The History Club celebrated our fifth birthday in September with the second ever hybrid Zoom / live audience. We now have space for 70 people in person, plus a Zoom audience of those unable to join us on campus.
As ever our aim is to provide a range of entertaining and knowledgeable speakers for talks on all matters historical, with follow up Q&A from our audience. We also visit places of interest and arrange lunches etc when the opportunity arises. This is all really quite informal and we do make a point of having some fun along with our learning. The average session lasts about two hours with around 70 plus participants.
As we move to at least a partial live audience in our hybrid sessions, we look forward to re-establishing our popular post talk breakouts for refreshments, nibbles and chat.
Our club programme is scheduled for the second Wednesday of each month, commencing 2.00 pm and is sometimes supplemented by ad hoc ‘pop up’ events, such as visits to the cinema or local sites of historical interest. The club fee is £10 per annum.
Contact: Jimmy Reid (secretary)
Patrick Parsons Cleopatra's Nose: Counterfactual History and the Terrible What If’s
Hanan Atalla – Mummies
Brian Hannan - The Magnificent 60's: The Top Hundred Films of a Revolutionary Decade
Stuart Robertson - Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Ken Stewart (John Rae Society) – Forgotten Hero, Now Remembered (North West Passage)
Rosemary Goring – Border Reivers
Valerie Reilly – Coats and Clarks: Paisley and Worldwide
Robert Lynch - The Opium Wars
History Club Lunch – (Venue TBC)
All events at 2pm in Graham Hills Building with GH742 the normal venue unless otherwise advised
Valerie Reilly: Clarks and Coats – the Paisley Thread Industry
Our April speaker Valerie, who worked in Paisley Museum for many years, gave an incredibly detailed account of the rise and rise of the Clarks and Coats families. It seemed to be all Clarks in the early stages with the Coats appearing later. They gained an industrial advantage at the turn of the 19th C when they were able to produce cotton heddles (an important part of the loom used for weaving) to replace the more expensive silk heddles which had been in use prior to that.
Previous threads had been linen which created a bobbly or textured thread which was no use in the weaving process. The smooth cotton thread made it much simpler to produce finer cloths substantially cheaper than anything produced from a loom with silk heddles.
This apparently simple replacement of silk with cotton spawned an entire multinational industry which eventually operated on most continents on earth. Despite occupying huge chunks of Paisley in the latter 19th C & early 20th C, they no longer operate in the town where it all started. Today, Coats Vyela operates in Asia and South America.
Dead and alive, the families took a philanthropic approach to their hometown. They fully funded the building of the Town Hall: paid for the observatory, which is still in use today (both buildings are currently undergoing refurbishment): Coats Memorial Church; provided parks: built schools; funded a TB hospital; glass covered verandas on the ends of the wings of the Royal AIexandra Hospital and paid for workers in poor health to take fully funded holidays in Largs and Rothesay to help them recuperate. They funded an industrial (approved) school and a technical college whose building is today part of the University of the West of Scotland.
They were the first company to sell thread on a bobbin
They were happy to invest in any technological advancement which came along if it helped increase the profits, but they also invested in the workforce. They had a part time school where workers could continue their education while in employment, and they started a company pension scheme, which was somewhat revolutionary for the times, and included women workers.
They may no longer have a business presence in Paisley, but the legacy they left lives on in many of the town’s buildings.
Photo: Tom, History Club president / Valerie Reilly, speaker / Jimmy, Club Secretary
History Club AGM April 2023
Rosemary Goring, Author and Journalist The Border Reivers
Author and Journalist Rosemary Goring entertained and informed us with a talk where she looked at how the reiving had come about and its lasting impact on Borders society.
The Reivers were most active (documented) from the 13th C until about 10 years after James V1 became King of England. The border lands from the Cumbrian fells across the Cheviots and up to the Lammermuirs & Moorfoots is to this day still an extensive and lowly populated area. The poor communications meant that they felt remote from both London and Edinburgh and therefore felt they could do their own thing. Local nobles were tasked with maintaining the law but often they were either corrupt to the extent that they imposed the law for their own benefit or they were powerless in the face of the more powerful clans who robbed, murdered and raped anyone from the local populace to any unwary traveller. Hostages were often taken and held to ransom.
While the two kingdoms existed there was a system of "Marches" on either side of the border. Each country had a Warden of the Marches for the Eastern, Central and Western Marches. These wardens were tasked with, among other things sorting out border disputes as well as controlling their own territory. Such was the level of trust that often meetings took place on horseback, mid stream of a river which formed the border. Lord Dacre was such a Regent. Such was his power in the area that he was considered more powerful than Henry V111, his king. Playing one side off against the other was a common feature of the Borders war lords. When James V1 united the crowns he set about ending the Reivers way of life. It took 10 years to subjugate them and they were never to hold the same sway over Borders life again.
The Reivers’ activity held up the social and economic development of the Borders, and delayed the spread of the "Scottish Enlightenment", as it was difficult to become an intellectual in a socially barren society. They have however left their mark on the region.
Want to know more - Rosemary has used the history of the Border Reivers in her writing, most noticeably, Dacre's War, a historical novel set after Flodden, when an infamous Reiver's family (The Croziers) set out to avenge the death of one of their forebears.
Dr. John Rae – Arctic Explorer – Discoverer of the North West Passage
Club Meeting 8 February 2023 Ken Stewart The John Rae Society
Born in Orkney, John Rae left as a 16yr old to train as a doctor in Edinburgh. Graduating at age19, he embarked on his career as a ship's doctor with the Hudson Bay Company (HBC). He appears to have been more than competent and guided his crews through many escapades including spending a winter ice bound.
The quest for the fabled North West Passage and the rewards offered for information on Lord Franklin's lost expedition encouraged him to take courses in cartography, navigation and seamanship, which made him a natural leader for the expeditions sponsored by the HBC. He travelled light, with only small a small group of men, making use of snow shoes for travel on land and being quick to adopt the survival skills of the natives and the experienced trappers who formed part of his group. 18 months after his departure he returned with a full complement of men and valuable knowledge to develop the HBC and Royal Navy charting of the area to the NW of Hudson Bay. He was to make three further expeditions.
Willing to seek information from the Inuit people, this led to his first news of Lord Franklin - reported sighting of a group of more than 30 men hauling a boat South over the ice, and information on 3 graves. Another encounter told him of approx 30 bodies who had died of starvation, linked to a strong suggestion of cannibalism. Unable to visit the site to verify these reports, he had to head back to base before the summer thaws made travel well nigh impossible. During this trip, he eventually discovered what is now named Rae's Sound, the final link in the North West Passage.
On his return to the UK his report to the admiralty was leaked to the press. His report of cannibalism among men of the Royal Navy was not well received, and he was vilified for taking the word of the ‘savages’ and not going to verify the information for himself. That is why we were all brought up to believe that Franklin discovered the NW Passage and why we have barely heard of the Orcadian who did.
Subsequent expeditions and archaeological work confirmed his findings. He continued to explore after leaving the employ of the HBC and was acknowledged for his accurate charting and his survival skills by Scandinavian Arctic explorers such as Amundsen in the early 20th C. He died in London but lies buried in the grave yard of St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney.
For further information visit: www.johnraesociety.com
Club walk round the Gorbals where we learned about the history of the area
Committee in session
At our September meeting, members enjoyed a typically entertaining and informed talk from Barbara Graham on 'Women Munitions Workers in World War One', actually a treatise on Women's place in early 20th century society which went well beyond this title. A marvellous presentation and we expressed our thanks again to Barbara.