A salute to May
Sculpture honours heroine of ‘snail in a bottle’legal landmark
A statue of a woman who helped make worldwide legal history has been unveiled in Paisley.
What should have been a run of the mill drink in a Paisley cafe 90 years ago turned into a legal crusade for May Donoghue.
The single mum found a dead snail inside her bottle of ginger beer in the Wellmeadow Cafe back in 1928.
She successfully sued the ginger beer manufacturer Stevenson’s after falling ill when she found the decomposing mollusc, and pursued the action despite being ridiculed in the press.
The case was finally settled out of court in 1932, and May’s actions changed the worldwide laws on negligence and gave power to consumers.
The new sculpture, by Paisley artist Mandy McIntosh, is situated on Wellmeadow Street just yards from where the cafe used to be.
Her work is based on the only known photo of May holding her twin granddaughters Elizabeth and Evelyn on their christening day in 1952.
Mandy said the twins are means to represent the scales of justice.
The statue rests on an oak plinth with hand-coloured bronze spirals to represent the snail.
Artist Mandy said she was keen to take on the project as there is a dearth of female statues in Scotland.
“It’s great that Paisley is helping the lead the way to help redress the imbalance of females depicted in public art,” she said.
“May was a working class woman and hero, but after the case, it’s like she disappeared in her own lifetime and her own family didn’t even really know about her.
“She probably had the most to lose out of everyone, but despite that, she stood her ground and the impact she had was global. For someone of her background and class, that’s quite remarkable.”
May’s granddaughters Maggie Houston-Tomlin and her 65-yearold twin sisters Elizabeth and Evelyn, who are in the photo, said the family are delighted she is being honoured.
Maggie, who was four when May died, only discovered the story of her grandmother after a distant branch of the family tracked her down eight years ago.
She said: “It’s absolutely fantastic this is happening. I’ve already been up to the site and can’t wait to come back to Paisley with my family to see the statue in-situ.
“My grandmother was such a brave lady and it’s a very special thing to happen. It’s incredible the influence someone from her humble background had.”
Mandy received funding for the project from Renfrewshire Council’s Culture, Heritage and Events fund, which was launched in 2015 as part of Paisley’s bid to be named UK City of Culture 2021.
Although the competition is over, its legacy continues with applications from local groups still being invited for further rounds of funding.
Provost Lorraine Cameron unveiled the statue and said: “May Donoghue was clearly a very strong woman who fought for what she believed in and I’m delighted that she will be represented with this piece of public art in Paisley town centre.
“Across Scotland there are traditionally very few statues of women and I hope that Mandy McIntosh’s statue will draw more people to Paisley to learn about May and be inspired by her story.”
So proud May’s granddaughters Elizabeth Cosby, Margaret HoustonTomlin and Evelyn Blair
Historic moment Artist Mandy McIntosh with Provost Lorraine Cameron
Making history The photo of May on which Mandy McIntosh’s statue is based