Book review – When The Clyde Ran Red

What’s the story?

In the early 20th century, much of Scotland’s industrial heart was based in the west of Scotland, and in particular, in and around the River Clyde. Maggie Craig has assembled a fascinating collection of historical events, from events as diverse as the strike at the Singer Sewing Machine factory in 1911, Bloody Friday in Glasgow’s George Square in 1919, and the aftermath Clydebank Blitz in 1941.


For this reader, the chapter Mrs Barbour’s Army was a real highlight. In the post-World War I period, many women were left to care for injured husbands, fathers and sons, at a time when rent increases were being demanded by the landlords. Mary Barbour from Govan gathered together a strong group to stand up against this, supported by workers in the shipyards, and they eventually won their rent strike in court. It shows that while names like Jimmy Maxton and Tom Johnston were legendary figures on Clydeside, Scottish women played their part in standing up for the people too. It was no surprise to learn she later became a councillor and supported Glasgow’s first family planning clinic.


The history of Clydeside is very much steeped in the history of the Labour Party and the socialist movement. If your politics don’t align with those in the book, you may find it a more difficult read, but it’s a fascinating insight into the mentality of the workers of the early 20th century, and how far they were willing to go to stand up for what they believed was right.


People with an interest in the social history of Scotland will want to indulge themselves with this one. It takes a whole series of events, some better known than others, and looks at the people involved in the disputes, with good historical context as to what was happening in the greater world beyond Clydeside.


When the Clyde Ran Red is an insightful read from a historical point of view. The author has done her research, with appropriate newspaper quotes from the time, bringing colour – not just red – to the various people mentioned within, to give an understanding of their mentality and just what they were fighting for – and against. It’s a story of men and women, who rolled up their sleeves, in every aspect of their lives, and did what they felt was the correct thing to do.

When The Clyde Ran Red – A Social History of Red Clydeside, by Maggie Craig, £9.99 from Birlinn Publishing.

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