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January 24, 1914: a ‘bomb outrage in Glasgow’

By on January 24, 2014

As the world slid towards war, Scottish newspaper archives show headlines at the beginning of 1914 were focused on familiar themes – murder, tragedy, celebrity scandal … and even Scottish home rule.

On January 2, the British ambassador to France Sir Francis Bertie is reported saying “events seem to justify the belief that peace would not be disturbed over the next year”.

In the Judiciary Buildings in Glasgow five days later, a fatal accident inquiry opened into the Cadder mining disaster,  when 22 men had lost their lives in an underground fire in the No.15 pit at the colliery, near Bishopbriggs, the previous August 3.

It was a cold winter and many of Scotland’s rivers and lochs froze over. The Daily Record and Mail published pictures of skaters at Kelvinside …

On January 26, the same paper reported on dramatic events that had unfolded in Glasgow’s West End – a “bomb outrage” with “damage sustained by Kibble Palace”. The Botanics bombing was also covered by The Glasgow Herald and in newspapers throughout the world.

“Evidence”, the Daily Record and Mail story said, “clearly indicates this was the work of militant Suffragettes”.

In the early hours of Saturday, January 24, 1914, there had been such a loud explosion that residents “in Hillhead, Kelvinside and Maryhill thought something serious at Dawsholm Gasworks”. In fact “a dastardly attempt had been made to blow up the Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens by means of bombs”.

Hero of the day was night attendant David Watters who had found one bomb and cut off the burning fuse before being “stunned for a moment” by the loud explosion from another bomb that shattered 27 panes of glass but only inflicted slight damage to the plants.

The police were summoned and a watch on the Botanic’s perimeter revealed no escaping bombers. However, investigations led by Superintendent James Muir, of the Maryhill Division,  “left no doubt among the officials that Suffragettes had been on the ground”. 

The reasons for this deduction are intriguing. “Near to the spot where the explosion occurred were found together a lady’s black silk veil, a piece of white cotton cloth, and a portion of a Glasgow newspaper of the 12th inst, in which, it is believed, the bombs were carried”.

And that wasn’t all. James Rorke, manager of the Botanic Gardens, and who lived on-site, discovered the “visitors had partaken of refreshments during their vigil. Pieces of cake and an empty champagne bottle were recovered from the shrubbery”.

Most damning, however, is that footprints “clearly indicate the high heels of ladies shoes”.

The reporting does seem almost comical now but this was a serious event. The repercussions proved particularly serious for prominent Glasgow suffragette Helen Crawfurd, who had only recently been released from prison following a five-day hunger strike. She was blamed for being part of the “bomb outrage” and imprisoned again, where she once more went on hunger strike.

Crawfurd was to become an important and highly-significant character in Glasgow’s history. Released again from jail, she  turned away from the suffrage movement because of her strong anti-war beliefs, becoming a powerful voice against poverty in the city and for peace. A relentless campaigner, she was secretary of the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association and a key player in the Rent Strikes of 1915. A founder of the Women’s Peace Crusade in Glasgow, Crawfurd was also an associate of John MacLean.

For Watters, the man who had prevented a second explosion at the Botanics (with “commendable promptitude” commented The Glasgow Herald), the events of January 24 had been “an exciting experience”.

He added: “I can assure you I never thought of any danger to myself.”

* Image of the Daily Record and Mail, Monday, January 26, 1914





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