“We’ll never swerve,
We’ll steadfast be,
We’ll have our rights,
We will be free.
They are unworthy of freedom
who expect it from other hands than their own.”
As we walked back to Annie’s flat from Bellgrove railway station in the Bridgeton district of Glasgow, we stumbled onto a unique monument. It commemorates the working men and women who built Calton, a district nestled between Bridgeton and the Clyde.
It was a dreary wet day, the first real rain the city had had in a couple of weeks. The two of us had spent the afternoon in Dumbarton, exploring the castle that defended against hostile intruders at the Firth of Clyde. Walking in the rain, waterproof jacket hood covering my head, face pointing downwards out of the weather. Then suddenly, almost at the bottom of Abercromby Street near London Road, I began to read the pavement.
The story of Calton is remembered in fragments engraved in granite slabs and laid into the sidewalk outside the Calton Burial Ground. The story focuses on the Weavers’ Strike of 1787 and recognizes the trades that built the community.
The Calton Weavers fought against a 25 per cent reduction in their income resulting from new developments in the looms and cotton they worked with. They were approximate contemporaries of the Yorkshire weavers who led the Luddite rebellions of 1812 in England. The weavers weren’t fighting against the new machinery so much as against the loss of control over their work that resulted from the industrial revolution.
The striking weavers fought several battles against the police until finally the matter was brought to a close when troops were called out. Three weavers, killed in the subsequent battle, became known as the Calton Martyrs.
A short walk west from the burial ground takes you past the Calton Bar, a friendly little pub that’s packed with history. It was formerly named the Weavers’ Inn. It can trace its history back to the Old Herb Beer House in 1776.
Walking a couple of blocks further west brings you to Calton Books, Glasgow’s independent radical bookshop. It has a lot of books, no doubt about it. But the books are almost outnumbered by the t-shirts. Whatever progressive cause you support, there’s a shirt for you to wear.
When you leave the book shop, wander southward and a bit east into Glasgow Green, the oldest park in the city, dating back to the 15th century. It stretches along the north bank of the Clyde, across from the Gorbals district. In the middle of this park you’ll find the People’s Palace, a fascinating museum of Glasgow’s social history.
If you are ever in Glasgow, remember that all the municipally operated museums and art galleries are open to the public free of charge. Wander in, look around, and wander out. They always have lots of visitors. In Glasgow, the history and the culture belongs to the people.