Kirkcaldy activist remembered in new book

Kath Duncan
Kath Duncan

She was the Scottish activist famous across the UK, a former Kirkcaldy schoolteacher, jailed twice for her activism between the wars.

But the diminutive redhead Kath Duncan is a name that has largely been forgotten – until now.

KAth Duncan addressing a crowd of 30,000 in London.

KAth Duncan addressing a crowd of 30,000 in London.

Ray Barron-Woolford has published a biography ‘The Last Queen Of Scotland’ and written a play based on her incredible life, which came after four years of research.

“I need to thank the Fife Free Press,” said Ray who lives in London. “You did a couple of pieces on my interest in Kath and they brought in historians from across Scotland.

“George Proudfoot at Kirkcaldy Civic Society did a brilliant job in helping me too.

“She’s now got a Wikipedia page and a park bench and plaque in Deptford. BBC Scotland have now got the option to do a period drama on her life and another company called Inside Film have started filming a docu-drama about her.”

Ray pinpoints Kath’s time as a pivitol moment in her life.

“As a school teacher in Kirkcaldy she was reading and writing letters for men who were coming back from the frontline during the first world war. That really shaped her politics.

“She was formidable and this is why I say she is the most important female civil rights activist of all, because between the wars she was one of the leaders of every major campaign.

“The activism for the suffragettes, her friendship with the Churchills and Clement Atlee, her involvement with the Spanish Civil War, union activism, the General Strike and the anti-facism.

“Her jail sentence led to the first ever civil rights debate in the House of Commons, and the establishment of the National Council of Civil Liberties – now called Liberty. All these things came from this woman.”

‘Liberty’ was also the name that Ray chose for the title of his play on Kath’s life which was staged in London earlier this year.

“I had never written a play before but I wanted to have the spirit of the Scots, so I hired a Scottish director.

“It’s had four star reviews so I would love to bring it to Kirkcaldy.”

Ray is hopeful that Kath now starts to get the recognition he feels she deserves.

“When you look at the newspaper clippings from the 1930s, she was more famous than Wallis Simpson.

“But she was a woman, she was poor and she was a Communist; that’s why she has been written out of history, even though she won every campaign she fought.

“She achieved the impossible and her story is an amazing one, no matter your politics.”

The life of Kath Duncan...

Kath Duncan was born on July 4, 1888 in the village of Tarbert and the family moved to Kirkden in Argyllshire after her father’s death.

She studied literature at St Andrews University then moved to 92 High Street, Kirkcaldy after she had secured a job as a teacher at the East Primary School.

In 1923 Kath married Alexander Duncan at the Carlton Tea Rooms in Kirkcaldy on December 23, then in January 1924 the pair moved to 49 Downs Road, Clapton in London, where Kath taught at the Battersea Continuation School.

She was jailed twice for her activism whilst down south and later returned to Scotland where she died of tuberculosis aged 66 on 14 August 1954, at Stracathro Hospital, Brechin.