Halliday Sutherland

"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.

Glasgow chimneys

G.K. Chesterton described Dr Sutherland as “a born writer, especially a born story-teller.” The following passage is as good an example as any of Dr Sutherland’s craft and is the first in a series of reminiscences of his Glasgow childhood.

“It was a city of chimney-stalks, much rain, fog, whistling of engines, noise of hooters, riveting and steam-hammers. Of the smoke stalks Tennant’s of St Rollox was king, a giant chimney making human life possible near chemical works — a human chimney, worthy of its subsequent association with the fortunes of the Liberal party. North, east, and south around the king chimney were thousands of lesser chimneys, noble and ignoble. Some were square with ornamental copings at the top; some round and tapering gracefully to the summit; some squat and conical, ugly by day but beautiful at night when, like volcanoes in eruption, they lit the sky with fierce red flames from foundries of molten metal. And some — the ignoble ones — were long iron piped, supported like flagstaffs by wires from the ground. Yet each, great and small, served its purpose — belching like a Moloch sulphurous smoke, and creating beneath the cloud a floating pall under which most vegetation died. Friends of the chimneys said germs of disease were also killed, and that sulphur fumes were healthy. Alas, in 1926, by an act of vandalism, Tennants stalk was demolished, but the other chimneys flourished.

“Glasgow was a city of great fortunes and great poverty, each creating the other. Steam yachts as Rothesay, and in the streets around the Broomielaw men in rags, women in shawls — “shawlies” they were called — and children bare-footed. The harbour was called Broomielaw because of the broom which once grew on the banks of the river. There was none now, and the nearest broom I knew was around the convict prison at Barlinnie. Good music in Kelvingrove, and foul language in the Gallowgate, where once people were hanged. The meaner streets were badly lit, and the closes that gave entrance to the tenement houses of the slums were often dark. A wary child would give the dark close a wide berth, lest a “shawly” should spring out for a kidnap, although most “shawlies” seemed to have enough children of their own. At the street corners were the pubs — gin palaces, some call them — and at night they shone with crystal lights. From these pubs drunk men shambled, even in daylight. At night from the High Street came the shouts of drunken men, and the screams of women — two “shawlies” fighting! A crowd would watch them tearing each other’s hair, rending their rotten cotton blouses, and scratching on the face and breasts, until policemen dragged them away screaming.”

From: A Child’s Guide to Glasgow in A Time To Keep by Dr Halliday Sutherland.

Photo: Charles Tennant’s St Rollox Chemical Works in 1831 from Wikipedia.

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This entry was posted on 1 December 2019 by in Early life, Glasgow.

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