HE WAS a passionate politician, described as “the greatest gentleman in the House of Commons” by his opponent, Winston Churchill; and suspended for accusing the Tories of ‘murder’ .

James Maxton’s fierce socialism was a response, in part, to the poverty he saw in the lives of the children he taught in Glasgow.

He became one of the major figures on Red Clydeside, a period of political activism in the city during the First World War.

“Maxton’s personal and political letters tell the story of a man of not only strong beliefs and principles, but of much admired for his warmth and engaging personality,” explains Dr Irene O’Brien, senior archivist with Glasgow City Archives, which holds a substantial archive on Maxton.

He was born in Pollokshaws in June 1885, the son of two teachers. He won a scholarship to Hutchesons’ Grammar School, studied at the University of Glasgow and then followed in his parents’ footsteps and became a teacher.

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He joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and strongly opposed the First World War, going to jail for a year as a result.

His letters to his wife, Sissie, during his imprisonment, are very moving.

“I’ll make up to you for every sorrow you’ve suffered and every tear you’ve shed in every way I can,” he tells her on May 4, 1916.

“I would never have believed it possible in any other circumstances that any woman would do what you’ve done for me, or stick so loyally through thick and thin. I shall never forget it.”

Dr O’Brien says: “He was very popular with the prison guards in Duke Street and at Calton Prison in Edinburgh, where he was described as the ‘teacher’s pet’.

“Sadly, his beloved dog Karl was stoned to death, by ‘patriots’ when he was in prison.”

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In the 1922 general election Maxton was elected as the Independent Labour Party MP for Glasgow Bridgeton. That same year, Sissie died.

In 1923, incensed by the Tories’ support of a motion to cut health grants to local authorities, he accused them of ‘murder’ and was suspended from the Commons, along with three other Clydeside MPs who backed him up when he refused to withdraw his remark.

Maxton was considered one of the greatest orators of the time.

He died 74 years ago this week, on July 23, 1946. In a letter of condolence to Maxton’s second wife, Madeleine, Winston Churchill said: “With all who knew him, I mourn your husband’s death.

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“I always said he was the greatest gentleman in the House of Commons. I feel that you will have been comforted in your irreparable loss by the spontaneous and sincere tributes paid to his memory from every quarter.”

The Maxton papers are part of an extensive Red Clydeside collection held in the Mitchell Library by Glasgow City Archives.

While libraries remain closed, Dr O’Brien and her team Michael Gallagher, Lynsey Green, Nerys Tunnicliffe and Barbara Neilson, re running Ask the Archivist, a campaign which gives people the chance to quiz them on city collections.

It’s part of #glasgowlifegoeson which highlights the fantastic resources available online during lockdown. More details are available on the Glasgow City Archives Facebook page.