‘Make a space...’: the early stages

Lottie Whalen lays out the early stages of her research on women in post-war Glasgow through the archive of writer Joan Ure.

Focussing on the archive of writer Joan Ure, this project explores how women in post-war Glasgow reimagined ways of living and making art in an - at times - hostile and violent patriarchal society.

A city is the very best hiding place. You can hide there and nobody knows you are doing it…she went out into the city to think thoughts.

For ‘Make a space for me’: Dreams of a post-war feminist city', I’ve wandered through archives – physical, digital, imaginary – in pursuit of the writer Joan Ure. Following routes well known to her, I’ve crossed the city by bus and travelled by train between Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley seeking to uncover Ure’s words buried in special collections and the papers of other writers. On my journeys, I imagine how Ure experienced Glasgow, feeling – as she felt – that the city is both a place to hide and a place to become more fully yourself, unravelling thoughts and memories as you walk its streets.

In her writing, Ure maps the ordinary experiences of a woman, a writer, a mother, a wife, onto Glasgow, merging urban life, post-war gender politics, and the everyday. Ure’s Glasgow is hostile and dominated by ‘the Scottish Soldier, the Scottish policeman, the Scottish Jack Tar’, but her writing makes space for other voices, other stories. Ure’s women protagonists navigate an often-threatening city - sometimes loudly protesting their right to freedom, sometimes simply seeking private moments of joy. In her poetry, Ure has an eye for spotting sites where the natural and urban environments collide; at these points, she suggests, hope and beauty peek through the cracks of the city.

My research into Ure has also led me to the poet Crae Ritchie (an alias of Communist activist Rhoda Fraser), Ure’s friend and contemporary. In the poem ‘Changeling City’, Ritchie asks ‘for whom are cities made?’, a question that leads her to dream of a joyful, peaceful, and poetic space that is open and welcoming to all. Both Ritchie and Ure use art to imagine worlds and ways of living that break away from patriarchal, violent post-war urban Scottish life.

Using Ure’s stories, poems, and letters as a guide, I have been making my own journeys through the city, recording my impressions and experiences, in dialogue with Ure. As our urban maps merge, the time and space between us collapses. In its familiarity and strangeness, Ure’s and Ritchie’s urban Scotland speaks to our own experiences of navigating the city (and public life), an environment that is still hostile to women, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minority backgrounds, trans people and the LGBTQ communities. In the next stage of the project, I will be turning my experiences of navigating Glasgow with Ure into a mixed-media zine map, bringing together voices from the post-war period and the present day to imagine a future feminist city.

Make a Space for Me: Glasgow map
Collage using 1970 map of Glasgow and text from Joan Ure's 'Midsummer's Eve', Lottie Whalen (2022).
Make a Space for Me: Excerpt
Excerpt from 'Changeling City', Crae Ritchie, Confrontation (1971).
Make a Space for Me: Flowers against wall
Image taken on Glasgow Street, Lottie Whalen (2022).