More of the Labour History of Dumfries

'A Hard Nut to Crack'? The Emergence of 'Labour' in Dumfries 1884-1914

Blog category
Opening text

SLHS member and Dumfries resident Ian Gasse has published a third volume of labour history about the south-west Scottish town. ‘A Hard Nut to Crack’? The Emergence of ‘Labour’ in Dumfries, 1884-1914 provides a narrative of the development of labour politics – and trade unionism – in the thirty years from the Third Reform Act of 1884 down to the First World War.

In these three decades the political opinions of some Dumfries working class voters began to move away from the two-party system of Conservatism and Liberalism, following the arrival of the new political creed of socialism.

From 1886, and encouraged by ideas about national land ownership espoused by a local Scottish Land Restoration League – some Dumfries working-class radicals moved on to the alternative politics of ‘independent labour’ – first, from 1889, in a Scottish Labour Party branch, and then, from 1894, in a branch of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). After a fallow period in the late 1890s – but with a Dumfries Clarion Fellowship formed in 1901/2, and the revival of the ILP branch in 1906 – the party was, by 1910, providing adult education classes and a ‘Socialist’ Sunday school at its meeting rooms in English Street, augmented by outdoor summer campaigning at Dockhead and elsewhere.

However, a split in the party in autumn 1910 saw the creation of a Dumfries Socialist Society and this, plus the announcement of a Socialist parliamentary candidate in summer 1911, helped delay the first local Labour councillors until 1914. But support for trade unionism was growing, and a Dumfries Trades & Labour Council, formed in 1911 – campaigning for ‘fair wages’ and better working-class homes – helped achieve the first Dumfries municipal housing scheme of 1913/14.   

Through detailed research, using the Dumfries newspapers of the time, as well as online and other archival material, Ian Gasse has re-assembled the rise of 'Labour' in Dumfries and Maxwelltown, in both its political and trade union forms, thereby recovering a vital – and hitherto forgotten – episode of the towns’ history.

Copies of ‘A Hard Nut to Crack’? The Emergence of ‘Labour’ in Dumfries, 1884-1914 are available from the author at

For SLHS members the book is offered at a discounted price of £20.00, plus £4.00 to cover postage and packing.

‘A Hard Nut to Crack’? is published in a 372-page illustrated hardback edition, jointly with the Scottish Labour History Society.