Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Demise of the Working Class Orange Tory Vote in Glasgow

In the 1955 British General Election, the Conservative and Unionist Party won 7 of the 15 parliamentary seats in Glasgow in no small measure due to the large Orange vote in the city. While the Labour Party won all the seats in the east of the city, the Conservatives (Unionists) won most of the seats in the west of the city. The only seats the Tories did not win in the west were Glasgow Govan (in the south west) and Glasgow Maryhill (in the north west) because of the large Catholic vote in these 2 constituencies. Although the Tories did not win any seats in the east of the city, they came within a whisker of winning the Glasgow Provan parliamentary constituency (formerly known as the Glasgow Camlachie parliamentary constituency) due to the large Orange vote in the Dennistoun and Riddrie districts of the east end. Incidentally, if the Rutherglen seat to the south east of Glasgow (which the Tories won in 1955) had been included in the city of Glasgow, it would have meant the Tories would have won exactly half of the parliamentary constituencies in Glasgow, ie 8 out of 16.

The west end (Hillhead, Kelvinside, etc) and south side (Pollokshields, Cathcart, etc) of Glasgow were more middle class than the overwhelmingly working class districts of the east end and north side. In the 1950s, the Tories were still popular in the middle class areas of the west end and south side.

Moreover, there was still a large Orange vote in many of the working class districts of Glasgow in the 1950s. eg in Tradeston, Kingston, Kinning Park and Govanhill in the south, in Mosspark, Craigton, Cardonald and Pollokshaws in the south west, in Partick, Whiteinch, Scotstoun and Knightswood in the north west, in Dennistoun, Riddrie and Carntyne in the east, in Dalmarnock in the south east and in Springburn in the north east. These districts, which fell within various parliamentary constituencies, delivered many votes for the Tories in the 1955 General Election. In contrast, districts which were sometimes perceived (incorrectly) as being working class Orange strongholds such as Bridgeton in the east and Govan in the west actually delivered many votes for the Labour Party due to the large number of Catholics who in reality stayed in these districts.

In the early/mid 1950s - before the relocation of many people to the new peripheral housing schemes of Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Drumchapel, Pollok, Cranhill, Ruchazie, Garthamlock, Barlanark, Barmulloch, etc - the areas of Glasgow which had the largest Catholic populations were Gorbals (Hutchesontown, Laurieston) in the south, Calton in the east and Garngad in the north east. There were also large Catholic populations in Bridgeton, Mile-End, Gallowgate, Parkhead and Shettleston in the east, in Germiston, Blackhill, Provanmill and Balornock in the north east, in Cowcaddens and Possilpark in the north, in Anderston and Townhead near the city centre, in Govan in the south west and in Maryhill in the north west.

Since the 1950s, the traditional working class Orange vote for the Conservatives in Glasgow has crumbled. A similar thing happened in the English city of Liverpool. Working class Protestants started voting overwhelmingly for Labour like their Catholic neighbours.

An even more remarkable General Election than the 1955 Election was the 1931 Election. This Election was held at the height of the Depression with anti-Catholic feelings running very high in Glasgow. In the 1931 General Election, most working class Protestants in Glasgow voted for the Tories with the result that the Conservative and Unionist Party won an amazing 10 of the 15 parliamentary seats in the city. The Labour Party (including the Independent Labour Party) won only 5 seats. Labour comfortably won the Glasgow Gorbals (Hutchesontown, Laurieston) and Glasgow Bridgeton (Bridgeton, Calton, Dalmarnock) seats, the 2 most Catholic constituencies in the city, and they also had narrow wins in the Glasgow Govan, Glasgow Shettleston and Glasgow St Rollox seats where there were also large Catholic populations. The Conservatives won the 10 other seats in Glasgow though they only won by a whisker in the Glasgow Springburn seat due to the huge Catholic vote for Labour in Garngad in the south west of the constituency (which was offset by the large Orange vote for the Tories in Springburn proper in the north of the constituency and in Milnbank in the south east of the constituency). In fact, Labour would have most probably won the Glasgow Springburn parliamentary constituency had it not been for the presence of a Communist Party candidate who took vital votes from Labour. However, this was counterbalanced by the fact that the Conservatives would have probably won the Glasgow St Rollox parliamentary constituency had it not been for the presence of a Scottish National Party (SNP) candidate who took vital votes from the Tories. This was in spite of the large Catholic vote for Labour in the Cowcaddens area of the Glasgow St Rollox seat.


In the 1931 General Election, the voting pattern in Glasgow was religiously polarized: Most of Glasgow's Protestants voted for the Tories (Unionists) and Glasgow's Catholics voted overwhelmingly for Labour. As a result, the Tories won two thirds of the seats and Labour won one third of the seats in Glasgow which reflected the religious composition of the city.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Billy Fullerton and the Bridgeton (Brigton) Billy Boys Gang Glasgow

The city of Glasgow in Scotland has had a long association with gangs. One of its most notorious gangs was the Brigton Billy Boys, a sectarian anti-Catholic gang from Bridgeton Cross in the east end of Glasgow. The gang was formed in 1924 by Bridgeton born and bred William Fullerton after he was attacked by a group of Catholic youths on nearby Glasgow Green. The gang was actually named after King William of Orange, with Billy Fullerton as its leader. Fullerton came from Franklin Street in the heart of Bridgeton.

Bridgeton in the 1920s/30s is often incorrectly portrayed as a staunchly Protestant area (because of its association with the Billy Boys gang). In reality, the area was very mixed and had a substantial Roman Catholic population, the vast majority of whom were descendants of 19th century Catholic Irish immigrants. In the 1920s/30s, the Glasgow Bridgeton parliamentary constituency - which was composed of Bridgeton, Calton and Dalmarnock - had the highest number of Catholic voters of all the parliamentary seats in Glasgow. It had even more Catholic voters than the Glasgow Gorbals parliamentary constituency, which was composed of Hutchesontown and Laurieston. In fact, the Glasgow Bridgeton seat had the 2nd highest number of Catholic voters in Great Britain. Only a constituency in the English city of Liverpool had a larger Catholic electorate. The Glasgow Gorbals seat was the 2nd most Catholic constituency in Glasgow and it also had a significant Jewish population in its Laurieston district.

Dennistoun - the area between Duke Street and Alexandra Parade (to the east of the Glasgow Necropolis) - was an overwhelmingly Protestant district in the east end of Glasgow in the 1920s/30s. In local council elections in 1931, the leader of the extreme right-wing anti-Catholic political party the Scottish Protestant league (SPL) - Alexander Ratcliffe - was elected to the Glasgow Coroporation (Glasgow City Council) ward of Dennistoun, only for the Tories (Conservative and Unionist Party) to regain the ward in 1934. At the height of the Depression in the early 1930s, the Scottish Protestant League (SPL) in Glasgow and its sister party the Protestant Action Society (PAS) - led by John Cormack - in Edinburgh got around a quarter of the votes in local council elections in the 2 cities. In fact, Protestant Action (PA) got 31% of the vote in Edinburgh in 1936 which gave it 6 councillors on Edinburgh City Council. (I think there had been elections in all of Edinburgh's council wards in 1936.) At its peak in 1933, the Scottish Protestant League got 23% of the vote in Glasgow which gave it 4 new councillors. This meant the SPL now had 7 councillors on Glasgow City Council including Ratcliffe in the Dennistoun ward. (There had only been elections in 23 of Glasgow's 37 council wards in 1933.) Ironically, the main beneficiary of the 1933 local council elections in Glasgow was the Labour Party. The SPL had taken most of their votes from the Tories with the result that Labour under Patrick Dollan gained control of Glasgow City Council (Glasgow Corporation) in 1933. Dollan would go on to become the first Catholic Lord Provost of Glasgow (since the Reformation) from 1938 to 1941. Incidentally, many of Glasgow's Lord Provosts since the 1940s have been Catholic Labour Party councillors.

In national elections in the 1920s/30s, Dennistoun was part of the Glasgow Camlachie parliamentary constituency. The Camlachie seat was composed of Dennistoun, east Gallowgate (Whitevale, Reidvale and Bellgrove) and Mile-End (including Barrowfield). The old Glasgow district of Mile-End was to the east of Abercromby Street in Calton, to the north of London Road in Bridgeton, to the south of Gallowgate and to the west of Barrowfield. Mile-End had more in common with Bridgeton and Calton than with Dennistoun.

The Bridgeton Billy Boys gang had 800 paid up members at its peak in the early 1930s, though many of its members were not from Bridgeton. The gang attracted many likeminded youg men - Scottish Protestants who felt they were being swamped by Irish Catholics - from other Glasgow districts such as Calton, Gorbals, Townhead, Garngad, Cowcaddens and even a few from nearby Lanarkshire towns such as Coatbridge and Airdrie. The Billy Boys claimed Bridgeton Cross - which was known locally as the Toll - as their territory/stronghold and this was where they always assembled. Bridgeton Cross was at the heart of the east end of Glasgow and was close to where the 3 areas (Bridgeton, Calton and Mile-End) converged. They actually converged at the junction of London Road - the part of London Road formerly known as Canning Street - and Abercrombie Street, which was just to the north west of Bridgeton Cross. The main rivals of the Billy Boys were the Norman Conks, a Catholic gang based in Norman Street, Bridgeton. Norman Street and neighbouring Poplin Street and French Street were about half a kilometre south of Bridgeton Cross and these 3 streets had a reputation as being overwhelmingly populated by Catholics. The Billy Boys used to take great delight at conducting Orange walks through these 'Catholic' streets in Bridgeton and also through neighbouring Glasgow districts with large Catholic populations such as Calton, Gorbals and Garngad. They even marched in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on a few occasions. At their peak in the early 1930s, the Billy Boys established a junior section known as the Derry Boys which was made up of teenagers. By the mid 1930s, the Bridgeton Derry Boys - who were led by 'Killer' McKay - had become a powerful gang in their own right.

In 1920s/30s Glasgow, there were strong links between the Tory (Conservative and Unionist) Pary, the Orange Order and Freemasonry and it is often said that the Billy Boys were the working class foot soldiers of these organisations. As well as beating up and harassing Catholics, the Billy Boys were also employed by local Tory politicians to break up socialist, Labour Party, trade union and other left-wing gatherings. The fact that many of Glasgow's socialists were from an Irish Catholic background probably made this task very appealing to the Billy Boys. Fullerton and some of his associates were awarded medals and certificates for their strike-breaking activities during the 1926 General Strike. The famous socialist Independent Labour Party MP for the Glasgow Bridgeton parliamentary constituency, James Maxton, had many run-ins with the Billy Boys.

In the mid 1930s, the Chief Constable of Glasgow's police, Sir Percy Sillitoe, started a major crackdown on Glasgow's gangs. The Billy Boys went into decline in the late 1930s, though it was probably the outbreak of the 2nd World War in 1939 that finally brought the Billy Boys gang to a complete end.

In the late 1930s, Billy Fullerton joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists and he even started a Glasgow branch of the Ku Klux Klan. As well as despising people of colour, the KKK was also an anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic organisation and many of its founding members in America had been of Scots and Ulster-Scots (Scots-Irish) ancestry, the original Hillbillies.

The following song is still sometimes sung by the supporters of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, a club which is located, ironically, on the opposite side of the city from Bridgeton.

Hello, hello, we are the Billy Boys
Hello, hello, you'll know us by our noise
We're up to our knees in Fenian blood
Surrender or you'll die
For we are the Brigton Billy Boys

Bridgeton Cross is of course only a stone's throw from Parkhead, the home of Rangers great rivals, Celtic FC. In the 1920s/30s, the east end district of Parkhead - which was to the immediate east of Mile-End and Barrowfield - was part of the Glasgow Shettleston parliamentary constituency. This constituency was composed of Shettleston, Tollcross and Parkhead.

One of the ironies of Fullerton's life was that he often worked for Bridgeton bookmaker and boxing promoter Tommy Gilmour, who was a Catholic. Fullerton was often employed by Gilmour to erect boxing rings, an occupation for which he had a reputation as a specialist. Furthermore, after the 2nd World War, Fullerton worked as a ring whip for Glasgow bantamweight boxer Peter Keenan, who was also a Catholic. Keenan was the first and only Scottish boxer to win 2 Lonsdale Belts outright in 1953 and 1957. Keenan was a keen supporter of Celtic FC. At a match in the 1950s, Keenan was carried onto the pitch at Celtic Park on the shoulders of Billy Fullerton to receive the adulation of the Celtic supporters.


Billy Fullerton died in poverty in 1962 aged 57 years in a single roomed tenement home in Brook Street, Mile-End, just to the north of Bridgeton Cross. He was given a spectacular send-off as around 1000 marched in his funeral cortege - including flute bands - from Bridgeton Cross to the cemetery at Riddrie in the north east of Glasgow. There were even a few Catholics from Glasgow's east end and the city's boxing fraternity - including Peter Keenan - who quietly attended his funeral, such was their begrudging respect for this Glasgow hard man.

A poem called King Billy was written about Billy Fullerton by the Glasgow poet Edwin Morgan in 1963.


Further Background

Gangs were commonly found throughout the working class districts of Glasgow before the 2nd World War. However, while gangs in other parts of the city were primarily territorial in nature, the gangs of the East End were both territorial and sectarian. The areas of Calton, Bridgeton and Mile-End in the East End received a large number of Irish immigrants in the 19th century. While most of these Irish immigrants were Catholics, a significant minority were Protestants (Ulster-Scots) (Scots-Irish). Furthermore, many of the Irish Protestant immigrants were members of the Orange Order. Native Scottish Protestants and Irish Protestant settlers in the East End resented the large number of Irish Catholic immigrants settling amongst them, and this resentment was carried into the 20th century.

The Protestant Billy Boys and the Catholic Norman Conks from Bridgeton in the 1920s/30s were not the first sectarian gangs in the East End. The Protestant San Toy or San Toi and the Catholic Tim Malloys or Tim Molloys were rival sectarian gangs from Calton before the 1st World War. I have compiled a list of former sectarian gangs from the Calton/Bridgeton area. I am sure there were others.


San Toy (Protestant), Calton Tongs (Protestant), Tim Malloys (Catholic), Kent Star (Catholic), Calton Entry (Catholic)


Billy Boys (Protestant), Derry Boys (Protestant), Norman Conks (Catholic), Baltic Fleet (Catholic)

Some famous East End gang graffiti from years gone by:

Calton Tongs Ya Bass
The Baltic Fleet Sails OK