James Welsh (1881-1969)

Figure 1. Ancill, Joseph; James Welsh, Lord Provost of Glasgow (1943-1945); Glasgow Museums; © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection. http://www.artuk.

Introduction

Having presented his portrait, Mr Welsh suggested that it might hang in the People’s Palace, Glasgow in view of his association with the East End of the city.[3]

In the 1946-47 minutes of the Corporation of the City of Glasgow Art Gallery and Museums [1], it was minuted that the Ex Lord Provost, James Welsh, had presented an oil portrait of himself painted by Joseph Ancill (1896-1976) who was born in Leeds and attended the Glasgow School of Art.[2] He specialised in portrait painting and engraving.

Shortly after writing an earlier draft version of this blog, it was discovered that Dr James Welsh’s grandson David Welsh had already written his grandfather’s biography for his family and after corresponding with him, he suggested that he could give me a wider perspective of his grandfather’s life as well as earlier relatives, information which is not available in the public domain.

The early Years of Welsh Family

To give an overall picture of the beginning of the life of the Welsh family in Scotland, it will be appropriate to start with the great-grand parents of our donor, James Welsh.  Sometime before the 1841 Scottish census, our donor’s great-grandfather Michael Welsh and his wife Elisabeth McCulley came across to Scotland from Ireland.[4] Both, Michael Welsh and Elisabeth McCulley were born in Ireland in about 1790.  According to the 1841 Scottish census [5], their four children were all born in Low Glen Cairn, West Side, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. They were listed in the census as: William (18) a carpet weaver, Robert (15) a calico printer, Cathrine (12) and Michael (10). There is no record of Michael Welsh in the next census in 1851. Therefore, it is assumed that he died sometime before then.[6] Michael’s eldest son, William, was married to Agnes Johnstone on 3 January 1851 and they were living at 92 Sanbed Street, Dickiesland, Kilmarnock together with William’s mother Elisabeth and his father in-law, William Johnstone (57, also born in Ireland).[7]

William, the grandfather of our donor, continued with his profession in Kilmarnock where they had settled and had their six children. The first two were born in Kilmarnock. After his second child William was born in 1854, he and his family moved to the Paisley area where he started a quilt making business and where his other four children were all born.[8] The 1861 census records all the family’s address as 64 Love Street. William and Agnes settled in Paisley where they were to live for the remainder of their lives. By the time of the 1881 census, William (junior) had left the family home after having married Mary Ann Young on 1 April 1875. In 1881, William and Mary Ann were living at 18 Causeyside Street, Paisley where James was born on 29 January.

Although 1882 was just like any other year for the happily married couple living with their four children, William, our donor’s father, decided to pay a visit to Boston, Massachusetts where his uncle was living. He boarded a Boston-bound ship on 23 February 1882 to see him. However, after receiving a short note from his home, in reply to his own letter in June, and learning that his young son William, who was born in 1876, had died from scarlet fever on 16 June 1882, he sailed for home. Soon after this tragedy, William Welsh and his family including our donor James, who was one year old, moved from Causeyside Street, Paisley to Queen Mary Street in Bridgeton, Glasgow.[9] Perhaps one of the reasons for this move was that the textile industry, aided by the mechanisation of cotton spinning, prospered and the associated trades such as 15 bleach works and dye works were also thriving.[10] The Industrial Revolution took hold in Glasgow at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The manufacture of cotton and textiles, chemicals, glass, paper and soap increased rapidly. Immigrants from the Highlands in the 1820s and later from Ireland in the 1840s formed the workforce.[11]

Early Life of Our Donor

Our donor, James Welsh, was born on 29 January 1881 in Paisley, Renfrewshire as the fourth child of Mr. William Welsh and Mrs Mary Ann Welsh, who went on to have two more children David (born in 1882) and John (born in 1887). Young James had his formative life in Bridgeton.[12] Although, there is very little known about young James’s first few years there, it is known that he went to his first and only school, Hozier Street Public School in 1886 at the age of four and a half years. He did very well at school and was permitted to leave two years early (at the age of 11 rather than 13 according to the education legislation of the day). The only leavening of the school day was a limited amount of singing, drawing, woodwork, cookery and drill. Much of the time was spent learning tables by rote, copying from the board and facing oral tests in English Grammar and arithmetic, allowing little or no opportunity for self-expression.  There was also little or no secondary education; the leaving age at the elementary (primary) school being 13 with a mere handful of pupils staying on beyond that birthday. Young James was an exceptionally good pupil and won a prize for being punctual which is still in his family’s possession today. [13] He was allowed to leave at age 11 indicating that he had attained a high standard of achievement.

It didn’t take long for James Welsh to find work after leaving school. His first job was as a message boy with W & J Martins of Brunswick Street, Glasgow.[14] James stayed with Martins for two years and in 1894, at the age of 13, he was taken on as an office boy with James Templeton & Co., the famous carpet makers with several factories in the Bridgeton area. By the time James started work with the firm, the factory beside Glasgow Green, (the Doge’s Palace), had been built, had collapsed and had been re-built. [15] But it was the Crownpoint Road factory that saw James rise from the position of office boy to assistant-foreman during his fourteen years with the firm. A newspaper article, written about him some years later, stated that five of the Welsh family were employed with Templeton’s. He certainly made a name for himself in the firm and proved to be a highly respected member of the workforce. When he left the firm in 1908, he was presented with a magnificent roll-top desk which he kept and used all his life.[16]

Political Life and Civic Career

After leaving Templeton’s, James Welsh was now to move in a completely different direction when he became an agent for the insurance company, Scottish Legal Life, where he stayed for four and a half years. The times spent at Templeton’s and Legal Life were James Welsh’s formative years. It was during this period that he attended night school and evening lectures, developed his musical interests, became heavily involved in politics, enjoyed the fellowship of the Clarion Scouts, and became generally involved, as he said later, in the ‘progressive and humanist movements’. He also witnessed the beginnings of the cinema revolution and saw its potential, experiencing at first hand the tragic consequences of alcohol abuse. It was during this period, in 1896, that the family moved from 41 Queen Mary Street, the short distance to 40 Dalmarnock Road, a stone’s throw from Bridgeton Cross, where father, mother and five growing young adults were to be found in the 1901 census.

The year 1910 was a highly significant and pivotal year in James Welsh’s life for three reasons:

  • His name was to be included for the first time on the electoral register for 1909 -10 and he was entitled to vote in the two General Elections of 1910, helping Labour to achieve its best results up till then, 40 seats in January and 42 in December.
  • Along with his friend and partner George Smith he was to take the first tentative steps in the cinema world when they converted an empty hall in Alexandria Parade into The Parade Cinema.
  • But the most important change was to take place on 7 July 1910 – the day of his marriage to Helen Greig in Anderston Registry Office, Minerva Street, Glasgow.[17]

At the age of nearly 30, James Welsh married Helen (Nell) Greig, who had been born on 22 May 1881 in the township of Skene, north of Stonehaven and a few miles to the west of Aberdeen. Her father, Frederick Murray Greig, whose family was very much centred in Stonehaven, was a saddler to trade.[18] Helen retained a warm affection for the villages and the countryside of the North East coast throughout her life. Both before and after their marriage, Mrs Welsh was interested in theatrical entertainment and she was known under the name of Nell Greig as an accomplished actress and elocutionist. In her stage career she appeared in a number of plays some of which were written by her brother Frederic Greig, with whom Nell came to Glasgow around 1901. Frederick Greig’s ambition was to be a playwright. Later rising to prominence in the business world and becoming the General Secretary of the Rotary Club of London, he was perhaps better known as the husband of Teresa Billington, the celebrated suffragette.[19] The 2018 statue of Millicent Fawcett, the suffragist leader and social campaigner, in Parliament Square, London, is a work by the Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing where the name of Theresa Billington Greig is also carved. [20]

After their marriage, Mr and Mrs James Welsh lived in 41 Esmond Street, Yorkhill where their only child, Frederick Welsh was born on 31 March 1911. It was a small flat where James had lived before his marriage and it was becoming too small for a growing family. Therefore, they moved in 1914 to a larger place in Smith Street, Hillhead. Built in the 1880s the individual apartments were of varying sizes but the one chosen by the Welsh family was a two bedroom flat with kitchen/living room and bathroom.

At this time, James Welsh started taking an increasingly active interest in politics. In 1913, when the Municipal Elections were held in Glasgow, on the division of the City of Glasgow, James Welsh was the Labour candidate representing Dalmarnock Ward. The election was a victory for Labour and also for James Welsh, as this was the beginning of his political career. He represented the Dalmarnock Ward from 1913-1929.[21] In June 1926 our donor and his family moved and settled in 1 Endfield Avenue, Kelvindale, Glasgow W2.[22]

On the outbreak of war in 1914 James Welsh enlisted for service in the army but was turned down on medical grounds. It was discovered that he had a heart murmur so there was no question of his signing on. He was immensely disappointed.

During the time he was a member of the Corporation of the City of Glasgow, he was a Bailie of the Burgh from November 1920 to November 1923. After resigning from his post in the Corporation in 1929, he stood as a Labour candidate to represent the people of Paisley and he was elected MP for Paisley in May 1929. After 2 years, in 1931, he was defeated by the Liberal Candidate in the general election and withdrew from politics and contemplated not continuing as a Labour candidate in Paisley. After a break of eight years he returned to the Council in 1937 as a representative of the Maryhill Ward and continued his service until 1949 when he did not seek re-election. During this time, he was involved in The Empire Exhibition which was held in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow and opened by King George VI and Queen Mary on 3 June 1938. The opening ceremony held in the Ibrox Stadium was attended by 146,000 people.

During 28 years of membership he gave service in many aspects of local government, but he will be remembered particularly for his outstanding contribution as Convenor of the Parks, Municipal Transport and Parliamentary Committees. He was Lord Provost from 1943 until 1945, in which latter year he was awarded the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws, LL.D by Glasgow University. His period of office as Lord Provost (2 September 1943 – 5 November 1945) was particularly onerous, coinciding as it did with the last two years of the Second World War and all the problems and adjustments which required to be met at that time, but he guided the Council through the difficult period and identified himself with much of the early post-war planning of the city. Apart from his civic duties, he devoted much of his time to the development of the arts and he held numerous offices in various cultural societies and associations.[23] James Welsh stepped down from his post as Lord Provost in November 1945 and did not seek re-election.[24] However, he remained as an elected councillor until 1949 when he retired.[25]

During the time when James Welsh was a member of the Corporation City of Glasgow and later the Lord Provost, T.J. Honeyman was the director of the Art Galleries and Museums of Glasgow. The two men got on extremely well and had a harmonious relationship. It was at this time that a decision was made by Sir William Burrell that his collection (now known as The Burrell Collection) should belong to the City of Glasgow.[26] John Julius Norwich writes in the Introduction to the book The Burrell Collection[27]:

 Let there be no mistake about it: in all history, no municipality has ever received from one of his native sons a gift of such munificence as that which in 1944 The City of Glasgow accepted from Sir William and Lady Burrell.

Honeyman also mentions James Welsh in several places in his book Art and Audacity.[28]

Contributions to Glasgow Cinema

Apart from his interest in politics, James Welsh also had an interest in the art movements in Glasgow. Among these was the new form of entertainment of the time, the cinema. One of his close friends, George Smith, shared the same interest. George Smith, a lifelong friend, was a Labourite like himself, who had been born and brought up in the Bridgeton area. Like James Welsh, Smith was deeply involved in the Labour party and was to follow James into the City Chambers where he was to remain a Councillor for many years. This interest in cinema had stemmed from them being staunch socialists and their intense desire to give something to the people rather than their self-monetary interests. Over the years, working together, they managed to raise their name to be amongst the pioneers of cinema in Glasgow at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their venture in this endeavour began in 1910 when James and George rented a hall in Alexandria Parade in Dennistoun and together, they turned it into a cinema and they called it the Parade. One of the first films that was shown was a Western called The Range Rider and also an interest film Glimpses of Bird Life. The prices were 2d and 4d, with separate houses nightly at 7pm and 9pm. [29] The Parade was very popular with the people of Dennistoun and this encouraged the partners to open another one in 1912. The second cinema was in Church Street, Hamilton and called the Cinema House. It was equally successful. Now, they owned two separate companies – The Parade Picture Houses Ltd and The Hamilton Cinema Company Ltd. So successful was their emerging and growing cinema business that James Welsh felt able to devote all his time to that business and relinquish his position as an insurance agent. By this time the cinema had become a popular form of mass entertainment and picture shows were being held everywhere. In mid-1912, there were about 50 cinemas in Glasgow.[30]

Up until 1921 their two cinemas had been halls, originally built for other purposes. In 1921 the Welsh-Smith partners built their first cinema just round the corner from their existing one in Dennistoun. The (old) Parade had been on Alexandria Parade itself but the New Parade was built at 200 Meadowpark Street, just off the Parade. The cinema was designed by the architect Mr D MacKay Stoddart and was a substantial building with a well finished hall and a lofty auditorium, seating more than 1,400 people. The New Parade cinema was retained by the two partners throughout the twenties but was sold to a Gaumont subsidiary in 1928.[31] During Mr Welsh’s election campaign, located in the Cathcart district on the south side of Glasgow, the new Kingsway Cinema opened on 8 May 1929.[32] It was built for and operated by the independent Kingsway Cinema Ltd. which was owned by a conglomerate of shareholders, among them were James Welsh and George Smith. James Welsh was also named the Cinema Director and George Smith the Manager of the newly formed Kingsway Cinema Ltd. The cinema was designed by noted architect James McKissack in what was described as a Spanish-American style. Inside the auditorium, seating was provided in stalls and circle levels.[33]

This was to be Welsh-Smith’s fourth cinema and the first in south Glasgow.[34] However, on 7 January 1950 it was sold to George Singleton Cinemas Ltd. chain and was re-named the Vogue cinema, a name Singleton gave to all the cinemas in Glasgow that were operated by Singleton’s Circuit.

After building the Kingsway cinema, the architect James McKissack (also responsible for the La Scala) built two more cinemas for Welsh and Smith. The first one was the Mecca Picture House in Balmore Road, Possil built in 1933, to an imposing design by McKissack, to serve the new Corporation housing estate. It was opened in August 1933 and originally seated 1,620, (1,140 in the stalls and 430 in the balcony and served the older tenement area of Possilpark.[35]

The second cinema was one of the most important cinemas built by McKissack. This was the Riddrie Cinema which stands at 726 Cumbernauld Road, Riddrie. Perhaps, at this point, it is worth noting that the former Riddrie (later to become Riddrie-Vogue) cinema is one of the best preserved 1930s suburban super-cinemas in Scotland. [36] It was listed Category B by Historic Scotland in 2008. This was one of McKissack’s best designs and it seems no expense was spared by Smith and Welsh in its construction. On 7 January 1950, the same date as the Kingsway Cinema was sold to Singleton Circuit, the Riddrie was also sold to the Singleton’s and as before was renamed the Vogue (the Singletons also owned the McKissack-designed Cosmo – now the GFT (Glasgow Film Theatre) – and numerous other cinemas in the West of Scotland).[37] The Riddrie-Vogue remained a cinema until April 1968, when it went over to full time bingo.[38] It must be noted here that combining the two roles of a busy councillor and manager of two cinemas was very time consuming for our donor and it was no surprise that in 1940 Mrs Helen Welsh was appointed Manageress of the Mecca Cinema in Possilpark. Mrs Helen Welsh was a very capable and popular manageress who took to her new role with consummate ease. She dealt firmly but fairly with staff, had a good head for figures and mixed easily with the customers.

She had to make the complicated journey between Kelvindale and Possilpark and back every day the cinema was open. She had to carry the evening’s takings home with her each evening and one night in October 1942, she was the victim of a hold-up in Kelvindale Road. Three men were later arrested and a report of the Sheriff Court case appeared in the News of the World later that year. All three admitted assaulting Mrs Helen Welsh, wife of Mr James Welsh, a Glasgow Town Councillor, and threatening to shoot her. They also admitted assaulting the woman driver of Mrs Welsh’s car, and robbing Mrs Welsh of a handbag containing £96.[39]

The contribution made by our donor, James Welsh, to the world of cinema in Glasgow has been extremely impressive. Without a doubt, James Welsh’s and his colleague George Smith’s names will be among the pioneers of the cinema in this country.

The Final Years

On 2 September 1943, James Welsh was elected Lord Provost of the City of Glasgow.[40] He was the nominee of the Socialist Party. He remained Lord Provost until 5 November 1945 when he demitted his office at midnight of that day. However, The Glasgow Herald of 5 October 1945 reported this news, as well as the all the retiring councillors before the imminent council elections, on 6 November 1945.[41]

His wife, Helen, worked all her life and was always there supporting her husband, especially as the wife of the civic head of the City of Glasgow.  In later life, it was an easy transition for her to undertake the supervision of one of the cinemas in which her husband was interested. In the management, especially of the Mecca picture house, she found work agreeable. Mrs Welsh was remembered by the cinema goers as a well-dressed petite lady who wore a different hat every night.[42] Nell Greig Welsh died on 28 February 1945.[43]

Unfortunately, she died too early for her to see her husband receiving his L.LD from Glasgow University on 26 October 1945. The event was reported on page 4 of the Glasgow Herald of Monday, 28 October 1945.[44]

Our donor had long been interested in the Scottish Orchestra. He had also been especially concerned with the promotion of the cultural side of the civic activities, such as the development of music, open air theatres and the Glasgow Art Gallery as he had been the Convener of the Art Galleries. Therefore, almost a year later our donor was again honoured in October 1946 when he was appointed a Member of the Arts Council of Great Britain.[45]

In the announcement of Deaths column of the Glasgow Herald of 17 December 1969, a small notice had appeared announcing that James Welsh died on 16 December 1969 and would be cremated in Linn Crematorium on 19 December 1969.[46] On page 8 of the same newspaper[47] under the columns entitled Death of Lord Provost of Glasgow, an obituary is printed where a summary of his life and achievements are listed and the following sentence was also included:

He combined his work with assiduous attendance at evening classes, studious reading of history, economics and widening his acquaintance with the world of art which his natural taste for music was already a passport.

Acknowledgement

I should like to acknowledge and thank Mr David Welsh for his help and time in providing me with a wider perspective of the life of our donor, Dr James Welsh, his grandfather in producing this blog. He very generously gave me a copy of his Grandfather’s unpublished biography ‘Just call me Jimmy’ A portrait of my grandfather, Dr James Welsh that he had meticulously and engagingly researched.

References

[1] City of Glasgow Corporation Minutes 1946-1947, Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

[2] http://www.artbiogs.co.uk/1/artists/ancill-joseph.

[3] Private Correspondence with Mr David Welsh and his unpublished biography  of our donor “Just call me Jimmy” A portrait of my grandfather, Dr James Welsh.

[4] ibid.

[5] 1841 Scottish census.

[6] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[7] ibid.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid.

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/victorian/trails_victorian_glasgow.shtml

[12] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[13] ibid.

[14] ibid.

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Templeton_On_The_Green

[16 Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[17] ibid.

[18] Obituary of Mrs Helen Welsh The Glasgow Herald – Mar 1, 1945 p6.

[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statue_of_Millicent_Fawcett

[20] ibid.

[21] https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=GGgVawPscysC&dat=19131105&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

[22] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[23] ibid.

[24] The Glasgow Herald – Oct 5, 1945 p.6.

[25] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[26] Honeyman, T J, Art and Audacity. Collins, 1971

[27] R.Marks et al, The Burrell Collection with an Introduction by John Julius Norwich. Collins, 1983

[28] Honeyman, T J. 87,135,171,223,229

[29] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[30] ibid.

[31] http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/50797

[32]http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/23293

[33] ibid.

[34] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[35] http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk/glasgow/mecca_possil.html

[36] http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk/glasgow/riddrie/

[37] http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/23293%20

[38] http://www.scottishcinemas.org.uk/glasgow/mecca_possil.html

[39] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[40] The Glasgow Herald – Sep 3, 1943 p.4

[41] The Glasgow Herald – Oct 5, 1945  p.6.

[42] Priv. Corresp. Op.cit.

[43]Obituary op.cit.

[44] The Glasgow Herald – Oct 28, 1945 p.4.

[45] The Glasgow Herald – Oct 26, 1946 p.6.

[46] The Glasgow Herald – Dec 17, 1969  p.8

[47]  ibid.

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