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.


Lady Agnes Campbell (Source: Pintrest)

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 in 1904 (Source: Martin Emmison).

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.

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

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.

The medal awarded to Ethel Moorhead by the WSPU in recognition of the multiple times she went on hunger strike whilst imprisoned for the cause of women’s suffrage (Source: Martin Emmison).

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.

A representation of the massacre by Scottish artist Andrew Hillhouse (Source: Andrew Hillhouse, 2015).

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.


Elsie Inglis, 1864-1917 (Source: BBC News)

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.

Elsie with her team from the Scottish Women’s Hospital that were captured in 1915 (Source: Imperial War Museum).

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

Book Review: London Clay-Journeys in the Deep City

London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City by Tom Chivers.

Tom Chivers. London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City. London: Doubleday, 2021. RRP £20 hardback.

Finally, after 7 years of Turbulent London, I feel like I have made it as a blogger. This sense of achievement is because a few weeks ago, I received my first review copy of a book. Top tip: giving me a book is a pretty sure fire way to get on my good side! I really enjoyed reading London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City, which will be released on 9th September, and I would say this even if I had had to pay for it.

Back in 2013, writer, arts producer and Londoner Tom Chivers used the British Geological Survey website to modify a Collins Streetfinder map of London, tracing the city’s geology over the buildings, streets, and open spaces that we are familiar with today. Over the next decade, he used that map to follow the routes of London’s lost rivers in an attempt “to find the essence of this place; to understand the city as a living, breathing landscape” (Chivers, 2021; p.3). London Clay is the result, 8 essays which are not just an attempt to make sense of London, but also the author’s own life. In some timescales, those of urban development and an individual life, for example, 10 years is a long time. A London neighbourhood can change beyond recognition in a decade, transformed by the forces of gentrification and capitalism. Chivers gets marries, has 2 children, and lives through Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic over the course of his explorations. In terms of geological time though, and even in relation to human history, 10 years is nothing at all, a blip that barely registers. In London Clay, Chivers blends these different conceptions of time well, shifting back and forth between the geological past, human history, and his own life story with apparent ease. Chivers’ love for London is palpable, and permeates the entire book.

The structure of London Clay meanders through the city like the buried, forgotten rivers that Chivers’ searches for. It also meanders through Chivers’ own biography; starting with his young adulthood in Aldgate, then jumping to his childhood in Herne Hill and Norwood, then skipping forward to his current family home in Rotherhithe. The book is beautifully produced; as well as the striking cover, each section is accompanied by an illustration, and each chapter starts with a map. The maps, created by Clare Varney, are worthy of note; ignoring most modern roads and streets, they focus on geology, river courses, ancient roads, and a few key landmarks, showing London in a way I’ve never seen it before, both familiar and disconcerting at the same time.

Perhaps because of the nature of the book, the essays that I enjoyed the most are the ones that I have a personal connection with, for example Dead River, which traces the course of the Neckinger through Lambeth, Southwark and Bermondsey. I lived in Borough and Elephant and Castle for 2 and a half years, and I used to walk through the Rockingham Estate, which sits on the mysterious Rockingham Anomaly, twice a week to get to my Zumba class on Great Dover Street. At the time, I had no idea that I was walking over a peat-filled depression in the terrace of gravel which surrounds the Thames. Chivers’ hopes that the book will inspire readers to “think about what lies beneath your feet and by doing so reveal new ways of looking at the world” (Chivers, 2021; p.7). Edinburgh, where I live now, is certainly a city with some interesting geology going on, but London Clay left me thinking more about my past than my present. This is no bad thing – Chivers himself seems a bit surprised at where the book took him and what it became.

London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City is a well-written, well-presented, engaging book, in the same vein as Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem and Scarp by Nick Papadimitrou. If you enjoy books that combine history, travel, and memoir in ways that complicate otherwise familiar places, then you will enjoy London Clay.

Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Israel-Palestine

Stickers sympathetic to Palestine are not new, but they began to appear more frequently in Edinburgh after violence flared up in May 2021 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is an incredibly complex one that has been going on for decades. Every so often violence flares up, drawing international attention back to the region. The most recent outbreak started on 10th May 2021, sparked by the predicted eviction of four Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Control of the area is contested, and more than 1000 Palestinian families are currently at risk of eviction.

Most of the protest stickers I have found in the UK are sympathetic to Palestine, it is very rare to find pro-Israeli ones. The conflict is a relatively common topic of stickers (I wrote a blog post about pro-Palestinian stickers in London back in 2017), but when the violence gets worse the frequency of stickers increases. With the outbreak of hostilities in May, the number of stickers in Edinburgh went up. Several of the designs I have seen before in other cities, but some are unique, and some are specific to Edinburgh.

Campaigns to support Palestine is nothing new. I photographed this sticker in 2020, but it is referring to an event in 2016. On 17th August 2016, the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland hosted an event as part of the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe to promote Israeli cultural performers. No 2 Brand Israel organised a series of events to oppose this, as part of the BDS strategy. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, and a strategy adopted by organisations around the world in 2005 to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is calling for the boycott of Israeli-made goods, a key element of the BDS strategy. The Palestinian flag, and colours of the flag, are a common feature of pro-Palestinian stickers (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was produced by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an active group that does what it says on the tin really (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that predates the current conflict. It was produced by rs21, otherwise known as Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century, which produces commentary and analysis on a broad range of issues and events. They also support BDS (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker was also produced by rs21. Benjamin Netanyahu was Israeli Prime Minister between 1996 and 1999, and 2009 and June 2021. This sticker appeared in the Meadowbank area of Edinburgh in May 2021, but the design dates back to 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This is another sticker that appeared in 2021, but was designed much earlier. I first spotted it in London in 2017. It was produced by the Socialist Worker Student Society, the student section of the Socialist Workers Party, another revolutionary socialist group (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Street artists and taggers have used the ‘Hello my name is…’ stickers for a long time because they are cheap and readily available. It is less common to see them used as protest stickers, but they’re effective! (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The text on this handwritten sticker is faded, but it reads ‘Palestine will be free” (Photo: Hannah Awcock)
This sticker doesn’t explicitly mention Palestine, but because it is the same pen and handwriting as the previous sticker, and I found them relatively close together near the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, I assume that this one is also about Palestine (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Turbulent Scots: Flora Stevenson, 1839-1905

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 Flora Stevenson, a philanthropist and education campaigner who has recently been announced as the next face on Scotland’s £50 notes.


A portrait of Flora Roche from around 1904 by Alexander Roche (Source: Scottish National Portrait Gallery).

It was recently announced that philanthropist, educational campaigner and suffragist Flora Stevenson is going to be the first woman featured on the Scottish £50 note. It is very unusual for a woman to be chosen to feature on British currency (apart from the Queen), so I wanted to find out more about the woman who has been deemed worthy of such an honour.

Flora Stevenson was born on 30th October 1839, the youngest of 11 children. Her father was a wealthy Glasgow industrialist; when he retired the family moved to Edinburgh, and Flora spent most of her adult life living at 13 Randolph Crescent in the West End with her 3 sisters. The Stevenson sisters were all active in the mid-nineteenth century Scottish women’s movement. They all supported women’s suffrage, and were founding members of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Educational Association which was founded in 1868 to campaign for higher education for women. Flora was also committed to improving education for society’s poorest children; as a child she started a class in her home to teach messenger girls basic reading, writing, and maths skills.

In 1863 Flora joined the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor as a district visitor, investigating the circumstances of charity claimants and assessing whether or not they were ‘deserving’ of support. She also joined the committee of the United Industrial Schools of Edinburgh, a voluntary body that organised schools for poor children. Flora believed that compulsory school attendance was central to improving the lives of poor children in big cities, but she was opposed to the state providing welfare support, as she believed it undermined the responsibility of parents to provide for their children. She argued that charities coordinating with school authorities was sufficient support.

A pupil from Flora Stevenson Primary School with the new £50 note (Source: Royal Bank Scotland/PA Wire).

In 1873 Flora was elected to the newly formed school board for Edinburgh. School boards were the first public bodies in Scotland which were open to women. As a result of her experience she was placed on the destitute children’s committee, where she was responsible for a scheme that gave food and clothes to poor children on the condition that they attended school. She also persuaded the school board to set up a day school for truants and juvenile delinquents, which was the first of its kind under the control of a school board. Flora’s expertise in this area was well respected; she served on several committees advising the government.

Flora’s belief in women’s rights carried over into her educational philosophy. She believed that girls and boys should be treated the same in education, and argued against the school board’s policy of giving girls 5 hours less teaching than boys every week so they could practice needlework. She believed that boys should be taught household management as well as girls, and that unmarried female teachers should receive equal pay.

Flora’s dedication to Edinburgh’s education system was respected and acknowledged. In 1899 a new primary school in Craigleith was named after her, and in 1900 she was unanimously elected to the Chair of the Edinburgh school board. In 1903 she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh, and two years later she was given the Freedom of the City in recognition of her service to Edinburgh’s philanthropic institutions and the school board. When she died in September 1905, thousands of schoolchildren lined the route of her funeral. She is buried with her family in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh.

I may not agree with all of Flora’s politics – she was opposed to Irish Home Rule, and I find her perspectives on state welfare questionable – but there is no doubt that she was a formidable woman, who dedicated her life to public service at a time when women weren’t really supposed to do that. Hopefully her inclusion on the £50 is just the latest step in a long journey to properly acknowledge the contributions that women have made to society throughout history.

Sources and Further Reading

Corr, Helen. “Stevenson, Flora Clift.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 23rd September 2004, accessed 30th June 2021. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/46826 [Subscription required to access].

National Records of Scotland. “Flora Clift Stevenson (1839-1905).” No date, accessed 1st July 2021. Available at https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/hall-of-fame/hall-of-fame-a-z/stevenson-flora-clift

Wikipedia. “Flora Stevenson.” Last modified 26th June 2021, accessed 1st July 2021. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flora_Stevenson

Young, Gregor. “First Woman to be Face of New Scottish £50 Note.” The National. Last modified 26th June 2021, accessed 30th June 2021. Available at https://www.thenational.scot/news/19400827.flora-stevenson-first-woman-face-new-scottish-50-note/