On the Thursday morning of the (presumably freezing) fifth of January 1893, sixty compositors turned up for work as usual at the newspaper offices of the Evening Citizen at 24 St Vincent Place, Glasgow (one of the first red sandstone buildings in the city) only to find they had been locked out. A new metal gate was in place and scab labour had been smuggled in the night before and lodged in bunk beds specially fitted in the offices. A piano and crates of beer had also been brought in for their entertainment.
All the locked out men, “many of them old men” were members of the Typographical Society, a trade union founded back in 1817. They were informed that they would only be admitted back into the workplace if they gave up membership of the Society and that the Citizen would from now on only employ non-union labour.
The compositors were quickly loaned a small printing office at 102 Maxwell Street from which they produced their own newspaper, The Echo (later named The Glasgow Echo). In it, as they pointed out in issue 1, they were able to put their side of the story and refute the “lies” coming from the “nest of rats” at St Vincent Place. On Monday January 9 the men took the free paper out onto the streets and distributed twenty thousand copies which soon found their way all over Britain.
Determinedly radical from the start, issue 2 proposed a new evening paper in support of the labouring people of Scotland. “Time and again expression has been given to the desire that we, the working classes, had a newspaper devoted to the advocacy of our views on the industrial question.” the editor thundered. A limited company was set up and registered at 42 Argyle Street with £16,000 subscribed by ordinary men and women readers. On May 8 the Glasgow Echo became a daily, paid for publication with 150,000 copies printed for that first issue.
The last “gratis”, double crown size version of the Glasgow Echo (no. 32) with its mast head slogan, “Truth against all the world” and “guaranteed circulation of 30,000” went out on Friday April 14, 1893 and it is a complete set of this free, rank and file publication that is in the collection of our Library. A rare thing. How it ended up here is unfortunately lost in the mists of time. The single bound volume is accompanied by a hand written letter headed “A Lockout – and what became of it” and signed only by “I. E. October 1903”.
It’s mystery donor wrote “In these days, when relations between the L.S.C. (London Society of Compositors) and their employers are somewhat strained over the question of the proper method of working mechanical appliances in newspaper offices it has been suggested that a complete file of the Glasgow Echo, printed by the locked-out compositors in 1893 might furnish some entertaining reading to the members of the St. Bride’s Institute.” (sic) In 1903 the “members” would of course have been training to enter the print trades themselves.
The paper’s content consisted mainly of reports of meetings in support of the locked out men which took place regularly all over the Glasgow area, reports of other union meetings nationwide, editorials on various subjects including parliamentary debates, letters to the editor (in which one person describes the Echo as “a plucky little sheet”), satirical reports from the pickets outside the Citizen offices (including a gleeful piece on one of the scab compositors who was jailed for 40 days following a drunken assault on his wife), a would be amusing sketch column, a serialised short story (Ralph Macpherson: A Story of the Clyde, by “Mungo Tinto”) and, come issue 4, the inevitable football and other sports reports began to appear. The back page was taken up by adverts and classified notices. Close to the end of its run saw the introduction of Piscatorial Notes, a column on fishing and fish farming written by “Captain Cuttle”.
It makes for some rather dry reading today I’m afraid, and with its tiny type a slightly painful one though the editorial in issue 5, January 18 shows how little has changed since 1893 and the current recession. “When all, or nearly all of the material wealth of the country flows into the pockets of the few, need we wonder that among the many there is a scant provision of the necessaries, let alone the comforts of life.”
The letter writer “I.E.” noted “All the locked-out men had been kept together, and were again reinstated as one companionship, so that everything looked promising and a great triumph for Labour.” Unfortunately he concludes that without advertising and with the “envy and jealousies of your own class” the radical paper “slowly but surely declined” until it was bought, ironically, by Viscount Rothermere, founder of the Daily Mail, “the original stockholders receiving back a first and final dividend of 4 shillings in the pound.” The compositors auld enemy, the Evening Citizen enjoyed a somewhat longer life, folding in 1974.
Thank’s to Bob Richardson of St Bride Library for drawing the Echo to your humble (Scottish) author’s attention. A version of this article was published origionaly in the Hidden Glasgow forums.