Edinburgh’s Political Stickers at the Festival of Social Sciences

On the 28th of October I ran an event as part of the ESRC’s annual Festival of Social Sciences. It was called Edinburgh’s Political Stickers: Creativity, Resistance, and Public Space, and it involved a sticker-making workshop. Inspired by photos of stickers taken in Edinburgh and a playlist of protest songs attendees designed their own political stickers. Everyone kept the stickers they made, but I photographed them for my sticker archive. Here, in all of their radical glory, are the results:

Dumfries’ DIY Statue

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a statue made of you? Unfortunately most people will never know, either because they are not considered worthy of a statue, or because they’re the kind of thing that tends to happen after you die. Well, if you are ever in Dumfries in southern Scotland, you can experience it for yourself with the DIY statue!

Having a great time striking a statuesque pose (Source: Graeme Awcock).

Situated near the Devorgilla Bridge over the River Nith, the DIY statue looks at first glance like a large, empty plinth. Look a little closer however, and there is a pair of shoe prints embedded in the top in front of the words ‘DIY STATUE’ and ‘DUMFRIES LOCAL HERO’ carved near the top. I was in Dumfries this summer with my parents, and when we found the DIY Statue I just had to give it a try. A man who was walking past as I did this gave me a cheer and a round of applause, which was a moment that was simultaneously lovely and highly embarrassing. The whole thing got me thinking about the nature of statues in public space, why we put them up, and how we interact with them.

The DIY statue without yours truly (Source: Hannah Awcock).
DUMFRIES LOCAL HERO is carved into the back of the plinth (Source: Hannah Awcock).

Most statues are ignored by most people most of the time. If we pass a statue frequently it tends to fade into the background, and we stop noticing it, if we ever did in the first place. There are occasions where statues become the centre of attention, however. For example, statues have played an important role in the UK’s recent ‘culture wars’, with debates raging about what do about statues of people whose legacies we are no longer proud of (rightly, I think!). Perhaps the most well-known example of this in Edinburgh is the statue of Henry Dundas on a 45m tall plinth in St Andrew Square. As Home Secretary, Dundas argued against the abolition of the slave trade. Statues like the DIY statue encourage people to interact them without commemorating highly problematic people.

Statues are a reflection of who society deems are important. As such, they also reflect society’s prejudices. One of my favourite facts about Edinburgh (not because I like it, but because it’s outrageous) is there are more statues of named animals in the city than there are of women. Recent research by Art UK has shown that just 2% of named statues in the UK represent people of colour. The DIY statue can be representative of all the people of Dumfries in a way that most conventional statues are not.

Another interesting question that the DIY statue raises is what kinds of acts make a person worthy of a statue. Most named statues are of people who did remarkable things in the fields of business, politics, sport, or culture. For example there is a large statue of Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet who lived in the town for a while, at the top of Dumfries High Street. Decisions about who ‘deserves’ a statue are not simple, uncontested things. As controversies surrounding some statues such as the Dundas memorial in Edinburgh demonstrate, these decisions can be argued against and even reversed. The DIY statue encourages us to think about the standards we use to define a ‘local hero’. Should it only be people who are rich and famous? Why can’t we recognise people who ‘just’ contribute to the local community? After everything that’s happened the last few years, I think we all deserve to be celebrated a little bit just for existing. Thanks to the DIY statue anyone who can climb onto the plinth (it isn’t particularly accessible) can be commemorated, even temporarily.

The statue of poet Robert Burns in Dumfries town centre (Source: Hannah Awcock).

Even though they spend a lot of time being ignored by passersby and pooped on by birds, statues matter. The DIY statue may be just a fun piece of public art that encourages people to interact with public space, but I think it raises important questions about who we choose to commemorate and why. I haven’t been able to find out any information about the DIY statue, so if anyone knows when it was installed or whose idea it was, I would love to know!

Young People and Protest Exhibition at the National Justice Museum

On a recent trip south I wandered past the National Justice Museum in Nottingham and noticed that they had an exhibition on called ‘Young People and Protest’. I couldn’t resist going in to check it out, and I was pleasantly surprised. It is a small exhibition, but it does an excellent job of representing the concerns and interests of young people in an engaging and interactive way.

The Crime Gallery in the National Justice Museum contains a large mural by artist Neequay Dreph portraying important moments in the history of resistance (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The National Justice Museum contains a Victorian courtroom, a Georgian gaol, and cells that date back to the Saxon era. You have to pay to visit these, but the museum also has some free exhibition spaces. The largest one of these, The Crime Gallery covers a broad range of themes including Protest, Riot and Terrorism. If I’m honest, this gallery was much more even-handed and critical than I thought it would be, encouraging visitors to think about what crime is, and who gets to decide what is (il)legal. This gallery contains a jukebox playing protest songs and a mural by local artist Neequay Dreph depicting local, national, and international protest events.

The Young People and Protest Exhibition features an artwork by Tim Onga, which combines designs by three young artists (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Young People and Protest exhibition was co-produced with thousands of young people and is designed to continue to evolve and change as more people interact with it. It doesn’t contain many historic artifacts (exceptions include button badges donated or lent to the Museum, and a bludgeon used by protesters during the 1887 Bloody Sunday demonstration in Trafalgar Square). Instead, it features objects co-produced by young people and artists, including placards, a mural, and an ever-changing wall of images from social media. This has the impact of foregrounding the opinions of young people, which is quite uncommon for a museum exhibition.

These placards were co-designed by young people during a series of workshops and designer and educator Saria Digregorio (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Gallery Guide is also worth checking out; it contains further information about the themes of the exhibition and highlights specific examples of recent protests that have been driven and shaped by young people, such as Black Lives Matter and the School Strike for Climate. It also hints at the huge variation of contexts for protest around the world, detailing the harsh treatment of young protesters in Tunisia, Belarus, Cuba, and Thailand. It may be becoming increasingly difficult to protest in the UK, but there are many other countries where the risks of protesting are even greater. Young people continue to accept those risks every day.

There are opportunities for visitors to interact with and respond to themes and issues raised by the exhibition, including altering newspaper headlines and answering the question ‘who has the privilege to protest?’ Sometimes these kinds of features can feel like an afterthought in museum exhibitions; either they are located right at the end of the exhibition, or the materials to take part have run out. This is not the case here – the activities are located in central spaces, and it feels like encouraging visitors to reflect on their own feelings and perspectives is a central goal.

Responses from exhibition visitors to the question ‘Who has the privilege to protest?’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Young People and Protest exhibition demonstrates what can be achieved when museums adopt creative approaches and engage with the communities they are attempting to represent. It is vibrant, engaging, and centres the voices and priorities of young people. The exhibition is open until October 2022, and I highly recommend going to check it out if you’re in the East Midlands before then.

Turbulent Scots: Lady Agnes Campbell (~1526-in or after 1591)

Turbulent Scots is a series of posts about radical individuals from history who were either born in, or had an impact on, Scotland. Most of the Turbulent Scots I feature are women, because their contribution to history has so often been overlooked. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Scots posts are very welcome. Next up is Lady Agnes Campbell, a member of the aristocracy in the sixteenth century who was skilled at politics and negotiation.


We tend to think of aristocratic women in the early modern period as powerless pawns, to be married off for political or financial gain. There are several examples, however, that prove that the situation was not always that simple. Elizabeth I is perhaps the most famous, but I recently came across the story of another, Lady Agnes Campbell.

Agnes Campbell was born in around 1526, the second daughter and fifth child of Janet Gordon and Colin Campbell, the third Earl of Argyll. She was well educated at the Scottish court, learning to speak multiple languages. In 1545 she married James MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the Glens, chief of one of the branches of Clan Donald. Over the next twenty years she had five children. During this period there was a struggle between Irish, English, and sometimes Scottish aristocracy for control of Northern Ireland. The MacDonalds of Dunyvaig had started settling in Antrim, and sometimes worked with the local O’Neill clan against the English, but at other times their interests clashed dramatically. On 2nd May 1565 James and his brother Sorley Boy were defeated in battle and captured at Glenshesk in Ireland by Shane O’Neill. James died from his injuries in captivity in August. Shane was assassinated by the MacDonalds in 1567, and the relationship between Sorley Boy and Shane’s successor, Turlough Luineach O’Neill improved so much that on 5th August 1869 Agnes married Turlough.

Agnes took more than 1000 redshanks (Highland infantry mercenaries who fought for Irish chieftans) to Ulster when she got married. In 1570 and 1571, Agnes returned to Scotland to recruit more redshanks for her husband’s cause. The following year, Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex, was providing military support to English colonists trying to settle in Ulster. In December Agnes left for Scotland, taking a large number of redshanks with her. The English hoped that Agnes’ marriage was collapsing, but actually she was swapping the men for fresh mercenaries. The Earl of Essex withdrew in 1575, after Agnes had negotiated significant land grants for Turlough. Agnes frequently acted as Turlough’s delegate in negotiations. This may have been because it provided him with distance from any agreements and allowed him to go back on his word if it became convenient later, but it was also widely acknowledged that Agnes was a skilled negotiator. Her support for Turlough was invaluable in driving away the Earl of Essex.

In November 1575, Agnes and Turlough met with Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland. Turlough offered to submit to Sidney’s authority in return for an Earldom, land grants, and recognition of Agnes’ sons claims to the Glens in Scotland (Sorley boy, Agnes’ former brother-in-law, also claimed the Glens). Despite Sidney demanding that Agnes stop bringing redshanks from Scotland to Ireland to fight for her husband, she continued to do so. The English believed she had significant influence over Turlough, and she was also seen as a powerful political force in her own right.

In September 1579, Turlough refused to negotiate with Elizabeth I’s representatives without his wife. Throughout the 1580s, Agnes continued to travel back and forth to Scotland to make sure that support for her husband remained strong. She also supported the interests of her sons; she negotiated land for them, and intervened in disputes. In March 1588 she traveled to Edinburgh to plead with James VI on her son’s behalf. She was back in Scotland in April 1590, but after that she disappears from the records.

The further back in time you go, the harder it is to find information about remarkable women. This is not because they didn’t exist, but because they weren’t considered worthy of being recorded. Lady Agnes Campbell was one such remarkable woman, and we do know a bit about her, probably because of her status as an aristocrat. She played a significant role in Irish resistance to English colonisation, she was a skilled negotiator, and a powerful political presence in her own right.

Sources and Further Reading

Barry, Judy. “Campbell, Lady Agnes. Last modified October 2009, accessed 17th May 2022. Available at https://doi.org/10.3318/dib.006945.v1

Undiscovered Scotland. “Lady Agnes Campbell.” No date, accessed 17th May 2022. Available at https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/c/agnescampbell.html

Walshe, Helen Coburn. “Campbell, Lady Agnes.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 3rd January 2008, accessed 17th May 2022. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/69172 [Subscription required to access].

Edinburgh’s Stickers: Ukraine

Some ribbons in the colours of the Ukrainian flag tied around a lamppost in the Meadows (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/22).

Since the Russian Army’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022, there has been an international outpouring of condemnation of Russia’s actions, and solidarity for the people of Ukraine. People have donated goods, time, and money to help those whose lives have been turned upside down by yet another senseless war. That solidarity has also found its way onto city streets in the form of ribbons, posters, and stickers, often using the blue and gold of the Ukrainian flag.

This is the first sticker relating to Ukraine that started appearing in Edinburgh, only a week after the invasion. The QR code links to a list of resources and websites for donating to/supporting Ukraine (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 02/03/2022).
This is technically two strips of tape rather than a sticker, but it is a good illustration of how easy it can be to convey a message of support. The vibrant colours and simple design of the Ukrainian flag make it instantly recognisable and easy to replicate (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/2022).
Although you can replicate the Ukrainian flag with coloured tape, stickers of it have been popping up all over Edinburgh too (Photo: Hannah Awcock. 15/03/2022).
This design combines the Ukrainian flag with the ‘peace’ hand gesture (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/03/2022).
This sticker also utilises the Ukrainian flag. According to Google Translate, it means ‘Fuck Off Putin’ in Croatian (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 05/04/2022).
This is the Ukrainian coat of arms. It is a trident, based on the seal of Volodymyr, the first Great Prince of Kyiv, who ruled in the late 10th and early 11th centuries (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/03/2022).
This design also uses the Ukrainian coat of arms (Photo: 05/04/2022).
Other stickers choose to focus on the orchestrator of the invasion rather than Ukraine. Putin has always been a controversial figure, and I did find the occasional sticker criticising him before the invasion, but the number and variety has increased dramatically since February 2022 (Photo: Hannah Awcock: 13/03/2022).
(Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/03/2022).
This sticker doesn’t directly refer to the invasion of Ukraine, but LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine fear persecution if the Russian invasion is successful. Whilst it is legal to be gay or transgender in Russia, it is also legal to discriminate against LGBT people because of their sexuality or gender identity (Photo: Hannah Awcock: 13/03/2022).
I didn’t want to give Putin the last word in this blog post, even a dragged-up version of him! This feels like a better message to end on (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 12/03/2022).

Turbulent Scots: Ethel Moorhead, 1869-1955

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. Next up is Ethel Moorhead, radical suffragette and artist.


Ethel Moorhead (centre) on trial in Glasgow in 1913 with Dorothea Chalmers Smith (Source: Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland, HH16/40).

On a recent visit to the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, a towering celebration of Scottish nationalism and masculinity, I did not expect to find any reference to the kind of history I write about on this blog. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find a reference to artist and suffragette Ethel Moorhead in the electronic display about the Wallace Sword. In September 1912, Ethel smashed the glass case containing the sword that allegedly belonged to William Wallace in a protest demanding the right to vote for women, and was sentenced to 7 days in prison for her troubles. I set out to learn more about this brave woman who clearly had a flair for the dramatic, and I was not disappointed. Ethel was one of Scotland’s most famous suffragettes, and for good reason.

Ethel Moorhead was born in Kent in 1869, one of six children of a military surgeon. Her childhood, and much of her adult life as well, was spent moving; the family never stayed in one place for long. By the end of the 1800s, however, they were in Scotland. Encouraged by their father, Ethel’s sister Alice qualified as a doctor in 1893 and began practicing in Dundee. Ethel studied art in Paris during the 1890s, supported financially by Alice, but at the turn of the century she was living in Dundee with her parents and one of her brothers. Her first paintings were exhibited at the Dundee Graphics Art Society in 1901, and were well received. She had a studio in Dundee and exhibited her work in galleries across the UK. Her mother died in 1902, and Alice looked after her father until his death in 1911. During this period the pair were close, and Ethel’s father supported both her painting and her activism.

Ethel joined the Dundee branch of the Women Social and Political Union in 1910, and threw herself into the militancy the WSPU was famous for. She was arrested and imprisoned multiple times, often under false names, went on hunger strike several times, and gained the dubious accolade of being the first suffragette to be force fed in Scotland. In December 1910, she threw an egg at Winston Churchill during a political meeting in Dundee (the egg missed). A month later, Ethel became Dundee’s first tax resister. Suffragettes argued that women should not have to pay taxes to a government that they have no say in, so some refused to pay their tax bill. Bailiffs would confiscate goods from the women’s houses to cover the missing tax. A silver candelabra was taken from Ethel, then promptly bought back by her friends when it was put up for auction.

Ethel moved to Edinburgh after her father’s death. In March 1912 she was arrested in London for smashing 2 windows. In September, she wrapped the stone she used to smash the case of the Wallace Sword in a piece of paper that read “Your liberties were won by the sword. Release the women who are fighting for their liberties.” Her actions symbolically linked the suffragette’s fight for the vote with the Scottish fight for freedom. In an October, Ethel was ejected from a meeting in Edinburgh’s Synod Hall for trying to ask questions. She later tracked down the man responsible, a teacher, and attacked him with a dog whip in his classroom. In December, she went on hunger strike after being arrested in Aberdeen.

Although she never had a leadership role in the WSPU, by 1913 Ethel was one of the most famous suffragettes in Scotland due to her brazen defiance of authority. In January, she was sentenced to 30 days in prison for throwing cayenne pepper into the eyes of a police constable, but was released after just 2 days because she was on hunger strike. In July Ethel was sentenced to eight months in prison for attempted ‘fire raising’, but was again quickly released because of a hunger strike. This was the period when the Cat and Mouse Act was in full effect – hunger striking suffragettes were released from prison, then rearrested once they recovered.

Ethel was not a well behaved prisoner. She had a reputation for destroying her cell, and refusing to cooperate with prison authorities. She complained about her treatment and prison conditions frequently and publicly. Suffragettes argued that they should be treated as political prisoners rather than criminals, and often actively resisted the prison system. The hunger strikes were a part of that. Ethel was rearrested in 1914, and became the first suffragette in Scotland to be force fed in Calton Jail in Edinburgh. She was released after catching double pneumonia, and her treatment caused outrage in Scotland. Force feeding had been used on hunger striking suffragettes in England since 1909, and people were enraged that Scottish authorities would also resort to such cruel and violent treatment. It did not deter Ethel however, and she was almost certainly involved in Fanny Parker’s attempt to burn down Robert Burns’ cottage in July 1914.

At the outbreak of the First World War the British government gave suffragettes an amnesty in exchange for a promise that they would halt their activism. Ethel threw her energies into the National Service Organisation, set up by another suffragette group, the Women’s Freedom League. The Organisation helped women to find war work, and also campaigned for them to be paid fairly. After the war, Ethel spent many years travelling Europe. She launched and co-edited This Quarter, an art and literature journal. She died in a care home on 4th March 1955.

On hearing the word ‘suffragettes,’ many people will think of the Pankhursts, but might not know any other names of women who fought for the right to vote. Many women deserve to be remembered for their brave and defiant actions, not least Ethel Moorhead, who fought with words as well as eggs, stones, and dog whips.

Sources and Further Reading

Henderson, Mary. Ethel Moorhead: Dundee’s Rowdiest Suffragette. No date, accessed 23 February 2022. Available at: https://ethelmoorhead.org.uk/

Leneman, Leah. “Moorhead, Ethel Agnes Mary.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23 September 2004, accessed 23 February 2022. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/59253 (Subscription required to access).

National Records of Scotland. “Ethel Moorhead (alias Edith Johnston, Mary Humphreys, Margaret Morrison) (1869 – 1955)”. No date, accessed 23 February 2022. https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files/exhibitions/women-suffrage/ethel-moorhead.html

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Transgender Rights

A ‘Queer Edinburgh for Trans Rights’ sticker near the Easter Road Stadium, home of Hibernian F.C. The sticker includes key features in Edinburgh, including the Dugald Stewart Monument on Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat, the Scott Monument, and Edinburgh Castle (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/09/2021).

In a similar way to social movements more generally, there tend to be trends in the topics addressed by protest stickers. Over the last year or so, the number of protest stickers relating to Covid-19 has decreased. The number of stickers relating to transgender (trans) rights, on the other hand, has increased dramatically, perhaps in response to high-profile events and controversies in the media. I have found stickers that defend and celebrate trans people, and transphobic stickers that attack and criticise them. For this blog post, I have decided to only feature the former kind, as I do not believe that the existence and rights of trans people is a debate. It’s bad enough that transphobic stickers are on the streets in such large numbers, I am not going to use my blog to give them a platform, even if it is to criticize them.

I would like to give a platform to Trans Happiness Is Real and catboysoc_oxford on Instagram and Stickers Against Hate, Dublin Stickers Against Transphobia, N3KOcardiff , Stickers and Love, and West Queer Art on Twitter who all produce and distribute wonderful pro-trans and trans rights stickers.

This sticker combines the most recent iteration of the Rainbow Pride with the Trans Pride Flag. The hashtag #LGBwiththeT is a way of showing solidarity between different elements of the LGBT+ community (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 18/04/2021).
The Pokemon-Trans Rights crossover you never knew you needed! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 01/07/2021).
Who doesn’t love a good pun? Cisgender people are those whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. The Trans Pride flag and its colours are a common feature of pro-trans stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 20/07/2021).
This sticker also uses a pun. BogOff is a campaign started in 2021 in response to an open consultation launched by the British government about ‘toilet provision for men and women’. They are campaigning for equal access to toilets for all people, including workers, unsheltered people, and disabled people as well as trans and gender-nonconforming people. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 15/03/2021).
This sticker subverts a popular transphobic sticker design. The design is exactly the same, but a definition of ‘woman’ has been replaced with a definition of ‘transphobia’. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/09/2021).
This sticker also plays with stereotypical transphobic designs. Recently, transphobic stickers and social media accounts have adopted the colour scheme of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the best-known of the suffragette organisations. I guess I wasn’t the only one extremely uncomfortable with feminist history being used in this way (although I am not pretending that the WSPU was a perfect organisation, far from it!), as this sticker is claiming the purple, white, and green colours for trans-inclusive feminism (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 23/08/2021).
This sticker is also using the WSPU colours for a pro-trans message. I appreciate the sentiment, but for me the wording of this sticker misses the mark a bit. Saying that trans people are welcome still implies that they are outsiders in some way. Transgender people don’t need to be welcomed, because they have as much right to be ‘here’ as anyone else. It’s a bit like telling someone they are welcome in their own home (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 13/09/2021).
I think this sticker puts it much better! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 29/06/2021).
Many of the accusations made against transgender people are similar to those that have been made against gay people. The way this sticker is placed over another suggests that the one underneath carries a transphobic message (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 19/11/2021).
Solidarity is an important element of any social movement, and who doesn’t want punks on their side? (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 24/07/2021).
This sticker was made by a charity based in Kirkcaldy called Pink Saltire to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility on 31st March 2021. I walk past this lamppost often, and a few days before I took this photo there was a transphobic sticker on this spot. You can see the outline of it, as some paint came off with it when it was removed (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 30/06/21).
Mutual Aid Trans Edinburgh was set up during the pandemic to provide support by and for trans and queer people in the city. The group went on hiatus in October 2021, but there is still a list of resources available on their website (Photo: Hannah Awcock,12/01/2021).
With all the hate and discrimination that trans people face, it can be easy to forget that trans lives are not only characterised by hardship. This sticker, and the Instagram account TransHappinessIsReal, act as a reminder that this is not the case (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 19/11/2021).
TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It first appeared in 2008, to refer to transphobic feminists. It is considered an insult by many of the people it applies to, who prefer the term ‘gender critical’. This sticker felt like an appropriate note to end this blog post on! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 28/11/2021).

Scotland’s Turbulent History: The Massacre of Tranent Monument

There aren’t many memorials to protests or episodes of resistance out there. There are even fewer statues of named women. So when I learnt that there was a memorial to protesters killed by troops in 1797 in Tranent, a small town in East Lothian not far from Edinburgh, I was keen to go and check it out. When I found out that the memorial took the form of a statue of Jackie (Joan) Crookston, one of the leaders of the protests, I was even more excited.

The monument to the 1797 Tranent Massacre stands in Civic Square in the centre of Tranent, a small town in East Lothian (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Now a commuter town for Edinburgh, at the end of the 1700s Tranent was a mining town. In the late 1790s, war with revolutionary France was putting a strain on British resources, and the government decided to introduce conscription. Scotland had never been subjected to conscription before, and it did not go down well. In June 1797, the Militia Act was enacted, with the goal of raising a force of 6000 men from the coastal areas of Scotland to protect ports, particularly on the Forth and Clyde. Local schoolmasters were given the task of making a list of every able-bodied man between the ages of 19 and 23. A ballot would then be used to decide who to call up. Scots took issue with many aspects of the process, including the fact that wealthier men could pay a replacement if they were called up, whilst the poorest had no choice.

In late August, when attempts were made to start drawing up the lists of eligible men, resistance erupted across Scotland. This ranged from peaceful protests and petitions to rioting. The authorities made attempts to reassure people that the number of men required was small, and that they would not be forced to leave Scotland, but eventually troops and militia were brought from England to suppress the resistance. Things had calmed down by the end of October, possibly because of the unequivocal and forceful response of the government. Eighty people faced charges, and eight were sentenced to transportation for their role in the resistance.

The resistance to the Militia Act in Tranent was not unusual, but the brutality with which it was suppressed was. A meeting was arranged in Tranent to oppose the Militia Act on 29th of August. A march led by the town drummer the evening before toured other nearby villages encouraging people to attend the meeting. At a meeting in one of these villages, Prestonpans, a letter was written to present to the authorities expressing opposition to the Act. Names were signed to the letter in a circle, so the leader could not be identified.

As the crowd gathered in Tranent the next day, the authorities were ready for them. A troop of Cinque Port Light Dragoons recently arrived from England were joined by local volunteers and yeomanry. Reinforcements from nearby Musselburgh were also called to attend. Estimates of the size of the crowd vary from 2,000 to 5,000, but they were determined to protest peacefully. Despite the crowd on the streets, a meeting was held in a local pub to compile the local conscription lists. The letter from Prestonpans was submitted to this meeting. Stones were thrown at the pub, and soldiers brought in to try and calm the situation down only increased tensions. The situation rapidly became a riot, and the troops were ordered to fire on the crowd. William Hunter was the first person to be killed, but others were also followed as the military run amok in and around Tranent, indiscriminately attacking people whether or not they had been present at the protest (not that this made it ok for them to be killed). Five people were killed in Tranent, and seven others in the surrounding area. Many others were injured. Thirty-six civilians were arrested on suspicion of taking part in the riot. None of the soldiers were even reprimanded for the slaughter, let alone charged.

The monument features a statue of a young child and Jackie (Joan) Crookston, on of the leaders of the protests. She is shown striding forwards with her fist raised and a determined facial expression (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Nowadays, as buses trundle along the main road past a few shops and pubs, it is hard to imagine such violence taking place in Tranent. The only reminder is the Massacre of Tranent monument, by Scottish sculptor David Annand, which was unveiled in Civic Square in the town centre in 1995. It shows Jackie (Joan) Crookston from nearby Pencaitland, and a young child. Both are walking forward, Jackie striding with a clenched fist raised in the air and a fierce expression on her face as she looks back over her shoulder. She is holding a drum under her left arm, which she apparently used to lead the crowd during the protest. Jackie was one of the twelve killed by the cavalry, found shot dead in a field just outside the town.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about why the monument was commissioned, or why Jackie was chosen to represent everyone that was affected by the indiscriminate violence on that day (if anyone has any information, please share it with me!). Nevertheless, it is a fitting monument to a largely forgotten tragic moment in Scotland’s history.

Sources and Further Reading

Bambery, Chris. A People’s History of Scotland (Second Edition). London: Verso, 2018.

MacAskill, Kenney. Radical Scotland: Uncovering Scotland’s Radical History from the French Revolutionary Era to the 1820 Rising. London, Biteback, 2020.

Wikipedia. “Massacre of Tranent. Last modified 21st November 2021, accessed 7th December. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Tranent

Book Review: Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland

Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland by Sara Sheridan.

Sara Sheridan. Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland. Edinburgh: Historic Environment Scotland, 2019. RRP £9.99 paperback.

In Edinburgh, there are more statues of animals than there are of women. There are only 5 monuments to women in Glasgow. The underrepresentation of women in the built environment is not a uniquely Scottish problem, across the world men are memorialised by monuments, statues, street names, and buildings much more frequently than women. This gives the impression that women just haven’t achieved as much, which is, quite frankly, bullshit. In my Turbulent Londoners and Turbulent Scots blog posts, I recognise and attempt to publicise remarkable women and their achievements. So Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland immediately appealed to me as a creative, and probably more effective, attempt to do the same.

Where are the Women? A Guide to an Imagined Scotland is a guidebook for a hypothetical Scotland in which women are memorialised in the built environment to the same extent as men. Region by region, Sheridan traverses the country, renaming some features and creating others. In each case, she recounts the stories of the women who have contributed to so much, not just in Scotland but around the world. Sheridan also echoes recent calls to move away from statues as a primary form of memorialisation, instead suggesting more creative monuments such as events, benches, murals, fountains, and parks. Each chapter has a beautiful stylised map and sketches of some of the monuments by illustrator and designer Jenny Proudfoot.

The map of central Edinburgh in Where are the Women?

There were times that I found the structure of Where are the Women? a bit repetitive, but this is largely because a guidebook is not meant to be read cover to cover. I am confident that I will go back to this book time again, particularly when I travel in Scotland, and get more out of it each time. Each story does not go into much detail, but Sheridan explains that that this was a deliberate decision: “I wanted to cram this book with stories – making it dense and capturing a real sense of how limited our mainstream history is, in terms of gender” (Sheridan, 2019, p. 411). I found the chapter about Edinburgh easiest to connect too, as it is the only part of Scotland that I have spent any significant amount of time. It frustrated me that I couldn’t get my head around the geography of Scotland’s other regions. However, that is not Sheridan’s fault, and once I stopped trying to figure out how all the monuments related to each other in space (it’s not easy to take off that geographer’s hat!) and just let the stories and memorials wash over me, I enjoyed it much more.

If we want things to change, we need to ask difficult questions about the way our history has been represented and whether some of the things that history currently tells us are valid. We must celebrate our female stories alongside our male ones and make them just as visible.

Sheridan, 2019, p. 14.

Where are the Women? is a beautifully written and designed book that will interest anyone who is interested in histories that have previously been overlooked or ignored. But it is also a demand for history to be represented more equally in the spaces around us. The fact that this book is published by Historic Environment Scotland, the public body charged with protecting and promoting Scotland’s historic spaces, gives me some hope that the demand is being listened to.

Turbulent Scots: Elsie Inglis, 1864-1917

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. In this post I’m looking at Elsie Inglis, a doctor, suffragist, and champion of healthcare for women.


A photo of Dr. Elsie Inglis taken in 1918 (Source: Dr. Elsie Inglis / by Lady Frances Balfour. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0))

Despite being born in India and dying in Newcastle, Dr Elsie Inglis is perhaps one of the most well-respected women in Scottish history. After looking into her story, I can see why she was so admired! After qualifying as a doctor just before her 28th birthday, Elsie dedicated herself to improving women’s healthcare. On the outbreak of the First World War, she organised and led all-female medical teams in Serbia and Russia, becoming the first woman to be awarded the Order of the White Eagle by Serbia.

Elsie was born on 16th August 1864 in Naini Tal, India. She was one of 9 children, and her father was a magistrate in the Indian Civil Service. Her parents believed that women should be educated, and unusually for the time, Elsie started her education in India. She showed an interest in medicine from a young age, covering her dolls in spots so that she could cure them of measles. The family moved to Edinburgh when her father retired, and Elsie finished her education at the Edinburgh Institution for the Education of Young Ladies and at a finishing school in Paris.

Elsie was very close to her father. She wanted to study medicine, but was reluctant to leave her father after the death of her mother in 1885. In 1887, Dr Sophia Jex-Blake opened the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, and Elsie was one of the first students at the School. Jex-Blake was a pioneer, having been one of the first 7 female students to start studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. However, her students found her too strict, and after two other students were expelled, Elsie and her father set up the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women. Elsie continued her studies there, qualifying as a doctor and surgeon in 1892, at a time when women still were not permitted to graduate from University medical schools.

Elsie was shocked by the poor quality of care that female patients received, and the lack of specialisation in issues that affected women. Her first job was at the New Hospital for Women in London, founded by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (another pioneer, she was the first woman to qualify as a doctor and surgeon in Britain). She also worked at the Rotunda, a leading maternity hospital in Dublin. She returned to Edinburgh in 1894 to nurse her father. She also lectured in gynaecology and set up a medical practice with Jessie Maclaren Macgregor. The two women set up a small maternity hospital for poor women, which also had a midwifery training centre. In 1904, the hospital moved to larger premises on the Royal Mile and was renamed The Hospice. By this time the University of Edinburgh had also started allowing women to study medicine, and Elsie graduated in 1899.

For Elsie, the poor standards of medical care for women was intertwined with the fight for women’s suffrage. Opposed to the violent methods of the suffragettes, she became a leading member of the suffragist campaign in Scotland, serving as the secretary of the Edinburgh Society for Women’s Suffrage in the 1890s, and the secretary of the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies from its formation in 1906 until 1914. She traveled Scotland speaking at pro-suffrage meetings, sometimes as many as 4 a week.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Elsie was central to the foundation of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee. She was motivated not just by patriotism, but also by a desire to prove that women were skilled medical staff in fields other than gynaecology and paediatrics. Funded by the suffrage movement, the Committee’s goal was to provide relief hospitals for the war effort that were entirely staffed by women. The British War Office rejected the offer of help, but the French and Serbian government were not so prejudiced. Over the course of the war, the Scottish Women’s Hospital sent 14 units to Belgium, France, Serbia, Salonika, Romania, Malta, Corsica, Serbia and Russia. In the summer of 1915, Elsie led a team to Serbia. Not long after, the region was invaded by Austro-Hungarian and German Forces. Refusing to leave her patients, Elsie was captured. She was released and returned to Edinburgh the following year, where she campaigned for more aid to be sent to Serbia. In August 1916 she led a new team to help Serbian forces in Russia. She knew she had cancer before she left, and by the following autumn she could no longer perform surgery, although she continued to lead the unit. She refused to leave Russia until the Serbian forces did too. She eventually arrived back in Britain on the 26th of November 1917, but died that evening in a hotel in Newcastle.

Remnants of the maternity hospital named after Elsie can still be found in Abbeyhill, Edinburgh (Source: Hannah Awcock).

Elsie Inglis was a skilled and determined woman, who achieved a huge amount in her 53 years. Her funeral took place at St. Giles Cathedral, and was attended by representatives of the British and Serbian royal families. Considering women tend not to be memorialised, there have been quite a few tributes to Elsie over the last century. In 1922 a tablet was erected in St Giles in her memory. In 1925, The Hospice was replaced by the Elsie Inglis Memorial Maternity Hospital in Abbeyhill. It was closed in 1988, but some of the buildings still remain, and there is a small memorial in nearby Holyrood Park. There is a plaque marking the location of her pre-war surgery at 8 Walker Street, and in 2009 she was featured on the £50 note produced by the Clydesdale Bank. There is a memorial fountain dedicated to her in Mladenovac, Serbia, and her photo features on the plinth of the Millicent Garrett Fawcett statue in Westminster. Elsie Inglis was a truly remarkable women, who deserves all of this recognition, and more.

Sources and Further Reading

Leneman, Leah. “Inglis, Elsie Maud.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23rd September 2004, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/34101 (requires a subscription to access).

MacPherson, Hamish. “Greatest Scot? The Many Talents of Dr Elsie Inglis. The National. Last modified 5th May 2020, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://www.thenational.scot/news/18426143.greatest-scot-many-talents-dr-elsie-inglis/

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. “Elsie Inglis.” No date, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://www.rcpe.ac.uk/heritage/college-history/elsie-inglis

Simkin, John. “Elsie Inglis. Spartacus Educational. Last modified January 2020, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://spartacus-educational.com/Winglis.htm

Wikipedia. “Elsie Inglis.” Last modified 25th September 2021, accessed 5th October 2021. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsie_Inglis