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A History of the Parish of Neilston
Chapter XXII. — 1910: A Retrospect

The year 1910 lias been in many respects, national and local, an eventful period.

It is the poet Campbell who says—

“The sunset of life gives us mystical lore,
And coming events cast their shadows before.”


The coming event of 1910 was what had long been common knowledge : that astronomers had foretold that that year was to witness the return to our skies of Hailey’s historic comet. Accordingly it was being waited and watched for eagerly in many quarters. But while this state of expectancy and outlook was being maintained at astronomical observatories especially, another and more brilliant and altogether unexpected member of the Cometary family, known as Comet 1910a was suddenly announced from Cape Town, where it would seem to have first come under observation. Following very shortly on this came the further announcement that the stranger had been detected from the Observatory at Paisley. By the month of January, the wanderer was to be seen from many different stations, and in due time—the 29th of that month—as darkness came down, it had become a very brilliant and conspicuous naked-eye object in the western sky at Neilston, presenting a beautiful and fascinating yet marvellous and awe-inspiring appearance, with a clear nuclear head and great fan-shaped tail spread out over a wide extent of sky. It had already passed its perihelion, and was rapidly receding from our view to renew its wonderful journey through space.

Halley’s Comet.

But this splendid celestial object had only shortly disappeared from our ken, when astronomers began to proclaim the advent of Halley’s great comet. It had been detected from Cambridge, and was rapidly approaching our sun, and calculations made of its course showed that it would cross the orbit of our earth, coming between it and the sun; and that on the 19th-20th of May our planet would probably pass through its tail or coma. The prediction of Hailey, the great English astronomer, whose name the comet bears, had again been verified as to its seventy-six years’ period of recurrence. As a celestial appearance, however, it fell far short of the splendour of its immediate predecessor. As seen by the writer, on the evening of 24th May, low in the western sky at Neilston, it was dim in appearance, being neither so bright nor so well defined as 1910, and either had no tail or one so inconspicuous and nebulose as not to be always visible even with the aid of a glass. It should, however, be remarked that at the upper part of its south or left hand margin there was seen at times what appeared a short, shadowy, and slightly fan-shaped coma, rather broader than it was long. But even this could not always be made out. Its stay with us was short and opportunities of seeing it few, in consequence of the hazy state of the evening atmosphere.


Our great dramatist tells us that comets do not appear at the death of beggars, but herald in the demise of kings1; and already the nation had been startled by the announcement that the King—Edward VII., the Peace-Maker—was seriously ill, so seriously, indeed, that the very terms of the earliest bulletin clearly foreshadowed the imminence of his death, which took place on 6th May, 1910—an event coming on us so suddenly that it may be said to have given pause, not to the British nation only, but to the whole civilised world.


But scarcely had the feelings of the people in Neilston district rallied from this national bereavement, when one of those social upheavals, which from time to time overtake industrial centres and absorb all other interests, burst upon our community, without warning; when what at first was only a small dispute affecting a single department of the work concerned, developed with such startling rapidity as in three weeks to bring about a general lock-out or strike involving the interests of 1500 employees, and possibly many hundreds more people, and throwing idle all the operatives in H. F. & J. Alexander & Co.’s large thread mills, which are part of The English Sewing Cotton Co., Limited.

These mills, and their importance to our community, have already been referred to when dealing with the industries of the parish, and from what was then said, it must be obvious that any movement leading to this work being closed, even temporarily, must seriously concern all the people of our town.

The closing chapters of this book were passing through the press when these stirring events were transpiring, and it was considered that a History of the Parish would be incomplete if these events, which were unique as regards our experience, were left unnoticed, and hence it has been thought proper to introduce an account of the strike in the form of a retrospect, jointly with other happenings in this, which will be an ever memorable year, not to the nation only, but also, and in an especial sense, to our parish.


In the course of what might be looked upon as a natural development in the work, some changes were being introduced in the speed regulations of the machinery used in cop-winding in Crofthead Mill, in consequence of which it was proposed to make certain alterations in the prices paid for the work. This did not meet with the approval of the workers, and, after giving the new process and new prices three days’ trial, the girls seem all to have discovered that the change would seriously reduce their wages, and that it was impossible to go on in the circumstances.

An appeal was consequently made to the management. But as it failed to effect any alteration in their grievance, the girls resolved, to the number of 120, to stop work, and accordingly, on Monday, 16th May, 1910, they left the mill in a body, and a strike was declared in the cop-winding department. For a short time, at first, this seemed to have little or no effect upon the other parts of the mill, which went on much as if nothing had happened.

At the outset of the movement the girls on strike had no connection with any Union, and were quite unorganised. But the representatives of “The National Federation of Women Workers,” early began to champion their cause, and meetings were held in the Glen Halls, under their guidance, at which large numbers of the workers, those on strike and those not on strike, joined the Union. At this stage several interviews took place between the management and the Federation leaders, when an endeavour was made, by compromise on the part of the girls, to come to an understanding on the several points in dispute. It was hoped, as the result of these consultations, that a possible basis of agreement had been reached, and the manager left for Manchester to consult his directors in the matter. But a telegram on the 25th May dashed all hopes of any early settlement—the directors would deal only with their workers and would not treat with outsiders.

Much indignation among the workers followed this announcement, and after a meeting held with their leaders, in the dinner meal hour, on Monday, 6th June, all hands, male and female, that were still in the mill, failed to resume work that afternoon ; with the result that, as already stated, 1500 workers were thrown idle, and the gates were closed till farther notice. The excitement which, up till this crisis, had been of a moderate character, immediately assumed quite a different aspect, and, with an alarming suddenness, became not only demonstrative but even aggressive; when manager, foremen, and all who were thought to be in any way against the strikers, came in for some rough treatment.

After one of the meetings, held in the vicinity of the mill, many of the windows were smashed, not, it is satisfactory to record, by the women workers, but by strangers and thoughtless lads who followed in their procession when the meeting broke up.

At this stage of the agitation the town was posted with bills announcing that, at a full meeting of the directors of the company, held at Manchester, and after full consideration of the cause of the strike, so confident were the directors that the changes complained of would not have the effect of reducing the cop-winders’ wages, but, on the contrary, if given a fair trial, would improve them, that they were, and still are, prepared to guarantee that the wages would be 110 less than they had been before the change was introduced ; and that they would treat only with their own workers and would have no dealings with outsiders. No immediate action followed this overture.

On the evening of Friday, 10th June, with banners flying and headed by a piper, a procession, mostly of women workers, began a toilsome march of ten miles, from Neilston to Pollokshields, through Barrhead, where they were joined by the workers resident there. The object of the march was to make a condemnatory demonstration in front of the manager’s house;

but there hail been rain during the day and the roads were soft, and soon became slippery bv the tramping of so many feet, and as the evening set in close and sultry, much fatigue and distress was experienced by the poor girls from heat and exhaustion, long before the end of the journey was reached.

The meetings, which at first were held in the Glen Halls, were of quite an orderly character. But latterly, from the crowds that attended them, made up largely of outsiders, the halls were much too small for their numbers, and the meetings were subsequently held in the football field. Here the crowd became still greater, and as the different speakers, each with his or her own axe to grind, harangued the assembled mass, excitement ran high, and, as a matter of precaution, a considerable body of police were drafted into the town. But happily, unless to hold the rougher and more youthful element in check, their services were little required, as, notwithstanding the keenness of feeling that existed among the workers generally, their better sense prevailed, and there was even a disposition to see the humorous side of certain aspects of the crowd. At this stage, the attitude assumed by the directors, in determining that they would deal only with their workers, and recognise no outsiders, was like to aggravate the difficulty of negotiation, more especially as this was a mere arbitrary resolution on their part, the principle having already been conceded in the earlier stages of the dispute, by the management having admitted the Federation agents to several interviews. It was, therefore, matter of great and general satisfaction that, by the middle of June, it was observed that better feelings were beginning to gain ground, at the meetings and otherwise, and that both parties were prepared to submit the matters in dispute to the Labour Department of the Board of Trade, who had been requested to assist with their good offices, and had consented to act. In due time a meeting was arranged for, under the auspices of this Board, and took place in St. Enoch’s Station Hotel, on 16th June, which was attended by a deputation selected from among the aggrieved cop-winders. After full consideration and discussion, such terms of agreement were come to, as—subject to the body of strikers approving of the doings of their deputation to the conference—would terminate the strike, and admit of work being resumed at the mill on the following Monday. Happily, the terms of settlement were considered satisfactory, and approved of at a meeting, held on the return of the deputation from Glasgow on the same evening, ;ind amidst much joy and cheering there seemed to be a general sense of gladness that the strife was past. The mill was again started, and work resumed on Monday, 20th June, five weeks after the beginning of the strike.

How much was gained by the strike; or to what extent the cop-winders, who were the occasion of it, had benefited by it; and whether the alleged cause justified the occasion, the writer is unable to determine. But that it was, for a time, the occasion of much excitement and bitter feeling, and entailed, as a consequence, considerable loss and many painful incidents, is beyond question. If, however, the result of the agreement arrived at should lead to better and kindlier feelings between employer and employed, as we trust will be the case, and inspire a desire each to be actuated by a true sense of justice and equity in the future, then the cop-winders strike will not have been altogether in vain.

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