John Urie (b. 1820) Leisure and Recreation

We’ve touched on John’s various pastimes and hobbies in other posts. From his love of theatre to photography, John does tend to have a range of interesting hobbies. However, today I would like to delve into more of his activities in more detail in an attempt to understand John more as well as the place and time he was living in! We will be avoiding photography however, as this was more of a profession for John rather than a hobby.

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First of all, I’d like to talk about theatre. We mentioned this and its impact on John’s education in the past post, we established how John learned certain terminology and a distinguished appreciation for drama and art during his experiences at Paisley theatre but John also attended theatre during his later years in Glasgow! In his memoir on page 78, John speaks of the “Theatre Royal”. He recalls a play named “The Surrender of Calais” was playing at the time and the theatre was full of people, around 500. “They were for the most part young lads and girls of the poorer class, attracted by the low prices, for the gallery seats on that night cost only threepence” (78). The low prices of such venues not only attracted many young people but also would have been very appealing to John! In addition, the sort of plays that were available at this theatre would have also been a big selling point and are possibly the main reason John watched theatre! Pictured right is a promotion poster for the theatre. It’s clear to see the design of the poster wanted to highlight the plays shown. I think in these sorts of plays lies the secret behind John’s love of theatre. Consider “Wallace The Hero of Scotland”, which is obviously referring to Paisley born William Wallace (1270-1305). This play is obviously quite patriotic as Wallace was the person who led Scottish forces against English rule, clearly a man for his people something I feel is obviously quite comparable to John! I think it’s this relation and pride of local theatre that drew him to the seats of various theatres time and time again. However, John does recall an incident that occurred at this time. He mentions drastically how “no fewer that sixty-five” (80) people were suffocated that night due to a false fire alarm in the theatre which led to 70 people being trampled to death in the ensuing panic. He goes on to say how this greatly affected manager “Mr. Alexander” who John states was “never the same after the occurrence”. This had me questioning if John also rightly had these feelings, as after this passage, he mentions theatre less. Let me know what you think, do you think John would have found it difficult? Get in touch at @newryann on Twitter.

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Another one of John’s habits appeared to be taverns. I think this is very expected of him after all, he is a man of the people and a somewhat local celebrity. John would have loved taverns a lot…and he did! I want to touch on two taverns today. The “Zebra Tavern” and “M’Culloch’s Tavern” which show two very different experiences of John! The latter of which is a place John was more used to in his experiences. He described “For more than a hundred years M’Culloch’s has been a centre of social and literary life in the city” (98). This goes in great correlation with his love of theatre and art, making this tavern a very enjoyable for John to go! John also mentions how this was a place for the “The Bank Burns Club” (99) used to meet. It was also in this club that John met “William Miller” who he described as “tall, delicate-looking man” who “will go down to posterirty as the author of that matchless song of childhood…Wee Willie Winkle” (93) (Pictured left). I also discovered that the subject of this famous poem became one of John Urie’s apprentices! It’s these sorts of experiences and people who John admired and remembered well that made taverns so appealing to him! We also have the other side of taverns John experienced at the “Zebra Tavern… a pugilistic or sporting club” (95). He mentions Jock Goudie, a “pugilist” which is essentially a word for boxer.

Morton (2010) mentions “Prize fights, such as that held in 1829 in central Scotland between two pugilists named Robinson, operated outside the law. Held slightly away from major population centres, in this case between Edinburgh and Glasgow, so as to minimise the potential for interference, while enabling large numbers to attend and so maximise the take through gambling”. Clearly this was occurring here at Zebra Tavern, and is quite surprising that John attended, right? Well John was conveniently placed unwillingly close to the tavern. He states how he “could scarcely avoid knowing about the ongoings in Jock Goudie’s tavern, for when I lived in Gallowgate my back windows commanded a view of the back court of the Zebra” (95). So this wasn’t a specific hobby of John’s but it does show the various lifestyles that were occurring in Glasgow at this time.

John also had various other activities such as fishing, Literature and poetry. I highly recommend you read both his “Reminiscenes of eighty years” and “Glasgow and Paisley: eighty years ago” to get a real feel and experience into a typical persons experience of these places during the 19th century…It really is quite interesting!


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