“A Life Less Ordinary”: Glasgow, Scotland

View from the Glasgow Necropolis

I LOVE GLASGOW. This January we traveled to Scotland’s most populous city to fulfill our teenage dream of seeing Cake play a live show. Wintertime Scotland may sound intimidating, but so worth it.

Pro tip: If you’re cheap like me, traveling off-season is a great way to save money on transportation and accommodations (flights and apartments are usually a lot less expensive) meaning more funds for whiskey and postcards. We’re walkers–our favorite way to travel around a new city is on foot–so we definitely packed our winter-wear for this trip. For me, this meant double leg warmers and wearing something other than flats.

This is a really long post but Glasgow is too amazing to not discuss #allthethings. Get ready for a an extra intense history overview and too many cemetery pictures.

Why “a life less ordinary”? This quote was written on the floor of the entrance to Hillhead Bookclub, where we had dinner our last night in Glasgow. Is this also an excuse to reference Danny Boyle’s 1997 film starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, and Holly Hunter? Am I pressuring you to listen to the soundtrack that includes the best version of REM’s Leave? Yes to all those things.

Ewan McGregor is Scottish so I feel like this fits the overall theme.

Where are we?

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland and known for its industrial landscape. While the origin of the name is under debate, it is believed that Glasgow is derived from Middle Gaelic, meaning “green basin”. The city has the largest percentage of Gaelic speakers outside of the Highlands and Islands. Although the indigenous language is not recognized by the United Kingdom or European Union, Gaelic is an important part of Scottish culture and history.

Alexander’s School was built in 1858. I just love the building.

A great source of fishing, the River Clyde and the surrounding areas were settled by many different communities near Glasgow. In the 6th century, Christian missionary Saint Mungo (you know, THE St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in Harry Potter) established a church where the current Glasgow Cathedral stands.

The Gallery of Modern Art building was previously the mansion of slave owner William Cunninghame. He owned 300 slaves.

Walking through the Merchant City area, I was surprised to see a sign for Virginia Street; ever the pochemuchka (the Russian word for the one who asks too many questions) I had to learn more about the connection between the American south and Glasgow.

Many of the streets and buildings still bear the names of the Tobacco Lords, the group of merchants that made the most profits from transatlantic trade (and some owned plantations in the New World too) although there have been calls to hang plaques to tell the full story.

Buchanan Street, one of Glasgow’s most famous areas, is named for Andrew Buchanan, a Tobacco Lord during the 1700s.

Glasgow became a central trading port following the Acts of Union in 1707–the treaty that combined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland–and played a large role in transatlantic trade and slavery. A central part of the triangular route, much of Glasgow’s wealth was derived from slave labor:

“There are 19 recorded slave voyages which left from Glasgow’s satellite ports of Greenock and Port Glasgow over a sixty year period from 1706 and 1766 – with these direct voyages estimated to have carried around 2 to 3,000 people directly into slavery.

Yet Glasgow was far, far from being an innocent bystander in the slave trade.

The very reason the Tobacco Lords became successful – and why the city prospered as a result – was because they were able to monopolise the produce grown by slaves on the plantations of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, namely tobacco and sugar. So much so, in fact, that for 50 years from 1740 to 1790, Glasgow became the hub for the world’s tobacco – at times trading more than all the English ports put together.

A trade built almost exclusively on forced slave labour. ”

Williams, Craig. 2018. “The History of Glasgow and its Relationship with the Slave Trade.” Glasgow Live. Available here.
A store front in Merchant City, Glasgow. The “Tobacco Lords” built the area as a testament to their wealth.

While the city profited from slave labor in the New World, many Scots and the University of Glasgow played a large role in the abolitionist movement. Following American independence, Glasgow continued to grow during the Industrialized Revolution, which saw steel making, shipyards, and heavy industry further the development of the city. After WWII, economic decline led to de-industrialization of the city.

Glasgow is known for its architecture; there are a large number of historically and culturally important buildings throughout the city. During the Industrial Revolution, many of Glasgow’s red and blonde sandstone buildings were covered with a black layer of soot from industrial pollution and furnaces. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1956 and many of the city’s 1,800 buildings were restored to their original appearance.

In 2013 “People Make Glasgow” became the official motto for the city.

The Sites:

University of Glasgow:

Glasgow University Union. The University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The University is taking steps to reconcile its connection to slavery. They published the Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow report in 2018.
It took me a while to find the Cloisters (we actually stumbled upon them after leaving the Hunterian Museum). University of Glasgow graduations are held here.
The Cloisters can be seen in a number of TV shows and movies including Outlander and Cloud Atlas. I actually just saw Cloud Atlas for the first time this summer–thanks Bri!

The People’s Palace:

I loved visiting the People’s Palace! The palace was opened in 1898 in an overly crowded part of the city with the intent of providing a cultural center its inhabitants. The site features a museum and gallery of the social history of Glasgow.
Smudge, the celebrity cat of the palace, was “employed” in 1979 by the museum to control the rat population. In the 1980s, following NALGO’s (National and Local Government Officers’ Association) denial of her admission as a blue collar worker, she was granted membership to the General, Municipal and Boilermakers Trade Union. She passed away in 2000, but lives on through the plaque dedicated to her services.

George Square:

George Square was named after King George III and developed around 1790.
Originally a pasture and unpaved road used to bring cattle for milking, the area grew rapidly during the 1750s from the influx of wealth from cotton, sugar, and tobacco from the New World. It is now the principle civic square for the city.

Glasgow Cathedral:

The Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis are absolute must-sees if you’re planning a trip to Glasgow.

The Glasgow Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow.
The University of Glasgow held classes at the Cathedral before it was established in 1451.

Glasgow Necropolis:

I know its incredibly morbid but I love visiting cemeteries. The Glasgow Necropolis is one of the city’s most famous sites. Between 1831-1851 over 50,000 people were buried here.
The Victorian Glasgow Necropolis opened in 1833 as an interdenominational burial ground.
The first person buried here was Joseph Levi, a Jewish jeweler.
Me right before I slipped and fell 100% in the mud. Classic Ashlyn.
Architectural historian and architect James Stevens Curl described the Necropolis as “literally a city of the dead”.
In typical Victorian style, the layout of the Necropolis is similar to a park, with multiple paths and 3,500 statues and sculptures.
The view from the Necropolis includes the Glasgow Cathedral and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Ashton Lane:

Absolutely beautiful Ashton Lane! The street is lined with a number of great bars and restaurants including Brel, Innis & Gunn, and Ubiquitous Chip.

Glasgow Botanical Gardens:

One of my favorite places in Glasgow! The Botanical Gardens are over 200 years old and were established by Thomas Hopkirk, a Glasgow botanist.
Jurassic Park vibes.

More Beautiful Places:

Bath Street
Woodlands Methodist Church
View from Kelvingrove Park
St. George’s Place

Restaurants & Pubs:

Drygate Brewing:

Located right next to the Glasgow Necropolis, Drygate Brewing is a great spot for a beer after a day of exploring (or drying off if you fall in the mud and are covered in muck from head to toe like I was).
We had the Seven Peaks (IPA) and the Disco Forklift Truck (pale ale).

Innis and Gunn:

We loved Innis and Gunn! They had a great menu with a ton of vegetarian and meat options, plus good beer too. Chris ordered the burger (of course).
Halloumi fries with peanut sauce—so good! I love halloumi anything but this was the first time I had the option of this salty cheese in fry form (highly recommend). This is probably my second favorite Halloumi dish after I ordered a vegetarian kebab in Prague that included both halloumi AND falafel.
Thai fried cauliflower
Halloumi flatbread (you’re sensing a theme now right?).


An amazing secret speakeasy in Glasgow, Chinaski’s is named for Charles Bukowski’s alter ego and the space is a small homage to the American writer. We LOVED this spot and had to order their truffle fries and macaroni and cheese along with our cocktails. Absolutely highly recommend!

Akbar’s Glasgow:

Akbar’s is a huge restaurant with an enormous menu. We stopped for dinner with the intention of heading out after but were so filled with good food (garlic and cheese naan bread?!) that we ended up calling it a night because nothing could top dinner. This (horrible) picture is their palak and paneer dish with a side of the amazing naan bread. SO GOOD.

Hillhead Bookclub:

The description for Hillhead Bookclub is one of the best you’ll find: a licensed land of milk & honey where the ping-pong is plentiful, the computer games are retro, the cocktails arrive in gramophones and the strawberry mojitos cost nought but 3 pounds. We went for dinner on our last night (sad face) and ordered sandwiches (amazing).
With double floors (including a top floor of just vintage games and pool), I really loved Hillhead Bookclub. I wish we could have tried their brunch but alas left before the weekend.

McCune Smith:

Named for James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn a medical degree (he graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1837), this small cafe was established by two brothers near the “old college” to showcase local and sustainably grown Scottish ingredients .
Chris and I ordered matching sandwiches: the Scottish take on a Reuben (mine veg and his with meat). So good! The ladies behind the counter were also arguing whether or not Merissa from the OC was a tragic figure and I almost just asked for a job application right then.
I just loved the atmosphere of this cafe. “A little history in every bite” is definitely a motto I can live by.

Artisan Roast:

Artisan Roast was our first coffee stop in Glasgow. The barista gave me a confused look when I ordered cold brew in January, but I wanted something cold after walking in my sweater+leg warmers+extra socks+boots. Their coffee was great and we loved the laid back vibe of the area too. They also plated “Cannonball” by the Breeders; a song I haven’t heard since roughly 1999.

Papercup Coffee Company:

Genuinely great coffee and an awesome brunch menu, we walked a solid mile and a half to Papercup because I read how they serve some of the best coffee in Glasgow. They were also playing the Juno soundtrack so extra bonus points for them! It’s a small space but totally worth the trek and waiting for a table.

++Special shout out to the Old Ship Bank pub in Glasgow too! We stopped by to use the bathroom and ended up hanging out with an older gentleman named James, a native of Glasgow, for hours. He told us about the history of the area, current politics, and his excitement for a date he had scheduled for the next day. The pub was awesome and just felt so Glasgow… that’s the only way I can explain the atmosphere. The entire space was filled with people who just returned from a funeral and, according to James, this is “typical” for natives of Glasgow.


Voltaire and Rousseau:

Voltaire & Rousseau is located on the small street of Otago Lane, hidden behind old bicycles near the entrance. I. Love. This. Shop. While there may have been some kind organization when Voltaire & Rousseau originally opened, as owner David Yeats says, “things fall apart.” Virtually impossible to find a title you’re looking for, but I think the point of the shop is to feel like you’re actually swimming in a sea of books, an experience I can get behind.

I ❤ Glasgow

Moulin Rouge vibes

Don’t forget that you can download the MWA Map and have all of my food/pub/sites/bookstore recommendations with you whenever you travel.

Reading: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Roxane Gay)
Watching: Big Little Lies Season 2 (HBO)
Listening: Burn it all Down

Oney “Ona” Judge

via Vice Media

Oney “Ona” Judge is a name you should recognize but have probably never heard before. In the US we consistently misteach and mischaracterize the history of slavery in schools; sometimes the entire era is completely glossed over or “white-washed” to the point of erasing the struggles of those in bondage completely. Like all people, Oney’s life and identity was intersectional–she was a woman, a woman of color, a mother, a slave, and poor–also factors for her story not as often told. She defied one of the most important men in the United States for a freer life.

via the National Park Service

Oney was owned by the Washingtons. Yeah, those Washingtons. Coinciding with the absence of black narratives in American history books, we’ve also failed to have conversations around what it means when many of the “founding fathers” owned human beings. Washington himself knew that slavery was wrong (he wrote in his will to free his slaves after his wife’s death) but still passed some of the harshest slavery laws while he was president.

But the focus of this story is Oney Judge. She escaped slavery and lived her life constantly fearing that she could be recaptured. Oney suffered crippling poverty and heartache, but for her, the struggle was a small price in exchange for her own freedom. Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar states:

“We have famous fugitives, like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass… but decades before them, Ona Judge did this.”

Schuessler, Jennifer. “In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington.”

I first learned about Oney last year on a November flight from Charleston to Cleveland. We had a crazy early flight (6am, no thank you) and as I scrolled through my podcast app for new episodes, I saw that I had an alert from Uncivil, the amazing Gimlet Media program hosted by Chenjari Kumanyika and Jack Hitt. “The Fugitive” is one of their last episodes of 2018 and if you haven’t subscribed, you need to reassess what you are doing with your life.

Born around 1773 to a slave (mother) and white indentured servant (father), Oney’s entire existence was serving George Washington’s wife, Martha. As a child she moved with the family from their plantation in Virginia to their mansion in Mount Vernon, New York, and finally to the then-capital of the United States, Philadelphia, when George became the country’s first president. Oney was a house slave and later interviews told the story of the harsh treatment she experienced while enslaved by the Washingtons. Her interviews helped rebuke the idea that slaves outside of the fields lived an easier life.

Oney was one of only nine slaves chosen by Washington to move to the President’s House in 1790. Philadelphia had its own set of laws regarding slavery, different from the rules set by New York and Virginia. The Gradual Abolition Act (1780) stated that enslaved people living in Philadelphia for longer than six months would be given their freedom. Washington, who claimed himself a resident of Virginia and not Pennsylvania, rotated his nine slaves every five months outside of state lines so they would remain his property. For Oney, this was her first time witnessing what life could be like for free black Americans as Philadelphia had one of the highest free black populations during that time.

In 1793, George Washington helped pass one of the most important slave laws in the United States, the Fugitive Slave Law. This law:

“gave slaveholders the right and legal apparatus to recover escaped Africans and criminalize those who harbored them.”

Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

It also provided an enforcement arm to the constitutional slavery clause. This meant that now even “free” states were required to assist slave owners with the re-capture of their runaway slaves.

For Oney, the punishment of recapture was not as terrifying as returning to the south. In 1796, just three years after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, she discovered the Washingtons’ plan to present her to Eliza, Martha’s granddaughter, as a wedding present. On May 21st, while the Washingtons were hosting a dinner party, Oney quietly left the President’s House and walked toward the Delaware River. There, she took a boat operated by free blacks to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

While it took five days to reach Portsmouth, it took even less time for George Washington to begin the hunt for his runaway slave. Embarrassed that she may have left on her own accord, the Washingtons invented a story that the 20-year-old fell for a Frenchman, who tricked her into leaving the house; a plea to find “Oney Judge” with a $10 reward was published in the advertisement section of the Philadelphia Gazette just two days after her escape. Even in a “free” state, Oney still had extremely limited options as a runaway slave. She lived an impoverished existence and maintained a low profile as she knew at any moment she could be forced to return to Philadelphia.

Artist rendering of Oney Judge

A friend of Martha Washington’s granddaughter spotted Oney in Portsmouth and immediately informed her grandfather, who was still the President of the United States at the time. Washington contacted the Secretary of the Treasury, making the “federal government into his own personal slave-catchers” through the power of the Fugitive
Slave Law. John Whipple, a customs agent, was sent to New Hampshire to bring Oney back. Whipple’s family recently freed their own slaves and he did not believe the story that Oney had been bewitched by a Frenchman into leaving Philadelphia. Whipple wrote Washington, asking for Oney’s emancipation following Martha’s death. George responded:

“that the request was ‘totally inadmissible’ and granting Judge any say in her fate would only ‘reward unfaithfulness’ and give ideas to others ‘far more deserving of favor.’ Washington also reminded Oney that her family still remained under his ownership.”

Schuessler, Jennifer. “In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington.”
Letter from George Washington to John Whipple (1796).

While Oney lived in poverty and in constant fear of being recaptured in Portsmouth, she did experience joy; she married Jack, a free black sailor and gave birth to a child, Eliza. For Oney, her fear of losing her freedom intensified after her children were born:

“All the while, she was property because the inherited status of slavery followed the apron strings of women. So, Ona Judge passed the disease of slavery through her lineage to her children, making Ona and her children the property of Martha Washington.”

McCarthy, Hannah. “Unsung: Ona Judge.”

Even though Oney had escaped to a free state and her child born to a free father, she (and her future children) still remained the property of the Washingtons because of the Fugitive Slave Law. In 1799, Washington attempted to bring her back once more by sending his nephew to Portsmouth, but Oney disappeared with her children before he could recapture her.

Artist rendition of Oney’s escape.

Although George Washington passed away after this second attempt to bring Oney back to Philadelphia, she still was not free. Washington freed his slaves in his will, but on the condition that their freedom would only be granted following his wife’s death. Even after Martha changed George’s will to free his slaves before her own passing, this did not change Ona’s situation:

“The grandchildren would inherit the claims to Ona’s body. Because
of the laws that George Washington helped to put in place Ona’s bondage would just be passed down for the remainder of her life.”

Kumanyika, Chenjari and Jack Hitt. “The Fugitive.”

Living the rest of her 45 years in New Hampshire, Oney was in constant fear that she could be recaptured and her children enslaved. After the passing of her husband, she continued to live in extreme poverty, outliving all of her children before her death in 1848. Following the lineage up to the emancipation of the slaves, Oney’s last owner was Martha Washington’s grandson’s daughter, who married Robert E. Lee.

Oney Judge’s interview with the The Granite Freeman (1845)

While living a fearful and impoverished life, Judge died at age 74 knowing that she had defied one of the most important men in American history for a freer life. Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar states:

“She lived as a fugitive for the entirety of her life. But she lived as a
free person, and that, to Ona was worth more than pretty dresses, nice shoes, stockings. It mattered not. She was able to live her life.”

McCarthy, Hannah. “Unsung: Ona Judge.”
Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar

The Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 made it legal for George Washington to pursue and recapture Oney even after she escaped to a free state. Two years after her death, the federal government passed an even stricter second law to protect the interests of slave owners: the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Oney Judge’s story should be remembered as a fight for freedom at all costs. In interviews with The Liberator (1847) and The Granite Freeman (1845), Oney was asked if she regretted escaping slavery when she suffered so much in New Hampshire. She responded:

“No, I am free, and have, I trust been made a child of God by the means.

In 2008, Philadelphia began celebrating Oney Judge Day at the President’s House. Thankfully, her story is becoming more well known and celebrated.

via the Historical Marker Database


Glass, Andrew. 2014. “Congress Enacts First Fugitive Slave Law.” Politico. Available here.

Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York, Nation Books.

Kumanyika, Chenjari and Jack Hitt. 2018. “The Fugitive.” Uncivil, Season 1, Episode 13, Gimlit Media. Available here.

McCarthy, Hannah. 2019. “Unsung: Ona Judge.” New Hampshire Public Radio. Available here.

Mires, Charlene. 2012. “Invisible House, Invisible Slavery: Struggles of Public History at Independence National Historical Park.” Culture and Belonging in Divided Societies: Contestation and Symbolic Landscapes, edited by Marc Howard Ross, University of Pennsylvania. 216-237.

Schuessler, Jennifer. 2017. “In Search of the Slave Who Defied George Washington.” The New York Times. Available here.


Reading: Heavy: An American Memoir (Kiese Laymon)

Watching: The Kroll Show (Comedy Central)