The Glasgow maverick- Sir Thomas Lipton


Its without question the assignments undertaken by the various units of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals would have been greatly prohibited without the enormous  support of the general public and some high profile benefactors.  All the units were  reliant on the generosity of the public purse, sponsors and the goodwill of the many individuals they came in contact with on a day to day basis.  Sir Thomas Lipton was one those. 


Sir Thomas Lipton was born in the Gorbals of Glasgow in 1848.  A densely populated area of the city, notorious in those days for its poor sanitation,  poverty, crime and drunkenness.  His parents were Ulster-Scots who fled Ireland during the potato famine.  A rough and tough childhood would ensue.  These were poverty stricken streets and all four of Thomas siblings died in infancy.  He left school at thirteen taking a number of  jobs mainly as an errand boy.   He gained employment aboard a steamer journeying from Glasgow to Belfast.  This did not last and young Thomas, only 14 at this time used his wages to head to America where he spent the next five years working and travelling the country.  He returned to Glasgow in 1869 and opened a provision shop “Liptons Market”. The business expended across the city and before long all over Scotland and eventually the UK.  With his empire of shops now at 300 he entered the tea trade.  To great effect he bypassed the old guard distributors and wholesalers in order to sell tea to poor working class folk.   Thomas expanded his interests in the tea markets to such effect that he became a multi millionaire and  Liptons Teas are still in the market today.   In his personal life he never married but lived with one of his shop assistants , William Love.    His great passion was yachting and he contested the America Cup from 1899-1930, a race he entered five times.  He never won the “auld mug” but  won the hearts and minds of the American people so much so he was presented with a gold loving cup.  He has a tangible link to the claim of initiating the The World Cup.  By way of thanking the Italians for making him the  grand order of the crown he sent them a trophy to be used for international competition.  The Football Association refused to send a team, instead  so Lipton invited  West Auckland Town to represent Britain. A team of coal miners and the like,  the script could almost have been written in advance as  they beat Red Star of Zurich and Juventus to win this cup in 1910 then successfully defended the title in 1911.  Because of this Lipton is often credited with initiating the first football World Cup.

In 1898 Thomas bought the Clyde built, 1,200 ton steam yacht  ” Erin”.erin-thomas-lipton

 Thomas entertained everyone from Royalty to president Roosevelt aboard his floating home.  He reveled in the lavish parties and was at home with rich and famous. But Thomas was a man of substance and moral obligation.  When ww1 broke, he supported medical units attempting to reach war torn Europe.  His yachts were placed at the disposal of medical missions. The Red Cross, Serbian Relief Fund and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals all took full advantage.  Many other organizations benefited from his willingness to transport Doctors, nurses and medical supplies.  The Scottish Women’s Hospital units would of course travel to the likes of Serbia by ship. The main body of the units comparison of dozens of women, medical supplies, tents and  ambulances etc. But the transporting of the smaller relief parties easily could be done by a smaller vessel. The yacht was much quicker and it could also be floated down the Corinth Canal, saving precious time.   Thomas and his crew regularly journeying too and fro  Marseilles and Salonika or from the UK to Salonika.  For much of the war Thomas and crew braved these extremely dangerous waters avoiding mines, submarines and zeppelins from overhead.tl3Dr Elsie Inglis wrote of his generosity as he shuttled not only personnel and medicine but often letters from home.    Elsie Corbett , an ambulance driver with the Scottish Womens Hospitals who had traveled from Kilmarnock said that he would read out copies of the letters of condolence he wrote to the families of previous units who had died of typhus. “Large tears would roll down his face as he read them”  He was also full of fun.  He would get the unit to pose on board the yacht and instead of the camera taking the picture, a large green toy snake would pop out! Much to the amusement of the the women.  At the height of the Typhus epidemic in Serbia, Thomas  decided to visit the worn torn nation. He visited hospitals and medical missions in Belgrade, Kragujevac, Niš, Vrnjačka Banja, and elsewhere. Thomas on his first visit was as popular with the local people as he was with the staff of the hospitals. He was proclaimed an honorary citizen of the city of Niš.  Clearly affected by Serbia’s plight, on his return to the UK he wrote articles for newspapers and a detailed account of his time in Serbia called “The terrible truth about Serbia” in order to raise awareness.  tp4

Sir Thomas Lipton died at the age of 81.  Over his life time vast amounts of money were donated to charities.  Despite his wealth and standing he never forgot his roots. He was in step with those who had nothing and bequeathed much of his fortune to the city of Glasgow.  On the day of his funeral huge crowds lined the streets of Glasgow.  He was laid to rest beside his beloved mother and father in the Southern Necropolis, Glasgow.  

(Copy and paste the link below to read “The terrible truth about Serbia”)