Monday, 29 November 2010

Background: Scotland on the eve of the Great War

Above: The Turbinia was powered by a Parson's steam turbine. State of the art engineering on the Clyde.

"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

The best of times ...

By 1914, Scotland had experienced over 100 years of economic growth. This had made Scotland one of the most urbanised and technologically advanced nations in Europe.

Nearly 20% of the world's shipping was built on the Clyde and the "industrial base" of the central lowlands combined coal, steel, engineering, and even oil produced in Broxburn and the surrounding areas.

Steam locomotives manufactured in Springburn were exported all over the world. The Royal Navy's latest battleships had 15 inch guns forged at the Parkhead forge and they depended for their accuracy on precision optical instruments made by Barr and Stroud, also in Glasgow.

Belfast workers and engineers built the Titanic but Glasgow engineers knew that her "reciprocating" steam engines were dinosoars compared to the steam turbines designed and built at Parson's works on the Clyde and fitted to the Cunard Line ships at John Brown shipbuilders in Clydebank.

The worst of times ... (Extracts from URBAN HOUSING IN SCOTLAND 1840-1940 by W W Knox


The 1911 Census showed that while the number of people living in one room homes
declined to 13% of the total, the number of those living in two roomed homes was still high at 41%. Thus over half the population of Scotland in 1911 lived in one or two roomed homes, while in England the figure was only 7%. Moreover, 45% of Scots lived at a density of more than two people per room, while in England the respective figure was only 9%. Of course, in the great cities the situation was much worse. Glasgow had two-thirds of its population living in this type of cramped accommodation, and Dundee had 72%, compared to only 32% of London's population.


Living in such cramped and unhealthy homes had an obvious impact on the health of young children and their physical development. Children who lived in spacious accommodation were heavier and larger than their counterparts in one roomed homes. Also the incidence of rickets and other physical deformities were more marked. In Dundee, where overcrowding was significant, 44% of school children had impaired hearing and 48% had poor eyesight. Surveys also showed a long list of other illnesses and deformities.

Just prior to the First World War important legislation was passed in the form of the Education Act of 1908 providing for compulsory medical inspection of school children. Local authorities were empowered to provide food and even clothes for those children who were classed as either poor or needy. Although authorities in rural areas opposed the scheme it was generally adopted in the cities.

The health of adult male workers was also addressed in the National Insurance Acts of 1911-12. Workers in trades such as shipbuilding and construction earning less than £160 per annum were included in the scheme. For fourpence a week they were allowed access to a doctor and appropriate treatment, although consultant and hospital services were not covered. Even so, the dependants of those paying into the scheme were not entitled to treatment. The government
had reasoned that a family's poverty was more the result of the chief breadwinner being sick than his wife or children. Therefore, the priority was to get him back to work rather than restore a sick child to health."

What do you know? (Tasks to ensure that you have the K&U you need!)

Draw up a "balance sheet" for Scottish society in 1914. Positives on the left. Negatives on the right.