Baillie James Shaw Maxwell J.P. (1855-1929)

James Shaw Maxwell was a printer, journalist and politician and one of the first socialist councillors elected to Glasgow Town Council. (1)

Figure 1. James Shaw Maxwell by Robert Eadie© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

In the1927 Minutes of Glasgow City Council, it is reported that ex Bailie James Shaw Maxwell wished to donate a portrait of himself by Robert Eadie “as a memento of the honour of being convener of the Arts and Museums committee of Glasgow Town Council”. (2) It is notable that this committee was a subcommittee of the Parks Committee of which he was appointed convenor in 1908. (3)

James Shaw Maxwell was born in 1855. (4) He was the son of James Taylor Maxwell, fruiterer and merchant, living near the Salt Market. His mother was Janet Maxwell nee Shaw . Where he was schooled is not known but he served his apprenticeship and became a master printer and lithographer. (5)

He became more interested in journalism and that, with politics, became a major part of his life although he continued in business as a printer and lithographer until 1915.

His introduction to politics was through the Free Sunday School movement and the LSunday Society lectures. (6) The established church had encouraged setting up schools and Sunday schools which were affiliated to the Church of Scotland. The Free Sunday Schools movement was established in the 1780s in both England and Scotland and sought to provide education independently of the churches.  (7)  In the 1870s there was a resurgence of interest in Scotland. In 1880, Maxwell became Secretary of the Glasgow Free Sunday School Society. (8 ) He seems to have been one of the first people in Glasgow influenced, as were many, including prominent members of the Fabian Society, by the American journalist and political economist Henry George (9) and particularly by his book Progress and Poverty (10)  which sold millions of copies worldwide. Henry George was an advocate of land reform and this chimed with the views of Maxwell. He joined the Irish Land League and the Scottish Land Restoration League in 1880. (11 )  In 1885, he contested the parliamentary seat for the Blackfriars and Hutchesontown Division in Glasgow, as an Independent and Labour candidate, polling 1200 votes, but was defeated.

He moved to London, (12) as a journalist and lecturer, speaking in London, the Home Counties and Norfolk and as a  “red van “ lecturer.  (13 ) The English Land Restoration League (ELRL) sent out 5 vans in 1892. The vans, in which the driver and lecturer lived, toured villages in Suffolk and Somerset. They were responsible for arranging the dates and venues for their lectures. On the outside of the van was painted “Free rents-Fair wages –The Land for All”. In this they were following Henry George.  In London he founded the London Democratic Club, which was for some years the major democratic organ of socialism in England.  (14 ) He became a correspondent for a number of newspapers among them the Glasgow Herald, the Daily Chronicle and the London Echo. He bought and edited the London Peoples Press, which the Bailie said was “the accredited organ of about twenty of the largest trades Unions” (15) and the International Seamen’s Gazette. He was also  politically active . He took charge of demonstrations of the unemployed on Tower Hill where as reported in the Bailie “ he found employment for 10,000 men” (16 ).

Figure 2. James Shaw Maxwell 1898.

The Scottish Labour Party (SLP) was established at a Conference in August 1888. (17) Robert Cunninghame Graham was elected President, Dr G B  Clark MP, a cotton manufacturer from Paisley was Vice president, Shaw Maxwell was Chairman and Keir Hardie was Secretary. (18)  An extensive programme of reform was agreed which included nationalisation of land, mineral and water-ways……….and taxes on incomes over £300. The SLP continued for six years until it merged with the Independent Labour Party ILP in 1894.(19) Maxwell was the first Secretary of the ILP.

In 1896 Shaw Maxwell became a Glasgow Town Councillor by election as a Labour party member. (20 ) He became deputy water Baillie and then a full Baillie in 1903. (21 ) He became Convener of the Parks Committee in 1908. (22)   In this role he championed free libraries and achieved the Sunday opening of museums against powerful opposition. One of those opposed was Baron Overton an antagonist of Keir Hardie (23)

shaw maxwell
Figure 3. Councillor James Shaw Maxwell. The Bailie Sept 1897 © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums and Libraries. The Mitchell Library Special Collections

The Bailie of 1897(24 ) describes him as “the Maccaroni  of dress and debate” because he was always well turned out in starch collar and tie. “

. “one of the most dandified and distinguished looking men in the George Square assembly and ,without contest, the most sedulous student of oratorical style in all that somewhat slovenly school of rhetoric”.

In July 1909 he sailed from Glasgow to Montreal(25) to tour North American cities. A report of his tour was published in the Weekly Press, Michigan and is reproduced below.(26),

Glasgow Magistrate expresses views after studying Chicago and Boston

James Shaw Maxwell, senior magistrate of the city of Glasgow, declares, after a tour of Canada and America. that the Canadian cities are vastly superior in many ways to the cities of the United States.

Mr Maxwell studied the public institutions in Chicago, St Louis, Boston, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. In an interview here he expressed his surprise that the citizens of the major principalities here are not more interested in the problem of municipal ownership. Glasgow was the birthplace of the control by the government of public utilities.

“from what I have already observed” he said ”the Canadian cities are far ahead of those in the United States in many respects. . They appear to be better regulated and are kept cleaner.”

He was a governor of the School of Art in Glasgow form 1905 to 1909. (27) and was also a Justice of the Peace.  (28)

He was married to Elizabeth Ross Mckellar described in the 1901 census  (29) as having been born in St Albans, England. The   place and date of the marriage is not known. They had four daughters all born in Glasgow. (30)  They lived in a number of properties in Glasgow from 1895  from Sinclair Drive on the South Side to Woodlands Road, Queen Margaret Crescent and Kelvinside Terrace. He continued his business as a printer in the City centre moving from 58 West Regent Street in 1898 to Sauchiehall Street in1908. (31)

He died on 4th January, 1929 then living in Kilmarnock Road, Glasgow.  (32)


  1. Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909. Mitchell library
  2. Minutes of Glasgow City Council 1927
  3. Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909. Mitchell library
  5. Peter D’A Jones in Henry George and British Socialism. Am. J .of Economics and Sociology Vol.47, No.4.p487
  6. ibid
  7. National Library of Scotland. The History of Working People in Scotland
  8. Peter D’A Jones in Henry George and British Socialism. Am. J .of Economics and Sociology Vol.47, No.4.p487
  9. Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909. Mitchell library
  10. Peter D’A Jones in Henry George and British Socialism. Am. J .of Economics and Sociology Vol.47, No.4.p487
  11. Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909. Mitchell library
  12. 1891 England Census.
  13. Gilbert K and Howell D. Dictionary of Labour Biography, Vol XIV. Springer,2018. pp 29-30.
  14. The Bailie. The Man You Know. September, 1897. Mitchell Library, Glasgow
  15. Ibid
  16. Ibid
  17. Wikipaedia The Scottish Labour Party James Shaw Maxwell
  18. Holman Bob Keir Hardie: Labour’s greatest hero? 2010 .Lion Hudson. 2010
  19. ibid
  20. Who’s Who in Glasgow 1909. Mitchell Library
  21. The Bailie. The Man You Know. November, 1903. Mitchell Library, Glasgow
  22. Minutes of Glasgow City Council 1908
  23. Holman Bob Keir Hardie: Labour’s greatest hero? 2010 .Lion Hudson. 2010
  24. The Bailie. The Man You Know. September,1897. Mitchell Library, Glasgow
  26. The Weekly Press, ST Joseph, Michigan USA. August, 1909
  27. Archives of Glasgow School of Art
  28. Post office Directories. Mitchell Library, Glasgow
  29. National Records of Scotland Census 1901
  30. Ibid
  31. Post Office Directories. Mitchell Library, Glasgow
  32. National Records of Scotland Statutory Deaths 1927





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