When Visibility started in 1859, the idea of ‘leisure’ was not so common as now. Most people worked very long hours. Most people had very little money. Leisure tends to go along with having time and money.
But by 1859, Scotland had experienced an industrial revolution. There was a new middle class and a large body of skilled workers. Wages increased after 1850 and hours of work began to decrease. Sports such as golf, bowling and quoits became popular.
Up to now, ‘recreation’ for the working class in Glasgow had centred on pubs and drinking. Temperance Societies, such as the Independent Order of Good Templars, began to emerge. The Airdrie branch of the Templars with 4,000 members was the largest Temperance Lodge in the world. These societies offered alternative entertainment in the form of concerts and ‘soirees’.
Recreation began to be seen as preparing the mind and body for work, instead of simply being an end in itself. The opening of libraries, art galleries and museums, funded by wealthy philanthropists, provided opportunities for self-improvement and education for ordinary people.
The churches set up clubs, missions and societies in which people could spend their spare time. There were bible classes, Sunday schools, mothers’ kitchen prayer meetings, gospel temperance societies, and, from the early 1880s, the Boys Brigade.
The railways and steamships meant that travelling to the seaside for holidays became more possible. The growth of the Clyde coastal resorts, provided days out for workers in the west of Scotland. By the 1870s going ‘doon the watter’ was an annual feature of working class life in Glasgow and the west of Scotland.
(Source: A history of the Scottish people: leisure in Scotland 1840-1940 by W Knox: www.scran.ac.uk)
Visibility used to run annual summer excursions by boat down the River Clyde. The first trip took place in 1881 and the last in 1975. Our ‘superintendent’ noted in 1907:
The annual day at the coast of the Glasgow Mission is a unique excursion, when about 900 of the blind and their guides spend a happy day at the seaside, which lightens up many of the other dull drab days.
The photo above, provided by Jimmy O’Rourke, shows people leaving the boat after a summer excursion. The people all have their coats on so it must have been a typical Scottish summer’s day. The boat’s enormous funnel can be seen in the background as she waits dockside for everyone to disembark.
Numbers attending grew steadily, and in 1951 3,000 people sailed with us to Ardgoil. In 1960 we ran a special summer excursion to celebrate the charity’s centenary and a film of that special trip, called Doon The Watter, can be viewed below: (running time 23 minutes). The audio on the film is very quiet so you may need to turn up your volume control.
The video above was recorded by the BBC to mark the our centenary. The summer excursions are fondly remembered.
Margaret C remembers people feeding their fish suppers to the gulls.
Annie remembers people going round the boat talking to everybody.
Ethel remembers the band and the sausage rolls!
Visibility has always provided all sorts of opportunities for children, young people and adults to meet up and socialise, learn new skills and try a variety of activities.
As early as 1869, we were organising social gatherings including ‘tea meetings’ and Christmas gatherings. 700 people attended our annual social in 1903.
Our social and games clubs increased during the early part of the 20th century and by 1926, we were running social clubs in five separate districts. The clubs centred on dominoes, draughts, bowling and chess. They were very competitive. Over the years, these expanded to include evening classes in Braille, typewriting, cookery, physical training and golf (in 1983) as well as sailing, horse-riding and more.
The photo above shows domino players from the Motherwell Hamilton and District Domino Club for the Blind. Four men, one of whom is puffing on a pipe, are sitting around a square table enjoying a game. There is a guide dog at their feet. Other players can be seen in the background. Someone has written on the photo in pencil to say the person on the left is David McKerral, but David has told us that it is not him!
The photo above shows two members of the Society’s chess club halfway through a match with an adjudicator standing nearby to record the score. The name ‘John Tolland’ has been written in pencil top right and the name ‘Norrie’ is written bottom left.
David T remembers his father marching in the workshop band.
Jimmy remembers the social club at Blindcraft.
David M talks about the dominoes clubs and tournaments.
Margaret C goes dancing.
Jamie B describes his social life today.
Alexandra Park, in Dennistoun, was a popular summer meeting place. With the Blind Asylum just down the road, many ‘blind families’ lived nearby and the park had an area with a wooden pavilion exclusively for blind people. They played dominoes and skittles, and football – using a ball with a bell inside. Sighted goal keepers would clap to indicate the goal position for blind players.
Nowadays, for visually impaired people, there is much more emphasis on integration as opposed to separation; and more focus on exercise and keeping fit. The 2012 Paralympics show that disability is no barrier to impressive physical achievement and mental determination. The children who are involved with us now have no sense of limitation. They do not think the world is dull or drab.
Hazel runs marathons.
Jamie C runs in the Gobi Desert and the North Pole.
No holds barred for Caleb.
A musical future for Ruraidh.
The first football club in Scotland was in Glasgow: Queen’s Park, which formed in 1867.
The club’s website says:
The minutes of a meeting held on July 9, 1867 begin with the words: ‘Tonight at half past eight o’clock a number of gentlemen met at No. 3 Eglinton Terrace for the purpose of forming a football club’. That meeting in 3 Eglinton Terrace on the south side of Glasgow saw the formation of Queen’s Park Football Club, and the start of Scottish Football.
Before 1914 Glasgow had the highest attendances at football matches in the whole of Britain, with huge numbers turning up to watch Celtic and Rangers play – 74,000 fans in 1912 at Parkhead alone.
But it was not so easy for visually impaired people to enjoy the sport – that is until 1937 when Rex Kingsley, chief sports writer on the Sunday Mail and broadcaster, set up the ‘REX blind parties’ to provide commentaries for the visually impaired at football grounds.
David T explains how the Rex blind parties began.
Although Rex died in 1974, the ‘Rex blind parties’ charity continues to flourish with over 200 members listening to a ‘Rex’ commentator at most Scottish grounds every week.
‘Good old Johnston’ yell the Motherwell blind fans. ‘Come away Gordon!’ ‘Another cross like that’ll dae!’ shouts the Hibs fan in the party. The blind are seeing the game.
David T on Rex today.
David T recalls having to commentate when he was only 5.
Jimmy says the parties are still important today.
David M describes the excitement of standing round the commentator.
You can find out more at www.rexblindparties.com
In 1866 Visibility’s main aim was ‘to promote reading amongst the blind in the city and the neighbourhood, visiting, teaching, and supplying them with the bible and other religious books, free of charge.’ Our teachers went to people’s homes to teach them to read using Braille.
Leaning to read the bible, encouraged people to get into the habit of reading for pleasure and we duly set up and added to our own library. In 1881 we added ‘more general subjects and a number of amusing books in the ordinary type to be lent or read to the blind.’
Ann talks about resources at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library.
One of our home teachers reported in 1863:
On my first visit to Pollockshaws Mr Smeal and I found GA, 65 years of age. I think it is about 10 years since he lost his sight. We told him the object of our visit was to learn him to read. He at once started up in bed. When the alphabet was given to him he examined it for a little, and after getting a lesson, said he might manage it, but it would be difficult. He is a very intelligent person, and in two weeks he read through the part of the history of England. Shortly afterwards he removed to Monklands Poorhouse. He requested that he might still get books from the Library. His friends came for them all that distance. They say they don’t grudge it as it affords him such great pleasure.
In 1970, Visibility set up children’s Braille reading competitions and by 1971 over 70 children were taking part. They proved to be really popular as they encouraged children with visual impairments to meet socially and compete with one another.
Margaret C talks about her love of reading.
Mohammed talks about learning Braille.
Fozia learned Braille to support her son.
As technology developed, Visibility provided free ‘wireless sets’ (radios) to blind people. In 1924, we presented the first batch of free wireless sets to ‘invalid blind of good character’ and by 1935, we provided a wireless set for every blind person who asked for one. In 1955, our very own ‘wireless department’ repaired 1,566 sets free of charge and gave out between two and three hundred new ones.
Starting in the late 1940s, tape recording enthusiasts began providing informal tape recorded news services for people with visual impairments. Led by small local clubs across the UK, this gradually involved into what we now know of today as the Talking Newspaper (TN).
The Glasgow Tape Recording Club produced news on tape from 1958. In 1975 Visibility we funded this service to expand. In 1976, of the first issue of Playback on cassette tape was recorded in our own studio in St Vincent Street and distributed to 250 listeners. Playback became a separate registered charity in 1987 and is now the biggest TN operation in the UK.
Peter from Playback on how it all began.
Maureen remembers typewriters and cassette tapes.
Now, ‘wireless’ means something quite different and visually impaired people can simply download the latest books, newspapers and so on to their smartphones, computers and tablets.
You can find out more about Playback at www.play-back.com
One of the few things that blind and partially sighted people cannot do is drive, so the cost and the accessibility of public transport are very important to people with visual impairments.
Over the last 150 years different transport options have come and gone. Before 1859, the only forms of public transport in Glasgow were horse powered – cab or omnibus. Tramcars started running in 1872 and continued for 90 years until they were withdrawn in 1962.
Maureen recalls her father using the tramcars.
Ethel says the buses are not the same now.
Isabel receives VIP treatment on the buses.
This photo shows the two sides of a brass tramcar token from the Glasgow Open Museum’s collection. We do not have a date for the token or know anything more about how people used them. If you can tell us, more please get in touch! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Glasgow Underground opened in 1896 with its twin tunnels providing a circular service linking 15 stations. In recent years, the addition of tactile platforms, and audio announcements as trains pull into stations, has made travel easier for blind and partially sighted people. Before this people remember having to count the stops in order to get off at the right place, so a good memory was essential.
Kerrie remembers having to count the stops.
This photo shows a tactile Glasgow subway map which is in the Glasgow Open Museum’s collection. The date is unknown but the creator has used little metal tacks to mark each station on a pen and ink drawing of the Glasgow subway. This lovely little piece of history is in the Visibility handling box available for anyone to borrow from the Open Museum. Find out more on our Additional Resources page.
Between 1949 and 1967 the Glasgow Corporation ran trolleybuses powered by electricity. Nicknamed ‘the silent death’, they were very unpopular with blind people who could not hear them coming.
David M remembers the ‘silent death’ trolleybuses.
After 41 years of campaigning, free travel for blind people was finally introduced in 1999.
Maureen values her free travel card.