Friday, 27 January 2017

Franz Kafka's The Trial. An Opera by Phillip Glass

The Trial by Philip Glass. Review. Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal Glasgow, January 2017.

For many years I have been a fan of Franz Kafka's books and of the music of Philip Glass. Therefore I was obviously going to be drawn to see Scottish Opera bring Glass's opera version of  The Trial to the Theatre Royal in Glasgow this month. The result was, I am pleased to say, a great success.

Happy Birthday Philip Glass

American composer Philip Glass has a diverse body of work behind him. He has written several symphonies, numerous film scores and ballets and twenty six operas, most famously Einstein on the Beach. Among this work is a previous opera of a Kafka story, In The Penal Colony. His second "chamber opera" of a Kafka tale, The Trial, was first performed by the Music Theatre Wales at the Royal Opera House in London in 2014. 

Philip Glass
To celebrate his 80th birthday on 31st January 2017 the Barbican in London have a festival of his music, whilst in Glasgow Scottish Opera are performing Philip Glass's opera The Trial in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Philip Glass has performed in Scotland himself several times in recent years, from his 75th birthday concerts in Glasgow in 2012, to appearances at Glasgow's Minimalism festival in 2015 to playing on stage with Patti Smith at the Edinburgh Festival in 2013.

His music can't be pigeon-holed as he has such a breadth of work from symphonies to film scores, opera and theatre music, to minimalism in the 1970s and string quartets. Repetition and strident pacing often mark his work, which proved to be a good fit for Kafka's The Trial.

The Trial - Franz Kafka

Written in about 1914, though  never finished, The Trial was only published after Kafka's death. He had already written the final chapter and the circular plot means the book holds together despite being incomplete, with the Josef K., the accused main character, jumping off from one point in the story towards his inevitable conclusion. Kafka's express instructions were that the book, and his other unpublished writings, be destroyed after his death. His wishes were ignored by his lifelong friend, Max Brod, and his most famous work was published a year after his death, in 1925. The Trial is Kafka's most Kafkaesque book, a word that has entered our vocabulary to mean a nightmarish complex, bizarre, bureaucratic situation. If you are trying to get through to a telephone help-desk or complete a claim on our welfare system, you will soon understand this word. (Googling "Kafkaesque" and "welfare system" gives over 22,000 hits rather depressingly.)

Josef K. is not a particularly likable character. He wakes on the morning of his 30th birthday to find three inspectors waiting for him. He never knows what crime he has been accused of, but tries to fight his case against mysterious officialdom, secret police and unaccountable courts. He gets drawn into the relationships, corruption, pettiness and bureaucracy of the system.  This faceless, bureaucratic system seems almost stronger today than the version which Kafka imagined.

Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka was born in 1883 and died in 1924, aged 40, from TB. He was German-speaking and Jewish and lived most of his life in Prague at the time when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. He trained as a lawyer, finishing his studies with a year's unpaid work as a court clerk. He eventually took up a clerical post in an insurance business, as he described it, in order to pay the bills, allowing him to keep writing. The overlaps between Kafka's life and K., who works as chief clerk in a bank whilst continuing his frustrating fights through an absurd legal system, are not hard to see. Felice Bauer, to whom Kafka was twice engaged, is often seen as the template for Fraulein Burstner in the book.

There are two cities that I have ran around trying to imagine settings for my favourite books. In St Petersburg I sought out Dostoyevsky's apartment and the flats and streets inhabited by Raskolnikov in his novel Crime and Punishment. On visiting Prague in the 1980s I made sure that I visited Kafka's old house at 22 Golden Lane, and stood like some pretentious arse by his graveside in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague, wearing a yarmulke and reading from one of his books. The apartment block in a Prague suburb that we were staying in on that trip, with its rickety stairs, was just like the apartments Kafka sets his court offices of The Trial in their attics. It is maybe inevitable then that I link these two books in my mind, Crime and Punishment and The Trial.

My fanboy trip to Prague to visit Kafka's house and grave
Dostoyevsky's work was a big influence on Kafka's ideas and there are many echos of Crime and Punishment in the Trial. Has K. committed a crime? Does he consider his actions criminal? If not why does he subject himself to the rule of the authorities? The same questions about guilt and responsibility drive Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment and Josef K. in The Trial. Themes of guilt, alienation, angst, surrealism, claustrophobic life, shifting balance of power in relationships run through the books. The thoughts of both authors turn to religion in the final chapters when thinking about guilt and responsibility. Kafka was drawn to some ideas from Freud and also from Karl Marx's theory of alienation, that becoming a mechanistic part of a social class, through endless work, alienates people from their humanity, as it does in the dehumanising world of The Trial.

Many of my favourite contemporary authors are clearly inspired by Kafka's work and there are clear shadows of his writing in the books of James Kelman and Alasdair Gray.

Kafka created a darkly comic, precise world in the book. The confusing geometry of apartment blocks, stairwells and offices, the claustrophobic, stuffy descriptions that give a sense how Josef K. is feeling. There is an Escher-like clarity to this unreal, but very recognisable, world that Kafka creates. Written over 100 years ago, reading The Trial again it feels very prescient. The populace are now increasingly judged guilty until proven innocent, watched and spied upon more than ever and evaluated by unknown observers as we travel through our modern world. Truth and facts are just a matter of opinion and perspective. Secret courts can now pass secret judgements leaving defendants as confused as Josef K. as to why they won or lost their case.

To get very meta about The Trial, here is Scottish post-punk band Josef K.'s video for their song "It's Kinda Funny", made up of clips from Orson Wells's classic 1962 film version of The Trial starring Anthony Perkins (who makes a great Josef K.).

The Trial. Scottish Opera

A Czech beer and all set for The Trial

A co-production between Scottish Opera, Music Theatre Wales (as was The Devil Inside) and Theater Magdeburg The Trial gets its Scottish premier in Glasgow before moving to Edinburgh. It has a libretto from Christopher Hampton (writer of the play and film Les Liasons Dangereuses) that is very faithful to the book and manages to boil down the whole story into ten scenes, just as the book has ten chapters. The scenes all flow one into another thanks to the music and clever stagecraft and set design. The set looks like a prison cell, with secret doors and openings dextrously used throughout, always allowing K. to be observed from different corners. Baritone Nicholas Lester as Josef K. is present on stage almost throughout, but despite physically towering over most of the other seven members of the ensemble cast, he seems to shrink and crumble through the course of the evening.

The twelve musicians create a much bigger sound than their numbers suggest, at times unsettling, at times frisky, particularly when Fraulein Burstner is on stage. There is much variety in the music between scenes but an insistent, marching tempo throughout, swirling towards a dramatic conclusion. The music in the last two scenes was particularly striking, literally in the case of the percussive beats on the anvil. There is black humour in the book, but that is brought to the fore in the staging of the opera, with some acting reminiscent of silent movie performances of Scottish actors Alfred Eric Campbell and James Finlayson. The guards are done up like Thompson and Thomson from the Tintin books (who were NOT twins, that was a pop band) and their excuse of "only obeying orders" rings a few bells.

Alfred Eric Campbell, James Finlayson and Thompson and Thomson
The words being sung are clear and simple, like the book itself, and many of the lines seem lifted straight from Kafka, particularly the priest's parable of law. Others are cleverly arranged in the opera for greater emphasis, such as the last words of the first act matching up to the words that end the book, "Like a dog!". 

The contemporary themes of the book shine through, moreso now in the early days of a Donald Trump presidency. From the first line of the book lies are accepted as fact, making this the most modern of 100 year old stories.
"Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K. for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning."

Karine Polwart. Wind Resistance. Celtic Connection 2017

Karine Polwart. Wind Resistance. Tron Theatre, January 2017. Review

Karine Polwart's Wind Resistance was first performed at the Edinburgh International Festival last year, and now finds its way to Glasgow as part of this year's Celtic Connections festival.
I had tried and failed to get tickets for it last year so was pleased to see it being revived.

Written and performed by Karine Polwart, with input from David Greig and directed by Wils Wilson, Wind Resistance is a mixture of story-telling, folklore, traditional, and original songs all woven together around the musicality of Karine Polwart's voice. Twenty four hours on I am still digesting all that it contained.

The starting point is Fala Moor in Midlothian, close to where Karine Polwart lives. From describing the vista that opens up in front of you there, to crouching down and inspecting the smallest moss over the course of 90 minutes she explores the inter-connectedness of land, people and society. The mixture of personal memories and the story of a couple who lived 100 years earlier on a farm close to where Karine Polwart now lives give a humane heart to the piece. The songs give the whole story a feeling that we are sitting around a campfire on the hillside hearing secrets and tales in the oral tradition, passed on to us.

The skein of pink footed geese that arrive on the moor in autumn from Greenland are the visible proof of the benefits we can all gain by sharing the load. I laughed as that led us into an excuse to recall the Aberdeen's 1983 European Cup Winners' Cup winning team, as then manager Alex Ferguson is a big fan of that metaphor. Karine's enthusiasm for that team was shared by non-Old Firm supporting classmates of mine in 1983 who started following Aberdeen and Dundee United around that time (I stuck with Partick Thistle - whose laughing now?).

It is also a story about womanhood and childbirth that manages to avoid any tired "mother Earth" tropes. The warnings about the current atomisation of the health service are clear. It is a humane piece and focused on the benefits we all get from society pulling together, looking after our wild sites and each other. Like the geese I was lucky enough to be in Greenland recently, where the effects of global warming are visible in front of your eyes, and not acting is clearly no longer an option.

A timely warning against isolation and individualism. If you get the opportunity to see it, I would encourage you to grab it (and take a hankie).

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Sinking of TSS Athenia, September 1939

The Anchor Line and the sinking of TSS Athenia

As a city Glasgow grew up along the River Clyde, the city and shipping were inseparably connected. The city merchants became wealthy on trade with all corners of the British Empire, initially to slave economies, later investing their money in booming industries that made the banks of the Clyde a hive of activity in the 19th century. People, like my great-grandparents from the Highlands and from Ireland, came to the city to find work, a city becoming famed for its engineering and ship-building. On the back of this other areas grew, like Parkhead, Possil and Lambhill producing coal and steel.

From the 1860s Glasgow became the pre-eminent shipbuilding centre in the world, specialising in steamships made of iron, and later steel. As demand for passenger and freight services grew many shipping companies emerged to chase new markets to India and the Americas. 

The Anchor Line, Anchor-Donaldson Line

Although never on the scale of P&O and Cunard, Glasgow's most famous passenger company was the Anchor Line. The name first appeared when Glasgow's Handyside shipping agents were joined by sea captain Thomas Henderson. In the 1850s they began using the "Anchor Line of Steam-Packet Ships" in their advertising. Initially operating ships to India they bought their own ships and started routes to New York. Other Henderson brothers came on board and they acquired the shipyard at Meadowside, which operated as D&W Hendersons. Over several decades 32 Anchor Line ships were built in their yards. They played up the Scottish angle, using the line "Scottish ships and Scottish crews for Scottish passengers" in some of their early marketing for the Glasgow to New York route, and marketing and advertising was something they seemed to be good at right from the start. In a brochure for the American market from 1925 their attempts to emphasise their Scottish origins are clear, with the images they used and slogans such as "Wise Americans Go Home via Anchor Line."

In the 1890s, with the deaths of four of the Henderson brothers, the company was re-organised as "Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd". As the company grew they moved from their offices in Union Street that they had operated from in the 1870s into swanky, white marble offices on St Vincent Street in 1907. Three years later they moved their ships' berths from Stobcross Quay to better accommodation at the newly completed Yorkhill Quay. Their success led to Cunard buying into the company in 1911, but running it as a separate concern from the Glasgow headquarters. 

Anchor Line building at the corner of St Vincent St and Anchor Lane, the building is now open as a bar and restaurant using the 'Anchor Line' and 'Atlantic' names
The company aimed to provide comfort, but at affordable prices, usually under-cutting their American rivals. They always had a stylish image, employing the best of artists to design their posters and adverts and the ships stood out with their distinctive black funnels. They had routes via Gibraltar to India and Egypt, cruises to the Mediterranean, routes aimed at the migrant market from Italy to New York, and links to take advantage of increased emigration from Scandinavia with subsidiary companies bringing ships to Leith and linking via trains to Glasgow to join their trans-Atlantic routes onwards from here. Taking advantage of a growing market for those emigrating to Canada the Anchor-Donaldson subsidiary was developed in 1916. This merged Anchor Line resources with those of the Donaldson Line which had started as a freight company operating to Canada and South America. The Anchor-Donaldson Line began regular sailings between Glasgow and Canada, often linked to stops in Liverpool and Belfast.

In the 1930s the company began to struggle. The imposition of immigration quotas affected their trade to New York, the new Fascist government in Italy effectively shut down their routes from there by introducing laws requiring emigrees use Italian carriers and the depression affected their freight carriage. Cunard withdrew from the company and it limped on through liquidation.   

TSS Athenia

The Anchor-Donaldson Line to Canada was developed in 1916 whilst war was still gripping the world. Four passenger liners were transferred from the Donaldson Line to the new concern but these ships were soon requisitioned for war service. Of these, two were sunk in World War 1 by U-boats, the Athenia and the Letitia.

After the war these ships were replaced by two larger ships, which were given the same names, the Letitia and Athenia. They were designed for the emigrant trade. The TSS Athenia was built in the Fairfields Yard in Govan, Glasgow and came into service in 1924. She could accommodate 1,500 passengers. The Athenia and Letitia were kept busy during the 1920s as various government schemes tried to encourage emigration to Canada, offering tickets for only £2 with a guaranteed job on arrival. By the 1930s this emigration business was tailing off and the ships were re-fitted with more comfortable accommodation in an effort to appeal to tourists. The company struggled with the fall in trade and went into liquidation in 1935. The Donaldson Line re-acquired the full ownership of the company and continued trading as the Donaldson Atlantic Line. This company took ownership of the two ships and continued to operate under this name until 1954, now completely separate from the Anchor Line company.

Display at Glasgow Riverside Museum on the sinking of the Athenia

Souvenirs from TSS Athenia, on display in Glasgow's Riverside Museum
Passengers on board the Letitia or Athenia could buy souvenirs such as these Athenia branded goods above, which are on display in the Glasgow Riverside Museum, or the postcard above that which I have, showing the ship. Many of those leaving from Glasgow would send a last postcard home when they stopped in Ireland or Liverpool to pick up the last of the passengers for the trip.

TSS Athenia being guided down the Clyde by a tug on an outward journey in 1938 with Meadowside Granary visible at the top of the picture and a vehicular ferryboat at the bottom left.
By 1939 the shadow of war was again hanging over Europe. Eastern European refugees, German Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and Canadians and Americans living or holidaying in Britain were trying to get across the Atlantic to safety. On the 4th of August 1939 TSS Athenia left Glasgow, stopping in Liverpool then Belfast on the 5th and 6th of August, she arrived in Quebec on August 12th and Montreal a day later. Back in Glasgow on the 27th of August she was made ready to make her regular trip again. Leaving Glasgow on September 1st 1939 she would be the last passenger ship leaving Britain to cross the Atlantic before the war, which now seemed inevitable, was declared.

Ian Donnelly, assistant steward on SS Athenia

One of my two grannies grew up in Walsall. Aged 16 she lost her only brother in the sinking of HMS Glorious during World War 2 (I have written about it here). My other granny grew up in the Gorbals and was 23 years old when her big brother, Ian McPhee Donnelly, died aboard the SS Athenia. 

The Donnelly family 1914 and 1916
My great-grandparents Bella McPhee and Peter Donnelly had four children. In the first photograph above their two boys Peter and Ian can be seen. In the second photo Peter is in full Highland dress (presumably property of the photo studio), Ian is sitting happily in a sailor's outfit ready for his working life at sea, and my newly born granny is swaddled in her mother's arms. Six months older than the boxer Benny Lynch, Ian and he were classmates at school in the Gorbals and remained lifelong friends. After leaving school Ian started working on steam-ships as a steward. The one wage slip of his which I have (maybe his first?) is from September 1928, when aged 15 years old, he had just been paid £2.13/2d for 21 days work on the passenger ship Melita, which went from Glasgow to Montreal and Quebec. 

Account of wages, from ship Melita, 1928
My granny always said that he loved his job, enjoyed being at sea and travelling the world. He was still doing it 11 years later when he was on the crew of the Athenia in 1939 (being paid nearer £8 a trip by then). Like many other families, my great-grandparents gave serious thought to emigrating in the late 1920s and this photograph below was taken as a family passport photograph at that time. My granny stands at the back aged about 15 with her big brothers on either side of her, Ian to the right.

For whatever reason the family decided against emigrating and were still living on Gorbals Main Street in 1936 when newly married Ian moved out from his parents' home to live a few doors down the road with his wife Mary (or Molly as we knew her). She was a worker at a biscuit factory at the time of their marriage (almost certainly the McCall & Stephen biscuit factory on Adelphi Street).

Ian Donnelly in his early 20s, and aged 23 marrying Molly in June 1936
With only 4 or 5 days between trips, Ian Donnelly had a few days at home in late August 1939 before heading off to sea again on the 1st of September 1939. During those few days he caught up with family and my granny said that he was out meeting some old friends for a few drinks, including Benny Lynch, the night before he went back to the ship. Also aged 26, Lynch had just had his boxing license withheld a few days earlier for failing to meet the Boxing Board's fitness standards due to his failing health.

Only officers were permanent employees of the shipping companies, the rest of the crew signed on voyage by voyage. The ship's crew were divided into three groups. The deck crew operated the ship and loaded/ unloaded cargo (67 men on the Athenia). Engineering crew worked the engines and maintained the machinery on board (29 men on the Athenia). Under the chief steward, the cabin crew made up the largest part of the crew. Responsible for general housekeeping, cooking, entertainment, with roles from manicurists to confectioners this could be 150-300 cabin crew depending upon passenger numbers on a Donaldson Atlantic Line ship to Canada.

SS Athenia passing Yorkhill Quay 1935, the pump house at the top is about all that is still recognisable today. The Anchor Line's New York steamships Cameronia and Transylvania are visible behind the Athenia.
In 1939 as tension grew in Europe the ships to Canada were becoming busier and busier. The company log books for the Athenia show the trip from Glasgow to Canada in August 1939 required a crew of 262. A month later they had 316 crew looking after an unusually crowded ship. 

The ship left Glasgow around noon on September 1st 1939 and arrived in Belfast that evening near 8pm to collect another 136 passengers.  Two hours later they prepared to head across the Irish Sea for their last stop, in Liverpool, arriving early the next morning. Those boarding in Liverpool would have read newspaper headlines announcing the German invasion of Poland which had begun the previous day. In Liverpool the captain received new advice from the admiralty about anti-submarine procedures to be followed with war expected. He was commanded to follow a zig-zag course north of the usual trade routes, and to sail with the ship blacked out at night.

After a further 546 passengers had boarded at Liverpool the ship set sail at 4.30pm on Sunday the 2nd September, left Liverpool and headed down the River Mersey and northwards. On board were 1,418 people including 316 crew. Of the passengers 469 were Canadian citizens, 311 were Americans, 172 were British or Irish and 150 were European refugees, including many children. Accommodation on the ship was crowded, some rooms designed for two people had four people sleeping in them, some temporary facilities in the lounges were filled and the crew had to arrange three sittings for meals in the dining rooms.

By dawn on the 3rd September they had cleared the Donegal coast and were headed out towards the north Atlantic. Just after 11am the radio operator received a message. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had announced that Britain was at war with Germany and the news was passed to the passengers. The crew conducted a lifeboat drill at 1pm and provisions and flares were placed in all 26 lifeboats in case of an emergency.

Pages from the company log books for TSS Athenia, showing the crew, their wages and dates of arrival and departure in ports en route

The bottom line of this log book should have recounted the dates of arrival in ports along the way, but after Liverpool instead in red ink all it states is... 
"Vessel torpedoed 3rd September '39.
19 crew and 94 passengers lost"

"British Liner Athenia Torpedoed"

U-boats were already in the north Atlantic at the end of August 1939, preparing for war. In the event of war the six U-boats that made up the Salzwedel flotilla here were to attack British naval ships, troop carriers and military craft under escort.

Operating on the surface on the morning of 3rd September U-30 spotted the Norwegian freighter SS Knute Nelson. A short while later the U-boat crew were informed that Germany was at war. At about 2pm the U-boats received orders to "open hostilities against England(sic) immediately. Do not wait to be attacked first". Further messages and instructions outlined the rules of engagement. Later that afternoon the U-boat commander, Oberleutenant Lemp, caught sight of another ship and had his U-boat set a course to intercept it. When dusk approached he had it in his sights. As it was blacked-out and following a zig-zag course he decided that it was an armed British merchant cruiser on patrol and he prepared to attack. As a passenger liner Athenia should have been stopped and searched, or those on board given warning to abandon ship before it was attacked if it was felt to be a legitimate target. None of these things happened. At 7.40pm, from a distance of about 1500 metres, Lemp fired two torpedoes at the ship. One of the torpedoes struck the Athenia and exploded.

A few days later, on 8th September 1939, the American ambassador to London, Joseph P Kennedy dispatched a report to the American Secretary of State. A report was prepared after arranging naval attachés Commander Hitchcock and Captain Kirk to take statements from eye witnesses disembarked from rescue ships in Galway. Their report (a copy of which is held in the Mitchell Library) states that
"the torpedo struck the port side of Athenia, slightly abaft midships.....The explosion caused a great deal of water on the outside of the ship to be blown into the air: destroyed the bulkhead between fireroom and engineroom, shattering the oil tank and destroying access of stairs from the third class and tourist dining saloons to the upper decks"
Several people died at the stairwell or in the dining area and also some people were injured or killed who were on the deck near the point of impact. The second torpedo missed the ship and Lemp took his U-boat down to avoid been struck by it as it followed an erratic course. About half an hour later he surfaced again and as the ship did not appear to be sinking he fired two more torpedoes at her. Many eye witnesses on board also reported seeing or hearing a shot from the submarine's deck canon fired towards the ship, though that is disputed. Of this second volley one torpedo missed and the other became stuck in the tube. To try to release it the U-boat sank again to increase the pressure in the tube. 

The U-boat radio operator could now hear the distress signals of the sinking ship and checking the Lloyds Register of Ships on board the U-boat they were able to confirm that they had attacked a civilian passenger liner, against all commands that they had been given. At that point they left the scene, making no attempt to help the lifeboats as they were meant to under the rules of submarine warfare, and made no radio contact with their command, who learnt about the sinking of the Athenia from BBC broadcasts. It was over three weeks later before U-30 arrived back home, having sunk another three ships on their voyage. Lemp was taken to Berlin to explain the events around the Athenia. Afterwards the U-boat's log books were altered and the Germans continued to deny any involvement in the sinking throughout the war. It wasn't until the Nuremberg trials that the truth emerged.


TSS Athenia sinking after being torpedoed by U-30
The Athenia stayed afloat for many hours which gave time for evacuation and all 26 lifeboats were launched into the sea successfully. The sea was at this time relatively flat and within several hours the Norwegian freighter SS Knute Nelson, which Lemp had earlier spotted, arrived to help pick up survivors. Unfortunately a tragic episode here at 2.50am in the morning led to possibly the biggest loss of life in the sinking. With increasingly choppy seas one of the lifeboats got drawn into the propeller of the Knute Nelson, killing many of those on board as the boat got sliced to pieces. 

Next to arrive and offer assistance was The Southern Cross, the "yacht" of the millionaire Swedish owner of the Electrolux vacuum cleaner company, Axel Wenner-Gren. Royal Navy ships HMS Electra and HMS Escort then arrived to assist the rescue attempts, whilst sea conditions deteriorated. About 10am on the morning of 4th September the passengers and crew, either on these ships or still in the sea, watched the Athenia finally sink below the waves.

An Athenia lifeboat transfers passengers to the City of Flint
640 survivors were on board HMS Escort and HMS Electra which took them to Greenock in Scotland. There they were provided with emergency clothing and 27 of them taken directly to hospital to have burns and broken limbs dealt with. 236 survivors were aboard The Southern Cross and were soon transferred to American freighter City of Flint which headed directly across the Atlantic to Halifax. The Knute Nelson had 430 on board and made for Galway in Ireland, the owners insisting that the ship should be docked at a neutral port. 

The newsreel below shows those arriving at the Sugar Quay, Albert Harbour in Greenock being taken by buses from there to the Beresford Hotel on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. 

You can see agitated relatives looking out for family members coming off of the buses in Glasgow and I wonder if my great-granny or Ian's wife Molly were there. My granny remembered them going regularly to the Beresford Hotel over the coming days to try to see if there was any news of Ian. With ships landing survivors in different ports, on either side of the Atlantic, it took some time before a list of those still missing was released. My granny held on to letters the family received from friends written in the days after the news of the ship's sinking, messages saying "my family and myself are hoping that everything will be all right." Other cards that they held onto, which arrived at the same time, seem to be from another world, like these two postcards sent by a friend who was in Paris. Apparently oblivious to all that was going on elsewhere these cards were posted in the last week of August, days before war was declared. Their messages report "lovely weather, plenty good wine, cheap. I simply feel in the pink."

My granny told me that initially they were optimistic that Ian had survived. They knew he was a good swimmer, sometimes after a night out he would swim home across the River Clyde, fully clothed, for fun and arrive at the door dripping wet and smiling. They got lots of false reports of sightings of Ian on newsreels from friends and neighbours. Colleagues from the Athenia assured them that they had seen Ian in a lifeboat, but they also heard in detail about the lifeboat that had been smashed by a propeller in the rescue, a lifeboat that was reported to have many crew on board. Almost three weeks after the Athenia was sunk they got confirmation that Ian was listed among the missing, presumed dead. This report in the Daily Record from 23rd September 1939 has a photo of Ian at the top, second from the left. It reports that 19 crew members lost their lives, 14 from Glasgow, the other five from Giffnock, Cambuslang, Dunoon, Balornock and one from Quebec.

One letter that arrived from a cousin Sadie in Philadelphia to Ian's mother, Bella, says
"It was with deep regret that I learned of Ian being lost by the sinking of the SS Athenia. I received papers from home and noticed his name among the missing so I am taking it for granted it was he as I know he had quite a passion for steam-ships but I trust in God that he has been found."


1,306 people were rescued from the SS Athenia but 112 people died. Of these 112 people 19 were crew and 93 passengers, including 30 Americans. A 10 year old Canadian girl, Margaret Heyworth, later died from her injuries whilst aboard the City of Flint, and her coffin being taken off the ship in Halifax shocked Canadians. Politicians and newspapers there rallied behind the British war effort, "EMPIRE AT WAR" as the headline in the Halifax Herald put it in bold red letters in early September above the news story of the Athenia

Comparisons were quickly made with the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania, sunk by a German U-boat in the Atlantic in 1915. On that occasion over 1,000 passengers and crew were lost. With 128 American citizens among the dead, that shifted American public opinion behind the country joining the First World War. The Germans feared that sinking the Athenia now risked doing the same again with this war and they were quick to deny any responsibility for the ship going down. A document in the Mitchell Library, produced by the British government, lists the German versions of events broadcast by their media in the days after the sinking, claiming that the Athenia was sunk...
  1. by a British warship in error
  2. by a floating mine of English origin
  3. by an English submarine
  4. boiler explosion
  5. a bomb
  6. by gunfire from three British destroyers
The Germans also claimed that the Athenia was not just a passenger liner but was carrying munitions and that the situation was being "maneuvered by British Naval Authorities to bring America into the war." Even after Berlin received Oberleutenant Lemp's report of his actions, as the man who fired the torpedo, on October 22nd 1939 Joseph Goebbels gave a speech broadcast on German radio denouncing Churchill for ordering the sinking. 

The statements of numerous people who saw the submarine fire at them was not enough to convince some Americans. Former American President Herbert Hoover, who opposed American entry into the war, wrote in a letter...
"The whole thing looks suspicious to me." To sink the passenger liner "is such poor tactics that I cannot believe even the clumsy Germans would do such a thing" 
Although it was over two years before America did join the war, the sinking of the Athenia is believed to have softened opinion there to allow amendments to American neutrality legislation, allowing arms sales to the French and British.

Athenia Relief Fund

In Glasgow and Galway hundreds of survivors of the sinking had to be looked after, and although nervous many still were keen to find new passage to America and Canada as soon as possible. The Lord Provost of Glasgow Corporation (the Scottish equivalent of a mayor), Patrick Dollan, previously Scottish chairman of the Independent Labour Party throughout the 1920s, was quick to mobilise the city's resources to aid the survivors. Most of them were brought to the Beresford Hotel on Sauchiehall Street initially. Appeals went out for clothing and the Athenia Relief Fund was set up immediately to help those in extremis. Within days the fund had raised thousands of pounds, from large donations from the Donaldson Line company, to small amounts handed in by individuals. A (rather droll) letter from a man in Barnsley passing on 2/8d to the fund says...
"six or seven children, amongst them two of my own, none of them above nine years of age decided to give a concert in my garden. From what I hear it was not a great show but by charging 3d each to their mummy's and begging from friends who passed by they raised 2/8d and asked me to send it to survivors of the Athenia"
A letter from Paisleys Outfitters on Jamaica Street tells of the "40-50 mens and ladies coats" they will be sending to help the survivors. Other letters offer up rooms in people's homes in the city to put up the survivors. There are letters from the Donaldson Atlantic Line passing on small amounts handed in from the public to their offices for the relief fund. One letter from the company, four weeks after the sinking, passing on 2/6d from an anonymous donor is on their official paper, still carrying the header in red print...
"Travel in comfort by "Athenia" and "Letitia" 

Passenger accommodation. 

Rebuilt, modernised, air conditioned."
Lord Provost Dollan invited the American ambassador to Glasgow to see what was being done for the Americans in the city. Unable to come, he sent his young son, 22 year old John F. Kennedy. He visited Americans in the various city hotels they had been posted to, and those in the hospitals. By all newspaper accounts at the time he was charming and re-assuring to all those he met on his first official diplomatic role.

Provost Dollan and John F. Kennedy meet some of the American survivors of the Athenia sinking
After returning to London to pass on the concerns of the American survivors to his father, John F. Kennedy wrote these two letters to Provost Dollan thanking the city for her efforts. 

This Pathé newsreel below, "Athenia Survivors Go Home", shows the Americans leaving Glasgow on the 19th of September aboard the American ship Orizaba, after being entertained in the city by Harry Lauder a few days earlier. The film also shows those arriving on the City of Flint in Halifax.

Letters among those sent to the Athenia Relief Fund administrators contain many requests for emergency funds from people who have lost everything they had on the sinking. There are several letters from crew members, who are directed to the Donaldson Atlantic line with their claims. The emergency fund only supplied items such as spectacles and dentures lost in the sinking to crew members. The company gave crew an emergency issue of £5 and then later 2 months wages and compensation for loss of personal effects, which usually seemed to amount to about £15. Some letters complain that the emergency £5 was taken from the wages they later got. 

Some requests for support from the fund give us a window onto the impossible situation some people were in. There are letters from German Jews, Poles and Czechs requesting assistance. An application for support from a family of Czech refugees comes from Anna and Karl, asking for help with their 9 and 4 year old children and 14 year old nephew...
" ...who joined my family in May after having traveled with the children's transport from Czechoslovakia."
The family were fleeing Europe to Canada, but had now lost all their money, clothing and belongings on the Athenia. They requested help to "fit out my family from head to foot before our new passage to Canada." They were re-directed to apply to the Scottish Refugee Council and given an emergency £5. By contrast there was a letter via the New Zealand High Commissioner on behalf of a lady wanting compensation from the fund for lost luggage. She gave a "conservative estimate" of £200 for her luggage, in which she listed among other items...
"Three fur coats, including one grey squirrel £30, six evening frocks with accessories to tone..."
A terse reply from the Public Assistance Department of Glasgow Corporation dismissed her request.
"It is apparent that Mrs... had means of her own, and as the fund was primarily raised to relieve immediate destitution, I do not think a grant should be made to this woman in respect of the loss of her effects."
As well as helping survivors, two cheques for £50 from the fund were dispatched on 21st December 1939 to the crew and officers of HMS Escort and HMS Electra which had helped in the rescue.
"Glasgow would like to join in their Christmas celebrations and will be happy if you will allow us this privilege."
A letter of thanks to the city arrived from American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is held amongst these papers. His description "efficient, generous and humane" seems to sum up the response of the city to those who were in need.
"I have just received your telegram of September 5 assuring me that the city of Glasgow will look after the American and other survivors of the Athenia disaster who have arrived in your city. Ambassador Kennedy has also telegraphed telling me of your city's kindness. 
I wish you to know how deeply I and the American people appreciate the efficient, generous , and humane manner in which Glasgow and its citizens came to the help of our fellow countrymen and women in their need. I express to you my heartfelt thanks and assure you that Glasgow's gesture will not be forgotten. 
  Very sincerely yours,  President Franklin D Roosevelt"


Tower Hill Memorial, London
Last year when I was in London I visited the Tower Hill Memorial close to the Tower of London, which commemorates the men and women of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died in both world wars and are not commemorated in other places. In total almost 36,000 names are recorded here of those who have "no grave but the sea".

The names of British crew members who died on TSS Athenia
My granny often talked about her brother Ian. He loved steam-ships, was handsome, funny and her best friend. The last time that I saw Molly, Ian's wife, was at my granny's funeral many years ago. She and my granny were lifelong friends. A war memorial only consists of a list of names. I have tried here to remember the person that my granny told me about when I was younger, and below I have endeavoured to flesh out some of the other names on this memorial, who had their own lives cut short whilst working on TSS Athenia, by a German U-boat less than eight hours into World War Two.

What of the captain of U-30, Fritz-Julius Lemp? Awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross by the German Navy he was a war hero. However, whilst commander of another submarine, U-110, he was cornered by British warships in May 1941. With his boat disabled he ordered his crew to abandon ship and tried to scuttle U-110. It is reported that he tried to swim back to the boat when he saw that it was not going down, but died or was killed in the attempt. The British got on board the submarine and were able to seize a naval Enigma machine and secret cipher documents, the first time this had been done, before sinking the boat to disguise this fact.

Crew of TSS Athenia who died when it sank. 3rd/4th September 1939

JAMES CARLIN, Assistant Steward, Age 56.
IAN DONNELLY, Assistant Steward, Age 26. Son of Bella and Peter Donnelly, my granny's big brother and my great-uncle.
JOHN DONNELLY, Assistant Steward, Age 23.
JAMES ELDER, Donkeyman, Age 45. Husband of Mary Elder, of Cambuslang, Lanarkshire.
CHARLES FORDYCE, Watchman, Age 65. Son of George and Jessie Fordyce; husband of Mary Penelope Fordyce.
HUGH GALLAGHER, Greaser, Age 23. Son of Thomas Gallagher, and of Isabel Gallagher, of Glasgow.
ALISON HARROWER, Stewardess, Age 41. Daughter of William and Hannah Foster Denny Harrower.
JOHN HOGG, Assistant Steward, Age 51. Husband of Sarah A. Hogg, of Brantford, Ontario, Canada.
MARGARET JOHNSTON, Stewardess, Age 41. Daughter of James and Christina Johnston, of Glasgow.
JOHN KENT, Assistant Steward, Age 50. Husband of Jessie Darroch Kent, of Bridgeton,
JESSIE LAWLER, Stewardess, Age 60. Wife of Patrick Lawler, of Sholing, Southampton.
JAMES MARSHALL, Bellboy, Age 15.
DAVID MORRISON, Steward, Age 32.
MICHAEL J. McDERMOTT, Assistant Steward, Age 33.
JOHN McJARROW, Printer, Age 39.
JOHN McKEOWN, Steward, Age 47. Husband of M. E. McKeown, of Dunoon, Argyllshire.
DAVID PROVAN, Barber, Age 65. Son of Alec and Margaret Provan; husband of Martha Provan, of Glasgow.
SAMUEL THOMSON, Assistant Steward, Age 45. Husband of Julia McCafferty Thomson. of Glasgow.
HANNAH BAIRD, Stewardess,  (commemorated at Canadian Merchant Navy HALIFAX MEMORIAL Nova Scotia, Canada)


  • TSS Athenia has been in the news again this week. One the fish cooks badly burned at the time the torpedo hit (he can be seen getting helped off the ship in one of the films above) had handed his watch to a passenger for safe-keeping, fearing that he was going to die. With the watch being handed to the Glasgow Riverside museum to look after the full story of this man's experiences (he survived his injuries) has now been discovered, and his relatives traced. See BBC News or Daily Telegraph for more detail
  • Ian Donnelly was an ordinary resident of the Gorbals, an area of Glasgow that was the life and soul of the city in the 1920s and 1930s. His friend Benny Lynch (who I have previously written about here) came from the same background and managed to do extraordinary things. It is wrong that the Glasgow has no proper memorial to one of its most noteworthy sons and I would encourage you to contribute to this campaign fund to build a statue of Benny Lynch in the city if you can. (Remember Benny Lynch Campaign)

  • Thanks to the staff of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow for their help in retrieving all the archives that I requested, and to the staff at the Riverside Museum, Glasgow who have put together an excellent display on the sinking of TSS Athenia. 
  • Thanks to the the University of Glasgow archives department who hold the Anchor Line company records and where I was able to pore over a 1939 edition of Lloyds Register of Shipping, just as Lemp had done on U-30.
  • I also got a lot of information from an interview in the Sunday Mail from 1989 with survivor Thomas Ritchie of Possilpark, who had been a 19 year old assistant steward on the Athenia when it was sunk.
  • Two books packed with information about the Athenia, presented in completely contrasting styles, are Athenia Torpedoed, by Francis Carroll and, with the racier book cover, A Night of Terror by Max Caulfield. Written in 1958 it contains many colourful anecdotes of life on the ship and of the rescue, in a style crying out to be made into a film.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Big Country. A nostalgic gig reviewed.

Big Country. Live gig review. Cottiers, Glasgow, 17th December 2016

Big Country - The Seer album. 30th Anniversary Tour
On Saturday night I donned my tartan shirt and joined a decent crowd in Cottiers for a nostalgic trip back to the 1980s with Big Country performing there on their current tour. Only two of the original four members were playing in the current five-piece band. With the death 15 years ago of charismatic singer, guitarist and songwriter Stuart Adamson and the retirement of Tony Butler, that leaves Bruce Watson and Mark Brzezicki to carry the torch for the anthemic Scottish rock band. It may sound a bit like going to see Ringo and George Harrison playing as The Beatles, but a week before Christmas the chance of singing along with one of the favourite albums of my 16 year old self was too good to miss.

Formed in Dumfermline in 1981 by former Skids guitarist and songwriter Stuart Adamson and fellow Fifer, guitarist Bruce Watson. One version of the band briefly featured Peter Wishart on keyboards, later of Runrig and now an SNP MP, but Big Country settled their four-piece line up with bass player Tony Butler and drummer Mark Brzezicki. Their first single was released in 1983, Fields of Fire, from the Steve Lilywhite produced album, The Crossing, which also had their hit In A Big Country on it. The Crossing was available in a red, blue or green cover and in textured or smooth finish. As a complete sucker for that kind of fly, marketing gimmick I bought it in all the variations that I could find in the 1980s, despite the album inside being identical each time.

My tatty copies of Steeltown and The Crossing
The single Wonderland followed The Crossing and then the album Steeltown came next, in October 1984, with the singles East of Eden and Where The Rose Is Sown on it. Their success continued with the album The Seer in June 1986. Produced by Robin Miller, the title track features guest vocals from Kate Bush and the album was a return to the more Scottish, bagpipe-guitar sound of The Crossing. It has the hits The Teacher, Look Away and One Great Thing on it. The last of those it is hard to think of without seeing the old Tennents Lager advert that featured it. 

This album was one that I played endlessly and have a 12 inch single version of One Great Thing that has a strange "almanac and discography" booklet in the middle of it. You don't get any of that when you buy a download, do you? This has some photographs of the band in it that I was flicking through today, which are very much of their time. It is 30 years since The Seer was released, and the album is being played in full on the current tour. 

Mark Brzezicjki and Bruce Watson in the One Great Thing "almanac"
Peace In Our Time followed The Seer in September 1988, which marked the beginning of me falling out of love with Big Country and was the last of their albums that I bought. Further albums followed, with diminishing chart success and Stuart Adamson had by the 1990s moved to America to live, where he continued to make music. In 2000 the band ended their "Final Fling" tour with a sell-out concert at the Glasgow Barrowlands. Adamson had a history of alcohol problems and sadly fifteen years ago, in 2001, he committed suicide.

Cheesy  gate-fold picture from the Peace In Our Time album
In 2007 the surviving founder members reformed for a brief 25 year anniversary tour and Bruce Watson and Mark Brzezicki have intermittently toured, playing the band's old material. The current tour marks the 30th anniversary of the release of their third album, The Seer.

Big Country line up 2016, photo from their website
The current line up in 2016 has Jamie Watson on guitar, alongside his father Bruce Watson, drummer Mark Brzezicki, singer Simon Hough and bass player Scott Whiteley. They came on stage to a warm welcome and battered through the tracks of The Seer with Bruce Watson, grinning from ear to ear, briefly chatting between songs. The sing-along mood was carried into a few tracks played after the album play-through. It was a breezy, cheery evening, no maudlin reminiscing allowed. Simon Hough has the toughest job, trying to fill Stuart Adamson's shoes, and vocally he sings in the same key as Adamson, but was otherwise happy to leave Bruce Watson to do all the chatting. In A Big Country, Wonderland and Fields of Fire gave us further chance to sing ourselves hoarse and a final encore followed, which I think was one of the songs from the film Restless Natives.  Though Bruce Watson looked like he was ready to carry on, the rest of the band dragged him off, still grinning away and clearly having a ball. A nostalgic evening that reminded me of how many great tunes Big Country produced, a distinctive and inventive soundtrack to my teenage years.

Big Country in Cottiers, December 2016

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Reeves & Mortimer. 25 Years of the Poignant Moments Tour

Reeves & Mortimer. 25 Years of the Poignant Moments Tour - Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow. 29 November 2016. Live review

I had originally expected to see Vic and Bob bring their silver jubilee tour to Glasgow 12 months ago, but the tour was cancelled when Bob Mortimer required emergency heart surgery just before the tour headed out on the road. Looking slimmer and fitter, they managed to keep their Glasgow date a year late. This gives me an excuse to recall the time a group of friends bumped into Vic Reeves in a bar in Glasgow about 20 years ago. A woman I worked with must have totally bamboozled him by telling him "You're no Jim Reeves, my mum has all his records and he died in a plane crash". 

It is 25 years (well 26 years now I suppose) since Vic Reeves Big Night Out started on Channel 4, bringing Vic and Bob to the nations attention and several other shows followed, including leftfield quiz show Shooting Stars. Their stage show isn't rammed with new material, except for the prolonged improvised sections which must change night to night, but is a nostalgic re-visiting of many of their characters from those shows. The characters they played out were always out-of-time so haven't dated, absurd versions of 1970s television staples from folk singers to talent shows and Crown Court.

The stage features nothing more than a couple of chairs and a desk. Whilst the pair change costume brief sketches are projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage, such as adverts for "Geordie Jeans, so tight you can almost see your bowel movements". The audience was a mix of complete uber-fans who whoop along as they recognise every gag and song, those mildly tickled by the surreal nonsense evolving on stage and lanky teens brought along to observe their parents adulation of Vic and Bob's act.

Vic and Bob on stage at the Armadillo, Glasgow

In a two hour show few old characters are omitted. The Man With The Stick, complete with paper helmet, Graham Lister appearing on Novelty Island talent show, Davey and Donald Stott, Mulligan and O'Hare and Judge Nutmeg. Catchphrases zip about and pan pipes of shoes, blows from mighty frying pans and thigh rubbing all feature as you would hope. Listing what is in the show, now of it makes any sense, but that really is the whole point, their enthusiastic acceptance that everything they are saying and doing is perfectly logical bowls you along. Some characters, such as Dr Shakamoto's funny foreigner who can't say English words properly, maybe are past their best. Others, such as the Terry Gilliam-esque naked, flying Henry VIII should be given their own series.

A fabulous evening. Worth seeing just to see lard shoved through the nostrils of a photo of Benadict Cumberbatch and to be in the presence of the "dove from above". Here's to another 25 years of stuff from the surrealist's edition of Eric and Ernie.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Asylums In and Around Glasgow

Asylums in Glasgow - The Buildings Where Madness Was Managed

Over the past 200 hundred years the treatment available to people with mental health problems has changed dramatically. In Glasgow the buildings and institutions to lock up or look after these people has also changed. In the early 1800s "lunatics" would be locked up in their own sections of the poorhouse. Then huge asylums were built to house these people together, away from the rest of society.

Few medical treatments were available in the early days of the asylums but a more humane regime of management was reflected in the building throughout the 19th century of grand asylums on the outskirts of the city with their own land for outdoor sports, farming and gardening. In the 20th century new drug treatments became available, alongside ideas that we were making some people worse by locking them away, separate from the rest of society. So now the large Victorian asylums and mental hospitals have all but closed down in the past 20 years. Many of the buildings still stand, so I wanted to try and see where they were and find out a bit more about the history of the old Glasgow asylums before they vanish completely.

Early Care - "Madhouses"

Last December I wrote here about the poorhouses of Glasgow, the Scottish equivalent of the English workhouses. On reading up on this subject I looked into the story of my family members who had asked for help from the Poor Relief authorities. This led me to the story of a distant uncle who sought their help in 1923 when he was unable to work. After assessment at Duke Street Hospital, the doctor declared that he "is mental" and he spent 5 months in Woodilee Hospital before being released back home. This illustrated the overlapping roles of poorhouse institutions at that time with asylums; of mental illness and poverty.

The language used - asylum, madhouse, lunatic - now has negative and pejorative associations, but the words used reflected the ideas people had at the time. In the 17th and 18th century someone called mad or a lunatic could be suffering from a variety of problems. The management of these people involved detention, restraint and isolating them from the rest of society. The alternative was often otherwise for them to end up on the street if they did not have family who could look after them. The poorhouse became the place to keep elements of society seen as disruptive, those impoverished but physically or mentally unable to work. The early poorhouses of Glasgow usually had a section reserved "for lunatics" to use the language of the time. This described people who could be confused, violent, suffering from delusions, seizures, loss of memory or the ability to communicate, or from physical health problems causing mental impairment which nowadays could be treated, such as thyroid deficiency or end-stage syphilis.

Glasgow Magdalene Institution
Other people were purely locked up in asylums because they didn't fit in with the norms of society at the time - petty criminals, delinquents, or even women who had got pregnant out of wedlock. With the establishment of the Glasgow Magdalene Asylum in 1812 unmarried mothers, prostitutes and even women thought to dress immodestly were often taken here instead of the mental asylums, but not always. From 1859 this became the Magdalene Institution and in 1864 it moved to Lochburn Road in Maryhill, where it operated until as recently as 1958 when it was closed after a riot by the residents/inmates. It seems bizarre to think that as recently as this women were taken here and mistreated for having a lover, "trained" in the laundry there and often put into domestic service "or other respectable service" as their adverts put it, "rescued from a life of shame and restored to society".

In the early 18th century, when the population of Glasgow was reaching 15,000, it was decided that the city needed a hospital and poorhouse. On the north bank of the river Clyde the Town's Hospital and Poorhouse was built in 1731, close to where St Andrew's Cathedral now stands. "Lunatics" were held in cells in the basement, often chained up. Despite these basement cells often flooding from the Clyde this building served as the main poorhouse in the city centre for over 100 years.

The Town's Hospital and Poorhouse on the banks of the Clyde
One of the directors of the poorhouse, Robert McNair of Belvidere, for many years a collector of customs at Leith, decided to provide better accommodation for "the insane folk". A book of 1888 describes it like this.
"the heart of this good man was touched by the wretched condition of the insane folk, who at the beginning of the century, whatever their social condition, were kept in "the cells" at the Poorhouse at the banks of the Clyde; and, as improvement of the cells was impossible, he determined to procure for them better care and treatment elsewhere"
An important notion here is that rich and poor were having to endure the same conditions and throughout the 19th century care would have divisions on class. McNair raised £7000 and in 1810 the foundation stone was laid for The Glasgow Asylum for Lunatics which opened 4 years later in 1814. Ten years later they were given a Royal Charter and the name changed to The Glasgow Royal Asylum for Lunatics. This building was on a site located near to where Buchanan Street bus station now stands, on what was Parliamentary Road. On this map from 1830 you can see the cross-shaped "lunatic asylum" in empty land between Cowcaddens quarry and Dobbies Loan.

Map 1830 (click to expand)

1850s OS map
The Glasgow Royal Asylum for Lunatics provided separate wings for male and female patients and also patients could be separated by class with access to distinct airing courts to exercise in good weather, whilst being observed from staff within the building. In the 1814 regulations for staff (or "keepers" as they were called) they are forbidden "to strike or strive with a patient" or "to subject a patient to confinement, privation or punishment of any kind without express instructions from the physician or superintendent". The keepers are instructed to consider "the patients as utterly unable to restrain themselves, the keepers must forgive all sarcasms, and treat with equal tenderness those who give the most and those who give the least trouble".

The treatment was to consist of "harmless amusements, wholesome exercise, and useful labours". An 1816 report on the institution comments on the two looms for patients use, weaving and sewing are seen to be taking place whilst some patients write poetry or read to their fellow patients. The stated aim is "to remove from the Asylum, as much as possible, all appearance of a prison." One stated reason for this was to try and improve people's symptoms early, to avoid where possible the "accumulation of incurable cases".

A bowling green and billiard room were added to the facilities in 1819 and in 1820 the value of outdoor labour is discussed in the annual reports, with gardening recommended for gentleman patients. "Cottages and suites of apartments separate from the ordinary wards are to be provided for the high-class patients".

Despite these wholesome sentiments it is clear that restraints and punishments are still part of the regime at this time, even if it is being limited to "only when instructed to by the physician". In the 1817 annual report an officer is thanked by the board "for inventing a leather muff which is better, and much less irksome than a strait is more seemly than handcuffs of iron, and in cold weather less disagreeable". In the 1819 report it is reported that "rotatory motion, by means of a whirling chair, has of late been tried in a great number of cases, and in some of them, with wonderfully good effect".

The aims through all of this are stated as "moderating excitation and promoting convalescence".

Thomas Annan photograph from 1890s of the
Town's Hospital as the building was then known
As the city was expanding quickly in the 19th century there was no room at the city centre site to expand the facilities here. By the 1840s there were new ideas about how people with mental illness should be treated. In society at this time attitudes were changing. Just as slavery was being abolished, and people now saw these slaves as fellow humans due the same respect as others, more people realised that the "mad" were also fellow humans, to be treated with kindness and understanding rather than punishment. New asylums were built. The Town's Hospital and Poorhouse moved from the Clydeside into the Royal Asylum building on Parliamentary Road when it was vacated.

The Victorian Asylums

The old buildings proved inadequate for the type of treatments being devised for people with severe mental health problems in the 19th century and new facilities (or "asylums") were built. 

The poorhouses in the city at Barnhill (near what became Stobhill Hospital) and Govan (Southern General Hospital) continued to function as asylums at this time but the new idea was to build separate buildings each for lunatics, for the poor, for the physically sick and for infectious disease cases. An 1888 report on Glasgow hospitals describes the situation thus
"To prevent misapprehension regarding the provision for the insane poor in Scotland, it may be well to state that the majority are accommodated in the Royal and District Asylums. A portion of chronic and harmless insane occupy special wards in ordinary poorhouses....a considerable body reside with their relatives, while a large and steadily increasing number are boarded in specially licensed private houses, but not more than four under one guardian. This last arrangement is known as the Scottish boarding-out system, and does not exist in any other country."
The later built Eastern General Hospital (Duke Street Hospital) was designed for the acutely sick poor, but also had beds specifically for psychiatric assessment, a novel arrangement of 22 beds for mental observation cases. This was where my great uncle William was assessed for four weeks in the 1920s before being transferred to Woodilee.

The theory at the time was that specifically designed buildings would help the patients, taking them away from their home environment which was often believed to be a causative factor in their presentation. The idea was to provide calm, rest, and work to keep people occupied. Staff usually lived in the grounds creating a feeling of community. Work could involve farming, gardening, preparing food from the grounds, sewing, even writing and art classes. The asylums were designed to be largely self-sufficient in food. Despite all this recovery rates were often low and although no longer as prominent as before, locked doors and restraint, such as straight jackets, were often still required.

The Glasgow Royal Lunatic Asylum, Gartnavel

In 1841 a new site was identified for The Glasgow Royal Lunatic Asylum and in 1843 the Royal Asylum at Gartnavel was opened. This Tudor Gothic building stood at the top of a small hill within 66 acres of "pleasure grounds". It consisted of two separate buildings, providing a building each for "higher and lower class of patients". As before there were separate wings for each gender. There were also several associated administrative buildings and a chapel built. For most of its history until the formation of the NHS in 1948 the hospital at Gartnavel housed mainly private patients, with those unable to pay sent to the Parochial Asylums such as Woodilee and Gartloch. In 1888 a report states that the Royal Asylum "accommodates 500 patients, at boards varying from the pauper rate to £400 a year or upwards, according to the accommodation, care, and service required".

Glasgow Royal Asyum from an 1888 book
From the opening as the Glasgow Asylum for Lunatics in 1814 until a report for the British Medical Association in 1888, the hospital states that it had treated 14,765 "insane patients". Of these it reports 6,476 (43% ) had been discharged as recovered. In the year of the report, 1887, they reported 45% of patients discharged as recovered and 5.5% of the residents under treatment having died at the hospital.

The west building at Gartnavel Royal as it is today.
No longer used for patients but houses Health Board administrative departments
A 1922 report for a later BMA meeting in Glasgow describes the Gartnavel hospital as becoming rather dated, though being in advance of its time when it was built "perhaps more institutional and concentrated than would be adopted now". At that time the 500 patients were paying rates of between £58 and £600 per annum. They describe the grounds in 1922 as containing a golf course, tennis courts, a croquet lawn and a curling pond.

In 1931, with evolving attitudes to treatment, the name was changed to the Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital, and in 1963 it became Gartnavel Royal Hospital. Gartnavel General Hospital was built in the grounds in 1968 with the loss of some sport and recreation amenities. In the 1960s there was still a piggery in the grounds for patients to work at. In 1953 after leaving the army, RD Laing started his psychiatry career here. He worked in wards at Gartnavel filled with long term patients, many labelled as having chronic schizophrenia. Their care provided little more than basic necessities, certainly little interaction from medical staff. He trialed some novel approaches here and published a paper in The Lancet in 1955 about dramatic improvements he saw in some patients managed differently, having a smaller group of nurses giving the patients continuity of care and more interaction. These experiments shaped his future, more radical ideas. He later worked at the Glasgow University academic psychiatry department based at the Southern General Hospital before heading to the Tavistock Hospital in London in 1956.

The old building at Gartnavel Royal with more
modern hospital buildings in the foreground
The west block of Gartnavel Royal is still used today, but now by administrative departments of Glasgow Health Board. Psychiatric in-patients are now housed in modern facilities in the hospital grounds which have been built over the past 15 years, with 117 beds. Since 2006 the eastern block has been closed. Boarded up and beginning to look a bit shabby and neglected, Glasgow's appalling record of allowing buildings to become dangerously abandoned and decayed until a mysterious fire requires their demolition must make the future of this building very uncertain.

Derelict eastern building of the old Glasgow Royal
Lunatic Asylum, Gartnavel Royal Hospital
Derelict eastern building of the old Glasgow Royal
Lunatic Asylum, Gartnavel Royal Hospital

Woodilee Hospital

Under the Poor Law (Scotland) Act of 1845, the duty of providing care and treatment for "lunatics" passed to Parochial Boards. The Barony Parish of Glasgow was the most populous in Scotland, having to cater for almost 300,000 people. With growing demand the 150 beds at Barnhill Poorhouse were insufficient for the needs of the area. Opened in 1875 as the Barony Parochial Asylum, at Woodilee near Lenzie, this new asylum was the first asylum specifically built to house the lunatic residents of the poorhouses. With a capacity initially of 600 patients it was also sometimes known as The Glasgow District Asylum. Where Gartnavel had incorporated the most modern ideas in asylum design 30 years earlier, Woodilee was another step forward. The aim was to house "pauper lunatics" in the quiet and seclusion of the countryside. There were more comfortable day rooms, outdoor airing areas were not walled-in prison-style, and instead of long wings of sleeping areas these were broken up into smaller sections. The main treatments were still to involve rest, seclusion and work on the extensive surrounding grounds and farm areas. There were four farms here, on the 167 acres of land that were part of the hospital complex, plus almost 300 acres more land which the Parochial Board bought or leased nearby, largely to farm. Doors were not locked and after their work patients were allowed to wander in the grounds.

Architectural drawings for Barony Parochial Asylum (Woodilee Hospital)
The main building was 700 feet long, with a corridor running its entire length. Over the years a variety of other administrative and clinical buildings were added within the grounds. This old postcard below gives a sense of the scale of the complex, which is impossible to imagine now on visiting this area. About 1988 I spent a few weeks here as a student and remember it being an impressive and extensive complex of buildings, filled with dated furniture and fittings. With its grand Gothic buildings it did feel a bit "Arkham Asylum". It seems bizarre that none of this still stands.
Woodilee Hospital
In 1900 a villa, built to house "mentally deficient children", was added and by 1915 the hospital had 1300 beds. With the greater numbers the freedoms and activities patients previously enjoyed became greatly curtailed, although patients continued to work on the farms up until the 1960s. Like many other hospitals the introduction of effective medicines in the 1950s and 1960s changed the role of psychiatric hospitals. Many previously bed-ridden patients became able to mobilise and a bigger role for out-patient and voluntary treatment evolved.
Woodilee Hospital entrance
Derelict Woodilee Hospital in 2010
photo from
One of the few remaining old buildings integrated into the vast modern housing development that is "Woodilee Village"
In 1987 large parts of the hospital had to be closed after serious structural problems were identified. As more patients were discharged to other types of care, the hospital began closing in stages at this time and by 2001 it had closed completely.

A derelict building of Woodilee Hospital
"Woodilee Village" in 2016
Almost nothing stands of the fine French Gothic style buildings now. Two serious fires in the 1980s (YET AGAIN!) led to most of the building being demolished in 1990. Now developers continue to build modern housing on the vast lands the hospital stood on, and by the end of this process the housing will have increased the population of Lenzie by about 2000 people. Having previously visited Woodilee Hospital when it was still open I was entirely unable to orientate myself today in the jumble of housing developments thrown up as "Woodilee Village". It is a village of housing, no village shops, pub or post office appears to have been thought of as part of the development yet. Bizarrely the developers' website talks about the "tranquil Victorian village developed after 1842" but makes no mention of the asylum and its vast community that lived here for over 100 years. It seems such a shame to make no attempt to remember the lives of the people who formerly lived here. I found three very small bits of the old Victorian buildings of Woodilee Hospital still standing from all the vast complex that you can see on the postcard above.

Woodilee as it is today, a major private housing development
An old villa of Woodilee Hospital hiding amidst the new housing

Gartloch Hospital

Gartloch Hospital opened as Gartloch Asylum in 1896 near the village of Gartcosh, just east of Glasgow. 100 years later in 1996 it finally closed. Gartcosh was originally an agricultural village, which became know in the late 1800s for its ironworks and later steelworks. Gartloch Asylum was another asylum set in the countryside with patients/ residents engaged on farming the land attached to the asylum, an estate of 440 acres. It initially had 560 beds, half each for men and women. The land of Gartloch Estate was bought by Glasgow City Corporation for £8,600 for the "Glasgow District Lunacy Board" to build an asylum here.

Gartloch Asylum
The 1899 annual report for Gartloch asylum gives some details about the 203 admissions that year. 63 of them were re-admissions, 7 were aged over 70 and two over 85 years of age. They comment that because of their "frail and interfering ways (t)hey must be kept apart from the acute and excited cases."

Alcoholic intemperance is quoted as a significant contributing cause of insanity in 50 of the cases. "General paralysis" was the diagnosis in 18 cases, an insanity which occurs in end-stage syphilis. 44 cases were "boarded-out" in the year, to private homes as described above. 38 patients died in the asylum that year, of these 11 died from "general paralysis" and 7 from tuberculosis. Also of note "there were 11 escapes during the year."

Gartloch Hospital in 2006, photograph by Chris Upson
The later records from Gartloch Hospital held by Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board Archives give intriguing glimpses of some of the activities residents were involved in.
"Work, especially out-of-door employment on farm and garden, for men and women, has benefited many....Recreation and treatment go hand-in-hand, the grounds adjoining the Loch affording a delightful summer resort for suitable cases." 
They also talk of "prolonged rest in bed" for acute cases, which sounds rather enforced, but does not share any detail. Titles of documents include numerous sports days, tug of war, cricket matches and football matches in the 1920s. There is mention of a 1920 cricket match between Pollock and Gartloch. Day trips to Loch Lubnaig, to the bowling green at Woodilee Hospital or curling on Bishop Loch are also mentioned.

In the early 20th century the role of the hospital and the buildings on the site were expanded, and a tuberculosis sanatorium was opened here, to take advantage of the cleaner air away from the city. The hospital capacity increased to over 900 patients at that time.

Like many other hospitals in the city it was converted into use as an Emergency Medical Services hospital during World War 2 with psychiatric patients moved to other hospitals in Glasgow (mainly Gartnavel Royal Hospital) or to temporary huts built in the grounds.

Former dining hall in Gartloch Hospital, photo from
Since the hospital closed it has been a regular haunt of "urban explorers" clambering about inside the old buildings. Much of the land in the grounds have been re-developed as "Gartloch Village", a cluster of "luxury apartments" covering the land. There is now a significant amount of housing here and plans to expand it further, but as at "Woodilee Village" the housing has no other local amenities, no shops or doctors' surgeries and the narrow road through the countryside to Glasgow is the only way in or out. The main hospital building is listed, so the plan is not to demolish it. It is still awaiting redevelopment.

Main building of Gartloch Hospital in 2016
Again the developers website is heavy on the beautiful opportunities you will have if you buy a home here to engage with nature and walk in the nearby forests. So much of Gartloch Hospital still stands, most of it still awaiting development as housing, that they are unable to omit it from the marketing blurb in the way the developers at Woodilee have. Yet they seem a bit shy about saying what type of hospital it was. Not once is it mentioned that it was a psychiatric hospital, asylum or community of people with learning difficulties and mental health problems. Their bizarre version of the history of the site reads as follows...
"Glasgow based architects, Thomson & Sandiland subsequently won a competition to design a new hospital. It opened in 1896 and was immediately hailed as a Victorian architectural masterpiece. The hospital served the local community and returning war heroes in the decades that followed. Today as the custodians of Gartloch we are proud and privileged to reclaim the Victorian craftsmanship and surroundings for the benefit of future generations. "
The Derelict buildings of Gartloch Hospital

Rear of the main Gartloch Hospital building. November 2016
Gartloch Hospital, 2016

The derelict buildings of Gartloch Hospital, awaiting redevelopment in 2016

The derelict buildings of Gartloch Hospital, awaiting redevelopment in 2016
The derelict buildings of Gartloch Hospital, awaiting redevelopment in 2016

Gartloch Hospital, Golden Jubilee signage from 1977

Modern housing of "Gartloch Village" with the old hospital building overlooking it

Leverndale Hospital

As hospitals established separate provision for patients with mental health problems at the end of the 19th century several new asylums or hospitals were built. With a rapidly growing population Govan Parish was particularly struggling to accommodate their "lunatics" at the Merryflatts Poorhouse on Eglinton Street. In the 1870s the poorhouse was largely functioning as an asylum and having to turn many others away. When the population of the parish increased from 1871-1881 from 161,000 to 238,000 plans for a new asylum were drawn up. Eventually appropriate land was identified on Crookston Road. Built in 1893 and opened 2 years later, this Govan District Asylum later became known as the Hawkshead Asylum, then finally Leverndale Hospital, the name it has carried since 1964.

Water tower of Leverndale Hospital
Hawkshead Asylum opened with a capacity of 400 beds and in the early 20th century it accommodated over 500 patients, divided into "hospital" and "asylum" sections. The Govan Parochial Asylum at the Southern General site continued to function in the way Duke Street Hospital did for Woodilee, as an assessment and admission unit. In the 1970s a 120 psycho-geriatric unit was added and over the next 20 years patients were moved from the old asylum wards to new buildings on a lower part of the original site.

Old hospital building amidst the new housing developments
Although Leverndale Hospital still functions as a psychiatric hospital, the old buildings no longer house the hospital but have been sympathetically converted into modern housing with new buildings added on a similar scale to the old buildings. The distinctive water tower at the centre that can be seen from all around Crookston and Pollok has been maintained too. Of all the hospital sites I cycled around to get these photos, this seems to be the only one where the old buildings have been looked after and incorporated into the development, rather than left to decay or just swept away.

Whilst it is understandable that the Health Board has sold off much of the huge acres of land that the asylums were built on, it is land and property that was owned by all of us under the auspices of the NHS, now transferred wholesale to private developers. You can only sell it once, and then it is gone forever.

Lennox Castle Hospital

Lennox Castle Hospital, to the north of Glasgow, near Lennoxtown, was housed in an earlier building than those mentioned above, but it was from the 1930s that it became a psychiatric facility.

Built in the 1830s this large three story mansion was designed with castellated corner towers for John Lennox Kincaid. During World War I the mansion was requisitioned for use as a military hospital. In 1927 Glasgow Corporation bought the mansion and surrounding lands of 1,222 acres (for £25,000) with the aim of using it as a hospital for those with mental illness. 
Lennox Castle Hospital
In 1936 it was officially opened as the "Lennox Castle Certified Institution of Mental Defectives". Twenty dormitory blocks were built in the grounds, to accommodate 1,200 patients. When the dormitories were completed the patients, who had temporarily been housed in the castle, were moved into them and the castle became the nurses home. There were also in the grounds 40 houses for married staff members, dining halls, kitchens, workshops, etc. This Open University video tour from an ex-nurse from the final days of the hospital gives an idea of the layout of the hospital. Apart from the castle building, all the buildings in this video have now been demolished.

During World War II the hospital was again used as a military hospital, with patients with mental health problems being re-housed in huts built on the site - many used for the next forty years. A maternity unit was also set up in the hospital from 1942 until 1964.

Lennox Castle, November 2016
With changes in the management of people with learning difficulties and mental health problems the hospital began to be closed in phases. The aim was to move patients away from institutionalised care to living in the community where possible. At this time many patients had spent their whole life until then in the hospital. The policy of "care in the community" has been criticised as a cost-cutting exercise. It also shifted care for many people with long term mental health problems and learning difficulties away from the NHS, into the hands of private care companies bringing market economics to an area of public healthcare. However, when done properly, for many of the patients the move out of a hospital environment did greatly improve their quality of life and expand their world.

 Lennox Castle Hospital finally closed in 2002.

Lennox Castle, November 2016, disappearing into the forest

Lennox Castle, November 2016
Two years after closing only the original mansion building was still standing as the land was cleared by developers, knocking down all the other hospital buildings. In 2007 Celtic Football Club opened their new team training facilities on the land and property developers have been building housing on other sections of the land. In 2008 one of those mysterious Glasgow fires, that happen to break out in old, disused buildings which are expensive to maintain, caused extensive damage to the old building. What was once so grand, this 175 year old mansion is now little more than a shell.
Lennox Castle, November 2016, with extensive fire damage

Lennox Castle, November 2016, with extensive fire damage

Former gardens for patients now vanishing among the trees

"Campsie View" housing development on the land of Lennox Castle Hospital

Celtic Football Club Lennoxtown training facilities
on the land of the former Lennox Castle Hospital

Dykebar Hospital

Although Dykebar Hospital is a little way from Glasgow, on what was then a rural setting on the outskirts of Paisley, I have included it here as it being closed down in stages at present, much as happened in the other old asylums and psychiatric hospitals of the West of Scotland over the past two decades.

It opened in 1909 as the District Asylum for Renfrew Lunacy District. Paisley and Johnstone had their asylum at Riccartsbar, and Greenock an asylum at Smithston, now Ravenscraig. A central administrative wing and 2 villas for men and 2 villas for women were built. Further buildings were soon added due to overcrowding. Along with store buildings, a laundry, kitchen, a superintendent's house, workshops, nurses' homes and a mortuary an asylum complex soon grew up like a self-contained village with associated farmland. Around 300 patients lived here at this time and, as at other asylums, the aim was to create a feeling of community. The earliest patients were employed in putting the grounds in order, and then later residents worked on the neighbouring fields raising cows, pigs and poultry, growing turnips, potatoes, a vegetable garden, glasshouses and potting sheds. They also built and looked after a bowling green, tennis courts and a birdhouse.

Buildings at Dykebar Hospital
During World War I residents were moved to other institutions when it was used as a war hospital, except for some patients kept on to run the farm. During the Second World War whilst other hospitals were used as emergency hospitals, their residents were transferred to Dykebar. When it came under control of the newly formed NHS in 1948 the asylum took the name of Dykebar Hospital and the facilities were upgraded. A modern unit was added in 1975 to accommodate psycho-geriatric patients and other amenities and in that year with the closure of Riccartsbar, the patients from there were transferred to Dykebar.
Boarded up wards at Dykebar Hospital
1970s buildings now closed at Dykebar Hospital
Buildings at Dykebar Hospital
At present the hospital has a variety of buildings still in use and others which are boarded up, and at times have been vandalised. Even some of the modern buildings are being closed down as less patients are treated in hospital and the emphasis shifts to treating people at home, or managing psycho-geriatric cases in nursing homes in the private sector. Again this is a part of healthcare that was previously in the hands of the NHS, but now is largely taking place in nursing homes, with means-testing to see how much you have to pay to get the care that you need.

Other psychiatric hospitals of Glasgow and surrounding areas that I didn't manage to get to...

Technically the only new psychiatric hospital built in Scotland in the 20th century is Parkhead Hospital. It opened in 1988, on the same day as a Celtic v Rangers game at nearby Celtic Park. This was required due to the closure of Gartloch Hospital and the psychiatric wards at Duke Street Hospital. In-patient psychiatric wards are also present at Stobhill Hospital, Gartnavel Royal Hospital and Leverndale Hospital in the city.

Nothing survives of Stoneyetts Hospital, Moodiesburn which was open from 1913 - 1992, initially as Stoneyetts Certified Institution for Mental Defectives. 

The impressive clock tower buildings of Hartwood Hospital still stand in the village of that name, in North Lanarkshire, although much damage has been done by two fires in the last 10 years.


I wanted to take a brief look at the buildings in and around Glasgow that have housed people with mental health problems over the past three centuries. Looking at the bricks and mortar doesn't really tell you what life was like for individuals living in these institutions, and everyone's story and experiences are different. The stigma that many people still feel surrounding mental health problems may in part be due to the way people have been treated in the past, from being chained up in prison like conditions, to being held in remote, out of town asylums - out of sight and out of mind. The stigma and fear of the past still seems to linger, as can be seen by the way property developers trying to sell houses on the land of former asylums are coy about mentioning the real history of these sites. Only by paying attention to mistakes from the past can people avoid making the same mistakes in the future.