, and this is something that depresses me, are often linked with crime. And very often the only traces we can find are in criminal archives. 

So what would you say is the best way to interpret and highlight these stories and the places they’re linked to?

Jeffrey Meek  

You know, I think it is a bit it is a bit depressing. It certainly, you know, you’re accessing people’s stories through trial and precognition records, medical reports and such like that these men had to go under, I had to go through once they were arrested in a very deep, depersonalising and dehumanising process that’s catalogued and precognition records, yes. You’re extremely limited in that sense. These are the records that we need to use, but a criminal record and a person’s identity, you know, from whenever 1878- 1903, whatever gives us a link to a person. And that person’s story can then be explored in more detail. So it’s linking people to your pull out records to census, supports and finding out more about them. And building another aspect of that person’s identity and character, you know, that slightly shifts them away from the criminal realm and to the kind of human realm Yeah. So for these older records for these older cases for, for these older experiences, you know, sometimes we just have to accept the records that we have and the only records that we will ever have. 

For the slightly later periods, then, you know, oral history is a fantastic tool that can be used to to explore people’s perceptions. Of course, a person reflecting on something that occurred 50 years ago, might not remember things as accurately as, as if you were taking factual notes contemporaneously. But that tells us a lot about what’s happened to that person in their life too. So, you know, it is about exploring the opportunities that we do have, however limited to build more about a person and that identity and the humanity of that experience and and how they’ve interpreted their experiences. 

We can also do things like, if we have a place, a space that we can identify, like 2 to 4 Broomielaw, it’s about finding out who owns 2 to 4 Broomielaw, who rented 2 to 4 Broomielaw. How long did they rent 2 to 4 Broomielaw? What does that tell us about what was happening? And the Broomielaw at that time? So I mean, that’s what I’ve done with the White Hats in the midst of writing the book at the moment. 

And then a few months ago, I laid it all in a table, everything that I had, you know about these individuals, I was thinking, Oh, my God, how am I going to be able to write a book here, but then you start unpicking things. And at the moment, I’m writing about male impersonators on the stage in 1920s 1930s, Glasgow. And there’s a reason for that, because it links to the names that these men used professionally. So you suddenly learned that William Paton or  Thomas Dalgleish  or whomever, must have gone to the Empire or the Panopticon, or whatever, and watch these performers on that stage. And they are immediately. Yeah, you have a human connection, their likes and dislikes. So one little nugget of information, even if it is from a criminal record, can lead you down a path that takes you to find more interesting and kind of human places. 

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, very much. I mean, what came, what came out of that for me, which kind of, I thought was really interesting was that the, you know, the mother and the son, were clearly exploiting these people who are from a very marginalised group. And you can totally understand why people were marginalised. I mean, you know, they want, they wanted to express a core inner part of their being. But the only way they could do that was through an activity that had been criminalised since, you know, 15th century onwards. And, you know, people being at risk of either death, or being, you know, transported to Australia, or, you know, all of these things, inevitably, they’re all going to be marginalised. And therefore, that’s going to make them poor, because they’re outside of the mainstream of society. And it’s how you get your way back into that. So it’s always going to be marginalised. It’s, it’s, it’s really fascinating and, and, again, that ties in with, you know, Adair in what he was doing, because he wanted to silence those voices, and he didn’t want them to be brought out. Because he had a very different idea of what, what he wanted Scottish society to be. And that natural fact it didn’t, didn’t reflect that much, much broader church that actually is…

Jeffrey Meek  

Maybe, Adair is a classic example of kind of, mendacity, and, and all of these things, you know, as a procurator fiscal, he prosecuted many men for sex with another man during the, you know, the first quarter of the 20th century. So for him to boldly state, you know, that this is not a problem in Scotland that we should be discussing, it is just, it’s just hypocrisy of the highest level. Totally. I mean, he was he was he was in constant communication with people like William Merrilees , in Edinburgh, who was waging war on homosexuality in the 20s and 30s. So they knew exactly what the situation was in terms of the number of people that were being criminalised. And that’s certainly a reflection of a small potential percentage of the population, the LGBT population at that time. So for them to, you know, have to maraud through the 50s with blinkers on. You know, it just reflects something very peculiar about Scotland in the 50s. And 60s. Yeah. And only only tells part of the story because there, you know, isn’t the reason that Scotland is different. The it’s a much more complex picture, but it’s yet, it’s people like James Adair, they get all the attention. And I think part of, partially is because he was an attention seeker.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yes. Yeah. I suspect you’re probably right. It’s interesting. What William Merrilees.  When I was looking at this, I actually come from a police family kind of on both sides. And my grandfather on my mother’s side was, he was in Edinburgh, and his beat was from, there’s a very beautiful Georgian police station at the bottom of Leith Walk and his beat was all the way up Leith Walk on Princess Street, he was basically in charge of that whole stretch. He must have known William Merrilees. And it was funny because when he eventually I came out to my parents, in kind of the mid 90s, they’re like, don’t you tell your grandfather, he won’t accept it. And looking back on what William Merrilees was like you’re thinking, this is the culture he was immersed in and no wonder he wouldn’t accept it. He would find that really difficult to tolerate and he wouldn’t be able not to say something and I really loved my grandfather and not being able to say something like that to him, was you know, to conceal that was, was really difficult to do. Yeah, yeah. That’s fascinating. Yeah.

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, I mean, it really barely is. I remember speaking to someone who told me a story, William Merrilees, was, you know, effectively came to, you know, become a police officer because of his heroics  at Leith Harbour on numerous occasions. He dived into the water to save a drowning boy, I think it was 22 times he did this. And the story I heard was someone in Leith once said, “Yeah, he pushed half of them in” and so probably. But the thing is William Merrilees has been glorified. Even had  his own cartoon strip, William Merrilees became this icon of of respectable Scottish policing. And to the extent that, you know, when people read about his war on homosexuality, there must be some people that think, but he must have been right. He must have been doing the right thing, because William Merrilees was a fantastic police officer. 

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. And when you see all that kind of, in the 1960s, on the back of what Adair has been doing with the Wolfenden Commission, and then how he presents it in the press, in the 1960s, you can understand why, you know, there’s so much resistance and it’s so slow. And it’s, it’s, it’s really fascinating because exactly the same kind of pattern re emerges when section 28 of the Scottish Parliament decides to tackle section 28. And you get the whole kind of thing reemerging again, and, you know, we can’t have this, it’s going to, you know, spoil our children not on and nobody actually really explains the whole situation properly in a human way. And, you know, with any kind of sensitivity or understanding, it’s quite depressing.

Jeffrey Meek  

It is. It’s the same narrative that keeps on popping out. Yeah, it is so predictable. You can read it in the 30s. You can read it in the German sexologist work. You can read it in the 50s. You can read it in the 70s. And you can read it in the 80s. You can even read it today and it’s the same kind of narrative. Yeah, very, very much.

Niall Murphy  

Yes. Yeah. Okay, so I mean, going back to what we were discussing with marginalised minorities in history and, you know, queer history, a lot of it is ephemeral and it has been erased, or not documented properly. So what can we do to include these kind of marginalised histories in archives and collective social memory nowadays?

Jeffrey Meek  

It’s a bit of embedding it within Scottish history. It’s, it’s, it’s a bit not seeing as LGBT history. The needs to be separated and focused on in a different way. And it kind of leads on to the issue of LGBT history months and things like that, which are very positive in a sense, but it means that once that month is over, you can put it back in its box and say, well I’ve, we’ve done that. We’ve supported Pride, we sponsored Pride. We’re showing here inclusivity and progressiveness. Yeah, but it only lasts for that month. Yes. And it’s about, it’s about somehow embedding that within history. I mean, I don’t know how many social and cultural history courses that are at universities and colleges across Scotland. But I wonder how many of those social and cultural history courses include LGBT History and experience. Very few, I would imagine.

Niall Murphy  

I would imagine and given, given what you said about academics, you can count on one hand.

Jeffrey Meek  

Well, it will create, I mean, I do a sexuality course and economic and social history in Glasgow and all of a sudden  sounds like I am blowing my own trumpet,  but few of the students have said to me, that’s the first time in two, three years studying history at the university that we’ve encountered anything that, that engages with LGBT experience. And I think that’s part of the problem is that even though it is 2021, it’s somehow being seen as a separate issue. We can lump it with, with, with Gender, and Sexuality Studies, where do we fit LGBT history and experience within the curriculum? And I think that speaks to the, you know, the wider issue about how LGBT experiences still is, in some senses marginalised as no one really know what’s, what to do with it?

Niall Murphy  

Very, very much. Yeah, I mean, I’m thinking of earlier when I realised that where the gay, Glasgow’s Gay Centre had been at 534 Sauchiehall Street, that’s actually a A listed building by Sir John James Burnet, the Albany Chambers, incredibly grand building, you got Quentin Crisp, visiting that centre, you know, all these kind of famous people visit, Tom Robinson, all got, all kind of visited. And there’s nothing there that tells you any of this. There’s no kind of interpretation. And that kind of depresses me a wee bit as well, that we could do. 

And I feel this anyway, about Glasgow, not just with LGBT|+ histories, but with all kinds of histories, we don’t tell our story  very well. And it’s something that we need to do better. And it’s about, you know, making queer history relevant. And and, you know, and emphasising that this is important too, do you think that Glasgow could do better in this regard?

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, absolutely. You can walk around Glasgow and not appreciate that there is an LGBT history in the city. I don’t know if it’s a hangover from this kind of industrial Glasgow, machismo, hard man, broken bodies type ideology exists around the city. So it’s only just recently that that Glasgow is kind of engaged with its slavery history, which has been, you know, the elephant in the room, we can go for 200 years, in effect in Glasgow. So yeah, I think Glasgow can do so much more. It’s a bit how we actually do that. But that’s probably the main issue. You know, if I don’t know if students at secondary school are being taught LGBT culture and history, I think it probably comes from people’s demand, to see, and hear more about the city’s LGBT history and such you know, programmes.

Niall Murphy  

The TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) campaign have been doing that in Scotland, but they seem to be kind of coming in for a lot of flack at the moment, unfortunately. Yeah.

Jeffrey Meek  

I mean, you know, some of the outright homophobia, I think, that they’re they’ve experienced on Twitter and other social media platforms has been scary. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s been been quite depressing.

Jeffrey Meek  

But, you know, is that, is that a social media thing? Or does it reflect true, popular opinion in the real world? But it’s still horrific, to experience, whatever percentage of the population it might represent. 

Niall Murphy

Yeah absolutely. I just think, I think what what they do, you know, when I was growing up, there was no kind of positive role models to kind of really look at. And, you know, you had this deep, ingrained sense of shame as a consequence, which you’ve totally defined you as a person when you’re growing up as a teenager, and trying to figure out how to move away of that, I would have been so grateful to have something like that at the time. And I really do wish them luck. I think it’s so important.

Jeffrey Meek

Yeah, I mean, I’ve got similar experience. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, in a rural part of Scotland where, you know, the word gay wasn’t even mentioned very often, let alone anything positive about it. So in some senses, we’ve come a lot. We’ve come a long way and 40 years since decriminalisation but yes, in some regards. Not that far.

Niall Murphy  

I suppose that kind of links us to where we’re going with kind of the last question. And you know, and it’s to do with LGBT+  kind of presence and relationship with about heritage and and how do you tease that out when it is so ephemeral, it’s it’s it’s really not easy, but any suggestions?

Jeffrey Meek  

I think it’s about having the right kind of connections between different organisations and between different people to enable that, that history to be teased out. I mean, I’m, you know, I’m fascinated by space, especially urban space and how that has evolved over a period. And I think that, you know, when you really go to different places, there’s always a queer or LGBT dynamic to it. I was walking through the Necropolis recently, and I began to think about how many of these 1000s of people had a story that is now lost to history entirely. And that kind of depressed me at that point. 

So I think it’s about you know, you know, finding some sort of way of connecting existing world histories, for example, Our Story Scotland, with the built environment, and with how urban, how LGBT people engage with space and place over time. Has that changed? You know, it’s the thing I was doing with the buildings, and titled, Queering, I think, “Queering the architecture of Glasgow” or “Queering the buildings of Glasgow”. And I was thinking about how many buildings in Glasgow have some sort of LGBT+ historical dynamic or history to them. 

SMG for example,  they were moving all around it during that period, of course, you had the the Columbus, the called it in Queens Crescent. 

So you know, there’s, there’s so many buildings, I think, in Glasgow, that could have a Queer or LGBT+ historical dynamic, and there’s a bit teasing that out, so that it’s not all focused on, you know, Nelson’s monument or, you know, the police court there, that can have human dimensions to it. So it’s about, you know, plotting the queer history of Glasgow. And you know, teasing out these yes, these LGBT stories, these histories that are going to get lost completely, unless people do something about them.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. And maybe that is where the maps, growing the map. Maybe that’s the way to go. Because, you know, you can still locate these various stories where they were in the city, but not necessarily, you can locate it on the map, just not necessarily in the same place anymore. Because the buildings disappeared. Maybe that’s one way to do it. So and finally turn to buildings itself. What’s your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk?

Jeffrey Meek  

Listen, I’ve got for one for me, because my favourite buildings in Glasgow do not exist anymore.

Niall Murphy  

Oh, go on then.

Jeffrey Meek  

You know if it is, you know, 2 to 4 Broomielaw it is whatever number it is at Stobcross Street. It’s it’s the buildings that tell some sort of story. That is the building. I think it’s I can’t remember now in Garnethill that the Galloway family owned in the 1920s that they’ve drilled a peep hole through the wall to spy on their the guests that were staying there because they suspected he was a homosexual and went to the police with their evidence. It’s these buildings. I think that means so much more to me. Also, and I know I’m taking it back to the crime angle but you know, the Glasgow central police court and police station Yes. For me, it’s a building that I’ve never been in. I tried to get into it to do my talk for Doors Open Days. I’ve been in it. And to me, it’s about you know that there are so many men who passed through that building, whose stories could tell us something could tell us about their experience how that damaged or destroyed their lives. Because so many more men got, 5 pounds fines, or a 15 pounds fines than were ever sent to prison. So you know that it’s these kind of buildings, they must they must have so many stories to tell. So that’s a building that fascinates me.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Yeah, it’s fascinating. That one that is an intriguing building, a developer has, at the moment, is allegedly going to be turning it into some residential with a mix of kind of other accommodation in it. But having been around it, it’s actually going to be a really intriguing building to adapt, because the front part of it that sits on kind of looking towards St Andrew’s Square, which is notionally the posh part of it, it is actually not in a really good way at all because behind that facade, it’s all kind of plaster and timber flooring and the roof is leaking like a sieve. And so it’s dry, it’s riddled with dry rot. And you have to be really careful where you step into the actual courtroom itself, which is a magnificent space is pretty ropey. And yet when you go beyond the courtyard to the kind of the back of the whole complex, that’s where all the cells are. And the cellblock is in fantastic condition, because it was all concrete construction. And so it’s actually in really good nick. But there’s something about it that’s ever so slightly terrifying, would make a fantastic set for a horror film. And they’re, they have used it for for filming inside. But it’s what would you do with those cells and what is not really the kind of thing that lends itself to a residential building, whereas the front part might so I think that’s gonna be a bit of a challenge for them, but very much an intriguing building. So thank you very much, Jeff. This has been a very, very interesting and at times, slightly depressing conversation, but, but yeah, really, really fascinating. And I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Yep. So and, you know, to to people who are listening in and if you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much!

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by  Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

 

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