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George Square, Glasgow

As the Christmas lights go up in George Square heralding the approach of the festive season it leads me to reflect on the true significance of this square at the heart of Glasgow. In August 2013 we moved to our new address at 50 George Square. Even though I am a Glaswegian, I have to confess I had not appreciated the history and legacy of this civic square right on our doorstep.

In the short time since Speirs & Jeffrey has been in residence here many significant events have taken place in the open space below our 4th floor windows. We have witnessed the Commonwealth Games road race cycling, The Prime Minister and Commonwealth leaders at The Cenotaph, demonstrations of all shapes and sizes, the bin lorry tragedy, the Homeless World Cup and even the Radio 1 Roadshow.

This range of events and activities has led me to reflect on George Square's past as a place of real significance in Glasgow, Scotland and wider still. In this blog I would like to touch on one event in particular. This took place on Friday 31 January 1919 which became known as Bloody Friday. On the previous Monday a General Strike was called in Glasgow ostensibly over changes to working hours moving to a 47 hour week but crucially abolishing the traditional mid - morning break. Following the strike declaration, momentum built throughout the week with 70,000 out on strike by the Tuesday and culminating in a Friday rally in George Square attended by 10,000 striking workers. Different theories remain over what sparked the transformation of a peaceful rally into a riot on that day.  Some put this down to a tram attempting to pass through the rioters in the Square, others that it was an unprovoked police baton charge. Whatever the cause, serious rioting occurred in and around George Square and the police were driven back and forced to retreat.

The police defeat that day forced the Government's hand and during the late evening of Bloody Friday and in the early hours of Saturday morning thousands of troops were mobilised and moved into position in central Glasgow in a show of force and as a clear sign that rioting would be repressed. Glaswegian soldiers and those from the surrounding districts were not used.

So the Christmas lights, tree and market in George Square is happening in a place right at the hub of the city - a place of significance and steeped in a varied history.

 

Russell Crichton
Chief Executive

2 December 2016