In the early part of the 20th century one of the UK’s most prominent activists was a Kirkcaldy woman who has almost been forgotten.
Kath Duncan gave speeches, organised marches and fought for the rights of the poor – but has been overlooked by history.
Now writer Ray Woolford hopes to remedy that oversight and is planning a book and play on Kath’s life and is asking Fifers for help in tracing her life story.
He said: “She is the most important Scot that nobody knows about.
“She’s an amazing character and hugely important in changing civil rights in this country. I’m getting closer to finding out more about her.”
Ray first became aware of Kath when he was writing a book about where he lives in Deptford, London, to raise money for By We Care – the foodbank he founded.
“The name kept cropping up when I was researching Deptford’s history so I began to try to find out more about her,” he said. “I know she was born in Fife, and when she was married she was living in Kirkcaldy.”
Ray has uncovered Kath’s wedding certificate, which shows she would have been born around 1898.
“She was born Katharine MacLeod and married on Christmas Eve 1923 at the Carlton Tea Rooms on Kirkcaldy’s High Street, where she lived at number 291,” he said. “She and husband David Duncan, both teachers, moved to London soon after.
“I think the reason people don’t know a lot about her is that she was written out of history because she was this five-foot-two fiery redhead from Scotland. She was also a communist and she did most of her activist work in London.”
After arriving in Deptford Kath became a ferocious defender of the poor.
“She stood up and campaigned against low pay, the arms trade, poverty and slum landlords,” Ray said “Her health suffered terribly as she kept on being jailed, but it never put her off.
“John Connell wrote the famous socialist anthem The Red Flag after seeing her speak and, after she was jailed in a landmark case in 1936, Oswald Mosley’s fascists sent her flowers. These were people that she had campaigned against but they couldn’t help but admire her.”
Due to her poor health, Kath returned to Kirkcaldy in the 1950s with her sister and she remained for the rest of her life.
Ray’s book will be called the Last Queen of Scotland and he says he hopes to track down some of Kath’s descendants.
“Kath is buried in Kirkcaldy I believe but I don’t know where so I hope to find out,” he said.
“I think if she was alive today she’d be running a foodbank, just like me.”