THE Establishment has never liked Glasgow Green. It belonged to the

common people, an area of shared grazing and public washing. It was a

place where revolution was preached along with the kingdom of God, where

banners were raised and social grievance shouted aloud.

It is more important to Scotland's past, says Elspeth King, than even

Bannockburn and Culloden. Yet it is about injustice to her that the

latest account of Glasgow Green is being written.

It was in this historic setting, a haven from the smoke of iron

foundries and chemical factories, that the People's Palace was built. It

was, said Sir David Richmond, Lord Provost of Glasgow in 1899, a unique

institution -- ''wherein is combined practically under one roof, a

Museum, Picture Gallery, Winter Garden and Music Hall. It is an

experiment full of potentialities, and much lies with the citizens

themselves to make it the success which it certainly deserves''. The

citizens of this end of Glasgow have always been working-class. The very

history of the city can be told through the story of the trade union

movement, of women's suffrage, and all the other struggles in which

Glasgow has been to the forefront.

Little could better illustrate the Establishment's view of Glasgow

Green than the rejection of Elspeth King, the current curator of the

People's Palace, in her application to become the city's keeper of

social history. It was, in effect, her own job, a position she was

fulfilling superbly.

Elspeth King is a mineworker's daughter with a First Class honours

degree in medieval history. She is dedicated to her work, at which she

has been supremely successful. She speaks her mind, albeit in the

softest of accents. She has no liking for meretricious self-publicity,

and what she has achieved, with her deputy, Michael Donnelly, has

invariably been accomplished on a shoestring budget.

In short, she has none of the attributes that recommend themselves to

the museum hierarchy, which is becoming more and more associated with

the class-conscious English heritage industry.

Elspeth King is working-class. She is a woman. She is clever. She is a

Scot. Ergo, she will not fit, particularly when her achievements at

Glasgow Green have often drawn attention away from the expensive

prestige of Kelvingrove, the Burrell Collection, and the McLellan


Elspeth King was not the only keeper to have been denied favours at

the People's Palace. It happened to Captain Phillip Durrand, who had to

provide his own desk. When he applied for a year's writing supplies,

Kelvingrove sent him three nibs. Robert Wilkie, who began the campaign

to save the Winter Garden from demolition, was not even given the help

of a typist.

When Elspeth King arrived, after St Andrews University and a

post-graduate course at Leicester University, the typewriter ribbon at

the People's Palace was so worn that she could only use the red portion.

That was the level of funding at Glasgow Green -- one that led in

earlier days to slipshod displays, and a welter of misattributions,

particularly with ceramics. Yet that the museum was enjoyed was evident

with every school party, and with the pride that Glaswegians brought

their friends.

When Elspeth King took over, the museum attracted around 120,000

visitors a year. With redevelopment all around, and difficult access,

this fell to a low of 80,000. It did not stop a remarkable series of

exhibitions such as Scotland Sober and Free, on the 150th anniversary of

the Temperance Movement, or Michael Donnelly's brilliant 1981 exhibition

of stained glass. This was followed by the Glasgow Herald's bicentenary

exhibition, which won the 1983 Museum of the Year's temporary exhibition

award. Attendance has now reached 400,000 a year, and despite a

painfully low budget the museum continues by argument and cajoling to

save Glasgow's history from the developer's skip, including its own


It is not going too far to say that without Elspeth King's

single-minded efforts, the People's Palace and its Winter Gardens would

not now exist. There is still dry rot. The fabric is still decaying. Yet

still it thrives and grows in reputation.

Why, then has Elspeth King not been given the curatorship of social

history she so richly deserves? It has not been earned out of gratitude,

but a burning talent. It has not been justified merely by scholarship

and long hours, but a love of the city's history that matches the

evangelism brought to Glasgow Green by Moody and Sankey themselves. Why?

The answer may lie in the blood that was so often shed where the

People's Palace now stands. Julian Spalding, director of Glasgow's

museums and art galleries, is possibly a clever man, but in this

decision he has shown himself both ignorant of Glasgow's history and a

stupid incomer if he thinks its loyalty is lightly discarded.

Elspeth King is a coalminer's daughter with a First Class honours

degree. She is a woman. She is a Scot. She is the wrong class, the wrong

sex, and she does not toe the Establishment line. That is why she did

not get the job.