This is the remarkable story of a bunch of army reservists who set up a volunteer rifle corps in Strathbungo, and within a few years had won both Britain’s greatest trophy for marksmanship, The Queen’s Prize at Bisley, and Scotland’s greatest football trophy, the FA Cup. Twice. Oh, and the football league. Sharpshooters indeed!
The 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers
In 1859-60, fear of war with France led to the development of the Rifle Volunteer movement, the forerunners of today’s Territorial Army. A group of veteran volunteers (of the Glasgow Light Horse of 1796, volunteers of 1803 and Sharpshooters of 1819) formed the 78th Corps, and styled themselves the “Old Guard of Glasgow”. Their most senior member, Robert Reid, was 88 years old! One of the first corps to form, they served mainly to show the youngsters of the day how it should be done, although they appear never to have actually drilled or appeared in uniform.
A number of other Volunteer Corps were then raised locally, including the 3rd, 10th & 14th Corps, at Messrs Cogan’s Spinning Factory (22nd Corps), a number of temperance societies (54th & 82nd Corps), Messrs Inglis & Wakefield’s at Busby (87th Corps), and Etna Foundry (8th Company), manufacturers of fine cast iron grave memorials, on Lilybank Road (later the gasworks off Maxwell Road).
The first public appearance of any Scottish volunteers was on 14 October 1859, when volunteers from the south Glasgow corps collectively provided Queen Victoria with a guard of honour at the opening of Glasgow’s new water works at Loch Katrine. On 7th August 1860 they took part in a Royal Review in Edinburgh, again before Queen Victoria, 730 men strong. In total, 21,514 Scottish volunteers paraded in front of 200,000 spectators on Arthur’s Seat. Illustrations from the time, including Samuel Bough’s painting in the National Gallery, and an engraving from the Illustrated London News, show how seriously the volunteer movement was being taken.
The following day, 8th August, the south Glasgow corps were incorporated together into the 3rd Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers (3rd LRV), and the corps was based in the southside of Glasgow, around the village of Strathbungo.
In 1860, Strathbungo was a weavers’ village, centred on Pollokshaws Road and Allison Street, and surrounded by fields and nurseries, such as the nursery at Coplawhill, and with Little Govan Colliery to the east. The volunteers used the ground north of the village as their base.
The map below shows the area north of Strathbungo village circa 1858, just before major development began. The parade ground (and first football pitch) would have been roughly in the centre of the map, east of the main road and south of the nursery at Coplawhill.
The Glasgow Herald of 27 May 1862 described the Corps’ first camp, when 692 men were under canvas for a week. The account includes the tale of a drunken bet to steal the regiment’s colours, which was foiled by the guard.
This photograph is from another such camp, taken in Queens Park, dated 1873.
The Queen’s Prize
The 3rd LRV shared a rifle range with the 1st LRV at Darnley. The thirds were known as excellent shots – two members won the highest accolade in marksmanship, the Queen’s Prize at the National Rifle Association meeting at Bisley; Private Malcolm Stark Rennie in 1894 and Lieutenant David Yates in 1898.
While the prize may not be known to many, it is the ultimate sporting accolade for a marksman. Despite almost not making it to the start, Private Rennie won it for the Third Lanark, and the story featured in all the papers. He returned to Glasgow to a hero’s welcome, being carried in a chair from Central Station to the Drill Hall through a thronging crowd. What is more, Third Lanark won second and fourth place, and placed nine men in the Queen’s Hundred, a massive achievement.
Rennie was even awarded the much cherished Sloper’s Award of Merit. Ally Sloper was the world’s first fictional comicstrip (anti)hero, and a huge phenomenon in late 19th Century Britain, and his joke awards were given out to those who made it big in the news.
All the more remarkable then, when Lt Yates won it again four years later. He too returned to Glasgow to a hero’s welcome.
In 1881 the four Lanarkshire volunteer regiments were attached to the newly formed Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) regiment as part of army reforms, and went on to fight both in the Boer War, and at Gallipoli in the Great War, where they suffered massive casualties.
Following publication of this story, I was contacted by Lucy O’Reilly (see comments), who had found Private Rennie’s Queen’s Prize certificate in a second hand photo album. She kindly sent a copy.
The Drill Hall
John Bennie Wilson was a member of the regiment who gradually rose up the ranks. He was also an architect, and designed a new Headquarters and Drill Hall for the volunteers in Coplaw Street. The drill hall, built 1884-5, and extended by the same architect in 1904, is still there, converted in 2001 to private flats. During the conversion some of the original 1884 building was taken down, and a time capsule from 1884 was discovered. Wilson also designed the extension to 1 Moray Place, and lived himself at one point in Regent Park Square. He rose to become honorary colonel of the corps in 1905.
The corps were only renamed the 7th Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) in 1908, so the crest at the Drill Hall must have been a later alteration or addition.
A Football Club is Born
The first ever international football match, Scotland vs England, was played at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground in Partick on St Andrew’s Day, 1872. The match was organised by Queen’s Park, FC who provided the entire team, although several of the players, such as Billy Dickson, Joseph Taylor and Pte William McKinnon, were also members of the 3rd LRV.
Inspired by the match, the regiment decided to set up its own football team twelve days later. The Third Lanark Rifle Volunteers Football Club was born on 12th December 1872, at a meeting in the Regimental Orderly Room in East Howard Street, in the centre of Glasgow, with the support of Lieutenant Colonel Humphry Ewing Crum-Ewing, the majority of officers and 25 men.
Captain John Inglis was elected president, and much of the initial organisation was down to John Wallace, the goalkeeper, and the aforementioned Colonel John Wilson, their striker, who was later to score Third Lanark’s first ever league goal. Practice was undertaken at the regimental parade ground just north of Strathbungo village.
In 1875 the club moved to Old Cathkin Park in Govanhill, a site provided by Dixon’s Blazes, the famous iron foundry. The site corresponds to the south west corner of the current Govanhill Park. A grandstand was built, and a Scotland-England international was played there in 1884. Scotland won 1-0, watched by a crowd of 10,000.
Strathbungo 2 Old Firm 0
As a football team, the regiment fared surprisingly well. They won the FA Cup twice, scoring notable victories over both Celtic (1889) and Rangers (1905), as well as winning the football league in 1904.
The Thirds also have a claim to one of the world’s first black footballers, Robert Walker, and the first to play in a major competition, the Scottish Cup Final of 1876.
If football wasn’t spectacle enough, the regiment’s parade ground also hosted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West touring show for 6 days in 1904.
The football club finally severed its ties to the regiment in 1903, when it became Third Lanark Athletic Club. That year Queen’s Park moved to their third (and current) Hampden Park. Third Lanark bought second Hampden Park, and renamed it New Cathkin Park. There they stayed, until their demise under dubious financial circumstances in 1967.
Cathkin Park is now owned by the Council. The football pitch is still there, a most curious sight, where trees grow out of the terraces that once held 45,000 people, the day the Thirds played Rangers in 1954.
So there you have it, Strathbungo – one of the great pioneers of the beautiful game. Sort of.