In Person Tour and Talk: Exploring Historic Interiors at Holmwood House **Sold Out**

**Sold Out** Wednesday 6th July 2022 | 6pm to 9pm | Holmwood House | 61-63 Netherlee Rd, Glasgow G44 3YU

Join us for an exciting night in the exclusive venue of Holmwood House, one of the most architecturally significant historic villas in Scotland, owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The night will consists of an in person tour of the house and a lecture on historic interiors and wallpapers.

The one hour in person tour will be led by National Trust for Scotland Visitor Service Manager, Ana Sanchez De la Vega, and will be followed by a fascinating talk about historic interiors and wallpapers, by National Trust for Scotland Curator Emma Inglis. Refreshments will be provided.

Located in the Southside of Glasgow, Holmwood House was designed by Scottish architect Alexander “Greek” Thomson, whose profound influence can still be detected everywhere in the city. This masterfully designed family home has impressed visitors for decades with its carefully curated design, and it is widely regarded as the architect’s finest domestic creation.

Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson first designed the villa for paper magnate James Couper and his wife in 1857–8, and the architect’s penchant for Grecian styling and symmetry is found throughout the villa, where the bold opulent decoration echoes the colours seen in ancient Greek temples.

The tour will focus on the relationship between Thomson, Holmwood House and Glasgow, and give you an opportunity to learn about the legacy of his creative genius.

After the tour you will be invited to join NTS Curator Emma Inglis for a talk on historic interiors. The talk will explore two hundred years of wallpapers and major fashions and influences; from the exquisite Chinese papers of the 1720s to the mass produced patterns of the 1920s.

Emma Inglis is a curator for the National Trust for Scotland, and works with multi-disciplinary property teams to deliver interpretation projects, interior redecoration schemes, temporary exhibition programming and creative use of collections. She is involved in the research of collections and interiors, with a particular interest in domestic textiles, eighteenth and nineteenth century social history, and decorative interiors.

Booking essential 

Refreshments included in the price 

£18 per person, £14 concession

Details Price Qty
Standard Ticket £18.00 (GBP)   Sold Out
Concession Ticket (Student, Senior) £14.00 (GBP)   Sold Out

Please note: Payment is taken via PayPal but you do not need to have a PayPal account to pay online. 

We are using Zoom to broadcast our on line live talks. You can join these events as a participant without creating a Zoom account. You do not need to have a webcam or a microphone to join the event as a participant.

All events are subtitled. We aim to make our events as accessible as possible but if you feel that you might need some additional help, please let us know when you book your ticket or get in touch in advance. We’re open to feedback and would welcome your ideas on how we can improve in this area.

You will receive instructions on joining the event by email. If you haven’t received anything by midday on the day of the event, please check your spam folder and then contact us.

All events are recorded and everyone who has booked will be sent a link to the recording to watch again after the event. We are a small team and this can take a couple of weeks so please bear with us!

You might also be interested in…

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Support us

Like many other charities, the coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on our activities, threatening our crucial work to protect, repair and celebrate Glasgow’s rich built heritage. As a result, we expect to lose an important part of our income this year.

We are therefore asking that if you are able to support our conservation and outreach work,
please consider donating to the Trust.

Online Talk: A Bird’s-Eye View of the Development of Glasgow University: The Gilbert Scott Building

Wednesday 22nd June 2022 | 7.30pm BST | via Zoom

Taking Thomas Sulman’s 1864 bird’s-eye view of Glasgow as a starting point, this talk will explore a pivotal period in the history of development of both the city and the University. As Sulman’s balloon drifted above the city, the University was already planning its flight from the congested and polluted High Street site to the then rural Arcadia of Gilmorehill.

Using contemporary 19th-century photographs, engravings and paintings, Nick Haynes will guide us around the extraordinary complex of 17th-, 18th- and 19th- century buildings in the Old College, and set the scene for the construction of Scotland’s largest Gothic building on Gilmorehill.

Nick Haynes is a historic environment consultant, author and amateur photographer, who has recently joined property consultancy Montagu Evans as their Heritage Partner for Scotland. In 2013 he wrote the book Building Knowledge – An Archtectural History of Glasgow University, following the story of the Old College buildings in the High Street, through Gilbert Scott’s great palace of learning on Gilmorehill, to the newer adjoining campus at Hillhead.

Free, booking required, donations welcome. 

We're sorry, but all tickets sales have ended because the event is expired.

Please note: Payment is taken via PayPal but you do not need to have a PayPal account to pay online. 

We are using Zoom to broadcast our live talks. You can join these events as a participant without creating a Zoom account. You do not need to have a webcam or a microphone to join the event as a participant.

All events are subtitled. We aim to make our events as accessible as possible but if you feel that you might need some additional help, please let us know when you book your ticket or get in touch in advance. We’re open to feedback and would welcome your ideas on how we can improve in this area.

You will receive instructions on joining the event by email. If you haven’t received anything by midday on the day of the event, please check your spam folder and then contact us.

All events are recorded and everyone who has booked will be sent a link to the recording to watch again after the event. We are a small team and this can take a couple of weeks so please bear with us!

You might also be interested in…

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Support us

Like many other charities, the coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on our activities, threatening our crucial work to protect, repair and celebrate Glasgow’s rich built heritage. As a result, we expect to lose an important part of our income this year.

We are therefore asking that if you are able to support our conservation and outreach work,
please consider donating to the Trust.

CPD: Accessibility in the Historic Environment

Support us

Like many other charities, the coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on our activities, threatening our crucial work to protect, repair and celebrate Glasgow’s rich built heritage. As a result, we expect to lose an important part of our income this year.

We are therefore asking that if you are able to support our conservation and outreach work,
please consider donating to the Trust.

"No Access" sign on wooden fence, on green background

Wednesday 25th May 2022 | 12.30-1.30pm | GCHT Zoom Meeting

Historic buildings and heritage spaces make up a major part of our housing, offices, commercial and recreations spaces. Unfortunately, a lot of these buildings are inaccessible to disabled people, creating barriers to housing, employment, and the enjoyment and appreciation of heritage, culture and art.

What can we do to create spaces that are truly accessible and inclusive of everyone? What makes a space and experience accessible and what are the steps to achieve this status?

In this CPD, Emily Yates, Head of Accessibility and Inclusive Design at Mima, will discuss disability and the historic built environment, regulations for accessible buildings, what sort of adjustments might be needed in a historic building, and how to make adjustments that don’t cause hardship to the user or exclude them.

A great believer in inclusive end-to end experiences that benefit both the user and staff member, Emily has experience of auditing transport networks (Rio 2016 and Northern Rail), and football stadiums (Watford, Liverpool, West Ham). She has also delivered disability awareness training sessions (Dubai Expo 2020), digital access audits and created inclusive policies and standards for organisations to improve their internal and external accessibility (Heathrow Airport, National Railway Museum).

The CPD will be recorded and available to all ticket holders after the event.

£15 per person / £10 for students.

We're sorry, but all tickets sales have ended because the event is expired.

 

All sessions are recognised by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) as being capable of contributing to the obligatory CPD requirements of Full Members (see www.ihbc.org.uk)

We are using Zoom to broadcast our live talks. You can join these events as a participant without creating a Zoom account. You do not need to have a webcam or a microphone to join the event as a participant.

We aim to make our events as accessible as possible but if you feel that you might need some additional help, please let us know when you book your ticket or get in touch in advance. We’re open to feedback and would welcome your ideas on how we can improve in this area.

You will receive instructions on joining the event by email. If you haven’t received anything by midday on the day of the event, please check your spam folder and then contact us.

You might also be interested in…

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and your support is crucial to ensure that our charitable work promoting the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic buildings for the benefit of the city’s communities and its visitors continues now, and in the future.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our loyalty scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Episode 1: Are you dancing? Yes, we are asking, with Norry Wilson, Lost Glasgow

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello everyone, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to “If Glasgow’s walls could talk”, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. 

In this episode we’ll be talking about historic music venues and ballrooms as spaces of interactions and connection. So how many of your favourite memories are linked to a music venue? And how important are these spaces for our collective memory and who knows about lost memories better than Norry Wilson from Lost Glasgow, Norry  is a journalist and social historian with a lifelong fascination with his home city, Glasgow. 

Norry  claims he first fell down to vintage photography rabbit hole while working on the Evening Times since then, following the launch of the Lost Glasgow Facebook site, he has gone on to stage a variety of exhibitions and talks on the subject. Even hosting a very popular photographic exhibition at Glasgow City Heritage Trust’s headquarters in 2017. Now with almost a quarter of a million online followers, the Lost Glasgow Facebook page continues to tickle the city’s collective memory, teasing out old stories, forgotten facts and lost legends, which are embedded in the photographic record of all Glasgow. Lost Glasgow’s Facebook page is an exceptionally good example of the use of social media as a crowdsourcing means to collect memories and stories from people and ultimately add to the rich fabric of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Because buildings are not just made of stone and brick, but also by people’s experiences and lives. 

So this is particularly true for buildings and spaces focused on social interactions like ballrooms and music venues. So the period between the start of the First World War in 1914, and up to the mid 1950s, is known as the golden age of social dancing in Glasgow. The city’s dancing boom peaked during the Second World War when Glasgow had at least 80 dance halls. But by the mid 1950s, as the ballroom dancing declined in popularity, to adapt to the ever changing times, a lot of the most popular ballrooms had to turn into music venues to survive. Nevertheless, they remained faithful to their identity as places of fun and social gathering. To name just a few of these places. We have the former Locarno on Sauchiehall Street, later known as Tiffany’s, and now the Genting Casino. The ballroom opened on the site of a former cinema, the Charing Cross Electric Theatre in 1926, and for many years was considered one of Glasgow’s top dancing venues. In the 1960s, the name was changed to Tiffany’s as discotheques became more fashionable. Sadly, the last dance ended when the building was converted into a casino in the 1970s. 

Then there is the hugely famous Barrowland Ballroom, opened on Christmas Eve 1934 by Maggie McIver, the Barras queen. As legend has it, the businesswoman decided to open the Barrowland Ballroom, after the usual venue for her Christmas party for the workers of the Barras  and their families was fully booked. Sadly, the ballroom was destroyed by fire in 1956, but was rebuilt in 1960. And it is now one of the most iconic music venues in Europe, where the likes of Bowie, Oasis, U2, Simple Mind, Mogwai, Bob Dylan and Metallica have played gigs. And what about the buildings that did not survive like the Dennistoun Palais, or the ones that still work as a space of interaction and fun where you can dance away your worries like the Grand Ole Opry. So have you ever wondered how much of the buildings we inhabit, how much, they shape our lives and our memories. So that is what we’re going to discuss with this and other topics with Norry today. So welcome, Norry.

Norry Wilson  

Hello, nice to be here.

Niall Murphy  

It’s good to have you Norry. So first up in your questions that we have for you today. Do you think that the progressive loss of these spaces of interactions has changed the way we interact, date and flirt? And if so, is this for the better or the worse?

Norry Wilson  

Eh, it’s one of these strange things because obviously with the rise of the Internet and social media and online dating and all the rest of it, the historic meeting dating game has probably changed beyond all recognition. It certainly has, from my teenage years there’s something I think, to me at least fairly sterile about that, because there’s, there’s nothing beats that sort of magic moment on a Friday or Saturday night when you, you catch somebody’s eye and there’s that awkward sort of dancing around each other. Trying out your best moves and your best part and hoping that you’ll land a lumber.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, very much it is. Yeah, it’s a human connection!

Norry Wilson  

Yeah and it’s it’s as old as time itself,  the way that you, yeah as I see you, you see a pretty girl or a pretty girl sees a pretty boy sees a pretty boy sees a pretty boy sees a girl, that sort of human connection, as I say I mean that that goes right way back further down the years,  if you were in Glasgow in the 1600s listening to a piper and a drummer, or  on the 1700s in all your finery in the old assembly rooms in Ingram Street. It’s all part of the mating and dating and the dance, the dance to the music of time. 

Niall Murphy  

Indeed Yeah, absolutely. I’m thinking of two, two kind of quotes that kind of make me think about all of this says that the great American urbanist and to Andrew Dunay is one of the few urbanists who was over in Scotland in the 2000s. He’s a he’s a really interesting character. And he used to say, he used to totally scandalise, his kind of audience at lectures about the saying, you know, ultimately what a great city is about. They’re about people meeting each other, obviously, but they’re also about sex. You know, it’s people looking for a mate, and that’s what this is all about. And that’s what you know, dancing is all about it was and this is the other great architect. Is he, Metzstein of, you know, Gillespie Kid and Coia, Yes. Oh, he always used to joke about this about you know, plans and sections whoever in architecture school and he would say guys basically it’s like dancing. It’s the vertical expression of a horizontal intention. Which is. It was a great gag but it’s absolutely spot on because that’s exactly what all of these spaces were all about. You know, you were selling your wares basically. 

Exactly. Okay, right. In your experience with Lost Glasgow. Are people keen to share their memories about ballrooms? And can can you give us a good example.

Norry Wilson  

People love talking about their dancing days, mainly because they were the most vital days of their life, they were they were young, they were carefree, fresh of face, fleet of foot, with no aches and pains, few responsibilities. And it’s strange enough, it’s it’s not only older followers, who do remember the Locarno and do remember the Albert Ballroom and do remember the Plaza over in the South Side? Yeah, as times have changed, I have couples on Lost Glasgow, who met and fell in love at the Arches or at  the Sub Club,  and are both parents in their late 40s. And are now dropping off their own teenage children at venues around Glasgow. So what we think of, what I certainly think of as very recent history is actually already history, I mean, I remember staggering down to the the opening night of the Sub Club, thinking let’s let’s check out this new venue. But of course, it’s not a new venue. I’m trying to remember what it was called. just before the Sub Club, but the venue itself. Yeah, in the basement of the classic, classic grand cinema. You know, it was operating as a jazz club back in the 1950s right,  and in the 1970s, It was the Jamaica Inn and it was one of the first proper discotheques in Glasgow, and all the sort of early radio Scotland DJs and Radio Clyde DJs used to do the Friday and Saturday night sessions in there, at 11 o’clock, or whatever it was, they would have to send out plates of spam and chips to get by the licensing laws. So you can see until one or two in the morning.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. It makes me think of Denise Mina “The long drop”, and how she kind of describes this 1950s version of Glasgow in her book which is just incredibly fascinating because it’s, it’s, it’s like, it’s like any great city you kind of get a layering up of history. And in these different you know, spaces which now are very different, were previously occupied by other aspects of a society. And it’s that kind of fascinating kind of layering of history that you get in places like the Sub Club there was, it had a previous incarnation in that same space, which was you know, occupied by a different generation who experienced it completely differently.

Norry Wilson  

And it’s, it’s also worth remembering though,  most Glasgow dancehalls,  pretty well all Glasgow dancehalls, right through until the mid to late 60s, were unlicensed, you couldn’t, you couldn’t get a drink in them. You went to the pub, and then you went to the dancing, if you were lucky, you try to, if you had  a girlfriend, you try to have to smuggle in a half bottle and a quarter bottle in her  handbag because it was it was only soft drinks.

Niall Murphy  

Right? I had no idea. That’s fascinating. Yeah. So how was that?

Norry Wilson  

The usual Glasgow Presbyterian licensing laws. Okay? You can either have drink or you can have dancing but never the twain shall meet. Right? Bizarre!  Glasgow has got this, even though we love to dance, the  city fathers have always been slightly suspicious of people enjoying themselves. Yeah, as I say it goes back to that sort of Presbyterian,  if you go right back to the 1700s, and I’m trying to remember the chaps, but the guy who set up the first proper dancing school in Glasgow, where you actually had to go and learn how to do a gavotte, or whatever the dances were of the day, right? 

The only way he managed to get a licence for his dancing school was under this condition: the council laid down the condition that there to be no mixed classes with women. Women learn to dance with each other in the morning. And men would dance with each other in the afternoon. And at no point were they ever ever allowed to dance together. It is it is dancing school!

Niall Murphy  

Oh my goodness. How paranoid is that? That’s an absolutely, that’s that’s hilarious. Okay, well, good. Turning back to what we were talking about with the Sub Club. And this is you know about the evolution of spaces. And how things shifted from, you know, as fashion changed from, from ballrooms to music venues or something else, you know, does that ultimately reflect these kind of important changes in society? And if that is the case of this has always been happening in the past, what what does the future hold, particularly after you know, the pandemic?

Norry Wilson  

Spaces and  places  where you  dance and listen to music are always changing, they’re always adapting to meet the needs of new audiences. And that that’s part of the excitement, it is a young person’s game, they always want to bring new ideas to the table. They don’t want to do the same things the way that the parents did. And that’s always refreshing. 

I remember being slightly horrified in my early clubbing days, my favourite destination of a Friday night was Maestro  in Scott Street upside the Art School. I had my mom who was at the Art School in the 1940s. She said she said, where are you going? I found this really good new trendy night club  full of my tribe. And mum said where is it? Scott Street on the side of the Art School, and she said, Oh, we used to go dancing in there in the  1940s. I was absolutely horrified that this exciting underground venue that I discovered, had been my mom’s hangout 40 years previously. 

But I mean, particularly at the moment, obviously, I mean, COVID had a devastating effect and Glasgow is nighttime economy, pubs, clubs, venues, promoters, musicians DJs. And the whole army of technical crews, who we never usually see but who make it all happen. Yeah, I mean they’ve, they’ve had a hell of a couple of years. Yeah, they really have, I was out having pints yesterday on my first visit to the pub in over a year with Bobby Bluebell from the Bluebells. Oh, wow. Now with the Fat Cops, and they, I mean, they are desperate. They haven’t played a gig properly in two years. And when when you live by live music, I mean, I mean, so many folk have managed to take things online. I mean, over lockdown I’ve been listening to DJ Andrew Divine’s monthly, a sort of Divine’s at a distance nights, where each month is there a different theme. But it’s a three hours live set all old, old seven inch vinyl played over the Internet. And I find that is brilliant, it is me dancing, dancing alone in my stockings, in my living room. It doesn’t replace the excitement of being, you that five minutes that you walk up the stairs into a dark hall and you hear music from a distance and then the doors open and there’s the lights and there’s the thump of the base.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s one thing, I hope post post COVID that, you know, these kind of spaces, which have by necessity, sadly, because of the pandemic and the nature of the virus. You know, we haven’t been able to utilise these spaces. I hope that you know what’s happened and what you’re describing there with a DJ taking to the internet instead, that they do come back and have a have more of a role to play. And do you think, do you think that’s likely, do you think places will recover?

Norry Wilson  

I hope they do. I mean, I think the bigger venues will recover and but also seeing more of that sort of mixed indoor outdoor spaces. I’m thinking of SWG3 down the Clydeside Expressway, they’ve gotten out outdoor space but partially covered because outdoor events in Glasgow, weather dependent and quite often, the Glasgow weather doesn’t play ball with us. But things like the Queen’s Park arena staging outdoor events, you got the bandstand in Kelvingrove Park, but obviously,  people are talking about you need vent, ventilation, you’ve what’s better ventilated than an outdoor venue.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Yeah, I’m particularly worried about that at the moment because I’ve been carrying lots of bits and pieces about how vandalised it’s getting worse. It’s interesting. The Queen’s Park bandstand has had things going on, during this time, just very small scale things. And it’s been used for exercise classes and things like that. Whereas the one in Kelvingrove seems to have been really quiet and this tide of of graffiti is gradually enveloping, which is a real shame.

Norry Wilson  

Yeah, I mean, there was an exciting announcement just last week. But another new venue very, very similar to the SWG3 idea, which is planned for what’s, what’s know called Morris Park, Polmadie, they, and it’s part of the former site of the Morris furniture (factory). Oh, yeah, yeah. They’re already selling tickets for a Flaming Lips gig in 2022, which should be its opening event. But again, it’s one of these partially indoor partially outdoor spaces, like planning sort of be like an East End equivalent to SWG3.

Niall Murphy  

That would be fantastic.

Norry Wilson  

But what I really worry about and the venues that I absolutely love, are the smaller venues. I mean, rather than spend 50 pounds going to see someone at the Hydro I’d rather, 10 times spend five pounds and go and see 10 different new bands or new djs, in a Glasgow  lovely wee  sweaty basement venues.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Yeah. Reminds me of the story about Prince and his after concert, you know, even just keep the concert going. But in a small venue somewhere. I can’t remember where he did that in Glasgow, but he did do it in Glasgow.

Norry Wilson  

He did it at the Mayfair, right? Okay. which obviously is no the Garage. I’m trying to think if it was the Garage at that point as well. I can’t remember, it was the Garage or the Mayfair. I mean, the Garage is a spectacular case in point. What, what most folk, the young team, get into the Garage and don’t realise is that when they get to the top of that grand staircase and step into the venue, but actually stepping into one of the last remaining Georgian villas in Sauchiehall Street.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Yeah.

Norry Wilson  

And that there is been dancing going on in those rooms since back in the 1700s.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, there you go. Three, three centuries worth of dancing. Yeah. amazing to think of, isn’t it?

Norry Wilson  

Yeah, yeah. Imagine what the original owner of the villa would say if  ghosts do exist. If he appeared and thought -There are two thousands people in my house going absolutely mental!

Niall Murphy  

What’s that all about then? Exactly? Indeed. Okay. Do you think the success of Lost Glasgow and the kind of characteristic Glaswegian fondness for times gone by, have something to do with all the changes and demolition that Glasgow went through during the 1960s? And 70s? Do you it is something to do with that?

Norry Wilson  

There’s some of that with the older followers on Lost Glasgow, who obviously, remember the pre-motoway city, the city of trams, and all the rest of it that we all of course, imagine, there was some kind of golden time, some sort of perfect good old days and pining for it. But of course, there never was the perfect time in Glasgow. I suspect that most folk would probably think of that, like that 1950s post war baby boom generation. Yeah, as being the perfect time in Glasgow. But Glasgow was going through tough times then as well. Absolutely. 

We sort of look at history through rose tinted spectacles. And we forget, which is the way memory works. The way the brain works. Yeah, I know. I knew myself from various health scares years ago. And being in hospital. I knew that I was in pain. But the brain doesn’t let you remember pain. Yes. Yeah, it is it does like you remember pleasure. So it’s the same with these old memories. People forget that. Yeah, yeah. The city was, the air was thick with soot.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah. Absolutely. 

Norry Wilson  

Yes. To an extent you look back at what they’re actually missing is not the city. They’re missing their own youth. They’re missing their own childhoods, and the people that were around them.

Niall Murphy  

Yet you have to you have to accept the change is going to happen. I mean, it is fascinating that that aspect of Glasgow does, does fascinate me because Glasgow strikes me as being tremendously unsentimental with itself. You know, that whole sections of the of the city  were bulldozed. And there were some protests about it, but, but not as much as in other places. Because people actually were looking forward to a future. So there’s, there’s that kind of unscented mentality and hardness about it. But then after the event, everybody gets dead sentimental about it. And actually, you’re actually quite sentimental after all, because they’re remembering what what it was that that they lost.

Norry Wilson  

It is also that fact that quite often that sentimentality comes from people who never had to live there. Yeah, it’s very, it’s very easy to look at, look at a picture of the urban density of the Gorbals in the 1940s. And say, dreadful. Why did we lose this, but quite often the people that are saying that, are living in a nice semi detached in the suburbs. And even if the old Gorbals still exist in the world, no one would want to live there.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. I’m acutely conscious, I mean, you know, particularly when I look at myself, you know, because I do that. And I see I see the spaces like to Gorbals, and I’m horrified by what got demolished. But I am conscious that, you know, the conditions there were really bad. 

And I recall, there was a fantastic archaeological dig when the M74 extension or completion, depending on your point of view, was going through exactly, when it was going through Eglinton Tall. And they dug up the site where pre Thompson’s, you know, Queens, Park Queen Terrace, and everything they discovered there, and I remember going down and seeing that, that dig and being a woman there who had lived on that site beforehand, and she was talking about, she just turned up for the day, it was all like, and the stuff that they were discovering, and she was talking about her memories of the place. And it was really fascinating, because it gave you a whole different perspective on it, about what kind of mixed community was what a strong community it was, in terms of how everybody supported each other, and that they had the dancing at the Plaza ballroom, literally right next door, and how fantastic that was. But at the same time, they were acutely conscious that there were people living under the railway arches and raising families under the railway arches in absolutely appalling, you know, substandard conditions that nobody should have had to live in. But they didn’t have any choice because there was nowhere else to live in Glasgow.

Norry Wilson  

Glasgow  always had that housing problem I mean, those various photographs from really just post war, of returning soldiers, basically, living with, living with their families in condemned buildings in the Gorbals, with, with, with the water and the gas, and all that and the electricity had all been cut off. Yeah, this is late 40s, early 50s. And they’re living by candlelight, and oil lamps and cooking it up, basically an open fire. And we forget that that’s gets scrubbed from the collective memory.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. So do you think that kind of tendency to look at the past? Do you think it can be a double edged sword? Or is it a point of strength in Glasgow?

Norry Wilson  

It’s it’s a bit of both a, there’s a danger of living in the past and not seeing the good in the present, and the hope for a better future. I mean, we have to, obviously learn from our past mistakes, which is something Glasgow actually hasn’t been very good at. We seem to repeat the same mistakes every 20 to 30 years. Yeah. But I mean, the city as a city has actually a very short memory, myself and generations older than me, all loved  the Apollo, and think of it as this sort of dream gig venue. Most folk under 40. Although they’ve heard of the Apollo, they probably couldn’t even tell you where it was in the city, because it’s it’s been erased. It’s been erased completely. Yes. And in truth The Apollo itself was actually a bit of a dump, but you once once you were in, you didn’t notice that because once you, once you get in this darkened space, that’s it, you’re focused on the band. The band had been, there is stories about the dressing rooms at the back of the Apollo and its latter tdays but it was basically a series of plastic buckets to catch the rain. And you could actually stand in the main dressing room and see out through the roof. Because it had so little money had been spent on it.

Niall Murphy  

Right? Shocking. So what what do you do with all the memories that people share with you  on Lost Glasgow, do you catalogue them in any way or do you just enjoy them and do you find any of that emotionally draining?

Norry Wilson  

I don’t I don’t find it emotionally draining, what it can be, I mean, Lost Glasgow came about by by pure happenstance, I was just getting ready to spit spit the dummy at the Glasgow Herald the Evening Times. But for 14 years I’d written the daily memories page in the Evening Times, so I was well used to dealing with the picture archive and then I discovered a site that’s been going for a couple of years called Lost Edinburgh, which I thought was really really good and doing social media and memory and history in a really interesting new way. And then all of a sudden, I found Lost Glasgow, that I didn’t think it was quite as good as Lost Edinburgh, so one night after perhaps two bottles of wine, I emailed the Lost Glasgow page and said look, this is a really good idea but I think you should be doing more than that Lost Edinburgh have a look at the site and woke up in the morning and of course here’s an email back saying actually we are Lost Edinburgh but we don’t know Glasgow that well

Niall Murphy  

That’s, that’s too good. 

Norry Wilson  

Do you want to come on board and be one of the admins and  of course within about six, within about six months I was I was doing everything on Lost Glasgow. I and I originally thought I tell you maybe 1000s architecture history books themselves on the site but it’s just grew arms and legs, you’re asking it is it emotionally draining, no but I mean, it can be exhausting, right? 

Simply because the fact that you’re most of the time I’m doing a nine to five job, a real job. But at the same time, every day I’m looking for something that I think I can hang up, hang a Lost Glasgow post on Yeah, so you, you’ve constantly got your your focus doing that. Hoping to pick something up and today was easy. Today’s the Sighthill with the Sighthill standing stones. Yep. Yeah. And today’s also Ray Davis from the Kinks 77th birthday, the Kinks recorded a live album, at the Kelvinhall in 67. There’s a picture. There’s a cover of the album and  strangely enough, I saw the Kinks in 1980 at the Apollo. There you go, playing, playing to a half empty Apollo, and it’s still one of the best gigs I’ve ever been out my life.

Niall Murphy  

Brilliant. So what’s the best way to save these memories and past experiences that are linked to specific areas and buildings in Glasgow?

Norry Wilson  

I mean, obviously Lost Glasgow sort of takes a scattergun approach to the whole city. But there’s so many other good really local sites. I come through Govan, does a good one,  Dennistoun site, it’s that sort of usual thing in Glasgow. 

Glasgow itself is a nebulous concept. Glasgow is made up of small villages, and communities. Absolutely, yeah. And it’s only when they all come together, that we are Glasgow, but for the most part, people, if, if you meet a Glasgow person on holiday, and you ask them where they come from, they don’t say they come from Glasgow. They say, I come from Maryhill, or I come from Partick. Yes, yeah, yeah. I come from Cardonalds and I come from Springburn. Yeah, because as soon as you open your mouth, you already know that they come from Glasgow, but you want to know, and they don’t identify you. If an Englishman asked them where they came from, they’d say I come from Glasgow, but a fellow Glaswegian asked him that question and they immediately drill down and see where from Glasgow they come from, because it’s that concept of locality. So important.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, very, very much. Okay. First loaded question for you. What was your best concert and your best dancing Glasgow, when and why?

Norry Wilson  

It have to be those early, early experiences, that the first experiences. I remember age 14 being spectacularly thrilled to secure a ticket to the second drove on  the stalls to see the Jam playing at the Apollo. Oh wow, at that point, the Jam were just the world to me. But of course because I’d never previously been to the Apollo I didn’t realise that the second drove the stalls, all I’d be able to see was the 14 foot stage and very very luckily  perhaps  twice in a song Paul Weller would come right to the lip of the stage and I’d see the very top of his haircut, I couldn’t see the band at all. 

And eventually about halfway through I realised the bouncers weren’t paying much attention. So basically legged to the back of the stalls, right? Like I could actually see the band on stage. Yeah, because down in the front stalls you’re basically just staring at 14 foot wall which came as a bit of a disappointment. 

And again, I I’m trying to think other great gig, I think it would be the Simple Minds, and again, that would be about 1980 or 81  and they have been out in America recording “Sons and fascination” and “Sister, feelings, call”  their double albums. And they came back to Glasgow and played one night at Tiffany’s, the old Locarno in the week between Christmas and New Year. And it was like stepping into another world because the Simple Minds changed musically since we’ve last seen them maybe 10 months previously. Yeah. And it was the touchdown from another planet. And as soon as they started playing, I travel that sprung Canadian Maple dance floor at Tiffany’s. Remember, you simply couldn’t, if you tried to stand still on it. You were physically bounced because the floor is moving up and down by 2 or 3 inches. Right? and the crow just went absolutely berserk but at the same time, I mean, I think it was I think it must have been possibly their second tour to Scotland.

Niall Murphy  

Again, Simple Minds and U2 were quite close at one point.

Norry Wilson  

We went and saw them, this was before they really any big hit sorry, nothing It was before October had come out, between the “Boy” album and the “October” album.  And we went to see them at Tiffany’s. And the venue was half empty. Right? You mean it was it was genuinely half empty. A Sunday night, a freezing, I remember it was a freezing cold Sunday night in October. And I mainly remember that because Bono, the crowd that were there were absolutely daft for the band. And Bono was coming out on stage throwing buckets of water over us at the front of the stage, which which is fine when we were all hot and sweaty and being lunatics. But then you step out onto Sauchiehall Street in October, and everyone was soaked to the skin and freezing to death, we were all shivering up the road to jump in buses to get home. 

So that that would be the sort of gig memories. And again, the early days of clubbing memories, being sort of 16 and managing to get into again, in Maestro’s on Scott Street, right? Or the very, very early days of the Arches in the Sub Club. When it was it was just it was something completely new, something you hadn’t experienced before. Yes. Particularly the Arches. I think the closure of the Arches, not so much some music venues, I never really thought it particularly worked well as a music venue. But the closure of the Arches as a club venue, I think is been one of the biggest losses to Glasgow in the last 10-15 years. It was an absolute unique space, very much and I had some of the best nights in my life in there. I would say fighting some, some of the best nights but..

Niall Murphy  

Too much information!

Norry Wilson  

But it was, it was that feeling of collectivity of Glasgow, being there, being in the moment, and I very much sweaty, bug eyed, wild exuberance of putting your arms around strangers and just really going for it?

Niall Murphy  

Okay, final question for you and it’s another loaded one. What is your favourite building in Glasgow? And why? And what would it tell you if its walls good talk?

Norry Wilson  

It’s a strange one because when I originally had to look at that question I was I was thinking of club venues, music venues, I did it. It struck me I think my favourite building in Glasgow is actually Central Station.

Niall Murphy  

Right okay.

Norry Wilson  

I mean, it’s it’s Glasgow  great glazed living room. I mean, this this, they used to famously say that if you sat in the front tables, and I’m trying to remember the name of the, the famous cafe in Venice, right in St. Mark’s Square, they said, If you sat there for a year, you would meet everyone who would ever be in your life walking past, but that that’s Central Station, you stand in Central Station for more than 15 minutes, and you invariably bump into somebody, whether it’s somebody you saw last week, last year, or 20 years ago. It’s this wonderful passing place of humanity. And as I say, it’s a great glazed living room. And the fact that that’s been going on since the 1870s. 

Everyone who came to Glasgow passes through that space, or meets in that space. You’re whether you historically it was the shell that everyone used to be meet at, now it is under the clock. But all those stories through love, first meetings, goodbyes and hellos through wartime, everything is embedded in that concourse space. In Central I, I was in it just the other week, it was one of the first trips back into the city centre. It used to be that I’ve been through Central twice a day.

Niall Murphy  

Same here. I really miss it.

Norry Wilson  

Yeah, I was, I was standing, standing in this space, we’re waiting for my train to come up on the board. And  I was looking around. And I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful, even if just once, one night after all the trains have been put to bed to turn that central concourse space into a club space, a gig space and have 1000s of people dancing in the concourse, on the main concourse of  Central Station. I  realise that there are safety implications and all the rest of it. But it’s just such a wonderful space to be in.  Cavernous and beautiful.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, I’d say Yeah. Like likewise, it’s probably my favourite interior in Glasgow. Yes, it’s like big trusses, all that glass, the kind of the feel of it, and all the people passing through, the busyness of it. I absolutely love it. Because you know, you’re in a big city when you’re in that space.

Norry Wilson  

Yeah. Yeah. It never cease to throw you, I mean, I even when I, when I didn’t used to get the train into Glasgow, I used to get the bus in, but I would always get off the bus a couple of stops early in Oswald Street, and then cut in at the level entrance to Central, literally just to come up the escalator into that space into the central space, because every day it throws me.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely, it really does. That was I’m trying to I’m struggling to remember his name now. But it was an American architectural historian who was talking about when Penn Street Station was demolished in Manhattan and replaced by kind of Madison Square gardens with a station tucked underneath. And it was how you, you know, used to come into the city like a god. But now you’re scary in like a rat. It was a great quote. And it was somebody was debating with me the difference between living in the West End and living in the South Side. And it was this, well, with the South Side, I come into Central Station every day. And you know, I come into the city like a God, you have an only you come another subway, it’s like you are skirting in like a rat. So you know this, this is the joy of the South Side, you get to pass through Central Station twice a day!

Norry Wilson  

If those walls could talk and tell the story of the last 150 years plus of Glasgow, from the arrival of steam trains into the centre of the city, to departing soldiers to returning wounded and dead soldiers. But it’s also, it’s also a happy space is where people met on first dates. Yeah, it’s, I mean, one of the most moving things I experienced that was a couple of years ago for Remembrance Day, and I’m trying to remember the name of the artist to put the idea together, and I came up the escalator into Central Station, as it is every morning. And here were soldiers dressed in First World War costume,  all right, simply standing about on the platforms, not speaking to anyone, right if you, if you approach them and tried to speak to them, they would simply hand you a piece of paper with the name and the date of birth the date of death of the soldier that they represented. And it was the was moving absolutely, it was wonderfully ghostly and they popped up in various points around the city during the day, sat on the steps of the the Gallery of Modern Art and sang Tipperary and all lose first world war songs together right right and it was just heart stopping absolutely yeah, i’m not i’m not a man it’s easily give them to tears, not many Glasgow men and I don’t think, I was just a bit in buckets. It just took me took me to pieces. And then I thought of my own family tree, both, both grandfather’s First World War veterans that both fortunately made it safe home. But all the boys who didn’t all the Glasgow lads who didn’t, but who ended up back at the Central Station.

Niall Murphy  

17,000of them, you know, yeah. 17,000 plus. So absolute horrific. I mean, when you think about that as a population of Hellensburgh,  Yeah, you know, just just gone over the space of four years. Shocking.

Norry Wilson  

And it’s not just they are gone, but that’s 17,000 Glasgow women, bereft of boyfriends, husbands and families, dancing partners.

Niall Murphy  

All those futures lost, you know, all those possibilities lost as well. Yeah. Which just, it just makes you realise just how absolutely poignant that space is. And yeah, yeah, one of the reasons why I love it so much, too.

Norry Wilson  

I mean, I think it’s up in platform one, there’s a plaque that talks of all the all the arrivals and departures during the two world wars, but it is it the very space just breathes history to me. Yeah. I just love it. It lifts my spirit every time I go through.

Niall Murphy  

Indeed, likewise. Ok Norry, thank you very much. That was a complete pleasure as always with you. So if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.

Norry Wilson  

Thank you.

Niall Murphy  

Thank you. That was great. Norry. Thank you very much.

Norry Wilson  

No, that was fun.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

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Episode 2: Disappeared Glasgow, with Reverend John Harvey former member of the Gorbals Group Ministry and Stuart Baird, Motorway Archive

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello everyone, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. In this episode we’ll be talking about Glasgow’s difficult history of demolition and urban renewal in the second half of the 20th century and how it affected the lives of Glaswegians. 

After the Second World War for a variety of reasons many of the houses built during the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods were considered a housing problem due to the high density of population, poor sanitation and structural deficiencies which characterised them. 

The living conditions experienced at the time would be unthinkable in modern Scotland, such as overcrowding and inadequate water and sewage facilities. Residents often lived by, four, six, or even eight children and 32 a toilet or 42 a tap. 

The most common solution adopted to solve Glasgow’s housing crisis in the second half of the 20th century was the comprehensive development area. 27 such areas covering roughly 40% of the city were established in Glasgow, with the aim being to sweep away the old tenements and rehouse some of the population while encouraging others to leave. 

Communities either moved into modernist high rise blocks, or the peripheral schemes of Easterhouse, Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Pollock, famously described by Billy Connolly as  “deserts with windaes”, or decanted to new towns new Glasgow or elsewhere in Scotland, such as East Kilbride, Cumbernauld, Irvine and Glenrothes. In the 1960s, the city centre demolitions were increased by the building of the Inner Ring Road now the M8, this new motorway cut through areas like Townhead and charing Cross, isolating the city centre. In the same period Glasgow’s first high rise flats were built, such as Crathie Drive, and Partick from 1946 to 1954, Moss Heights and Cardonald from 1950 to 1954, and the iconic Red Road flats from 1962 to 1970s, which were the highest flats in Europe until they were demolished in 2015. And later years due to a change of political, social and economic climate, the effect of the demolitions of entire neighbourhoods became clearer, and there was a new awareness of the loss of the community spirit that evaporated with the demolition of the tenements.

Today we have two great guests to discuss the architectural structural and social transformations that Glasgow went through and what they meant for the communities who were affected by the changes. 

So our first guest is Reverend Dr. John Harvey, retired minister of the Church of Scotland. From 1963 to 1971, John and his wife Ruth Harvey lived in the Gorbals as members of the Gorbals Group Ministry, an experiment and street level ministry based in the heart of the Gorbals community, which at that time was characterised by overcrowded and poorly maintained tenements and very minimal social facilities. The purpose of the group was to live in what had become a decaying inner city slum, sharing as far as possible the lives of their neighbours, responding to local needs and making available the skills and training they had for the service of the whole community.

The Gorbals is one of the oldest areas of Glasgow, and it’s located on the south bank of the river Clyde, originally built as one of Glasgow’s Georgian new towns, by the late 19th century had it been overwhelmed by people moving to the Big Smoke in search of work in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. At its peak during the 1930s, the wider Gorbals district had a population of an estimated 90,000 residents, reaching an astonishing population density of around 4,000 people per square kilometre, the highest population density in Northern Europe. During this time, the Gorbals became synonymous with violence, squalid living conditions and gang fights, or famously recounted in the novel, “No mean city”. The area later became well known for its unfortunate saga of cyclical demolition and redevelopment, first in the 1960s and 70s, with a series of tower blocks and deck access schemes, including the notorious Hutchesontown tower, designed by Sir Basil Spence as “a ship in full sail with the laundry fluttering with the breeze on the balconies”, and Queen Elizabeth Square. The 20 storey towers were built between 1960 and 1966. But such were the problems with dampness they were explosively demolished with tragic results in 1993. Regenerated once more from the mid 1990s onwards and now known as the new Gorbals and new Laurieston, the area has resumed a more traditional urban pattern of new build tenements and townhouses. However, the neighbourhood continues to live on in the collective memory, almost as a mythical place rich in community spirit and when its own legends and characters, such as the flyweight boxer Benny Lynch, and the weird and wonderful Gorbals vampire running away with children in the southern Necropolis. So John, welcome to the podcast!

Reverend John Harvey  

Thank you. Good to be here. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure to have you, John. So first up, how would you describe living in the Gorbals in the late 1960s? And where did you live? And is the tenements still there? 

Reverend John Harvey  

Well, first of all, can I just make a wee correction? My wife’s name is Molly, not Ruth. 

Niall Murphy

Oh, I’m sorry. 

Reverend John Harvey  

That’s okay. Ruth is my daughter. However, no problem. Going into back to your question, Niall. It was a huge culture shock to me to go from Pollokshields in Glasgow, to live in Gorbals, because for most of my youth, and early adulthood, I’ve been told that Gorbals had disappeared. And of course, as you’ve pointed out very clearly, that’s far from the case. 

There was a report done in 1965, I think, by Christian Action Housing, which described it as one of the worst slums in Europe. And, for me, it was, it was, it was quite scary, to be honest. I’d never come across the overcrowding and the disarray of people’s lives that resulted from that situation. The tenement we went to live in, it is long gone, it all went with, with all the rest of the place in the 1970s. But you know, there, it had been a grand old tenement in a lovely broad thoroughfare with colonnaded pillars outside the front, and spacious rooms. We lived in one of the flats there, this was Abbotsford place, this was Abbostsford place. We lived in one of the flats and above us lived a lovely chap, quite an elderly man who was from Ireland, and who came to see me every year to get me to sign a form, me a Church of Scotland minister, to assure the Irish government that he was still alive. So he got his pension for having fought with the old IRA. Below me was a lovely family of people who had been there for a long time, he was a taxi driver, and we got to know them quite well. 

So it was a strange experience, our neighbours were amazing people, courageous, resilient, and resourceful as you had to be, to live in such appalling conditions with no facilities, and every sense of being abandoned, totally abandoned by the local authority, who simply said Gorbals is going and therefore we’re not going to do much about it at the moment. It was appalling. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yeah. It’s very similar experience to what happened in the United States in various cities, the United States where entire areas were redlined. And that there is tend to free up social segregation. Those tended to be the African American areas. And the redlining meant that they could not get mortgages, so they couldn’t do anything in those areas. And it’s it’s incredible how that I mean, you know, there were  delegations from Glasgow, which went to, you know, the various cities in the United States, including Pittsburgh. And when you kind of look at those parallels, it’s very interesting to see they took those lessons and then started to apply them here. 

So can you tell us more about the Gorbals Group Ministry, and what your mission was? 

Reverend John Harvey  

Just quickly before before I do that, when we got married, we went up to town to try and buy a washing machine and we were told not to tell the people that we lived in Gorbals, because if we said we lived in Gorbals, they wouldn’t give us credit. It was that sort of situation where it was just a bad, bad word. 

But to come back to your question, Niall, about the Gorbals group. I mean, this, interestingly enough, grew out of one of these areas. You mentioned in America, in New York, an area called East Harlem where there was a big, a big community of Puerto Rican residents. And a few young ministers after the Second World War, had gone to live there in order to see if they could connect with these people in a way that the traditional church organisations of the time just didn’t connect. 

And that’s what the Gorbals Group Ministry was doing in Gorbals, trying to connect with people for whom the church as one woman put it to me “it is just not for the likes of us” . You know, we don’t have the clothes, the money, the, the accent, the language. And not only that, but we’re not up and about at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning when they all gather and we would just feel totally out of, out, out of our depth. So there was no connection between our neighbours who live there and the traditional churches. Apart from the Catholic Church, I have to say, because the Catholic Church, people went there for mass. But that was about it. There was nothing else that happened. So we, the Gorbals Group as a small group of us, I mean, there was only about a dozen at the most. We all lived in the area in different flats, we shared our money. And we chose to live at the level, the income level of our neighbours, which was national assistance in those days, and this meant that the money that we made from our jobs, and we all had reasonable jobs, we pooled, and that enabled us to do things like run youth clubs and play groups and teach children on how they work with the families as they fought, fought for their human rights, in the face of these appalling, these appalling conditions. We were there alongside them. We didn’t imagine or pretend, to be local people we weren’t. We were encouraged, we could leave whenever we wanted, our neighbours couldn’t, they were there for life. And they had to just get on with it. And as I said before, we were in awe of the courage and the resourcefulness and the good humour of this folks, who really just, what an inspiration to live with, total inspiration. 

Niall Murphy  

Did  you feel that you succeeded in connecting with them? 

Reverend John Harvey  

Yes, at the level of  being neighbours. But of course we did. Because we were there, we share the same, the same conditions, the same ups, the same down. What we didn’t succeed in doing, was what we had originally intended to try and do, which was to set up little street front churches, small groups of people worshipping together. That didn’t happen. There’s a whole variety of possible reasons for that. Something to do with our personalities, something to do with the sheer intensity of the need to deal with the social and environmental demands on us, which were so huge on all of us, that we just had to keep on working on them. 

So as I say, we run youth clubs, we took  folks on holidays, we represented them in the courts. For a wee while I ran a local newspaper, which was a job for which I was completely and totally unqualified and if we hadn’t had the money behind us that we saved, it would have gone bust in about two months. But we tried. It was an attempt to give a voice to the people to say look, we are here we are still here, we are human beings. We have views we have, we have needs, we want we want to be heard.

Niall Murphy  

How do you think the demolition of the entire area affected the community? 

Reverend John Harvey  

Well, it was top down. Of course, it was from the top, that we were told what was going to happen. There was a couple of consultations as I remember it, but they weren’t real consultations. They were just telling us what was going to happen. Basically, what happened was that the community just disintegrated. As you’ve said, it was a very strong community as all these places were. But we were just rehoused all over the place. And our and our tenements.  All of us got together, and we have, we petitioned the council or the local Corporation as then was, if we could be rehoused in the same area together. But we got nothing out of that. So we were scattered about the place about mainly these peripheral schemes you mentioned mainly in the South Side, in Pollock and Castlemilk. 

But it was just, it was a very disheartening experience. We called it the 20th century clearances, because it felt like that.  Yes, yeah, it was basically, and we remember having a very strong argument with some of the local authority people about the new high flats they were proposing to build. And we said to them, these are streets put an end, there are streets which were horizontal being turned vertical. So you should put into the flats, the facilities, which streets had, street corner meeting place, yes, community halls, pubs shops, yes, nothing like that. It was just houses piled on houses piled on houses. And well we all know what happened to them. Absolutely. We watched them being built and they went away and filmed them being blown up 30-40 years later.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, incredible waste of money. I mean, I’ve spoken to you about this before in the past and how I was brought up in Hong Kong and how the British administration in Hong Kong was having to deal with the kind of the immense population increase with all of the refugees coming in from from China and was taking lessons from places like Glasgow and was applying them there to kind of the next generation of tower blocks but was putting all of those facilities in and yet it we got it so wrong here. And I remember coming to Glasgow in the 1980s and seeing that, the four tower blocks in Laurieston, Norfolk Court, Stirlingfauld Place and being completely shocked that they were just like these huge slabs that were in the middle of effectively wasteland. And there were no kind of amenities for people there. And you just think that that was such a such a huge mistake. I mean, was there anything positive that came out of this? 

Reverend John Harvey  

Well, I mean, people who, folk who went to live in them spoke about the lovely views, because you could see for miles of the city. They liked the internal bathrooms, because many folk came from houses in the Gorbals that didn’t have anything. So there was, there were positives there. But I think they were they were small, really compared to the, the negatives of being forced to live in that sort of way. With lifts which eventually broke down or were very dirty. And like you mentioned Queen Elizabeth Square. Basically, they felt like, like prisons, because it were just long corridors with identical doors. They were called block A,  block B and block C. Rather unimaginatively. People christened them, Alcatraz, Barlinnie and Sing Sing. The names of three most well known prisons, which is kind of sad.

 It is, it is, I mean, when when they were opened by the Duke of Edinburgh, it was described as Gorbals, is a phoenix rising from the ashes. Well, I’m afraid the Phoenix didn’t live long.

Niall Murphy  

No, no, it certainly doesn’t. It’s one of these things that I mean, you know, having trained as an architect, when I look at an image of them, they look like fantastic pieces of sculpture and enormous pieces of sculpture. But you know, a work of art, a piece of sculpture, that is not necessarily the same thing as somewhere that you would be good or conducive for living in, you know, encouraged kind of communities to kind of arise and I think that’s kind of where, where Spence made his mistake. These huge kind of windswept plazas that just they’re not conducive to actual, you know, conditions to encourage human life and living. So and I think that that that was the that was the problem with them. So going back to the kind of the sense of community in the Gorbals. Do you think it was stronger or different from other areas in Glasgow?

Reverend John Harvey  

Probably not particularly different from the likes of Partick or Bridgeton, or Maryhill or these other areas of so called multiple deprivation? The one thing I think that is quite noticeable about Gorbals, as Gorbals, was always an immigrant community. In the 19th century, the folk from the Highlands came, and then the Irish came to work, there was a big Jewish community. When we went to live there in 1963, there were only a few Jewish families left, but at once we have a very thriving Jewish community. And then laterally, they were folks from the Asian subcontinent coming in. So it was always a place where you had this coming and going of a great, diverse and wonderfully rich human grouping coming in and going out again, which made a difference, gave it a kind of life and a vibrancy, which I mean, I certainly came to appreciate very much indeed, which possibly it wasn’t the same. I don’t know, maybe not quite the same as some of the other areas of Glasgow.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, does make you wonder, doesn’t it? It’s, I mean, it really is quite, I mean, to me, another thing that kind of struck, sort of horrified me slightly was the realisation of this wasn’t, I didn’t realise this until much later on, when I’d finally caught sight of an image on the virtual Mitchell. That that was where Glasgow’s main synagogue was, and there was this huge Jewish school next door to it as well. And all that was was bulldozed in the 1970s. And I was horrified by that because I’ve lived in Berlin for a while and had seen the reconstruction of the synagogue there and you’re thinking, Why on earth would anyone want to bulldoze their main synagogue? That would be something, surely you would be treating with the utmost respect. 

Reverend John Harvey  

And it was just down the road from our, It was just down the road from us in South Portland Street. And when we arrived, it was hardly used at all as synagogue. And there was bingo was played there as well. And we knew the bingo caller, who was one of the last Jewish families in the Gorbals. It was a lovely building. One of the good buildings that has survived is the library, Gorbals library is still there. Yeah. Which is again, just over the way from, from the from the synagogue. Yes. It’s just on the other side of the road. Apart from that on one or two pubs? Nothing else? 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, I know. Yes, yeah, there’s a one tenement that still survives. So the British Linen Bank, which is all now being refurbished, and then there’s the Bedford Theatre. And then you’ve still got I suppose the what survives of the Citizens the, you know, the main kind of theatre box. But beyond that, you know, there’s nothing else except, you know, once you go beyond Norfolk Street, Abbotsford primary school? Absolutely. Just to the south. Yeah. Which is a very beautiful building.

Reverend John Harvey  

Our daughter went there. 

Niall Murphy  

When I walked past that now, I’ve tried to imagine what that for you to the north, because you must have been able to see the South Portland Street Suspension bridge, at the end of all of that, it must have been this really incredible kind of urban access through the southern part of the city, all completely vanished nowadays. So it’s, it’s makes you realise, you know, how different Glasgow and Glaswegians are nowadays for, you know, as a consequence of, of, of what happened, do you think that kind of change was, was it for the better? Or is it for the worse that areas like that disappeared? 

Reverend John Harvey  

Well, in one sense, of course, it was for the better, because they just were unsustainable, they had to go. But as we’ve said, you know, on the other hand, it was so sad to, to see the whole sense of the whole community disappear. And was it possibly the sense of, let’s get together and do something. 

I mean, there was a sense of urgency, a sense of determination to beat this situation, just before the demolition. A few of us set up street action groups, which were local people committed to looking out for the needs of their streets, the potholes, the broken glass, the the shot shops, the damaged infrastructure, and bring this to the attention of the Council. And on one occasion, I remember we all went up to the City Chambers to really try and get something done. And got into big trouble with the local Councillor who said that was his job. And of course, our answer was, well, you’re not doing it. So we’re going to do it. What you doing? Yes, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. 

Niall Murphy  

Is there anything about about kind of past of Glasgow that you’re missing? Is there any way we can bring any of that back?

Reverend John Harvey  

It would be obvious to say, you know, one misses the sense of community. But I think, as I’ve said, what I think is missing now is a sense of, we can we can change this, we can do something about the situation, because it’s still bad. I mean, we’ve got a huge poverty in Glasgow, when a few years ago, it was something like one in three children in Glasgow, living in poverty. And this is this is 2021. And it was just as bad in 1963. And it’s not now just in the Gorbals, but it’s in other areas. It’s in some of the peripheral housing schemes, and places like that. So there’s still a sense of, there’s still a failure to address the, the need to change things. So that this endemic poverty and endemic deprivation and endemic, systemic unemployment is, is dealt with. And that’s that, that sense of urgency and a determination to change things. I don’t see it.

 Because we have been, as it were flattened. We’ve been flattened by consumer society, the fragmented isolation, that we all know live in with our television sets and our iPhones and our iPads. And while we, we acknowledge the great value of these things and the great freedom that they give us in so many ways, we’re separated, were isolated. And there’s no, there’s not a same sense of, let’s get together and really change things. I know that there have been initiatives taken here and there by the council’s, by charities, by volunteer organisations, and you’ve got to admire them and salute them. But overall, I just feel the sense of, we can make a difference is missing. That’s for me, what I would like to see come back. 

Niall Murphy  

Thank you, John. Okay, this point, I’m going to introduce our second guest, Stuart Baird, who is the founder and chair of the Glasgow Motorway Archive. 

The Motorway Archive is the largest private collection of roads and transport records and photographs in Scotland. The scope of the project is to preserve, share and understand these unique artefacts. The website outlines the planning, design and construction of Scotland’s post war road system, shedding light on the social, economic and environmental issues associated with their construction. The construction of an improved roadway system involved the demolition of entire areas of the city in the second half of the 20th century, and what are now considered controversial decisions, were made in the name of progress. Stuart is a chartered civil engineer with a keen interest in the development of Scotland’s post war transport networks and Glasgow’s engineering heritage. He founded the Glasgow Motorway Archive to ensure records relating to the city’s unique urban motorway system be preserved for the future. The archive has since become the largest private collection of transportation records in Scotland. He has published papers on the history of Scotland’s motorway system, and takes part in academic lectures and other public events. So Stuart, welcome to the podcast. 

Stuart Baird  

Hello, thanks for having me.

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure to have you here Stuart. So first question for you. How did the motorway archive started? And where does the materials, you know, where do you have photographs, all the information you have, where does it come from? Is it your own research? Or is it by public submission? How does it work? 

Stuart Baird  

Yeah, well, it kind of grew from my own personal interest in the motorway system, as a child and living in the suburbs of Glasgow, in the Lanarkshire area, whenever we would go into the city centre or beyond, we would travel on this fascinating motorway system. And as a child, looking out the window at some of these phenomenal structures, I remember being fascinated by it. 

And that kind of stuck with me, and and eventually directed me into a career in civil engineering. And it was only when I was actually studying for civil engineering that I really began to appreciate the scale of what Glasgow had achieved with its road system, particularly in comparison to elsewhere in the UK, or even Europe. And that research that came off of the back of that, led me to make contact with a number of the engineers and the planners and designers who’ve been involved back at that time. And was that appreciation of the sort of a unique nature of what we have, became a bit more understood, it was clear that there wasn’t a lot of information available. 

And so I tried to learn more about the system and a bit about its history, you know, going to the Mitchell Library and other places, it was clear that there weren’t many records available. And I started to ask, why is that the case? And it turns out that, you know, large numbers of people,  original private companies who were involved in the design of the construction, the records were simply thrown away, because they weren’t considered important, you know, because they were late 20th century. And that really, really annoyed me. 

And really, the archive grew from that, from my own frustrations with that and trying to do research for a project. And then, you know, thinking, no, we really should be keeping these records. You know, we keep all rail records and other transportation records. Why should these be any different? And an archive has grown from that, now as to be the records come from Initially, it was mostly my own research. I was later joined by a number of colleagues and friends who helped me with that. But lately, the records have started to come from individuals who were involved, you know, retired engineers, and some of the companies who have been involved Scott & Wilson, Kirkpatrick & Partners were key players in the design of the road system and the construction as well, they passed their archive to us a couple of years ago.  So nowadays, I’d say we mostly, we mostly get your record through donations. So we don’t actually have to do much people tend to find us now.

Niall Murphy  

That’s handy. So who would you say your audiences are and who are the people who are interested in the motorway archive? Who are these people who are kind of interested in you? 

Stuart Baird  

You know, it’s a simple answer, everyone. And I know that sounds, that sounds strange because you think well, surely there can’t be so much interest in motorways, but it would amaze you the interest that we get from across the population, not just in Glasgow, not just from the city and just from the outskirts, but across Scotland and indeed across the UK. 

And it’s it’s pretty clear that people focus on the social history aspect of it because you can’t build a motorway in an urban location without the be some effect on the on the urban fabric and the people who live in the area. You know. So I would say that the social history interest which, there is a real interest amongst younger people today, and learning about the past, that is a big part of it. And we have quite a presence on social media. You know, we have 1000s 10s of 1000s of followers across all our social media channels. And people come and they look specifically at the social history. 

But on top of that, we do also have a lot of contact with engineers, people interested in engineering heritage, but also of academics and students, particularly architecture students, and young engineering students. You know, we got a lot of inquiries from the Art School and we have worked with a lot of people from, from the Art School because they’re fascinated by some of the architectural decisions. Because the Glasgow motorway system had a consulting architect, Sir William Halcrow & Partners involved as consulting architects on the entire plant, and nothing could be approved engineering wise without their  approval. 

Niall Murphy  

So do you think that’s where the interest is? You think that’s what the appeal is about the history of, of motor racing? 

Stuart Baird  

Yeah, there’s a very different look to the motorway in Glasgow, it has an aesthetic that you don’t see in the motorways in the cities elsewhere in Britain, you know, if you go to Birmingham, for example, or Leeds, if you look at the retaining walls or the concrete structures, they all have a very bare finish. They’re not particularly nice to look at. You come to Glasgow, and you’ll see that we have sandstone clad retaining walls to try and blend into the landscape or in the Charing Cross area you’ve got aggregate finished wall panels and the likes. And you’ve got their concrete sets and cobblestones are on the base of the lightening masts, you know, things like that that, were the result of direct influence,  unique touches that you can only see in Glasgow. Yes, that’s right. And the motorway system in Glasgow, I mean, we have the most extensive urban motorway system of any city in the UK, some would say more than all the other UK cities combined. It depends how you do the calculation.

Niall Murphy  

I certainly did not did not know that. Yeah, that’s, that’s fascinating. That is certainly extensive. Yeah. Okay. So given given that’s the case, how do you think the M8 transformed Glasgow? And how do you think the city would have developed if the motorway had not been built? 

Stuart Baird  

Yeah, it’s an interesting question. And one one we are often asked, you have to put yourself in the context of the time. Then a motor vehicle traffic was very much on the up at the time through the 1950s and through the 1960s, in particular, in fact, even in the pre war period, Glasgow had some ambitions to improve the road infrastructure. 

We’re in a bit of a strange topographical situation with Glasgow as well, because there’s hills on either side of the city. So everything that’s looking to go east to west or north to south basically has to go through the city to some degree. And historically, if you look back at some of the old roads, like the A8, and A74, and the 77, anything coming from elsewhere in Scotland, basically converged in the city. 

And as motor traffic increased, the corporation realised, you know, we have a significant amount of traffic coming through our area that actually has no business here, because it’s people going to Edinburgh, is people going to Ayrshire and the likes and we really have to try and address that in some way. And that that’s really what led to the development of the, of the urban motorway system. The Ring Road is obviously the part that we focus on the most, the M8 through through the city centre. But the wider plan, attempted to address that issue across entire conurbation by providing or designing a series of more routes and rings and, and the like to try and filter traffic, not just regional and national traffic, but also local traffic because as was mentioned earlier, the construction of the new satellite schemes and the development of the suburban areas like, when thinking of like Newton Mearns and Milingavie, as these places sought to enter the city for leisure purposes, recreation, they have to deal with that, the existing Victorian streets just were not capable of dealing with the levels of traffic that were predicted. 

Niall Murphy  

Okay, I can, I can appreciate all of that. But then the flip side to that is that in terms of you know, the the population in Glasgow, and the actual level of car ownership, it was incredibly low. So it may have been the case that the wealthy suburbs had access to cars and mobility like that, but the people within the city did not. 

Stuart Baird  

But the corporation appreciated that the people in those wealthy suburbs were the people they wanted to come and work in the city centre and spend in the city centre. And there was no out of town shopping centres in those days. You know, Glasgow was the retail hub for the west of Scotland. And the you know, the on street parking situation and the roads and approaching the city like the A8 from Alexandra Parade and the likes, you know, between commuter traffic, people coming for leisure purposes, even the movement of goods, which was increasingly coming off the railways. The corporation knew that if it wanted to thrive and as a city and indeed, as the historic industries were in decline, and they were looking to move forward into new service industries and, and retail and leisure were a big part of that, they knew they had to make this accesses as easy for people as possible. Otherwise they wouldn’t come. You know. So yeah, we do take the point that Glasgow, even know has a very low car ownership figure. Yeah.

But it wasn’t necessarily trying to cater for those people. Right. Okay. And that’s why it’s the, Yeah, and the transport policies of the time, if you look at some of the plans, they are very balanced against public transport options, and particularly the Greater Glasgow transportation study that came along in the mid 60s that looked at motor reconstruction, but it also bounced that against public transportation, because it was known that within the city itself, that public transport had a keen role to play. And that’s we have projects like the reopening of Argyle Line, for example, that came directly from the end of that study, and the balance that cost wise against private transportation, you know, so there were some motorway schemes that didn’t proceed immediately, because they favoured  the public transport equivalent. So the Argyle Line went ahead, ahead, or some of the railroad motorways, for example.

Niall Murphy  

I hadn’t appreciated that this was part for kind of multi layered, transport strategy for the whole city. So that, that was really interesting discovery.

Stuart Baird  

Yes and it remains the largest single transportation study ever undertaken in Scotland. Even to this day, they had something, something like 200 staff working in an office on Queen Street, and they had people who would go to people’s houses and conduct interviews, and ask them how they travelled, what what modes did they use? How did they see themselves travelling in 10 years, they would go to workplaces, they would do roadside interviews, you know, they would interview people in the train station, you know, it was a fascinating process, and all in the days before computers. So all that data was analysed by people and brought together manually by people and calculated and  worked into a plan that was to try and determine a way forward for transportation across the whole conurbation for a period of 40 years.

Niall Murphy  

Right? What was the the actual route of the M8, and the ring road that got only half built in the end. But why was it so tight around the city centre? What was the reason for that?

Stuart Baird  

There’s two, there’s two reasons. One of them is a traffic reason. And they wanted a bypass of the city centre, they also wanted a distributor road. And the further away from the city centre, that that ring road would be, the less benefit the city centre would get from it. So if they built it to three miles out,  Argyle Street, Sauchiehall Street, they would not benefit to the same extent, because people would need to know kind of pass on Suffolk Street to get to the city centre. So thinking of Alexandra Parade, Great Western Road, for example, have they gone much further beyond them, those routes really wouldn’t have benefited too much, because people would still have had to use them to an extent to get to the city centre. 

The other reason really comes down to the comprehensive development areas that were discussed earlier, because the, the fact that the corporation intended to clear all, almost all property within you know, the boundaries of these areas, that’s allowed for and you look at the transportation options within those areas. So thinking of Anderson or Townhead, for example, it would be very difficult to construct a road or a motorway in that area. You know, historically, when you look at the dense population there and the number of buildings there, but when you’re looking to clear all this property from an area, it almost provides a blank canvas, and they are able to see okay, we can assume that Anderson, Townhead, Cowcaddens would be completely empty, we need you to squeeze the road through there. Because we don’t want to build it in areas adjacent to that. So for example, Park Circus, for example, would never, he would never have contemplated the road through there and likewise Garnethill, but any areas in St. George’s Cross and Anderson to the south, you knew that they were going to clear it. 

So the engineers were tasked with squeezing the road through these areas. And you know, even the parts of the system that weren’t built thinking of East flank of the inner ring road through Glasgow Green and the like, there were even for High Street. 

You know, they envisaged that all the area around it at all, for example, was going to be cleared the way so that was going to be very easy for them to squeeze this route through. You know, so the engineers were told they would have this nice blank canvas to work from, and that’s kind of what drove the development of the inner ring road in particular.

Stuart Baird  

Yes, I remember being told a joke by an architectural historian, which was that okay, the Cathedral was going to be isolated on the other side of of the road, but it was okay, because the road would be getting built on Gothic arches to make it blend in. Yeah, that was that was the joke at the time. 

Stuart Baird  

That was one one of Holford & Associates many ways to try and mitigate against the effect ultimately, I think they decided they would actually put the motorway in a tunnel in front of the Cathedral from the, from the Royal Infirmary right down to Glasgow Green, was going to be in tunnel in the end up because, we’re conscious, you know, as one thing that that does frustrate us a little bit as an organisation is we’re trying and explain the history behind these things. They were very conscious of the effect that these roadways were going to have on the surroundings and in the city. And that’s why Horford was there, this is why Holford and the others were there and that’s why you know, you know, there was a lot of discussion about how the motorway could fit in. And a lot of what was built, was built at considerable additional expense, to try and mitigate against the effect of its construction, you know, thinking of Charing Cross where there is that canyon, you know, where the Mitchell Library is and the motorway is ground level, all the interchanges have to be two level, and the upper level is at the level of the ground, existing ground level prior to the motorway. 

Yes, you know, so it was it was things like that, that they didn’t want to dominate the landscape. 

And they also realise that in the report that, again, you mentioned the some of the missions that they had to Detroit and other cities in America. One thing always caught my eye in that report was, the Provost wrote the line that she realised that Glasgow could never have a freeway system in the scale of an American city, because Glasgow had the historic centre, and it had historic buildings that you couldn’t quit away, they were never going to design a motorway that could, you know, take unconstrained growth of traffic, there was always going to be a limitation on the amount of traffic that it would handle. And that’s why they settled on a 30 year period from 1990. And so you know, we’ll build a system to take that but no more. So they never envisaged, for example, that the Charing Cross would ever have to be widen, for example, yes, they knew, they were clearing an area they were putting that in, but it was made very clear that that would be the extent of it, it would never be anything more than that. And that’s why they were able to plan some of the aesthetic choices around that and develop adjacent to the motorway because they knew that this was it. It wasn’t going to get any bigger than scale.

Niall Murphy  

Fascinating. That’s interesting, because kind of that, that where you can cross on the pedestrian bridges of the section, at Kinning Park, kind of between Kinning Park and the industrial estate just to the north of Pollokshields, you really appreciate at that point, the width of the motorway and it does have a real American freeway feeling to it. And that point, which is quite fascinating. 

Stuart Baird  

That was the American influence. John Cullen, who was one of the one of the architects of the of the system and a traffic engineer, grew up in very poor conditions in St. George’s Cross, he was very lucky, he managed to get scholarship and was able to go to night school and learn civil engineering. And he eventually ended up in America and worked on the design of a number of freeway systems and in the States, again, this experience that no one in the UK had, and then when, he then have a bit of Cumbernauld and the Glasgow plans that were coming, he felt that it was his duty to return to Glasgow as as a child of Glasgow with this knowledge, this unique experience and actually helped to develop Glasgow road system because he, having grown up in the conditions that he grew up, in somewhat, the same conditions that some people in Gorbals grew up with, he was determined to try and work with the city to try and drive it forward. And that was very much reaching for the future in his eyes and that American practice because we had no UK design standards for urban motorways, at that time, his American experience and a couple of his colleagues who also worked abroad that filtered into Glasgow plans directly which is why it looks so different.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, very much. Okay, turning to some of the kind of major artefacts that are part of that motorway network last last year, Historic Environment Scotland awarded the Kingston Bridge a C listing for its special architectural and historic interest. Now it was quite a controversial decision. So I’ll read a bit out from the,  when they made this announcement, which was that, “Through listing, the bridge has been recognised as a significant, albeit controversial infrastructure project which, which transformed the city of Glasgow, forming part of the M8 Scotland’s first motorway. Its construction reflected the social and economic changes taking place in Glasgow and in several Scotland cities in the mid 20th century, as private car ownership rapidly rose. What became clear through the consultation is that people feel very strongly about the decision to list the Kingston Bridge, and a number of issues were raised, were raised, raging from the concerns that this would mean the bridge must always remain a motorway. And the climate change impacts of this, to worries that recognising the bridge in this way was insensitive to the effects its construction had on the community  directly affected. What, what is your opinion on these issues raised by the public?

Stuart Baird  

it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that we were very disappointed by by that reaction. And I think people, people have perhaps been a bit short sighted. And I think what we’re in danger of repeating some of the mistakes of the past because 50-60 years ago, we were tearing down lovely Victorian buildings and Georgian buildings without any thought about what, how they had been built or what, the how they might be considered in the future. And the Kingston Bridge is a stunning example of its type of structure designed by a Scotsman, William Fairhurst, you know, famous, famous design unique in many, many ways and and, and I felt that by people saying no, we shouldn’t list that. I think that we are sending the wrong message. Because, yes, there’s a motorway on top of that structure at the moment, that doesn’t need to be in 10 years or 20 years, it could be, it could be turned into a walkway, it could be turned into a public transport hub. It wasn’t so much about the motorway. It was about the bridge itself. Absolutely.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah. Look at the railway infrastructure. And there there’s, you know, there is a lot of surviving unused railway infrastructure in Glasgow and let’s say look at what’s happened in New York with the High Line, I mean, okay, New York’s obviously got different level of density. But you could do similar things with say that the City Union line, you could have part of that used as, as a walking route through the city. So there are other things you can put these huge pieces of infrastructure to, they don’t just have to sit around doing nothing, they could still be of a public benefit to the city. Yeah, in some way.

Stuart Baird  

That’s, that’s absolutely right. You know, and as the focus shifts and transport, you know, changes as it always does, and how, you know, people’s habits change and afford working from home more than the like, the does also, you know, always the possibility that the need for the motorway there may not be required anymore. And as you see, there are many other things that that structure can be used for. And people mentioned the, you know, the climate change implications in the pollution from that, but think of the carbon that would be expended by demolishing a bridge of that size and that scale, you know, we shouldn’t be throwing things away, we should be working to reuse. And that disappointed me, I think people missed the point of the listing. It wasn’t about recognising the motorway. It was about recognising the unique architectural features and technological features of the bridge itself. And it’s, you know, so we were disappointed, I must say, but I’m just glad that it got over the line in the end.

Niall Murphy  

Okay. Right. Well, to lighten things up. What is your favourite Fun fact, or interesting or unusual story about the motorway?

Stuart Baird  

There are so many, but the one I always focus on is the overhead signage. So the overhead sign gantries that you see above the M8, they’re unique, you won’t see them anywhere else in Britain, you won’t see them anywhere else in the world. They were designed by Holford, and in collaboration with one of the consulting engineers on the original scheme. So that we would have overhead signage, and lean signal control. But in a way that was not too visually obtrusive. So they’re all very slender, they’re all very light in colour. And they were designed to blend in because they appreciated,  we’re not going to use these large huge stack signs that they’re using on the M6 around the M4 in London,  we want something that looks a bit prettier. And that was why they adopted this internally illuminated sign box. And there’s over 200 of them still existed as the, but the first of them were constructed as part of the inner ring road in a very minimalist, very much of their time, but they still function very well today. And as I see it,  they are stunning example of a unique Glasgow motorway feature that you won’t see anywhere else.

Niall Murphy  

Fascinating. Okay, I’m gonna bring John back in now, and we’re going to ask both of you, and this is the question we ask all of our guests, and it’s a completely loaded question. So we are really interested to hear your response to this.

 And this is, what is your favourite building, it can be a motorway if you want in Glasgow, and what would it tell you if its walls could talk? So John, do you want to go first?

Reverend John Harvey  

Okay, Niall, I’m happy to do that. And I must say I’ve been fascinated, to listen to what Stuart has been saying. My favourite building in Glasgow is the Pierce Institute in Govan, the PI. 

Built in the 19th, early, early 20th century, as a kind of community hall for the people of Govan. And it’s favourite, for me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I worked there as a student in the 1960s, as a student minister in the 1960s, I was the minister of the church in the 1980s, which was responsible for the building. I had to raise a million pounds with other people to keep it going in the 1980s. And I’m still involved with it as a friend of the PI, but more importantly, my wife owns her very existence to the PI because her parents met there when they were working with George McLeod in the 1930s. So she was brought up with the story of the PI and when she was working with a charity called Glasgow Braendam Link to work alongside families living in poverty, she had an office there and worked there for many years. So for me, I call the PI my, my very own dear building, and if it could speak, it would say to me, thank you to everybody for keeping me alive. Because if the Council have got their hands on me, they’d have pulled me down!

Niall Murphy  

It’s a magnificent building. I love the PI. It’s fabulous. Stuart over to you.

Stuart Baird  

It may not surprise you that I’m going to choose a late 20th century building given that’s my main main field of interest. And I actually have chosen Elmbank Gardens, also known as a Charing Cross tower. Yeah, it’s one of Seifert designs, part of a much original sort of large plan for that Charing Cross area that never really came to anything in the end. But I think it just stands out as a as a stunning monument to that very optimistic time that the city came through in the 60s in particular, reaching into the future with these new modern buildings and saying this is the Glasgow of the future, we’ve got tall buildings now, we can have office blocks that are on a similar scale to New York and in other cities. 

And we are going to do it in style. And we’re going to involve architects that have really, you know, international reputation or whatever. And it’s just it’s one of those ones. For me. It’s always stood there. And again, it overlooks the motorway. So that all comes kind of hand in hand, you know, just the way it stands at Charing Cross. And when you look across the road, and you see the stunning Mitchell Library, it’s just it’s it’s such a comparison to make on the left, you’ve got this late 20th century building and on the other side, you’ve got the iconic Mitchell Library, it just, it’s they do stand out so well together for me, if it could talk. My goodness, what would it tell me? I think it would probably again, like John said, it’s probably feels that still lucky to be there. Because so many buildings of its type and from its years have been pulled down and thrown away in favour of new horrible..

Niall Murphy  

I think you’re right, I think I’ve seen at least ,at least three schemes for its redevelopment, which have never come to anything. No. So there’s an interesting little complex,

Stuart Baird  

It is a lovely  complex, and the fact that the railway station is incorporated within it as well it’s all part of that 60s idea, let’s combined it and bring it all together and make it very easy to get in and out of it. It’s a decent hotel to be in as well with great views across the city.

Niall Murphy  

Very much. Good, good. Well listen, thank you very much to both of you that was an absolute pleasure john and absolute pleasure, Stuart as well, two very kind of different perspectives of, of what has happened you know, since the mid 20th century in Glasgow, and it’s very, very much an absolute pleasure speaking to you both. So also to our audience. If you enjoyed this, please subscribe, and share. And don’t forget to follow with the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much! 

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

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Episode 3: Mapping Queer Glasgow, with Jeffrey Meek, Glasgow University

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, everyone. I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to if Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. 

In this episode, we’ll be talking about Scottish Queer History and places and how Queer Stories are researched and interpreted. Today, LGBT+ people in Scotland can marry, adopt children and pursue wonderful careers. Political leaders and public figures openly identify as gay or bisexual and Scotland recently topped two European league tables measuring legal protections offered to LGBT+ people. 

But this is all very recent, as for many years, Scotland was actually behind England and Wales in recognising sexual diversity. Instead, gay and bisexual men and women were starved of acceptance and recognition and subjected to intense homophobia. 

Scotland did not decriminalise gay sex between consenting men until 1980. To quote from James Adair, who was a former Lord Protector of Scottish Morality in Glasgow “Open homosexuality would elicit public disgust, promote male prostitution, and enable perverts to practice sinning for the sake of sinning”. And this is a revealing point of view as Adair, who lived in Pollockshields and was Commissioner from the Presbytery of Glasgow and associated with the National Vigilance Association of Scotland, he was a minority voice amongst the 11 men and women who sat on the committee chaired by Sir John Wolfenden, which produced the Wolfenden report in 1957, which eventually led to the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which changed the law in England and Wales so that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be considered a criminal offence. 

So at the same time, there were no laws against gay women and, lesbians were basically invisible, untouched by the law, but victims of the same stigma and discrimination. So looking back, it is important to appreciate that the path to an enlightened Scotland was filled with many obstacles. 

The concept of queerness, as discussed in relation to public space versus private space, in a nutshell was basically, I don’t mind what you do in your own home, but don’t do it in public. So this is the reason why queer spaces, bars, pubs, bookshops have such an important role in queer history. But how can we research and collect queer stories and make them relevant again, and what sort of traces past queer people left behind? 

Today we have a great guest to explore these topics and many more.

 Dr. Jeff Meek is a lecturer in economic and social history at Glasgow University. His area of expertise is LGBT+  history with a focus on gay and bisexual men, religion, medicine and the law, from 1885 to 1980. So Jeff has also been researching male prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow for his forthcoming book, “Queer trades society and the law, male prostitution in Interwar Scotland” he is also involved in mapping queer spaces in historical Scotland, and you can check out his work for yourself at www.queerscotland.com.  So on this fascinating website you can find historical maps to queer places and spaces in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and across the wider Central Belt. The purpose of these interactive maps is to be able to browse the venues and spaces that have attracted non heterosexual Glaswegians over the past 150 years. 

So after he done talks for Glasgow Doors Open Days festival, last year, Jeff wrote an interesting article for Glasgow Live called “Meet me at the knob”, and this was about the history of Glasgow’s gay scene but in particular about the notorious white hats, a gang of male prostitutes based on the Broomielaw in the 1920s. So in the article, Jeff says that the names that the White Hats used, are interesting because there are mostly a Variety Hall artists who performed at the Empire, Panopticon and the Pavilion. So in the early 20th century, queer people could discreetly socialise at venues such as the Theatre Royal, the Citizens, the Central Hotel and Green’s Playhouse on Renfield Street, as well as in cafes on the Broomielaw, by the 1960s Glasgow’s gay community, included the cocktail bar in the Royal along with guys standing on Hope Street. But by the 1970s you were getting the Scottish Minorities Group opening, the Glasgow Gay Centre at 534 Sauchiehall Street, which was the first such publicly named Centre in the UK. And there were three further places for Glasgow’s lesbian, gay and transexual community, including the Waterloo on Waterloo Street, the Duke of Wellington, which it is just next door in Argyle Street, and Vintners on Clyde Street. But it was only in the 1980s and 90s onwards that more openly gay mixed bars such as Bennett’s now AXM on Glassford Street, ClubX on  Royal Exchange Square,  Delmonicas on Virginia Street and Sadie Frost’s beneath Queen Street Station, started to appear. However, a lot of this is transitory and prone to disappear as the city regenerates, for instance, both Sadie Frost’s and Glasgow Gay Centre, which was later based on Dixon Street, have both recently been demolished for redevelopment. And with that the knowledge of these key spaces for one of Glasgow’s communities also becomes ephemeral. So it’s these suppressed or marginalised stories which Jeff is trying to reveal. Therefore, welcome to the podcast. Jeff.

Jeffrey Meek  

 Thanks very much. Thanks for having me.

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure. So first off, what can you tell me about the Queer Scotland website? How did it start?

Jeffrey Meek  

Well, really, it was, it was a case of historical nosiness. I just finished my PhD and it was a way of keeping myself occupied. While I looked for jobs, basically, I was fascinated by the stories that were coming out from the research that weren’t necessarily going to be central to my PhD. And when you, when you enter academia, you’re never entirely sure if you’re going to revisit these things again. So it can drag you off in various directions. And I was frustrated at that point that that didn’t seem to be much information out there on LGBT+  history in Scotland.

The website was a way of communicating with audiences across the web. And it was trying to capture particular moments in time, particular spaces that, you know, popped out in my research, whether that was through, you know, the interviews I did with gay and bisexual men who lived in Scotland in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Or through the archival research I did in terms of going to Edinburgh and looking at the archives there and I felt I wanted to share that. And 10-15 years ago, there were so little information out there about LGBT history in Glasgow and in Scotland. To be fair, things hadn’t radically changed in that regards. But I thought at the time the information was much too valuable, important, interesting to sit on a file on my computer gathering digital dust. So that’s how.

Niall Murphy  

I have to say it’s been sometimes, as I’m getting older, I’m kind of become much more interested in it, because it’s about traces of people’s lives and how they kind of disappeared over time. And so yeah, I’ve been been reading of late, things like Gay New York, this one, George, George Chauncey, and the Gay Metropolis by Charles Kaiser, all these kind of books, I’ve sort of gradually sort of developing a little kind of archive of them in my library and it’s because they do tell the story. 

So it’s, it’s really interesting to, to realise that there were those stories here too. And it’s you that’s beginning to tease them out. 

So Okay, next, next question on the website there are all these kind of interactive maps that you put together a Scotland’s queer history, spaces and places. So how did you start collecting that information to populate these maps? And are they still a work in progress and do you still get submissions for them? 

Jeffrey Meek

Yeah, I mean, again, this goes back to when I was doing my research for my PhD, and then latterly, for the book “Queer voices”. And I was trying to find a way to help me and my research of  kind of plotting, of noting, of mapping all the places that sprang out of the research, whether it was particular towns for those particular spots, and particular towns or if there are particular buildings. And I thought the best way of doing that was to actually place them on a map. And so I started placing them on Google Maps just as a way of seeing if we have particular venues for particular cruising areas, we have particular hotspots for arrests, where, over that kind of period, especially the first half of that period, 1885 into the 1950s. Right, so it started with 30, with Glasgow and Edinburgh, just one or two plots at a time. But before long, it was running into into hundreds of different places. And to be honest, it was beginning to take on a life of its own. So I thought I better do something with this, rather than just let it, let it set. So what started as me plotting where sodomy cases where and that was the first thing I did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it grew into a map of places and spaces that seemed to me to be important not just as LGBT history, but as a way of kind of representing LGBT experiences as well. 

So then from criminal cases it moved into, you know venues and hostelries, rather than just locations or the fences, or cruising areas. And the men I spoke to when I was doing my PhD research and research for “Queer voices”, were offering up this variety of places and spaces, places that I hadn’t even considered as being important to the LGBT experiences in Glasgow, I mean, I came to Glasgow in what ,1990 and there were places that I had no knowledge of, that  had operated in the decade, this is a couple of decades before. 

So most of the information on the maps does actually come out of my own research. But I do get occasional emails, or comments on the website recommending other places and spaces. And also there was a recent post there by Willie who was reflecting on his own experiences of coming out in Glasgow in  the 1950s, and 1960s. So I’m always very happy for people, that’s, that’s a wonderful person. Yeah, of course, high kicks and law morals. Really, really interesting. Yeah, yep. So that was a great thing. I mean, it was really, really appreciative of really getting in touch to share his story. 

So if people want to do that, then by all means, get in touch, even if it’s just to say -Oh, you’ve missed something from Greenock in the 1970s. That’s great, it adds to the knowledge and kind of builds the momentum of the map. 

And I hold my hand up here and say, you know, because my research focus was gay and bisexual men, it has a very gay and bisexual men leaning, in the sense that most of the information there is about that. And that’s not because I decided, I don’t want to include lesbian, bi, or trans experience, it was simply that I didn’t have the information. So if people have that kind of information, then yeah, I’d be delighted to add, to add a more diverse dynamic to the maps as they stand. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, absolutely. I mean, it is, it is really interesting to see these maps, it’s also interesting contrast, some say with the Glasgow Women’s Library, brought out a map, an actual guided guided tour, which went through the city centre, and it was interesting. Looking at that, because I was conscious are there some places that are sort of missing off that but of course, you’ve only got so much space when you’re putting one of these leaflets together, so I can understand that. But it also made me laugh too, because it had things like Sadie Frost’s in it, which hasn’t existed for a while, and I’m thinking, oh, I painted the ceilings in Sadie Frost’s, some kind of, you know, that’s how it so it disappears  and part of your own life has disappeared. And that’s, that’s how kind of ephemeral some of these spaces are, or, you know, ClubX, first nightclub I ever went to, doesn’t exist anymore. So it’s, it’s funny, it does change really, really quickly. And that’s just part, part of what the scene is like. 

So moving on, then. In an article that you published in Glasgow Live in February 2021 you said  “It wasn’t all oil and cigarettes, there are more voices that need to be heard”. 

So how do you look for those stories and voices, and is it easy to find queer stories in the city’s archives, or do you do rely mainly on oral history? 

Jeffrey Meek  

I mean, it would be great, you know, to go into an archive and open a file, and a deluge of information pours out about LGBT experience. But of course, that, that doesn’t happen. It never happens like that, you have to pick out small details from material and kind of broaden the parameters of your research. So you end up using a whole variety of sources to try and find out more information about particular people, about particular places and spaces. 

So often, the kind of gay, queer, LGBT dynamic of something is hidden under layers of different materials. Things have kind of changed in the past 10 to 15 years in the sense that, for example, the National Library and the National Records of Scotland have quite handy LGBT research guides, which didn’t exist, you know, 10-15 years ago, which are really helpful if you’re aiming to try and explore LGBT history and experience, and other archives, I think are beginning to follow that pathway. 

It’s come a long way since the days gone past in the early 2000s, or the mid 2000s when I went into an archive, which I wouldn’t mention, and ask the archivist, if they had any LGBT content and the person I was speaking to was was a little shocked, and a little horrified that I was asking that. 

So oral histories are vitally important in that process as well. We need more, I think research that focuses on the diversity of LGBT + experience. The research is not focused on nor white, middle class, gay men. I mean, it’s really difficult, for example, to find a good Scottish, lesbian, bi women’s history, not to mention, not to mention trans histories as well. These are really difficult to get any information about Yeah. But also think one of, one of the best ways to do this is by linking with community groups and heritage organisations as part of that process. Because there is this kind of obstacle sometimes I think that people perceive academics to be set apart in some way from community groups or heritage organisations, that we write for an elite audience. And we’re not interested in  broadening our research this way, I do wish there was a better kind of cooperation between these different, you know, vitally important components and exploring histories, marginalised histories.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, very, very much. And I think I think that’s, that’s a, that’s a very good point. I know, people like Scottish Civic Trust, have been doing a very similar exercise over the last couple of years. So I think it’s incredibly important. And it’s something that I’m conscious that we have to do as an organisation. It’s to be able to take those histories and present them to  everybody in Glasgow. So it’s not just to an exclusive audience. It can’t just be academic, it’s got to be for everybody. Because, you know, we’re serving everybody. 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I like to think that when I write, I don’t write terribly academic, in the sense that I think my material is reasonably accessible. I’ve done a fair bit of writing for different organisations and different newspapers, etc. But I think there is a kind of desperateness about LGBT history research in Scotland, for example, if you were to ask me to name four other academics in Scotland, that are examining this, I would really struggle to do that. And that’s been the way it has been for the last 10-15 years. And it’s great that we have organisations such as Our Story Scotland, actively collecting and collating oral histories from the LGBT plus communities across Scotland. But still, in terms of research, in terms of exploring the diversity of LGBT experience, you know, there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done in order to bring that on par with gay and bisexual men’s history. Sure, absolutely. 

Niall Murphy  

No, I mean, from, from personal experience, being an architect, you know, I can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of out architects that I actually know and, and it’s been like that for decades. There’s really not that many. So there are those architecture, LGBT plus who were kind of based down in England, and they are trying to set up with , it’s Mark Cairns from New Practice taking the lead on this at the moment. They’re trying to set up in the city just now. So again, it’s all part of understanding that there is a broader community, but it’s relatively invisible, except for a couple of days a year. And it’s teasing out and say, actually, we’re here all the time, you know. So it’s, it’s, it’s Yeah, it’s all part of that process. So, okay, well, moving on then. 

So what would you say, are the most important iconic, historical places and buildings linked to queer history? I mean, in your article, you talked about the White Hats, gangs and the Broomielaw and you also refer to the knob, which is the monument of Admiral Nelson on Glasgow Green. So can you tell us a bit more about all of that, and how that ties in with gay histories? 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah. I mean, it’s actually difficult to think of particular buildings that have some sort of resonance with LGBT experience. For me, it’s more about spaces and places. And I think that Nelson’s monument is a key example of that, because that was, if you like, a gay hotspot, in the late 19th century right through to the interwar period. It features I think, centrally and in numerous cases, in the High Court and sheriff court throughout that period, the police went to significant extremes to seek it out. 

They were hiding in bushes  for hours on end, waiting for some unfortunate couple to engage in sexual behaviours. And it’s interesting that if you were a heterosexual couple, and you were doing the similar type of thing you generally were given a stand talking to and told to go home. They were only really interested in the gay stuff. So that’s and, and also the Rowing Club. I can’t remember the official name of the Rowing Club there. That was also another place that features quite prominently.

Niall Murphy  

How interesting, it is having a restoration at the moment, so they will actually, there are two rowing clubs. So yes, yeah. 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, what  makes it so important. I think it’s because, it was a monument in the sense that it was something that could be seen. It was something it could be accessed. It was, it was a visible presence on the riverside horizon and acted in a way like a beacon in the night hours, and it was part of a queer promenades, effectively that stretched from McAlpine Street for the long Broomielaw linked up with several of the theatres in the city centre, and incorporated Glasgow Green, as well. And that’s where the police kind of focus much of their activity during this period, the police were well aware of what was going on, who was participating.

Niall Murphy  

Well, they had, their headquarters is literally right next door. It’s very handy because the central police station was just out St. Andrew’s Square.

Jeffrey Meek  

And  if it was a particularly slow week, the police knew what could really kick up that arrest figures, which have been popping along to Glasgow green. And what this kind of suggests to me is that places and spaces during this period, extended the shape, they extended the shape of themselves, extending the meaning to bring about an LGBT dynamic to places that the rest of the population would be totally oblivious to. Absolutely, yep. Yes. Yeah. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s fascinating. And it’s, it’s, there are so many histories and cities I can think of that kind of are similar to that. What’s particularly fascinating about Glasgow, I suppose, is that I’m not sure that still happens anymore. I am not, certainly not on my map or anything. But I suspect that some to do with you know, what happened in Glasgow, with the comprehensive development areas, the loss of industry, etc, etc. and a massive loss of population around Glasgow Green, you know, Glasgow Green would have been hemmed in with these very densely populated districts, and none of that’s left now. 

So you, whereas in the past, you know, all of those people in those densely populated areas would have needed that kind of outlet. It’s much more dissipated nowadays. So it’s probably completely changed. 

And again, when you when you look at the Broomielaw in particular, this is the touch on urbanism. When you look at it now, it’s what the Danish urbanist Jan Gehl, would call a 50 miles, miles an hour city, it’s got all of these kind of buildings, which don’t have very many entrances on them, they get one huge big entrance, and it’s all geared being passed at speed in the car. It’s not geared to promenading, which is what you would have wanted back then. And when you look at what historic photographs of what that area was actually like, it’s much more like the Water of Leith than it is now where it’s much more of an expressway with these huge kind of quite anonymous corporate buildings on a completely different area. And that kind of Water of Leith environment would have been much more conducive with you know, small cafes, all these outlets, places you could go to, what you’re talking about than it is now so it just shows you how a city changing can destabilise things and get people to shift their activities somewhere else, by the nature of what you know, replaces the original. 

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, very much so that I was you know, plucking out the Broomielaw, McAlpine Street, you know, Clyde Street and these different areas at the time when I was looking at the research material, I was thinking to myself, that’s a pretty risky area just to go wandering about and then realising that, you know, 100 years ago, this was mobbed. There were people there was a throng of people here so it was much more. Yes, you’re able to be anonymous and invisible. When there are more people than it is now, yeah, I did a radio documentary a couple of years ago, kind of briefly introducing the White Hats, we actually went to McAlpine Street to where  the White Hats at the base and McAlpine Street, the worksite of William Paton was the leader of the White Hats and his mother, Agnes run this fish restaurant. So we went there to film,  to record this documentary. And of course, there’s nothing there. It’s just a wasteland McAlpine Street, Yes. But we did manage to find the cobbles that formed the the base of the back court of a two to four Broomielaw, which linked in to the house and McAlpine Street. So despite the fact that there was nothing there, I still felt some sort of connection with the past. And the sense that I’m standing on the cobbles that the white hats would have, you know, clicked along in there in their kitten heels. 

Niall Murphy  

Just stood on as well. Yeah, this again, this is what fascinates me about Glasgow, I got roped in at the very last minute to do a walking tour for the BBC Coast programme. This is a while back, and you know how we begun to be introduced to Neil Oliver and kind of this is your party, off you go. And oh, my God, it was such a difficult tour to do, because there was nothing left. And you were having to describe all of these buildings and spaces and activity, and hope that people could imagine it. And that was a real tough gig. And it wasn’t until we eventually got to the Clyde Port building  and it’s when you do a walking tour, you can you can tell whether people are interested, not because you just have to get the whites of their eyes. And if they start glazing over, you have lost your audience. And it wasn’t until we got to the Clyde Port that they suddenly sprung back up into life again, because that was really having to kind of work it to tell the story of something that they just couldn’t see for themselves, a really difficult thing to do. So. But again, it’s just, it’s, that’s the point that city has disappeared. 

Jeffrey Meek  

It has, it was much easier doing on the radio, of course, when the viewers couldn’t see that there was nothing there. Yes, exactly. That’s probably the gig on radio you get you’ve got to describe it. So yeah, because it was it was fun. But yeah, I mean, it’s so McAlpine, Street, Broomielaw, that part’s gone. The other place that that the white hats congregated or met was  Stobcross Street, I think. And of course, that part’s gone as well. Fundamentally changed. I saw this kind of rush for post war reconstruction and redevelopment has obliterated, you know, many of the buildings that that we, I could associate with LGBT history. And it’s a case of trying to not see that as a significant loss in terms of the story, the story  still exists, the people still existed, that building, these buildings still existed. And it’s trying to, you know, encourage the same level of excitement that I get when I read about it, in other people and assuring them that because the building isn’t there anymore, does not devalue or take anything away from the story, although it’d be much better if it was there. And if anyone, if anyone has a photograph of the corner of Broomileaw and McAlpine Street, when there were buildings there, I’d be very grateful because nobody seems to have a photograph of that venue. So I would still like to see it.

Niall Murphy  

 I wonder to wether our patron, John Hume, Professor John Hume might well do, he was in that 1960s and kind of early 70s, he was photographing everything around there. He’s his kind of Scotland’s top expert on kind of industrial architecture and archaeology. And he just photographed everything. So he’s got it all and he’s given it all to Historic Environment Scotland, so but there are, there are occasional nuggets of gold you can find in his, his photographs and when you see them at all, so that makes sense again, because you appreciate what was once there and what the city was like. But yeah, all very sadly swept away. So okay to go back to the legal side of things. Scotland didn’t decriminalise gay sex between consenting men until 1980, obviously on the back of what happened with Adair and for this reason, queer stories, and this is something that depresses me, are often linked with crime. And very often the only traces we can find are in criminal archives. 

So what would you say is the best way to interpret and highlight these stories and the places they’re linked to?

Jeffrey Meek  

You know, I think it is a bit it is a bit depressing. It certainly, you know, you’re accessing people’s stories through trial and precognition records, medical reports and such like that these men had to go under, I had to go through once they were arrested in a very deep, depersonalising and dehumanising process that’s catalogued and precognition records, yes. You’re extremely limited in that sense. These are the records that we need to use, but a criminal record and a person’s identity, you know, from whenever 1878- 1903, whatever gives us a link to a person. And that person’s story can then be explored in more detail. So it’s linking people to your pull out records to census, supports and finding out more about them. And building another aspect of that person’s identity and character, you know, that slightly shifts them away from the criminal realm and to the kind of human realm Yeah. So for these older records for these older cases for, for these older experiences, you know, sometimes we just have to accept the records that we have and the only records that we will ever have. 

For the slightly later periods, then, you know, oral history is a fantastic tool that can be used to to explore people’s perceptions. Of course, a person reflecting on something that occurred 50 years ago, might not remember things as accurately as, as if you were taking factual notes contemporaneously. But that tells us a lot about what’s happened to that person in their life too. So, you know, it is about exploring the opportunities that we do have, however limited to build more about a person and that identity and the humanity of that experience and and how they’ve interpreted their experiences. 

We can also do things like, if we have a place, a space that we can identify, like 2 to 4 Broomielaw, it’s about finding out who owns 2 to 4 Broomielaw, who rented 2 to 4 Broomielaw. How long did they rent 2 to 4 Broomielaw? What does that tell us about what was happening? And the Broomielaw at that time? So I mean, that’s what I’ve done with the White Hats in the midst of writing the book at the moment. 

And then a few months ago, I laid it all in a table, everything that I had, you know about these individuals, I was thinking, Oh, my God, how am I going to be able to write a book here, but then you start unpicking things. And at the moment, I’m writing about male impersonators on the stage in 1920s 1930s, Glasgow. And there’s a reason for that, because it links to the names that these men used professionally. So you suddenly learned that William Paton or  Thomas Dalgleish  or whomever, must have gone to the Empire or the Panopticon, or whatever, and watch these performers on that stage. And they are immediately. Yeah, you have a human connection, their likes and dislikes. So one little nugget of information, even if it is from a criminal record, can lead you down a path that takes you to find more interesting and kind of human places. 

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, very much. I mean, what came, what came out of that for me, which kind of, I thought was really interesting was that the, you know, the mother and the son, were clearly exploiting these people who are from a very marginalised group. And you can totally understand why people were marginalised. I mean, you know, they want, they wanted to express a core inner part of their being. But the only way they could do that was through an activity that had been criminalised since, you know, 15th century onwards. And, you know, people being at risk of either death, or being, you know, transported to Australia, or, you know, all of these things, inevitably, they’re all going to be marginalised. And therefore, that’s going to make them poor, because they’re outside of the mainstream of society. And it’s how you get your way back into that. So it’s always going to be marginalised. It’s, it’s, it’s really fascinating and, and, again, that ties in with, you know, Adair in what he was doing, because he wanted to silence those voices, and he didn’t want them to be brought out. Because he had a very different idea of what, what he wanted Scottish society to be. And that natural fact it didn’t, didn’t reflect that much, much broader church that actually is…

Jeffrey Meek  

Maybe, Adair is a classic example of kind of, mendacity, and, and all of these things, you know, as a procurator fiscal, he prosecuted many men for sex with another man during the, you know, the first quarter of the 20th century. So for him to boldly state, you know, that this is not a problem in Scotland that we should be discussing, it is just, it’s just hypocrisy of the highest level. Totally. I mean, he was he was he was in constant communication with people like William Merrilees , in Edinburgh, who was waging war on homosexuality in the 20s and 30s. So they knew exactly what the situation was in terms of the number of people that were being criminalised. And that’s certainly a reflection of a small potential percentage of the population, the LGBT population at that time. So for them to, you know, have to maraud through the 50s with blinkers on. You know, it just reflects something very peculiar about Scotland in the 50s. And 60s. Yeah. And only only tells part of the story because there, you know, isn’t the reason that Scotland is different. The it’s a much more complex picture, but it’s yet, it’s people like James Adair, they get all the attention. And I think part of, partially is because he was an attention seeker.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yes. Yeah. I suspect you’re probably right. It’s interesting. What William Merrilees.  When I was looking at this, I actually come from a police family kind of on both sides. And my grandfather on my mother’s side was, he was in Edinburgh, and his beat was from, there’s a very beautiful Georgian police station at the bottom of Leith Walk and his beat was all the way up Leith Walk on Princess Street, he was basically in charge of that whole stretch. He must have known William Merrilees. And it was funny because when he eventually I came out to my parents, in kind of the mid 90s, they’re like, don’t you tell your grandfather, he won’t accept it. And looking back on what William Merrilees was like you’re thinking, this is the culture he was immersed in and no wonder he wouldn’t accept it. He would find that really difficult to tolerate and he wouldn’t be able not to say something and I really loved my grandfather and not being able to say something like that to him, was you know, to conceal that was, was really difficult to do. Yeah, yeah. That’s fascinating. Yeah.

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, I mean, it really barely is. I remember speaking to someone who told me a story, William Merrilees, was, you know, effectively came to, you know, become a police officer because of his heroics  at Leith Harbour on numerous occasions. He dived into the water to save a drowning boy, I think it was 22 times he did this. And the story I heard was someone in Leith once said, “Yeah, he pushed half of them in” and so probably. But the thing is William Merrilees has been glorified. Even had  his own cartoon strip, William Merrilees became this icon of of respectable Scottish policing. And to the extent that, you know, when people read about his war on homosexuality, there must be some people that think, but he must have been right. He must have been doing the right thing, because William Merrilees was a fantastic police officer. 

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. And when you see all that kind of, in the 1960s, on the back of what Adair has been doing with the Wolfenden Commission, and then how he presents it in the press, in the 1960s, you can understand why, you know, there’s so much resistance and it’s so slow. And it’s, it’s, it’s really fascinating because exactly the same kind of pattern re emerges when section 28 of the Scottish Parliament decides to tackle section 28. And you get the whole kind of thing reemerging again, and, you know, we can’t have this, it’s going to, you know, spoil our children not on and nobody actually really explains the whole situation properly in a human way. And, you know, with any kind of sensitivity or understanding, it’s quite depressing.

Jeffrey Meek  

It is. It’s the same narrative that keeps on popping out. Yeah, it is so predictable. You can read it in the 30s. You can read it in the German sexologist work. You can read it in the 50s. You can read it in the 70s. And you can read it in the 80s. You can even read it today and it’s the same kind of narrative. Yeah, very, very much.

Niall Murphy  

Yes. Yeah. Okay, so I mean, going back to what we were discussing with marginalised minorities in history and, you know, queer history, a lot of it is ephemeral and it has been erased, or not documented properly. So what can we do to include these kind of marginalised histories in archives and collective social memory nowadays?

Jeffrey Meek  

It’s a bit of embedding it within Scottish history. It’s, it’s, it’s a bit not seeing as LGBT history. The needs to be separated and focused on in a different way. And it kind of leads on to the issue of LGBT history months and things like that, which are very positive in a sense, but it means that once that month is over, you can put it back in its box and say, well I’ve, we’ve done that. We’ve supported Pride, we sponsored Pride. We’re showing here inclusivity and progressiveness. Yeah, but it only lasts for that month. Yes. And it’s about, it’s about somehow embedding that within history. I mean, I don’t know how many social and cultural history courses that are at universities and colleges across Scotland. But I wonder how many of those social and cultural history courses include LGBT History and experience. Very few, I would imagine.

Niall Murphy  

I would imagine and given, given what you said about academics, you can count on one hand.

Jeffrey Meek  

Well, it will create, I mean, I do a sexuality course and economic and social history in Glasgow and all of a sudden  sounds like I am blowing my own trumpet,  but few of the students have said to me, that’s the first time in two, three years studying history at the university that we’ve encountered anything that, that engages with LGBT experience. And I think that’s part of the problem is that even though it is 2021, it’s somehow being seen as a separate issue. We can lump it with, with, with Gender, and Sexuality Studies, where do we fit LGBT history and experience within the curriculum? And I think that speaks to the, you know, the wider issue about how LGBT experiences still is, in some senses marginalised as no one really know what’s, what to do with it?

Niall Murphy  

Very, very much. Yeah, I mean, I’m thinking of earlier when I realised that where the gay, Glasgow’s Gay Centre had been at 534 Sauchiehall Street, that’s actually a A listed building by Sir John James Burnet, the Albany Chambers, incredibly grand building, you got Quentin Crisp, visiting that centre, you know, all these kind of famous people visit, Tom Robinson, all got, all kind of visited. And there’s nothing there that tells you any of this. There’s no kind of interpretation. And that kind of depresses me a wee bit as well, that we could do. 

And I feel this anyway, about Glasgow, not just with LGBT|+ histories, but with all kinds of histories, we don’t tell our story  very well. And it’s something that we need to do better. And it’s about, you know, making queer history relevant. And and, you know, and emphasising that this is important too, do you think that Glasgow could do better in this regard?

Jeffrey Meek  

Yeah, absolutely. You can walk around Glasgow and not appreciate that there is an LGBT history in the city. I don’t know if it’s a hangover from this kind of industrial Glasgow, machismo, hard man, broken bodies type ideology exists around the city. So it’s only just recently that that Glasgow is kind of engaged with its slavery history, which has been, you know, the elephant in the room, we can go for 200 years, in effect in Glasgow. So yeah, I think Glasgow can do so much more. It’s a bit how we actually do that. But that’s probably the main issue. You know, if I don’t know if students at secondary school are being taught LGBT culture and history, I think it probably comes from people’s demand, to see, and hear more about the city’s LGBT history and such you know, programmes.

Niall Murphy  

The TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) campaign have been doing that in Scotland, but they seem to be kind of coming in for a lot of flack at the moment, unfortunately. Yeah.

Jeffrey Meek  

I mean, you know, some of the outright homophobia, I think, that they’re they’ve experienced on Twitter and other social media platforms has been scary. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s been been quite depressing.

Jeffrey Meek  

But, you know, is that, is that a social media thing? Or does it reflect true, popular opinion in the real world? But it’s still horrific, to experience, whatever percentage of the population it might represent. 

Niall Murphy

Yeah absolutely. I just think, I think what what they do, you know, when I was growing up, there was no kind of positive role models to kind of really look at. And, you know, you had this deep, ingrained sense of shame as a consequence, which you’ve totally defined you as a person when you’re growing up as a teenager, and trying to figure out how to move away of that, I would have been so grateful to have something like that at the time. And I really do wish them luck. I think it’s so important.

Jeffrey Meek

Yeah, I mean, I’ve got similar experience. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, in a rural part of Scotland where, you know, the word gay wasn’t even mentioned very often, let alone anything positive about it. So in some senses, we’ve come a lot. We’ve come a long way and 40 years since decriminalisation but yes, in some regards. Not that far.

Niall Murphy  

I suppose that kind of links us to where we’re going with kind of the last question. And you know, and it’s to do with LGBT+  kind of presence and relationship with about heritage and and how do you tease that out when it is so ephemeral, it’s it’s it’s really not easy, but any suggestions?

Jeffrey Meek  

I think it’s about having the right kind of connections between different organisations and between different people to enable that, that history to be teased out. I mean, I’m, you know, I’m fascinated by space, especially urban space and how that has evolved over a period. And I think that, you know, when you really go to different places, there’s always a queer or LGBT dynamic to it. I was walking through the Necropolis recently, and I began to think about how many of these 1000s of people had a story that is now lost to history entirely. And that kind of depressed me at that point. 

So I think it’s about you know, you know, finding some sort of way of connecting existing world histories, for example, Our Story Scotland, with the built environment, and with how urban, how LGBT people engage with space and place over time. Has that changed? You know, it’s the thing I was doing with the buildings, and titled, Queering, I think, “Queering the architecture of Glasgow” or “Queering the buildings of Glasgow”. And I was thinking about how many buildings in Glasgow have some sort of LGBT+ historical dynamic or history to them. 

SMG for example,  they were moving all around it during that period, of course, you had the the Columbus, the called it in Queens Crescent. 

So you know, there’s, there’s so many buildings, I think, in Glasgow, that could have a Queer or LGBT+ historical dynamic, and there’s a bit teasing that out, so that it’s not all focused on, you know, Nelson’s monument or, you know, the police court there, that can have human dimensions to it. So it’s about, you know, plotting the queer history of Glasgow. And you know, teasing out these yes, these LGBT stories, these histories that are going to get lost completely, unless people do something about them.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, absolutely. And maybe that is where the maps, growing the map. Maybe that’s the way to go. Because, you know, you can still locate these various stories where they were in the city, but not necessarily, you can locate it on the map, just not necessarily in the same place anymore. Because the buildings disappeared. Maybe that’s one way to do it. So and finally turn to buildings itself. What’s your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk?

Jeffrey Meek  

Listen, I’ve got for one for me, because my favourite buildings in Glasgow do not exist anymore.

Niall Murphy  

Oh, go on then.

Jeffrey Meek  

You know if it is, you know, 2 to 4 Broomielaw it is whatever number it is at Stobcross Street. It’s it’s the buildings that tell some sort of story. That is the building. I think it’s I can’t remember now in Garnethill that the Galloway family owned in the 1920s that they’ve drilled a peep hole through the wall to spy on their the guests that were staying there because they suspected he was a homosexual and went to the police with their evidence. It’s these buildings. I think that means so much more to me. Also, and I know I’m taking it back to the crime angle but you know, the Glasgow central police court and police station Yes. For me, it’s a building that I’ve never been in. I tried to get into it to do my talk for Doors Open Days. I’ve been in it. And to me, it’s about you know that there are so many men who passed through that building, whose stories could tell us something could tell us about their experience how that damaged or destroyed their lives. Because so many more men got, 5 pounds fines, or a 15 pounds fines than were ever sent to prison. So you know that it’s these kind of buildings, they must they must have so many stories to tell. So that’s a building that fascinates me.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Yeah, it’s fascinating. That one that is an intriguing building, a developer has, at the moment, is allegedly going to be turning it into some residential with a mix of kind of other accommodation in it. But having been around it, it’s actually going to be a really intriguing building to adapt, because the front part of it that sits on kind of looking towards St Andrew’s Square, which is notionally the posh part of it, it is actually not in a really good way at all because behind that facade, it’s all kind of plaster and timber flooring and the roof is leaking like a sieve. And so it’s dry, it’s riddled with dry rot. And you have to be really careful where you step into the actual courtroom itself, which is a magnificent space is pretty ropey. And yet when you go beyond the courtyard to the kind of the back of the whole complex, that’s where all the cells are. And the cellblock is in fantastic condition, because it was all concrete construction. And so it’s actually in really good nick. But there’s something about it that’s ever so slightly terrifying, would make a fantastic set for a horror film. And they’re, they have used it for for filming inside. But it’s what would you do with those cells and what is not really the kind of thing that lends itself to a residential building, whereas the front part might so I think that’s gonna be a bit of a challenge for them, but very much an intriguing building. So thank you very much, Jeff. This has been a very, very interesting and at times, slightly depressing conversation, but, but yeah, really, really fascinating. And I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Yep. So and, you know, to to people who are listening in and if you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much!

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by  Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

 

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Episode 4: Tenement life, with Ana Sanchez De la Vega, Tenement House and Allistair Burt, Camphill Gate

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy,  welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. Today we will be talking about tenements in Glasgow, and about what it is like living in a tenement now compared to living in one at the start of the 20th century. 

So Glasgow is a tenement city par excellence. And I imagine most of our listeners probably live in a tenement, this is why tenements are a core focus for Glasgow City Heritage Trust building repair grant programme. And the reason for that, is that the tenement is the traditional form of urban housing in Scotland, and has all classes of people covering the full spectrum of domestic life. As such, it helps undergird Scotland’s urban culture. So stone facades of tenements have helped define Glasgow streets since the 17th century. And nowadays roughly 73% of Glaswegians live in a tenement. A figure that was even higher before the 1950s.

 So what exactly is a tenement? Well, it is an idea of which dates to the Roman Empire and comes from the Latin word Tenementum or holding, which referred to Rome’s great insulae were multiple tenements were packed into these tall tenement like buildings, generating rent for the building’s owner. 

However, this image of the tenement only really takes hold in the latter part of the 19th century, and is a consequence of how our tenements evolved to accommodate the fast influx of people who after the Industrial Revolution, came to Glasgow to work in the city’s factories, mills and shipyards. During this time, Glasgow’s population grew from a quarter of a million at the start of Queen Victoria’s reign to 760,000 at the end of it, all those people had to be housed somewhere. And it had to be done in a way that prevented overcrowding, disease and epidemics. 

So this was done via a combination of statutory requirements laid down by various police acts, which governed things like cleanliness, ventilation, access to daylight and is the reason why we have things such as wally closes, which are easy to clean, and toilets and tenants. 

The turn of the 20th century were represented as a golden age of the Glasgow tenement, with the construction for rent of top of the line tenements, with all mod cons in middle class areas such as Pollokshields, and Hyndland. While the City Improvement Trust was also building model working class tenements in areas such as Trongate,  Cowcaddens and the Gorbals. 

Sadly, all this came to a halt when an incremental tax on property speculation and Lloyd George’s People’s Budget of 1909 to 10 put an end to tenement construction in Glasgow. Not only did this limited housing supply in an overcrowded city, unfortunately those problems were compounded by what happened in the First World War. 

So to combat landlords profiteering, while their men were out at the front, and 1915 under the leadership of Mary Barbour, Glasgow’s working class women went on a rent strike, which soon spread to other working class communities in the UK. So this resulted in the rents and mortgage Interest Restriction Act of 1915. Initially temporary, parts of this act were not repealed until 1989. So the unintended consequence for Glasgow, while this act was a good thing, the unintended consequence was that the cap on rents stymied Glasgow’s factoring profession, who collected rents and maintained the tenements for the owners. So the even though Glasgow’s tenements were very well built, this led to a cycle of neglect and decline over many decades thereafter. 

So by the 1950s, this neglect was coming home to roost. But rather than pay for the repairs, most owners decided to sell their tenements to their tenants, thus fragmenting ownership, and making the coordination of maintenance even more difficult. So in response to the poor condition of Glasgow’s tenements, the corporation declared 27 comprehensive development areas, with 40% of the Victorian city, including many tenements, then being swept away. 

So but by the 1970s, things were changing. So in the best example of this is Annie’s Loo. So Annie’s Loo was where Mrs. Annie Gibbon, who lived at 10 Luath Street in Govan, worked with her neighbours and students from Strathclyde University to show that it was possible to fit a bathroom into a bed recess. And when it was officially opened by Councillor Pat Lally on 10th of February 1972, this innovation caused the sensation and led to the birth of Glasgow’s local housing association movement, because it showed you could rehabilitate and refurbish the tenements. 

So on the back of this you then get in the mid 1970s middle class tenement areas such as East Pollokshields and Hyndland being declared conservation areas and suddenly by the 1980s Glasgow’s tenements are fashionable and desirable once more. So today, we have two excellent guests to talk all things tenements. Our first up is Ana Sanchez, Visitor Service Supervisor at the Tenement House, the Tenement House is a very special property owned by the National Trust for Scotland. So Ana’s role is varied, and she covers volunteer strategy and training to collections care and conservation. And she also plans exhibitions, events and special tours. 

The Tenement House is a red stone tenement, built in 1892, and is on Buccleuch Street in Garnethill. From the outside it looks like an ordinary middle class late 19th century tenement. However, when you step inside the flat, the four rooms appears to have frozen in time, and provide a rare glimpse into life in Glasgow in the early 20th century. It was rented by shorthand typist, Miss Agnes Toward who lived in the flat from 1911, until 1965, and who carefully preserved all her furnitures and possessions with the utmost love and care. So Ana, welcome to the podcast. 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Hi, Niall, thank you so much for having me. 

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure. So first off, what can you tell me about the Tenement House? You know, from within, and what sort of tenement was the Tenement House? How common was at that time to have the facilities that it had, such as an indoor toilet and an extra bedroom? What can you tell us about that?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega  

Well, the Tenement House is so unique in the way that it represents a way in which many people lived at the turn of the century in Glasgow, but it holds very personal stories of its inhabitants at the same time, so we have that dual narrative in the, in the property. 

Of course tenements are still occupied today by a lot of people, I live in one myself, and so the stories that are happening in tenements are very much alive and I feel like new chapters are constantly being added to  that story. And the Tenement House is one of the most unique places in in Glasgow, I would say the best but that’s just me. And it is a very special property indeed for the National Trust for Scotland, it is in the centre of Glasgow as you  said, and it was built as an upper middle class tenement and for our records, we know that it was lived in by a professional working class. So the people that used to live in it in those tenements were working class, bankers, young families, we have a lawyer and a nurse at one point. And so it’s typical in its structure and layout to many other tenements in Glasgow, and it has many of the same quirks that tenements still shared today. 

In terms of facilities, I think given its location and and the people, and its inhabitants, it was already built with an indoor toilet and hot running water which is quite luxurious for the time. And, and it has three other rooms so we have a kitchen, a bedroom and a parlour, and it didn’t have central heating, but instead it had fireplaces and gas lights which are still in place today and give a really atmospheric feel to it and the rest of the original fittings are from 1892 as well. And we own four flats within the building. One of them being Mr. Toward’s flat, which is the time Capsule. 

Niall Murphy  

Right? Okay, well, well, looking back at what her life was like there. And you know, it’s it’s incredible that she kind of preserved this entire flat in aspects, as it were, you know, which makes it kind of such a tribute to what it was when she first moved in. But at the same time, you know, the city is going through all these vast changes. So you’ve got, you know, Garnethill in particular is, is, you know, you’ve got sections of tenements, or parts of it that are very recognisable that, but then it just abruptly stops compared to how it was so. 

So you know, how much has changed since Miss Toward lived in the tenement?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, that’s such a great question. So Miss Towars lived in the Tenement House from 1911 till 1965. 

So a lot, a lot of things have changed since, she lived through lots of changes that were quite interesting. For example, she lived through the 1918 pandemic. So she was my age when she lived through that, which I think is quite interesting. Yeah, yeah. And her generation, and everyone that was living in that tenement at the time went through things like coping with uncertainty of a pandemic, after a war. I mean, they went to two world words while they were living in there. And it’s, which is such an example of resilience. And in terms of changes, they saw the Subway being develop, the Glasgow School of Art being built around, around the corner. And, and she saw the motorway’s changes specifically through Charing Cross, because that’s where we’re located, and completely changing the trams. And, and she also experienced a change where lots of residents of tenements were being relocated to other places and high rises, and due to the construction of the motorway, so the whole panorama changed, and but she also saw things like the Queen’s coronation on the TV. 

She has, we’ve kept in the property and amazing archive of all of the correspondence that she had, which gives us insight into all of these changes that were happening in the city at the time that she was living.

Niall Murphy  

It must be fascinating to be able to read that archive and kind of  what she recorded there. So there are other things as well that are worth teasing out from that?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, I mean, her and her mother, so they are two women, basically. And they’re both working women, which I quite like, the mother was a dressmaker, she was a shorthand typist, and they never made any major changes to the flat, but also they hoarded all sorts of objects that we would normally thrown away. And so Agnes, there were both named Agnes just to make our lives easier. But Agnes the younger, she became a shorthand type is, which meant she often kept carbon copies of the letters that she sent, which is great, because you get both parts of the correspondence here. And, and it’s an amazing resource. Because, you know, that and all of the newspapers, magazines, receipts that she kept really helps paint a picture of the of life back then.

Niall Murphy  

It just sounds absolutely fascinating. So, you know, looking at that, then do you think that living in a tenement now compared to how it was during the first half of the 20th century? Is it very different?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yes. It is definitely, I mean, it’s, it’s, we’re so lucky to have modern commodities that have allowed our roles and structures and families to evolve. And, and in terms of things like hygiene, it’s a big change. And I can control the heating and the lights of my flat from my phone. Can you imagine people back that and like knowing this, and when they had to, like, not only like, light the fireplaces or the range, but use gaslights if they were to know, right, and so no more coal ashes to clean and no more clothes going through the mangle. I think we’re unbelievably lucky. 

But at the same time, visiting the Tenement House and living in a tenement can really help you understand the architectural design of the, of the buildings, and they’re still loved and lived in and sought after, because of these architectural features that are still quite handy for us today, like the borrow lights or double windows that you were referring before, and very much, but I wouldn’t like to share my toilet with all of my neighbours or a half of  the garden, so yeah, definitely. I think I prefer now. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yeah, I’ve been I’ve been there and done that, actually, for a wee while was living in a tenement in East Berlin. And this was in the early 90s. And we had a shared toilet or what Glaswegian would call a cludgie on the half landing of the stair, and you know, it was treated like a throne, that every everybody, it was immaculate and you never left it dirty. And to everybody lining the walls of all of this. It was all postcards that people sent the toilet from all over  the world, it’s absolutely hilarious. So all these kind of, you know, wherever you went in the world, yeah had to send the postcard back for the loo. So it was, it was quite fascinating to see, to see stuff like that. 

Okay, returning back to the Tenement House them. How popular is it with visitors to Glasgow? How many you know, before the pandemic? How many did you get every year? And how many volunteers do you have? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

So I am very lucky, because I have a team of approximately 83 volunteers who cheer my days  with the best stories, many of them have either lived in a tenement or live in a tenement. And they share their love with our visitors about all things tenement and they are great, and I love them. And I’ve missed them terribly through this pandemic. 

And, and in terms of visitors on a non COVID year, and last year, we had, well, the year before Covid, we have 26,000 visitors coming in from all over the world and to see, you know, this place, because it’s so unique. When you visit a city, I think having the opportunity to really understand and see how people lived back then. Back then it’s, it’s definitely a joy. So we’re really happy to be able to share that with people from all over the world. We have some people specifically from Australia and Canada that are kind of like tracing back their heritage, and they want to see how their relatives used to live. So they’re always really interested in see everything tenement related. And then we have people who just come for the the signings, or maybe they are new proud owners of a tenement and want to understand the bed recess, or how it worked. And then we just have families as well, which is quite nice. And my favourite is the, the grandparents when they come with the children, because it’s such an interesting conversation, the grandparents have the knowledge of, of the tenement there and everything the way that they used to live, and it’s just so unique to see. 

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yes, I can  imagine. I mean, it must be quite difficult having to deal with that. I mean, I’m just trying to think, you know, I’m in my tenement at the moment. If I had 26,000 people through my door every year be an awful lot of wear and tear. How would you handle things like that? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

So yeah, it’s, it’s like having when you have a party in your house, and then after you need to clean like that every day. And well, we handle that with the love and care of our staff and volunteers who help us keep everything right. People are really respectful of the tenement anyway. And so yeah, we love it, the more we do own four, other three other flats in the building, so four in total, so we can kind of like, you make the most of the space there. But yeah, it’s it’s a lot of people in a tiny tenement.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Why do you think people love the Tenement House so much? 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega 

Well, I think people love the Tenement House so much because it’s so near to everyone’s hearts in the way that we passed tenements. If you live in Glasgow, you’ve passed a tenement every day. Or you maybe you live in a tenement, or maybe your granny lived in a tenement. So there’s something that is just surrounding us, and it’s there and it’s part of it’s part of Glasgow. 

And when it comes to the Tenement House, it has a very genuine voice, it’s, it’s something people can really relate to, because the contents of it, they’re not really expensive, they’re valuable tools because because of the stories they tell, but they’re not like amazing, it’s not an amazing collection of paintings or objects, it’s more about things that you would have in your own house and the collection of it makes a really interesting life. And so yeah, I just, I just think that our, that there are no barriers, it’s just nice and immersive. And and for me in particular, like I love it because it shows the story from a woman’s perspective, it was the home of two working women and that’s quite important as well so I just think people love it because they can they can connect with it.

Niall Murphy  

So did living in a tenement then, involved a lot more shared responsibilities such as the cleaning of the close so the rota for the wash house. 

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, it’s funny because I’ve been seeing lots of really wonderful stories about neighbours right now that through the pandemic have been getting in touch with each other maybe like revamping some of the spaces, the closes or the gardens and it really reminded me of the responsibilities that people share back then. 

In the Tenement House so the neighbours would have had to have a rota, like you said, to clean the close and making sure everything was like spotless and people really took pride in having a really nice, and look after the close and and also the turns for the wash house and drying their clothes and and I think there was a really like, an important sense of community back then that sort of like got lost in the way and it was coming back again and it’s just lovely. It’s just lovely to see those stories coming back and if anything good has happened from these lockdowns is that we’ve all been sharing more with our neighbours and just being a wee bit more mindful of them and like, you know, talking to them like like, like they’ve done on Camphill (Gate). So that’s always really lovely to see.

Niall Murphy  

Many thanks Ana, that was really fascinating. So now let me introduce our second guest Allistair Burt from Camphill Gate. Now Allistair has  lived in Camphill Gate, which is a tenement on the South Side of Glasgow for 16 years. So he has a background in architecture, working as a project architect for 14 years for a large commercial practice, and now works as an illustrator designer, under the name “Hole in my pocket”. Camphill Gate is a 1906 B listed tenement by architect John Nisbet and builder John McTaggart, it is located in Shawlands on the site of historic Crossmyloof Bakery on Pollokshaws Road, just opposite Queen’s Park and Langside Halls and because it’s located opposite the park and so it doesn’t have any buildings opposite, that means it can rise up to five storeys which is quite unusual in Glasgow, so it’s red sandstone, and has really good Glasgow style details on the building. So there are 12 shops along the ground floor and 24 flats above. And because it fronted onto a bakery, the building was the first tenement in Glasgow to be constructed from fireproof materials. So while it might look traditional, behind the sandstone, it is in fact of concrete construction. So as there was  no space for for a drying green, they had to incorporate it on the roof, hence the wonderful communal rooftop garden. From 2016 onwards, the residents started to investigate different ways to have the building repaired. 

So to help raise funds, they’ve done things like hold concerts, parties and yoga classes up on the roof. So in in 2017, the owners of Camphill Gate successfully applied to Glasgow City Heritage Trust for a building repair grant to help restore that tenement to its original condition. So repairs include renewal of the asphalt mastic roof, re-slating and renewal of lead clad finials and flashings to the source of dome roofs, repairs to external stonework repairs and renewal of  mastic and decoration to the windows, renewing the close entrance store and repairs to rear doors. So renewal of the cast iron rainwater goods and soil vent pipes, and repairs and repainting of the decorative cast iron railings on the top of the building. So Allistair. Welcome to the podcast. 

Allistair Burt  

Thank you for having me, Niall.

Niall Murphy  

That’s a pleasure, Allistair. So first off, this is a difficult question. How difficult was it to get everybody else in all the three closes in the building on board with repairs?

Allistair Burt  

It was it was tricky. It was tricky. As you see there’s 24 flat owners. And then there’s 12 business owners, 12 businesses, but not all of those businesses own the property. So then they are also the landlords of those properties as well to sort of navigate through the process. I mean, it’s been a long time coming. Most people have been fully supportive. There’s been one or two who didn’t want to be spending money on something and they couldn’t see the benefit of it. But I think we’ve managed to convince everybody, you know, have near unanimous involvement and thumbs up from everybody.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. No, it’s it’s, it’s, you know, I can appreciate how difficult that is, and how it can be like herding cats. And I have enormous respect for you and your fellow owners that have managed to come together and actually do that and keep working on it. Because it is, it’s, it’s a, it’s a big task over all those years to just kind of keep going and keep working through it. So tell us more about what you’re trying to repair and make better on the building?

Allistair Burt  

Well, as you said to your listeners, it’s quite comprehensive. There’s a lot of stuff needs done. 

When I first moved into the building in 2004, I noticed a few bits and pieces that were not looking their best. And with the centenary coming out for the building, so 1906 was built. So 2006 I was looking well there is any bits and pieces we could repair? And the railings were in a bit of a sorry  state. And we pay the company into wire brush down all the railings and repaint them. But actually they came out and they cut through the main supports of the railings, all the railings fell forward. And were hanging over the over the road. So for the last 16 years, 15 years, we have had temporary scaffolding poles in place to secure the railing so that they are safe for people. So that’s nice. Yeah, so that was the first thing that kind of brought people’s attention to the issues. But as we explored getting that done, it proved quite tricky to get everybody on board. And we were finding that maybe information that was being shared through the factors was not maybe directly being matched up per close, per close. So we started talking, talking together as a group. 

And we then hired the brilliant architect Fiona Sinclair, conservation genius, and she produced a detailed, a detailed report for us into what was needed. And the extent covers a lot of works that were previously repaired in the 1980s. When, as part of that major refurbishment of the tenements that took place.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, it’s something that we come across a lot in our work.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah. And as you as you will know that there’s, the work is not always done to the best standards.

Niall Murphy  

All done done up at once and in too much of a rush and nobody learning from each other’s mistakes because there wasn’t enough time to learn from each other’s mistakes.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah I mean and it was great they were giving you 90% grants for it so I’m sure everybody was delighted but a lot of the stuff… Fiona identified that a lot of details were changed that it shouldn’t haven’t been impacting us. So one of the major things is the rainwater outlets and the rain water pipes are all far smaller than the building originally tended to have so I think the gutters are a third of the size that they originally were really and they were supposed to have big hoppers as well but I only got i think i think is an 85 ml rainwater pipe on our, on our gutter so every single time it rains from the moment that work was done, it when it rains the gutters fill up, they backup and they get onto the slab underneath the asphalt and then find their way through until the top four flats yeah so.

Niall Murphy  

 This is a real issue in Glasgow because once you get the stone saturated it just like this acts like a big sponge, taking the heat out of the building. So that’s that’s a major issue around Glasgow.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah, so that that’s that was the kind of thing that really got us. Most of the things that we really noticing all the top floor flats have ceiling damage, some of the flats above have also got ceiling damage as well because the ones been getting in, but then it’s been running down the inside face of the stonework and then finding its way out the floor below as well. Yes. And so that’s, that’s been, that’s helped us kind of convince everybody it was a shame that it took until the ceilings were collapsing to everyone to be feeling  the need, but we got there!

Niall Murphy  

It’s very, it’s very difficult. Okay, tell me more about the the history of the roof itself as kind of a social space, you know, when did, when did you start thinking about that, and how is that evolved?

Allistair Burt  

Well, when I first moved into the building, the roof wasn’t really used, there was one other flat I think that used the roof. But in fact, when I moved in, there was a broken fridge an old bike without any wheels and a pile of rubbish and stuff laying on the roof. So I cleared it out, and then so we put some nice little plants and some decking down to protect the roof. And then slowly over the years more and more people have started to get to get used to the roof, it is the really unique thing that’s the big selling point of view is amazing. From there, we can see it across the whole of the West, and the south of the city. Unfortunately, the park just a little bit, we can’t see the East End, but we can’t have everything, we can see a lovely park. 

But that, that’s that has been a real benefit for the building because I know all the people not only in my close, but the two neighbouring closes because the building has over three closes that share, share the roof. And you would never know them. But quite often you go up there in the summer and there will be somebody sitting having a little barbecue or they’ll be somebody playing a little guitar and you can go over and join them and have a little chat. And it just makes it feel a special safer place. And yes, I can imagine, but it was the, we were kind of spurred on by the, by the problems of trying to get some of the repair was carried out previously. 

With all the information needs to  being passed directly through the factors, we found that a bit of a challenge, we started organising more regular meet-ups, and we’ve created a social media platform for us to be able to exchange things and that drove us a bit closer together. And we realised we were more aligned in terms of what we needed to get done than we thought. But when we realised we were going to have to get, we realised how expensive was going to be, we realised we’re gonna have to come to lovely people like your good selves to try to assist us, we thought, well, we need to be showing that we are trying our best to kind of improve and look after this building. So that’s when we started doing the more social events. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure, sure. So have you been collaborating with other organisations and companies, and companies you know, in order to kind of achieve these events? And you know, as a consequence of that, would you say that you’re now quite rooted as kind of an event space in the South Side?

Allistair Burt  

We are, we get, we get a lot of inquiries from people asking if we if they can use the space obviously it’s not open to, the to the public. And we’ve worked with there is a couple of  people living in  the building. There’s a lot of people living in the building who are connected through lots of different creative networks. There’s a lot of artists and writers and musicians and stuff who have lived in the building over the years. And we were able to call on some of them, including some couple of people have worked for the National Theatre of Scotland and they were able to use their connections to get quite a lot of famous people to come in and play, Kathryn Joseph came and performed up there. Not long after she had one album of Scottish Album of the Year. And that was that was quite a stunning event. She’s kind of timed her singing perfectly as the sunset and the horizon behind her. And we’ve worked with a few different, we worked with the Open House Arts Festival and we converted a couple of flats into exhibition spaces to put on a couple of gallery shows. With a couple of film showings as well.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, we used it for “Looking up and looking out” for our tenement event. So which is, which was good fun. We challenged  trying to find all the things around the roof for folk to do surveys. Yeah, it was great. And the flats as well were really, really helpful for that.

Allistair  Burt  

That was lucky because we had one of the, one of the flats had been empty for quite a while when you guys were looking to do that, unfortunately, it been relatively untouched. So people were able to kind of get inside and see a lot of the original features and, and pretty bad nick. It must be fair to say but that one that’s that’s been that’s been renovated by a young couple who moved there.

Niall Murphy  

Right. So what’s your plans? You know, once the repairs are done? Are you going to keep on doing these kind of events up on the roof?

Allistair  Burt  

I think what we will definitely be doing is we will keep doing the Doors Open Days we kind of feel we did Doors Open Days the last couple of years and we had like 1000 people came through the door on each day, which was kinda of nuts for a very, very tiny team of volunteers.

Niall Murphy  

It shows how much interested people are!

Allistair Burt  

Oh yeah, no people love it. We’ve had so many gifts. We had the great great, great great grandson and great great granddaughter of John Nisbet, who was the original architect, came out to the building. And they were really touched, because with that flat that you guys used in the first Doors Open Days that was empty and so we converted into an exhibition space. And we had one room that was full of original drawings of the building, one room had photos of the building throughout the history, because we managed to find 1906 photographs from an edition of the Architects Journal just when the building is brand new. So we’ve got a photo of the building and half the shops are uninhabited because nobody has yet moved into them, which is quite stunning. And then one other room we had kind of history of the the two main men that were behind the building, John was the the architect and John McTaggart, the builder. We’ve also had been in touch the great great grandson of Sir John McTaggart, who  is Sir John McTaggart Jr. Yeah, he, he very kindly wrote us a check. He’s quite a wealthy man. He wrote us a check for two thousands pounds, a very nice gesture. So we’re going to use his money to make a little plaque about the history and put it up on the building.

Niall Murphy  

Right an interpretation plaque, it is great idea. That’s that’s really, really interesting. That’s fascinating.

Allistair Burt  

Yeah. The idea is we’re going to do above the three closed doors. We’re going to do one about the before the building was there. So Neil, Neil Thompson, and the bakery’ s history and what he tried to do in the area, the middle one about sort, of the sort of McTaggart and John Nisbet and about the period where the building was built. And then the last one about what we have all been doing and the future of the building, because we’ve all be quite clear that like, we are just the merely, the people who live in the building, just like we own the responsibility for ensuring that 100 years time there’ll be another bunch of people who are trying to make sure that it’s repaired and looked after for the next 100 years after that.

Niall Murphy  

Sure, absolutely. So do you think having been through all this and it’s not over yet because the repairs are about to start on site? Yeah. That’s kind of that’s kind of acts as a real kind of cohesive thing that’s kind of brought together everybody is a group of owners. Are you more of a community now?

Allistair Burt  

Yeah, I mean, the, that we were supposed to start before the pandemic and the repairs have been dragged out for so long has has caused a little bit more strain on things and I think we had that, we had everybody lined up and we were kind of like, yeah, we’re going for it and then everything kind of went down in the pot a wee bit.  Yes, so now everyone’s really excited. I’m sure I’m not sure what, they’ll what they’re gonna make of living in a building site for a year we’ll see. 

Niall Murphy  

I wish, I wish you luck,  I’m sure it will be good. It would be like you know, Blitz spirit.

Allistair Burt  

But the intention as as well as doing those three plaques that we will probably do Doors Open Days for the next at least the next few years because we had so many donations. I designed some prints and mugs that we sold. All the people that came on those days are all “oh when can we come back and see when it’s finished?” So we want to do it for the next few years at least once it’s done. We’ll have everyone back for a bit more of a celebration. But make them all wear their slippers or something just to make sure the roof is kept in perfect condition.

Niall Murphy  

I have to say I can’t, can’t wait to get back and be up on the roof again. Once we can do safely,  I’m very, very much looking forward to that. When did you come up with the idea of coming together as a group?

Allistair Burt  

I am that was that was post the centenary year really, that was when the first starting threads happened. But it took a long time to kind of build into something. We tried to get the railings repaired over several years. But we kept failing, couldn’t get everybody on board. And then we tried to get the railings and the cupolas repaired because of the glass cupolas started…but each of them had panes of glass ball down the stairwells. So they needed, they needed some urgent repair. Yeah, that was a large bang in the middle of the night that went over the next morning, imagine. 

Yeah, and so that kind of made us realise we needed to be, we needed, because it’s, there’s a lot of pressure from the factors, you need to do this, you need to do that. And I think that we all need to take quite a lot of responsibility for it as well as like us, the factors are doing what we asked them to do. And if we’re not all speaking together with one strong voice, and giving them clear instruction, then the there is,  it makes it harder for them to do stuff for us. So that was kind of 2011- 2012 probably it is when we really started kind of having proper regular meetings and discussing getting Fiona involved. 

Man, it’s a long process, man, it’s probably 10 years in the making of us getting to the stage where we are, fingers crossed, starting on site and the not in a so far future. And but yes, probably 10 years ago is when we started getting together. But we’ve got more and more. We’ve got more and more close. Like we all we all went for Christmas dinner. Not last year, but the year before we booted out the Bella Napoli restaurant and we all went down there was like 14 plus.

Niall Murphy 

That’s that’s really impressive. So therefore, do you think that having such a good relationship with your kind of fellow co-owners has made lockdown easier?

Allistair Burt  

It has I mean, it’s, it’s there’s a lot of people in the building, and we’re very cross section of society. 

So there have been, there are a couple of people who do not believe in any of it. Yeah, it’s been it’s been fun, but then having the outdoor space at the heat of the lockdown at the very early stages. 

I mean, I don’t know if we would have managed to survive without the roof garden to be able to escape. Because we could all go out there we all… because normally we’re all kind of go to the same rough areas like three or four spaces all sit together communally. Yes, but because of that, we, because we couldn’t really do that everybody kind of sat in their own little spaces. But you could go and stand there because it’s because there is big there’s lots of room to be able to stand back. Pretty much yeah, so we didn’t have any communal barbecues this year, which we usually do but we decided that was a bit unsafe this year. But there’ll be back we’ll have a big celebratory one to which we’ll invite you all too. As soon as the building is repaired.

Niall Murphy  

That would be wonderful. So okay, but if I can bring Ana back in again. So I have a final couple of questions for both of you to kind of consider and the first of these is what parts of your tenement and the surrounding area would a person who moved in when it was first built still recognise? So Ana, do you want to go first there?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

Yeah, sure. So what parts, so I think from the inside everything because it’s the time capsule isn’t it? 

So Agnes would feel like at home However, if she visited any of our other now owned flats within the building where we have exhibition space, and they’re all modern, she would obviously be baffled, I suppose. Just by, the, by the insight of it. And, and I know that many people, many of the residents on our building have converted the recess beds into like a small kitchenette and turn their kitchens into a bedroom so I think they will find that quite interesting and in the, in the inside and then in the outside, everything has changed it hasn’t it ? Like with the motorway and Sauchiehall Street and the rest of it. And yeah, quite a bit of time travelling isn’t it?

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely isn’t it just. Okay, Allistair, what about you?

Allistair Burt  

It will, as I’ve seen the exhibition we have the photos of the building through the years we’ve got these really beautiful 1850s aerial shots of the surrounding area so you can actually see what has changed or rather what has not changed. And I think from the, from up on the roof, I would love to have seen photos of the view from the roof because I imagine the view well for a big part it would not have changed too much. Because when you, when you’re standing on the roof and looking out you can just see all the mountains and the hills in the distance meaning you can see Ben Lomond on a clear day. And that will not that will not change not much anyway. But there are a few new things like the same Science Centre Tower is there and stuff. But other than that, the view from that side look, you know…

Niall Murphy  

It’s probably changed more since the 1960s to the early 2010s because you’d have had, I mean Glasgow at that point had more tower blocks above twenty stories than  Moscow did so and then you know so many of them have disappeared since then. So that actually has been quite a significant change in Glasgow but it’s, it’s, it’s weird because it’s returning to what it once was. Yeah. So it’s kind of a low rise city so which is quite intriguing. Yeah, definitely. Okay, so final question. And this is the loaded one. So what is your favourite building? And what would it say If its walls could talk? Ana?

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega.  

Yeah, sure. I think in Glasgow we’re spoiled by choice, like Niall  that’s the hardest question ever I obviously..

Niall Murphy  

This is why is loaded, we always want to know what the answer is we ask everyone that comes to our office this question.

Ana Sánchez-De la Vega

I think see for me I know it’s going to sound quite obvious that I quite like the Tenement House but it’s just because I quite like this message that everyone’s story matters and you don’t need to be royal or a celebrity or a famous person for your house and your way of living and your life to be like to matter and for your heritage to be told, and that’s that’s our whole message at the Tenement House and, and I quite like the universe preserving its stories and and like if walls could talk well I hope that I hope that they tell like the story of how it began with the women and then over time is now loved by so many other people in Glasgow which is amazing so yeah, and then if I had to kind of like chose one it would definitely be that one but it’s so hard you see you have so many good ones like Holmwood House is amazing as well like how can you choose ,don’t let me choose!

Niall Murphy  

Told you it was a tough question, Allistair you want to have a go?

Allistair Burt  

Yeah man, I’m the same the easy answer. The one, the one that’s yours, the one you live in ’cause this is my favourite building, it might have my favourite one in the in the city I would say the roof garden is perfectly a building space so if there was this building it would probably be like Oh, please make sure you stop the water coming through my head. Thank you. What’s the name of the rebuilding in the city centre that was almost got burned down last week cuz that’s always been a little favoured of mine.

Niall Murphy  

Oh the the wee British Linen Bank.

Allistair Burt  

That’s a gorgeous wee building, such a charmer and I suspect that as along with a lot of our buildings and the city they are saying please don’t let me burn down. It’s probably what they would say!

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yeah, it’s got you know, it’s got dry rot, wet rot, you name it. So it really needs some TLC so yeah, it’s one we’re working on with Civic 215 the organisation’s kind of use it as a meanwhile space in the ground floor. So yeah, we’re working with them and Page / Park architects lead team. So fingers crossed that will go somewhere because I really want to see that one safe because it’s just so charming.

Allistair Burt  

I’m glad I brought that one up there.

Niall Murphy  

So thank you very much both Anna and Allistair. That’s been really, really fascinating. And everybody else if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share and follow the hashtag #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you. 

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

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Niall Murphy  

Hello, everyone, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. 

In this episode, we’ll be talking about historic school buildings, why there are so many and how the community can get involved in their preservation. If you’re listening from Glasgow, I’m sure you have a historic school building in your neighbourhood and possibly more than one. 

Have you ever wondered why they are so many old schools in our city? Well, the high number of historic school buildings in Glasgow has to do with the Education Scotland Act of 1872. This law made Elementary Education compulsory and free for all the children in Scotland between 5 and 13. 

The Scotland Education Act took inspiration from the Elementary and Education Act that passed in England and Wales in 1870. Although this act is considered the foundation of the Scottish modern school system, unfortunately, it played a big part in the repression of the Scottish Gaelic language. The effect of this reform has been described as disastrous and contributed to destroying Gaelic communities and culture. 

However, before 1872, 40% of Scottish children, so that’s around 35,000 children of compulsory school age, did not attend school. So under the new Education Act, approximately 1000 large purpose built schools were created to accommodate new students. Poverty was not accepted as an excuse to avoid attending classes and help was provided through the Poor Laws. in Glasgow 75 new schools were built between 1873 and 1918. Each school accommodating between 800 to 1000 pupils, the cost and the upkeep and preservation of these massive Victorian and Edwardian school board buildings has been a constant challenge for the council, the pupils and communities. 

Some of these buildings, such as the handsome B listed St. Denis primary school, built in 1883 by James Salmon & Son, or the internationally renowned A listed Scotland Street School Museum, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and soon to be a school once more, are still in use and enjoyed by their communities as places to learn. 

Sadly, some of these historic school buildings have met a quite different future, one characterised by uncertainty and dereliction among these unlucky buildings, we can find in Pollokshaws, The Sir John Maxwell School designed by John Hamilton in 1906, or the B listed Haghill Primary School. Unfortunately, both these handsome schools have fallen into serious disrepair since they closed for good. 

So what can the community do to save these buildings? Are they salvageable or even worth saving? 

In Glasgow one of the best known examples of a community taking ownership of historic building and saving it from certain demolition is Govanhill Baths. One of the pioneers in community ownership in Glasgow, and I must declare an interest here is I am also the chair of Govanhill Bath Building Preservation Trust who are working on the repairs just now. 

So the Campaign to save Govanhill  Bath began in January 2001, when Glasgow City Council informed the community and users that it was to close the bath on 31st of March that year without any local consultation. In response, community members occupied the school from 17th of March to 7th of August that year, so at 140 days, it remains the longest occupation of a public building in British history. Govanhill Bath is now a thriving grassroots activist based organisation delivering a wide range of health, well being, arts, environmental and heritage projects. Another great example of a community taking ownership and repurposing historic building, in this case a school, and it’s the focus of this episode is Kinning Park Complex on Cornwall Street, which overlooks Plantation Park.

Kinning Park Complex is an independent multi use community space in the south side of Glasgow. Providing a variety of great activities in a place that brings people together, helps reduce isolation, builds friendships, and creates a real sense of community. The complex is well used by local organisations, dance and sports groups, artists, musicians and community projects. 

Kinning Park complex is located in an old red sandstone building, built in 1916 as an annex to the Lambhill Street Primary School. In 1976. The building was converted into the Kinning Park neighbourhood centre run by the council. However, local residents and supporters had to fight to keep their much loved Community Centre open when in 1996 was threatened with closure due to council cuts for 55 days and nights the group stayed in the centre 24 hours a day. That determination and passion are the reason why Kinning Park Complex exists today as an independently run organisation where the community can flourish.

 Their vision is for the Kinning Park complex to be owned by the community, providing facilities and services developed and governed by the community for its community. So today, our guest is Martin Avila, director of Kinning Park Complex. Originally with a background in non formal education and intercultural learning, Martin became involved in social enterprise early in his career, leading him to become director of the Kinning Park Complex, where he became more involved in community ownership and community led regeneration. Martin is currently a board member of SURF, Scotland’s regeneration forum, and treasure a community land Scotland a membership body for community landowners in Scotland, and the voice of Scotland’s land reform movement. So welcome to the podcast, Martin.

Martin Avila  

Hi, Niall.

Niall Murphy  

It’s good to have you here Martin. So we’ve got some questions for you. And the first one is, what was the original motivation for saving Kinning Park neighbourhood centre back in the 1990s?

Martin Avila  

You know, it’s a really good question as well now. And I think most likely, it’s probably going to have been a confluence of a whole range of different motivations, because everybody brings their own, you know, ideas to the table, I think one of the strongest kind of collective motivations, would have been the need to keep the services running that ran out of the Kinning Park Complex. 

I think there was a lot of after school services and services for local children. And they were really key in providing the support for working parents, you know, especially working women to be able to continue to bring in an income for the families, I think that was part of the motivation, and also, one of the main drivers within that occupation. And certainly, within the early years of the Kinning Park Complex, was a lady called Helen Kyle. And she had kind of own motivations behind it as well, she really wanted to show that small self governing entities could play a role in wider society. And I think she had a bee in her bonnet around the representation of Scotland on the European stage. And she wanted to show that just because something was small, and not necessarily part of something bigger, it didn’t mean that it wasn’t viable. And so that was her kind of own personal motivation, but I think a lot of the motivations or folks were around keeping the services going, that we’re running from the Kinning Park Complex. Right?

Niall Murphy  

Okay. So other people who started the process, are they still involved?

Martin Avila  

No, not at all. Actually, I mean, that process was over 20 years ago. And they, I would say that’s probably been maybe, you know, three generations realistically since then. And we’re probably just about to embark on a fourth generation where maybe some, you know, some transition periods in between so Helen was really key  as part of the sit in, and alongside a whole range of other people who play the leading role. And and she was involved in running the Centre for the first 10-13 years of its existence. 

And then Helen moved on, and a chap called Lindsay Keenan came in, he had spent some time as the head of campaigns for the Nordic Region for Greenpeace, and wanted to come back and do something about more grassroots after having been involved in and starting a national campaign, such as don’t drill in the Arctic, which was eventually successful and secure a moratorium for drilling. 

And then there was really myself coming out alongside a lady called Rachel, who became the operations manager. And that was that at least for the folks that were in the leadership positions, the folks that have been in the committees have changed over the years. And then those folks who’ve played driving forces, you know, even if they don’t can have any official position within the organisation. And I think that is really one of the main challenges also, actually, as a community organisation, which is responsible for, you know, a piece of built heritage, because that’s going to go on, you know, hopefully built heritage should have much longer lifespan than anybody’s one role within an organisation. So trying to deal with the transitions between, you know, generations, let’s see it as I’ve tried to bring folks in and give them space to have their own ideas and their own ability to shape the future, whilst maintaining a link to the heritage of the past, as you know, as one of the challenges.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. So is it still very much embedded in the community in the sense that your volunteers and the people on the board, they’re all people who are based in the local community,

Martin Avila  

It is now, but it has not necessarily been the case? I think there’s there’s been a kind of transaction  alongside also the kind of use of the building. And so when the, you know, and also there are certain things that we don’t necessarily have historical records and I’ll probably talk about that a little bit later on. When you ask when the questions that I think you may ask about favourite buildings, but in the end, The, I think that, you know, the building really deteriorated over a bit of time. And so, you know, at one point, actually, before Lindsay came, and after Helen moved on, the building really wasn’t in a fit state, I don’t, you know, it came close to being closed again, because of the state, you know, they were able to secure money for the windows, but because of the issues around the lease, and, you know, if we talk about community asset transfer later on, it’s something that I can come back to, but because of the issues that around the lease, it wasn’t necessarily something that we could secure capital funding for.

Niall Murphy  

No, no, I totally understand that. Yeah, that’s a major, major issue that.

Martin Avila  

Yeah, and so for a long time, the building wasn’t really in a state that people could really use, you know, until it became less and less and less usable. And so as that happened, I think less and less, you know, services that appeal to local people were running from it and it started to become mainly used as a kind of underground venue, you know, for fringe arts and fringe politics, and a little bit more left field. Those kinds of initiatives are more drawn toward ungoverned spaces, and a certain extent, that’s what kept it going. 

So, you know, when Rachel and I came in July 2015, essentially, we thought that our first job was going to be securing a 25 year lease secure a million pounds for the building renovation. And actually, you know, that changed for a couple different reasons. As I said, I’ll come back to later on. But also one of the first things that we realised is that building wasn’t really serving local people anymore. You know, there were some dance classes, but the majority of folks didn’t know what happened in the building, the majority of folks that were involved and running the building went from the local area. Well, that’s something that’s changed now, where the majority of board members live within five minutes walk, the majority of members being drawn from the local area as well. And also, as we are starting to get some energy in terms of not diverting all our energy and making a building, which is really difficult to maintain, you know, stay operational, we are then left to wonder on the day to day basis and thinking about what else has happened in the neighbourhood. And we’re getting a good bit of traction with something called the Local Place Plan, which is something which is  something that came in after the planning act.

Niall Murphy  

Yes. Some something I’d like to touch on on later on. Yeah, it’s interesting, because I can see a lot of parallels with what’s happened at Govanhill Baths. So I mean, for instance, and this, this happens with other organisations too, who are, you know, working out in historic building, which needs maintenance, those budgets, obviously, getting the money to do that is not straightforward, particularly, according to your lease situation. 

And so that was one reason why the Govanhill Baths Community Trust, who are the actual people who do all the stuff with Govanhill Baths, everybody knows about set up the Building Preservation Trust to deal with the kind of the capital repairs to the building, because it meant that there was a group that could focus on that alone. And it didn’t detract from what the mission of the organisation actually was. So and I think, I think that’s quite important. But yeah, definitely recognise where you’re coming from. So for instance, before we ended up having to vacate the building, which we did about 18 months before we actually started work on the building itself. And that was just because it got to the point where it was so cold and damp, because didn’t have a heating system. And what for what the Community Trust had done was they basically built themselves a wee hut inside the building that was a proper insulated hut, because you’ve got, you know, these huge bases where the pools are, which are really, you know, they were open to the elements, essentially, with broken windows, etc. So they went into that wee hut to keep warm during the day. So it’s not exactly an ideal situation, when you’re trying to, you know, carry out your everyday jobs and responsibilities. So some people do have to think about. 

Martin Avila  

It is about making it an inviting space for the rest of the community to come. And we will do exactly the same except our hut was built in. And you know, when I became a bit of a joke in the winter time you know, waiting to go, It’s like a cabin trip in the summer in Scotland, when you’re trying to figure out how long you can get away with going without going for a pee. And, you know, it kind of turning to your comrades and  say like, listen, folks, it maybe take some time, you know, not really sure if you’re gonna make it back because from the trip for the toilet. 

Martin Avila  

Yeah, absolutely. I totally understand how you feel about that. Okay, so how do you keep staff and volunteers motivated and enthusiastic about Kinning Park Complex’s vision and mission? How do you go about doing that?

Martin Avila  

You know, I think it probably requires a few different things. It requires some really special people to be involved in the first place. You know, so the the staff and the volunteers that were involved in the Kinning Park Complex, had a lot of motivation for the sort of things that we were wanting to do and requires a lot of energy from from a leadership team, who really, you know, you really have to have somebody coming on board, at least during those times of, you know, essentially crisis, who who’s gonna live and breathe the building and take real responsibility for that. 

It’s also maybe why governance structures has to change as you move out of those kind of places,  because having more command and control structure, let’s say, or, you know, more streamlined governance works well, within those those, you know, those, those times of difficulty, where there’s actually in the long term, we want a much more distributed leadership model. 

I think also, right, it’s, it’s about the stories of what the building does. So if I think what really motivated the staff to deal with the challenges that we had as because some of the things that happened, and the Kinning Park Complex, you know, I can’t I imagine that this is a as true, but in different flavours, in other community owned buildings, some of the things that happened in the Kinning Park Complex just wouldn’t have happened and other spaces, you know, apart from maybe somewhere like Govanhill Baths actually be fair, because that can heady mix of locals that have lived there for a long time, new Scots who have not long, you know, made their life in the city, and, you know, folks who are, you know, intrinsically interested in creative projects, which involve community and folks that are interested in arts and folks that are interested in community development, you know, that kind of heady mix of things, that we had a kind understanding that you’re, all you can realistically do within the world is probably two things right? Make a decent impact on one individual. And we know for a fact that there are individual stories there, that the Kinning Park Complex has really helped people, you know, whether it has had a big impact on their life. 

So a certain extent in that micro level was changing the world, and also create what I would describe as these little bubbles of beauty, you know, like these little bubbles of magic, these transitory moments, they exist in one event and one interaction, and one project and one programme and one weekend. And after that they go, but realistically, think about actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, that’s probably the highest thing you can ever really do. So I think it’s, you know, it’s given them space, it’s getting the right people, it’s given them energy, and it’s doing fantastic things that then give you the energy and the drive to deal with all the challenges.

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely, I really do recognise that from from Govanhill Baths as well. And it’s something that really inspires me about the community trust there, and how effectively they’ve tried to work to do that, within this community. And I think, you know, in many ways, you can see how that’s been very central to the regeneration of Govanhill as an area and has kind of made it desirable for artists and people like that to move into. So I absolutely recognise where you’re coming from there. 

But there’s another issue too, which I think is quite interesting, too, in terms of, you know, how do you manage to shift away from what was you know, a campaigning organisation that was trying to look out for this kind of big, big historic building within an area? So you have to shift, it’s a culture shift from being this campaigning group to something that is actually managing what is basically a major municipal facility. How did you guys go about doing that?

Martin Avila  

I think sometimes you just have to change the people if I am being honest you know, like an organisation shouldn’t be overly reliant on one people and sometimes you need different skill sets or for different, different situations, you know, Helen Kyle was the community development worker and you know, and you know, no regimes or no, you know, regime is an extreme word, but, but no sort of leadership group is as ever gets everything right. But, you know, Helen was very much motivated with community development principles, right. 

And then as the building deteriorated and as it became a much more difficult situation in terms of interacting with the council in terms of firefighting and managing the problems within the building, Lindsay Kenaan was absolutely the right guy there right, you know, both he was an incredible practical person, right. And so he could actually do, because he done everything from fight the council to change the light bulbs, right, which in the Kinning Park complex at that time, it was a mission. 

And so because you’re you’re trying to get the right bulbs that there were far too high in the required, you know, ladders and sometimes scaffolds. And so and the fight with the council, you know, Lindsay was somebody who grew up and, you know,  he grew up in terms of vegan and vegetarian and environmental activism, in Glasgow, from being what he would probably describe as a skinhead boy, himself, and then moved on to shutting down Russian mining operations. By getting that people absolutely down, right. And so like if you had a problem that required a sledgehammer, and you know, I asked a whole load of black and white photocopied leaflets to get people’s attention, Lindsay was your man, but eventually,  Lindsay bummed out, you know what I mean?

Niall Murphy  

I can totally understand.

Martin Avila  

And so and he moved on and it requires a different skill set. And also, you know, I think now, again, as we move back into the building, it’s time for change, and I’m actually gonna move on as well, this is one of the last things I’m actually going to do.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, that’s very interesting, too. But I’m conscious of this, because it’s, you know, Govanhill Baths is kind of going through that same process, too. And it’s like that shift from the campaigning organisation, organisation, which is incredibly useful. But I’ve been there, there have been times, you know, when we say, everybody’s anticipating, we’re going to get regeneration capital ground funding, and then we didn’t, this was several years back. 

And everyone’s kind of instant reaction was great. That’s it, you know, we’re going to go and park our tanks on the lawn in front of the city chambers, we are going to give them hell, and it was like, might not be the best way to go about it. You know, maybe we actually, you know, we have to think this through. And, you know, maybe there were other organisations in Glasgow, which just because of where they are at the moment, we’re more worthy in this particular round. And sometimes you find that these things that, you know, you’re in a queue, and that sometimes other people are prioritised. And there’s not a lot you can do about it. That’s just politics. And maybe the best thing to do is to work on building our relationships with the council and figure out how we can overcome this problem. And that maybe actually going to having a dialogue with them rather than a fight might be better. So I don’t know those those those issues, you have to think about.

Martin Avila  

Definitely Andy Milne, chief executive at Scotland Regeneration Forum, he was the director there, and he was quite good. There was a few times when I wanted to push nuclear buttons. And he always was like, listen, you know, first and foremost, you know, you have to remember that, you know, that, you know, for example, big articles in the press is not necessarily going to change your situation. But, you know, you’re gonna have to deal with the fall out tomorrow. And you’re also maybe going to see people on the flip side, and it’s also quite easy for people to caricature community organisations. 

I mean, I totally bristle at the way that a the way that community organisations and community projects are depicted, to an extent love the word community, but I hate when the word, oh, it’s a community project, you know, because for me, that’s a byword for underfunded, secondary, and whole load of other things when used pejoratevely and in the wrong, wrong way. 

And sometimes I’m like, Okay, what’s the difference between the community sector and the private sector? Okay, one’s massively inefficient and wouldn’t survive without state subsidy. And then the other ones, the community sector. And so a, you know, I think we have to, we have to be very careful. And so, yeah, so, for us, it’s about change it up again and saying, well, for us as an organisation, my own personal belief is that you really needed somebody like me, who was really at the centre of the drive and the direction and this is what we’re going to do. And we’ve only got so much time to do it, we need to save this building within five years, because the heating  and the water ingress is getting worse, you know, at the minute, none of the services work, but the walls and the roof are fine. How long is that gonna stay? 

Afterwards, you don’t need such, and we also had this situation where we had to really completely change the way that the venue was seen, you know, it was like, anarchist book fairs and underground punk concerts was essentially the majority of the stuff that was going on KPC now get no truck with either of them. But you know, that is not necessarily also serving the widest sections of the community.

Martin Avila  

Yeah, it can be a bit niche. And you gotta become, you gotta be conscious that because you’re there serving our broader community.

Martin Avila  

Big time. So yeah, so well, that’s the changes that we’re going to go through as go go, more distributed leadership model. Yeah. 

Martin Avila  

Sounds like a very, very similar journey. Which kind of this brings me on to my next kind of question, which has to do with the main challenges involved with dealing with funders to secure the monies that you need for the for the repair and refurbishment of the school complex. You know, what have those been?

Martin Avila  

First and foremost, realistically, you know, people give money away all the time, right? And so that’s probably from my mind, three times that you’ve got to think about right, your legitimacy. So people, how people view you in terms of your legitimacy, right? And so the legitimacy as they think you can use this money properly, have you got somebody on here that’s been involved in a project which is similar to this, you know, what’s your track record of delivering the things that you have done and people need to trust you? 

Because you know, I think those are… I think there’s a general feeling sometimes is that you can view funders like dragons sitting on a big pot of gold, you know, that actually want to guard, they are definitely not like that. What they want to do is to give money to well run projects to achieve the aims of that funder. And actually, they want to give the money away. So first and foremost, they need to, they need to think that you can carry out this project and spend this money properly, because the main thing that they don’t want is for the whole thing to go wrong, the next thing is about relationships. 

And so again, you know, funders are not big dragons sitting on pots of gold, they also really motivated fantastic people, getting to know them, build those relationships, understanding them as a human being. Listen to their concerns, not just pushing back on, when somebody says, I’m not really sure that your business model is going to work, then, you know, you can take that as what do you know, or you can take that, as you’ve probably seen 400 business models, maybe I should try to understand what my business model is concerning, you know, in like, and then I think off the back of that, you know, realistically, it’s also just a game of balancing plates man, and it is really difficult. 

And it’s really difficult to a certain extent really, you’ve got to have somebody who is able and ready to spin a lot of different ways, and to a certain extent, then that, you know, somebody that can spin six plates is never going to french polish something, right. Because if you are worried about the fine fine detail, you couldn’t do like the six plates thing, you wouldn’t, you would be too freaked out by it.

So again, you have to be behind that person, you also have to have another team, of folks that actually, you know, a lot more conscientious and focused on smaller details that can, that can temper the excesses, or the person who’s you know, that big big shark can convince folks that things are a good idea. So you need a team that have all these different aspects. So I would say it’s about the legitimacy. It’s about the relationships, and it’s about the team of folks that you’ve got.

Martin Avila  

Okay. What would you say to other organisations who are in a similar situation?

Martin Avila  

It’s one of those things that you’re you don’t want to put people off, and you don’t want to, you know, you don’t want to bring them in naive as well. And so I would say, ultimately, it can be done at the end of the day, you know, but it’s going to take a long time. You know, I think if you take however the long you think it’s going to take, you know, maybe double or triple up. So if you think it’s going to be two years, you know, I mean, I mean there are parts in Govanhill Baths that are like a 20 year projects, you know, like, yeah, absolutely, yeah, there are very few people, you know, that have stayed that length of those projects, you know, and so, you know, if we could get one or two of those folks, then these are successful and you’re very lucky. 

But this is going to be a long project. And it is a wee bit Martin Luther King, you know, like, know that the promise land is there, but not everybody is necessarily going to make it together. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to have to go for it. 

So you know, I think first and foremost, be clear of why you’re going to do it and what it is that you want to achieve. You go out and see what others have done. Because you don’t have to tread the path alone, folks like Govanhill Baths folks like Action Portly over in Edinburgh, folks like the Kinning Park Complex, folks like the Pyramid in Anderston. 

Get involved with organisations like Community Land Scotland, that have supported all those people on and do this. And think about staging in your journey. And think about what you’re going to do, if you cannot get to where you need to get to. Because at some point, you may well need to build yourself a little insulated hut, and the middle of the winter and you’re going to need to come in that and you will need to come back day after day after  day. For all that, you’re probably going to be able to do some really special and amazing things because there’s nothing more beautiful than potential and to certain extent, you know, coming into a space like Govanhill Baths is tremendously inspiring. 

Now it does get to a stage where you’re sick of people telling you what you think you could do, you know, because people come into the space of what you know, you could do here. And eventually, you know, you might start telling them well, you know, what you can do, because like people have got lots of ideas, but not that many people stay the course. But if you start telling people what they can do, when they feeling you, you know what you could do, then it’s probably time to change and get somebody else to take the next leap forward. 

Martin Avila  

Absolutely,  I’m really acutely conscious of the whole People Make Glasgow Communities programme at the moment and all the campaigns that are going on with the various libraries around the city. And when I’ve spoken to people who’ve been involved in that I’m trying to stress to them, you know, this is not a straightforward thing. Think very carefully. You know, it’s one thing saying, I don’t want to see that library shut or anything but it’s another thing, having to sit and run that as a facility and look after the building and the people who are using it and run you know courses and and, and, you know events from that building. That’s it’s quite a different thing and try to point out things, Govanhill Baths, you guys, as well, look at the length of time that is taken to get together, these are not things you can turn around in six months. 

And it is about relationship building, and you’ll have to build relationships with the council and be acutely conscious that council officers are the gatekeepers. And these, these, these processes, so you have to think through those things. And, you know, you have to have a positive relationship with them, rather than denigrating them. Because they’re dealing with loads of people that are like you that are hammering at their door and want something out of them. So unless, unless you kind of do that in a positive way, you’re going to get, you know, kickback from it. So it’s, it’s about how you handle all of that. 

Martin Avila  

And, you know, community run spaces shouldn’t be communities, it’s community run spaces or nothing, you know, like, to create an extent  where the community organisations step in, to take over something that’s going to shut. And a wee bit, I would say, it is a sign of failure, if you know what I mean, a there’s also as no, it’s not necessarily going to be easy. And sometimes it just don’t need to be privatised. Because also, you know, one of the things about community organisations is when you a overly it starts to bring a commercial pressure into to the organisation’s very, you know, and, and, you know, we need to have spaces within the city that are completely free from commercial pressure. 

Now, community organisations should be able to carve out a local small place, because realistically, a lot of what the Kinning  Park Complex does, it’s about providing low cost affordable space, you know, and there’s also something great in there because we were also able to look at something right. 

So, just within my time, I’ve seen probably a few different things that have came through, you know, probably about four or five years ago, maybe a little bit less, you started seeing a lot of younger folks coming together, and really starting to, you know, organise themselves around the idea of non binary identity, right. So these were kids whose own identities were either non binary or transexual, and, you know, a, and they were really starting to come together and be like, you know, what, man, like, we need to have spaces for us. We don’t necessarily, you know, all fit in as easily and traditional LGBT, joint like spaces, which tend to be, you know, revolve around alcohol, they still tend to be male dominated spaces, you know, when we go out in more wide stream spaces, actually, the levels of violence, that folks that are transsexual face are like astronomically high compared to, you know, other members of the population as well. And so we were able to turn around and be like, you know, what, we really believe in this, and all if it was something like a, they’ll I can’t even remember, you know it’s their right, like to turn around and be like, do you know what? Yeah, here’s, we’re gonna be, like, actually, like, we don’t necessarily like one corporate pride, like, sponsored by McDonald’s, whether or not I can understand that, like so. 

So when we get into politics, like that, it’s difficult for the council to gather those spaces, right. Because when you’ve got like a big, huge, monolithic organisation, the bigger your organisation is, the tighter your policies have to be, or else it just becomes a mess. The smaller your organisation, the more reactive and responsive you can be. So within, you know, a diverse ecosystem, we have to have community controlled spaces, in my opinion, but we also have to have decently funded public services. And it’s a false dichotomy, you know, and it’s a dangerous path, you know, and a road to perdition as far as I’m concerned of making all the spaces within the same spaces which are, you know, run by small community organisations, because those organisations, and I can say that, you know, as, as a leading light as the Kinning Park Complex collectively within that movement, right, as that, you know, they tend to be romanticised. 

You know, everybody likes a story, you know, not everybody likes to turn up on a cold and wet Tuesday and deal with the puddles and all that, right. And that can rise and win. And, you know, you need  the Council for certain things you know what I mean?

Niall Murphy  

I’m in complete agreement.

Martin Avila  

It s difficult with this Glasgow Makes Communities, but we have to make sure that that things are because the community want to take them over, not because they feel it’s the only option.

Niall Murphy  

Yes, yeah. Yeah, that, that, yeah, that does worry, me too. And it worries me that you will get some communities that are capable of stepping in and taking on the services from, you know, local facility, but you’ll get plenty of others that do not have that capacity. And, you know, building up that capacity in a community is not a straightforward thing. It will take time. 

You know, once you, the council is able to do that somehow because I think that will help with kind of grassroots communities, or community organisations, I should say. But I think it’s a long journey, and it will require a real degree of patience. So It’s, it’s it’s a, it’s a really tough one, you know, I think any of these kind of things, they can’t be imposed from the top, they have to be bottom upwards, somehow, and how you kind of foster that? I don’t know. It’s difficult. And I can see kind of both sides of the problem. But it has to come it has to be sincere, and definitely grassroots based.

Martin Avila  

And it’s not going to be cheaper, necessarily, you know, it’s not necessarily, necessarily straight away, you know, and it shouldn’t be done with the idea, because all of a sudden, you’re like, all these problems around health inequality and social inclusion, and a whole range of other things that the council couldn’t fix. Right. So now you’re going to see that smaller community or less will be funded or resolve this, you know, very good. 

Yeah, but I think, you know, if I, if I take it to a microcosm level, as I said, we’re going through this transition as an organisation to have a more distributed leadership, in the Kinning Park complex essentially, I’m moving on, and there’s a question there, so you  go out and recruit another director?  And what we are looking at doing is saying no, actually, there is two parts of what the director does in the Kinnning Park Complex, there is a strategic and there is the operational. And a lot of that operational stuff, we want to kind of try and chop up and spread across a range of staff positions. And a lot of the strategic stuff, what we want to try and do is work towards being an organisation that takes the strategic direction, not from any one individual, but from its wider membership rate, that’s going to cost us money in the  long run, you know, it’s not just a case of Martin is going, I think folks have to look at it now, at the end of the day, if we’re in a situation that people are truly engaged in the institutions and active within their institutions and playing an active and participatory role within their communities, and they feel that they can do that. 

And there are also spaces which are more representative of the communities in the long run, that’s a good thing. But that’s going to require, that it requires investment, it requires investment, and, you know, reform of the way that our local democracy, a reform of our public services, and investment in both our communities and in public services as well.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, that will, that touches on the whole future of Kinning Park Complex, so can you can you tell me something about how your plans are going for the purchasing and renovation of the building, how all that is progressing?

Martin Avila  

I mean, that it’s been, you know, it’s, it’s been a mega job, especially during the COVID. You know, and so, I mean, as I say, things just take a little bit longer, it wasn’t necessarily easy, going through the community asset transfer stuff. But that’s, you know, part of that is just got to do with how complicated these things can be, you know, it wasn’t necessarily clear around to, you know, if you look in Glasgow, Glasgow doesn’t actually necessarily know what it owns, you know, and it doesn’t necessarily…

Niall Murphy  

I am well aware of that, fascinating problem that one!

Martin Avila  

Yeah. And, you know, so and, and, you know, I think there are also like, competing demands, you know, so, at the end of the day, if you look at the offices, of City Property, right, you know, they are from a commercial property development background, right. So, they are not necessarily used to a situation where somebody is going to come and put all their cards on the table, and be like, how you doing Niall I am Martin, here’s my agenda, this is what I want, or that, what do you want out of it, let’s draw that down the middle, what they are used to, it’s smoke and mirrors and deception and commercial negotiation, for everything, for every pound I win, you lose pounds, right. So, so there’s a cultural change there. 

There’s also, then there’s a whole range of things that community organisations don’t necessarily understand, about, you know, what’s convincing, and what’s involved and, you know, how evaluations agreed, and a whole range of other things. That’s just around the lease. So that took a bit longer to get there, you know, we thought that we would come in for a lease but, the ground move beneath our feet, and suddenly Community Empowerment Act meant that you weren’t going to get a couple of million quid off the back of your, 25 year lease anymore. It was only a few. But we got there. 

And we’ve, we’ve set up a membership organisation. In order to do that, to a certain extent, we probably went a little bit backwards because in an ideal world, you would have set up the membership organisation, though consensus around that, and then went through the community asset transfer in a slightly less ideal situation you’d went through the community asset transfer, set up the membership organisation. But we can actually set up the membership organisation without there’d be a whole load of folks involved in it, you know, when I say a lot folks, there are maybe 40 Folks, when is actually, you know, and a smaller nucleus of folks really driving it forward. Because we got the land fund money, you know, so and now we’re starting to look back in that and say, Well, how do we really go our membership organisation that serves its local community, we’re going through a local place plan as part of that, we’re going to lead a transition towards what it truly means to be membership led. So those are the kind of governance and operational stuff kind of going on in the background, and it’s progressing. You know, again, it’s going to take time and sort of thing that you seat down in your, like 18 months, but actually, the Kinning Park Complex, I think they really go through that, like, we’ve got a real process for how we bring a wider constituency of folks together to make informed decisions, requires so much transparency around decision making, and require so much understanding of power dynamics and the decision making process, and requires transparency around finances so that people can make the contextual decisions around where money should be invested where it should be not. And so I think this is going to take like another five and another five years. And it’s going to require a new generation of folks to to really take that forward.

Niall Murphy  

I suspect you may well be right. I mean, it’s been interesting, we, with the Govanhill Baths hat on, we didn’t go down the community asset transfer route, only because I’d been kind of a cell mechanism already established before that came in. And so we were advised to stick to that, rather than do the community asset transfer. But it’s been such a massive learning curve, and not straightforward. 

Our legal costs, the budget is eight times what it originally was, we way under budgeted for it. Yeah, because it’s a bespoke agreement between us and the council. And we did initially we’d wanted to use as a template, one of their other ones that they’d done with Glasgow Building Preservation Trust, but the council wanted a bespoke agreement. And that has been really, really expensive for us. 

And haven’t, because I asked the project director, if I could attend some of the discussions to kind of hear about this. And that was an eye opener, I mean, it was, you hear these kinds of lawyers, sitting having these arguments, but how many angels are dancing on a pin head, and you’re just sitting there thinking, oh, my God, all this is, is that, you know, the gradually over the counter is going up. And it’s that that was a real eye opener. And, again, this comes back to the People Make Glasgow Communities, I really hope the council learns from that. Because you can’t put every community organisation through that you have to streamline the process and have a proper template that is readily adaptable, for you know, the scenarios that they come across. So definitely, when, when I when I speak with other organisations about that, you know, I advise them to watch out for that was, that was a trap we fell into, unfortunately.

Martin Avila  

Yeah, that’s a shame, that’s the thing is, is you just go through many hidden pitfalls along the way. And that’s why you’re right to say, don’t get into this unless you’re ready for a long job and so on. 

I mean, I can bring back to a more practical point, as is that the building blocks are going well, you know, we’ve been really lucky. And they have, you know, I mean, we had big plans for expanding the building by building a new office block next door, and to create a co working space, essentially, what we wanted to do was to create and intersectional co-working space, right?

 To say that actually, the challenges that we faced, you’re not going to be able to tackle unless you’ve got academics, campaigning organisations, community groups, social enterprises, you know, all on the same place. Because, you know, how you get beyond, you know, like a think tank coming up with a good idea. How do you get like folks engaged in that, you know, think tank, they need something that’s got folks in the ground. And so that’s kind of where we wanted to go. 

But we were supposed to be a, you know, putting the last of the funding together with that in March 2020. Right. And so, and we were supposed to, we were supposed to be signing the contracts with our contractors for the main building in March 2020. And, and then overtime, and to certain extent, we were quite lucky. Because, you know, I was just listen by the way, the first thing we need to get over this idea, this new building, because one, we’re not going to get any money for our new office building anytime soon. And two, like we don’t know where the costs are going to go in the main building, and the length of time and all that. 

So if we just, let’s just know that, you know, we had half a million and somebody lined up for an ask for the other half a million for the building next door. And all of a sudden, I was like, listen, we need to get another idea. And what we’ll have is half a million pounds over what we think it’s going to cost for the main building, you know what I mean, and then we’ll be in a  decent position to kind of go on and do some of that stuff. And so yeah, and that’s, that’s the way that it’s worked out, and actually, that’s meant that as time has crept up and cost has crept up, because it’s been a much longer process, then we haven’t necessarily had to worry, if you know what I mean, we’re hoping that the building’s gonna be open in September.

Niall Murphy  

I totally understand, it’s the same for us. I mean, we’re, we’re conscious of things on the back back of the pandemic, and Brexit as well, that costs for everything are going up through the roof at the moment, you know, basic kind of construction materials, everything’s kind of spiking up. And of course, our plans are all based before all this happened. And you’re getting this inflation spike, as a consequence of all that, and it’s how you, you know, we may have to accept, we’re either gonna have to do more fundraising, or we may have to accept there are certain things which we initially thought we would get, which we might not get now. So that’s, you know, that that’s a problem in itself. 

But okay, you’ve talked about how that affected your plans. But what about what did you guys do? In terms of, you know, what role did Kinning Park complex play in assisting the community during lockdown? Can you tell us something about that?

Martin Avila  

Yeah, we were really lucky to a certain extent we had gave up a bit, we done the same as you. You know, this happened in  March and we were out of the building in October. So we we kind of  said that way, you know, so that mean that we were already out of a building. And so we will use that a lot, a hall, which was not very well used at the time called Clyde Community Hall. And we were in there, and we had our a cafe run in two days a week over there. And so we already kind of had our base, and that’s gonna be much smaller place. And we were quite lucky because straight away, we sent folks home about a week or two, before lockdown, because  there’s a contact case with somebody that we are pretty sure that that at time had COVID, because they’ve been doing, they worked down at the Uni, and they had all the symptoms, and so on. 

And so that kind of made us start to think about all that stuff. I thought maybe before, and what we kind of said to myself was listen, let’s just throw everything out the window, and let’s just like put letters through the boxes of everybody in this neighbourhood like 10,000, 10,000 letter boxes, and be like ” Listen man, are yous all right ? Do you need anything? Or do you want to get involved? And so actually what happened is that a lot of the folks came back and said, they wanted to be involved. And then a whole further they start to get in touch being like listen, I’m struggling for food, you know, and do you think that these folks are necessarily not struggling before, but all of a sudden, maybe they can’t get out cause they had or go to the local food bank, go into a community meal, go into x and y and Zed. 

They were all going man. And they were like, listen, man, I’m stuck in the house, trying to live out of three quids a day, and it’s not really happening. Or I’m going to the supermarket. I don’t speak English, I’m going to supermarket and there’s nothing there. And I don’t know, like, I like, I only really know how to cook couscous like, and I have like, I’ve got no idea what the heck I’m supposed to do. 

So all of a sudden we can have pivoted and there was we set up something called the A-OK project, right? I thought it was like acts of organised kindness.

Niall Murphy  

I thought I was brilliant. So inspired!

Martin Avila  

And so I was just like, You know what, we don’t need that random acts of kindness right now. What we need to do is to get super organised and marshal everybody to look after ourselves. 

And so, you know, we started putting out food packs, and I think they must have done like, over like over the initial first set of  things, about 20 tonnes worth of food.

 And we ended up with a support list or about 200 people that were getting called every week. Some of them for as long as you know, 30 minutes to 40 minutes. Some of them just for two minutes. How you doing? everything all right? Do you have food? Okay, cool, right? We’ll give you a shout next week, because maybe they had like a family, like five or six of them. And they were alright, they were like, we are cool, we just need some food. But you sorted us out last week so we are grand. And so all the folks who are like, super struggling do you know what I mean, like, no strong relationships, lived on their own, had exhausted mental health problems, like and so that kind of support project got set up and off the back of that we were also like doing up people’s gardens, sending out toys and art packs for kids and, and walking dogs and all that sort of stuff and that’s really, you know what we did then for the next six months, and we were super lucky because we had a grant from the Scottish Government and pretty much within a week they were like, listen, see whatever you think you are supposed to be doing. Don’t bother and just do whatever you want with the money that you’ve got. Just make sure that everybody is sound. 

Martin Avila  

That’s good to hear that they were that accommodating? Yeah, absolutely. 

Martin Avila  

Scottish Government were revolutionary in that kind of aspect, you know, and I wonder how much that will get get looked at again. And I guess it’s difficult, right? Because, you know, at that point, it was really easy. There was a set amount of folks who already had money, so it was easy to go, we trust you, you’ve all got the money anyway, you know, that’s not going to work. So just throw it out the window. And community organisations were able to do what they want, but we kind of made the decision that we’re going to do that, then the Scottish Government came, came on board and actually, you know, like, there was a lot, it was all revenue sloshing about, we were able to really look after folks in a way that, that was probably needed in the first place, but wasn’t. 

And so, you know, I think probably my proudest moment of our team in the whole thing, as I guess you’ve got a mega and a macro. There was like one of our staff members supported somebody who didn’t have any family and relationships, man and ended up with a cancer diagnosis through this right, and was like, away into the hospital. And like, he just went through this and in the pandemic alone, if it wasn’t for, like this staff member, and I think like, four or five of us, alongside the guy’s brother turned up from another country. Were the only folks that this guy knew man? And I was like, you know…

Niall Murphy  

Right, right.

Martin Avila  

I don’t know what it feels like yet going out of this world right? I’m going to find out at some point. I hope not yet. But it seems to be that, you know, both knowing that somebody who had to make that journey, did the journey and did it knowing that they weren’t doing it alone, and that somebody cared about them, was tremendously important for that person. And it was, you know, as difficult as it was, I think, inspiring for the staff to be like, do you know what, if we didn’t do anything else, that’s it, we did that job we’d like. And then I think that is, again, a micro level. 

And in the macro level, we were able to support migrants led collective that had never really had more than a couple of 1000 pounds before. They were like, well, like I said, I get in touch with them. It’s like the Scottish Government  do you know anybody that needs money? Because you’re the community anchor organisation? If you ask those folks, if you need money, What is that? It’s 100 grand, and I spoke to them, and I was expecting them to be like, you know, you need a couple of grands? And they were like, I can’t like I just like, we need 75. I said what?  We need 75 and then they turned around, and they were like, listen, we’ve got like, 500 folks that we are providing support and I was like, straight away. I was like, actually, there’s no organisation in Glasgow that I know that, that’s providing that much support to that many people, and in that  difficult circumstance. And so we ended up going, we’d already kind of linked up with GalGael and Sunny Govan Radio and the local Baptist Church and some other folks, and we need some money ourselves. So you know, half the money went between those organisations, and the other kind of 50 grands went to this migrants led collective that had never employed any staff before. 

And then when we kind of said, What do you want to do? Do you want to  give out food parcels or vouchers? And they’re like, No, we want to give people money? And I was like, Are you mad, you know what I mean? Do you think like, there’s a chance that you’re going to be able to go and be like, Listen, this group that have no track record, they got 50 grands, and they just want it to handle in cash. And they  fired back to us with two things. 

First of all, I don’t know about you, man. But it says within the Scottish Government’s independent panel on poverty, that food dignity principle, say that you should be giving cash on the first basis, man. And I actually know, that is why we need to support the small shops that are providing culturally appropriate food. Because if we give everybody money for Asda, well Asda is going to hoover up that business, and they are not going to be there, just like yeah, and these shops are not going to be there. And like we are dealing with folks who have got no choice whatever in  their life, they don’t choose the kind of work, you’re not allowed to work. They don’t get to choose where they live, they didn’t get to choose whether they stayed at home in their own country. They don’t get to choose, you know, whether they stay in close contact with their family. You know, sometimes they don’t get to choose a whole range of things. And they’re like, the only thing that we can do for them is to give them a choice, and we’re going to give them choice by giving them money. I was just like, man, thank you so much for schooling me because, you know, like, I have been taught very valuable lessons in here. 

And so we write them back and we said, you know, to the government like listen, this is what these guys want  todo? Here’s your, your food principles, and you’re like, Yeah, no worries, man. I was like that. And so I was just like, I don’t do anything else in a year, here is something that was done right. 

Niall Murphy  

Yeah. Great. Alright, so you were telling us earlier about your Local Place Plans initiative. Can you tell us something more about that?

Martin Avila  

Yeah. So you know, where you don’t want to bore people too much. There’s a plan. So, those generally who makes the plans for, like, who controls planning is obviously the council and statutory officers, and they create these development plans that happen, you know, once every 10 years, and they don’t have many links in the community, they’re very well intentioned, folks, but they’re not very well resourced, they’ve got more work to do, then, then then they’ve got the resources to do. So what generally happens is, is that they’ll put out like a consultation, nobody will engage with it apart from, you know, well funded private property developers who can then have an undue influence, you know, by having the loudest voice within this situation, within the filing process. 

And also, there’s a whole load of sensible decisions that everyday engage with folks within the local community, just like don’t put there mate, like don’t put that there because this is going to happen, then something gets put there and that happens, right. And so is you know, the, the latest Planning Act had something called a Local Place plan within that and that local police plan basically means a few as a community organisation, some are trough the Scottish Land Funding ,the community asset transfer if you’re constituting community body, the constitute the community body can put together a local place plan. So essentially, what we think is an organisation, and that gets lodged with the council right. And so we you know, I’ve been up and before that can actually sprung and been had been up and Papa Westray, which is like the most northerly are the Orkney Islands, and up in Papa Westray, they have got like some amazing community development work going on. 

They’ve got, you know, a couple of trusts that can interact with each others, one runs a youth hostel, the other one runs an art space, they are facing, like, massive population decline for them. You know, I mean, 15 people left the island, right, and you’re like, yeah, 15% in two years, and so their school was going to close, so they done all that work and they kind of say to me, like, listen, you know, the best thing that we did was, we had this kind of like that, community development plan, like what we want to do over the next 10 years. 

And so we, I was like, you know what, we should do that at Kinning Park Complex. And we did that. And at the same time, actually, the local place plan sprung up, and I was like, we really need to do this local place plan. That’s what we need to do. And so we ended up bringing in a guy called Nicky Patterson, who’s our new community development officer who is, you know, stand up guy, fantastic politic and an amazing community development practitioner. And he say, like, listen, we need to go further than just the Kinning Park Complex, putting together a local Place Plan, what we need to do is we need to create a community wide blueprint for what this community is going to look like we need to go in and we need, there are no other community organisations within this community, really, other than the Kining Park complex, we need to go and work with other organisations, help other nascent groups, and help them form and develop their own ideas and their own aspirations and support them. And we need to network them, and we need to bring them together. And we need to get this whole down in paper, and we  need to put it in the council and be like, This is what’s happening in this local area. 

And so it’s not really two stage primary legislation, which means the Scottish Parliament passed something saying that needs to happen. But the secondary legislation, which is the point at which… yeah, yeah, that’s how it’s going to happen. And right. It hasn’t been passed yet. So it’s kind of still up in the air. 

But the Place Plan is bringing  together. You know, it’s bringing together a bunch of young, young skaters, who hung about  underneath the motorway  setting up like a skate park there. It’s bringing together…

Martin Avila  

I’ve got down to see that… it’s, it’s quite something that. Yeah. I walked through it last week. Yeah, that’s brilliant.

Martin Avila  

And setting up a Friends of Festival Park group because Festival Park it is a very under utilised space in Glasgow,

Martin Avila  

It really is. Yeah, yeah. that would that would be, that would be worthy of doing something about,  great park. Totally overlooked. 

Martin Avila  

Yeah, you know, and so and  like that is the problem. And so that’s, that’s one of the questions there,  Yeah, and under severe developmental pressure by the developing buildings and everything that’s going around it.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, I’m really not not fan of that scheme. I don’t think it’s turned out good. Anyway.

Martin Avila  

And so you know, I digress. It’s gonna create more traffic problems, x, y and z,  like, it’s again, I want to go radical on it right. The forces of developmental capital are more organised and have a clearer purpose and better resource. So what for them probably make perfect sense…here there is a bit of under utilised land which is you know, we are very well connected to x, y and z. We could build some million pounds flat instead and do a turn. 

And so the, you can get it so, as a minor realistically that’s what we’ll do. And we are kind of saying like, okay, it’s all right for the Kinning Park Complex to be here, to be this anchor institution providing services, but actually, if you are not uplifting our communities are really worthwhile. Yeah. So that’s kind of what’s going on. Yeah. It’s called “Because we say so” –  www.becausewesayso.scot

Martin Avila  

Nicky is a  Pollokshields boy, and you know, and so you know, and so he’s, you know, he’s kind of, you know, he’s definitely guided and motivated by, because you also have to understand how those  fights get there, like, you know, a lot of that clearances, you know, essentially right, so, let’s face it, you had folks that were kicked off the land, they were brought into the urban slums, like in terrible working conditions. Worked till he dropped, and then they were cleared again. And fired out to schemes somewhere else  like, I wonder how come you get problems with drinking drugs? You know, I don’t know, man. I know generations of collective trauma, maybe?

Niall Murphy  

It’s where it all gets personal because my partner is actually and it’s just, he was he was brought up just along Cornwall Street. Yeah, from the Kinnng Park Complex. So you know, where you’ve got the tenement right next door to you to the south. Yeah, his tenement was directly beyond that. And is now under the M8. So, So when, when you look at, when you look at the maps of the area, and this really fascinates me about Kinning Park, so Plantation Park opposite, they’re all tenements, you guys would have looked straight out into tenements. And it was a big church as well, all that completely bull dozed as part of all kind of not just the M8, but it was a comprehensive development areas. And the change in the area is phenomenal. Just absolutely shocking. And everyone scattered  around…

Niall Murphy

What is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it tell you if its Walls Could Talk?

Martin Avila  

Kinning Park Complex, Kinning Park Complex is my favourite building in Glasgow and it always will be!  Like I think like, I thought about this when I came in. And I thought, well, you know, well with that one, and what would it be? 

What building has provided the greatest influence on my life and why? And he says, you know, it’s totally, the Kinning Park Complex, for all the happy moments for all the personal developments. 

And I guess, you know, what I would love to know, as that’s the history of the place. You know, I’d love to know more stories about the kids that went there and what they went on and done. I’d love to know, the stories of the, you know, the different projects that happened there, and what folks have went on and done, the small changes that the building made within its life, I’d love to get the other side of the story for you. Wether there’s been, you know, folks that have came in and went out and we don’t even know, I’d love to be able to create a more recorded history. So I think that if we’re coming back to if, you know, one thing that I would tell groups that we’re doing, right, because at the end of the day, if you are going to listen to one thing I would say is record it, record everything that you’re doing and create a decent archive at the start, create a list of folks that were in and out, you know, start in the exit interviews. But even then, you know, you’ll never get more than a 1% of the stories that your building could tell. And I wish that the Kinning Park Complex could tell me some stories. I’m sure there are things that went on in that building that actually, maybe that should probably just remain between the people that were there in the building as well.

I was married in the Kinning Park Complex as well, man. So like, I have to choose the Kinning Park Complex  as as my favourite building.

Niall Murphy  

Of course you do.

Martin Avila  

Like not just like I am under threat or punishment, but just like how I could choose somebody else?

Niall Murphy  

Absolutely. Why not? Yep. Okay, Martin, that was an absolute pleasure. And thank you very much for talking to us. That sparked off lots of ideas in my head. So very, very much appreciated. And to our audience, if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow the hashtag. #IfGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.

The following message was submitted by a member of the public, if you want to  leave a message about your opinions, memories and thoughts about Glasgow’s  historic built environment have a look at our website to find out how.

Govanhill Baths is my favourite building, if its walls could talk, It would say thank you to the amazing community who saved it from demolition or conversion into flats. It is very excited for people to swim in it again. It is also crammed with memories of the area’s history and there are a lot more stories to be found!

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

Episode 9: Much more than just football – historic stadiums and Football Memories, with Robert Harvey, Football Memories Scotland

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”, a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy  

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk” a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow.

In this episode, we will be talking about football and its social importance, and also about how much stadiums shaped and influenced Glaswegian lives across the centuries. 

Football in Scotland goes back almost 600 years. And just like nowadays was enjoyed by monarchs such as James IV and Mary  Queen of Scots and commoners alike, did you know that the oldest existing football in the world, dating from around 1540 and made of a pig bladder, was discovered in the Royal Palace at Stirling Castle? Scotland can also claim to be home to the world’s first known Football Club, founded in Edinburgh in 1824. 

One of the most interesting aspects of football is undoubtedly its social value, football clubs, for example, are historically known to be one of the main forces through which collective social identities are created and reinforced. Very often, and particularly in Glasgow, football clubs and teams enable communities to know themselves and to reinforce boundaries. People and social interactions are at the core of football, just like stadiums, and all the other venues linked by a sport, such as pubs and clubs. These spaces constitute an active agent, in shaping Glasgow’s collective memory, stadiums and sports venues can be considered as one of the most ancient forms of urban architecture. Think about the stadium at Olympia, or the Colosseum in Rome. These venues continue to shape our cities and attract millions of people year after year through the centuries. 

Glasgow is home to a few iconic stadiums, whose history is deeply intertwined with the history of the city and its people. One of the most famous being  Ibrox Stadium, which is A listed and is located on the south side of the river Clyde. Ibrox is the third largest football stadium in Scotland with a capacity of 50,817. It opened  as Ibrox Park in 1899, but sadly suffered a famous disaster in 1902 when a wooden terrace collapsed, causing the deaths of 25 people and injuring more than 500. 

Another important Glasgow stadium, and Scotland’s national stadium is Hampden Park. The present stadium is the third to be called Hampden Park, and it first opened its doors in 1903. Up until the 1950s, Hampden was the largest football stadium in the world. The current Hampden Park is also a historic venue for both Scottish and European football. The stadium has hosted six European Cup finals and holds various attendance records. In 1937 the first all ticketed Scotland match attracted an attendance of 149,415. The British record for any match as Scotland defeated England 3-1. 

What these two stadiums have in common is the fact that they were both designed by the same Glasgow born architect,  Archibald Leitch, who lived from the 27th of April 1865 to the 25th of April 1939. And who is most famous for his work designing football stadiums in Scotland, England and Ireland. As a result of the Ibrox disaster of 1902, Leitch’s reputation was certainly damaged. And yet after the disaster, he somehow managed to be hired again to build a replacement stand. After this episode,  Leittch’s career continued to be successful, leading him to be Britain’s foremost football architect. In total, he was commissioned to design part or all of more than 20 stadiums in the UK and Ireland between 1899 and 1939. 

A few months ago in Spring 2021, an archaeological dig commenced in Glasgow to uncover the site of the first Hampden Park known as the most significant footballing site in the world. The first Hampden was home to Queen’s Park, the oldest association football club in Scotland, and the national team from 1873 to 1884, when it closed due to the building of the Cathcart Circle Railway line. According to Archaeology Scotland, the first Hampden needs to be preserved for future generations as it is the site where the modern passing game was created, setting the template for every subsequent football stadium. 

The exact location of the first Hampden has been lost over the years, but it was rediscovered in 2017 when Graeme Brown, the Hampden Bowling club Secretary, discovered a railway map. 

Hampden Park is also famously home to the Scottish Football Museum. This great museum exists to promote the unique football heritage in Scotland to build and maintain a national football collection, and to educate and inspire future generations. It holds various collections of football related objects, among which are the FA collection and the Hampden Park collection. 

Back in 2009, it was in this museum that Football Memories Scotland started. So Football Memories Scotland is a project, which aims to provide football images, which allow people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia to reminisce. The project also involves Alzheimer Scotland and Glasgow Caledonian University. Scotland Football’s archive has 1000s of images from the history of the game in Scotland. These images can act as memory triggers for people with dementia, and can assist with short term memory recall. The website enables groups throughout Scotland to access the digital collections of the Scottish Football Museum in order to facilitate reminiscence activity. 

Our guest today is Robert Harvey, volunteer and area coordinator in Glasgow for Football Memories Scotland, Robert had hosted hundreds of Football Memory groups to help trigger memories. He says that this is much more than just football and we definitely agree. Robert is an ex football player and in the 1970s, played for Clyde FC. He played in all the old grounds and stadiums around Glasgow in a golden period for Scottish football. His debut as a schoolboy was at the National Stadium, Hampden Park, and he scored a goal from 20 yards. It was a Roy of the Rovers moment that lots of school boys dream about. So Robert, welcome to the podcast.

Robert Harvey  

Good afternoon, Niall. Thank you.

Niall Murphy  

It’s a pleasure to have you here Robert. So first off, what can you tell us about Football Memories Scotland? How did it start? And what is your mission?

Robert Harvey  

So I should, as you rightly said, it’s been going now since around 2009. It started with a gentleman called Michael White, who was a football historian with Falkirk and he was doing this at his local care home in Stenhousemuir. He was doing a football reminiscence session with some old gentlemen, many who had dementia, and he, and he and he had photographs, football photographs, and he was intrigued by the fact that they could recall on many occasions, 7-8-9 players names quite easily. And that intrigued Michael, and also in  that group was an old gentleman who was sitting on his own, didn’t really take part until one of his friends called him across. A nice gentleman turned out to be one of the inspirations for football memory Scotland. His name was Bill Corbett, and Bill, Bill played, he actually played for Scotland against England, an early 40s at Wembley and he played with Celtic at that same time, but it was the war years and he also played with various other clubs including Falkirk, but a half back line that day at Wembley for nothing each draw was Mark Busby. Famous name, Bill Corbett, and Bill, Bill, Shankly so he used to say “not a bad half, half back line son” which is right right, you know, fantastic. 

Anyway, Bill, Bill, this sparked something off with Michael, Michael went back to the historians meeting at Hampden, and he reported back what he had seen. He managed to get as you rightly says, he got caught a couple of historians in Aberdeen and in Edinburgh to run much the same kind of exercise. Again, they get the same results. This was quite a simple process. They got it evaluated with Caledonia University, then something in these gentlemen, these people are remembering things of it not just football, about their life, about the social life, about their families. And from that, that’s how it spawns. So it’s much more than football, Niall. Sure, it’s more than just working with folks with dementia. And before, you know when we actually open to anyone, but say, we seek a lot of folk who are socially, alone or isolated, come along to the meetings. And it couldn’t be a more perfect time in history. When this pandemic eventually stops to use these things, to use these things around the city.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, very much. I couldn’t agree more with you. So do you think that there is a particular event or place that sparks the most memories of the people you work with it Football Memories Scotland?

Robert Harvey  

We’ve got access to 7000 images from the Football Museum at Hampden. So there’s a huge collection there and you can customise any, any session. Being in a care home, being in a football stadium, being in a community setting, you can customise it to the people who are there. 

So for example, if have you had someone, and this is, this is a real, real example, we had a gentleman who was a cardiac surgeon, in a care home, big big Motherwell supporter. So we customise the session to Motherwell for him and his family who come along. We’ve done it for many times for different people. So you can customise it the sessions, as we go along with this, and it’s not, it’s not just photographs we use, we used memorabilia as well new and all sort of  football memory boxes, which are things like all smelling salts, and carbolic soap, and, and things. So at least these types of things help to generate memories. 

But the place where most memories are would probably say its Hampden Park and the event that gets the most maybe it triggers the most for the gentlemen, the age groups we see is probably the European Cup final with Real Madrid and Frankfurt which was, it generates, all sorts of stories. 

I mean, my dad, my dad was at that game, but so was half a Scotland and to this day it is still the biggest ever crowds  for a European Cup final, 127,000 people and not just not far from good, I’m setting just know. The referee was a gentleman called Jack Mowat, famous referee in Scotland, he actually got the train to Hampton, and referee do this famous European Cup final. So that’s a big, big event. Yeah.

Niall Murphy  

Sure, absolutely. Why do you think that, you know, this does kind of trigger these these memory cues with people?

Robert Harvey  

Because it’s so deeply ingrained, it is part of their life, you know, it’s a big part of people’s lives, the social life, it’s not easy Niall, and essentially just trying to put a photograph in front of someone and expect a reaction, you’ve got to work at it as a volunteer. And the key thing for a volunteer, you don’t need to be a historian. You don’t need to know a lot about football, you do not need to be smart, and just throw a lot of figures and facts that people ask the last thing you want to do. What you’re looking for all the time as those triggers and listening to the answers. So that’s the key thing for the volunteer. Because when you think about it, this is such a privilege. When everyone in Glasgow has got a story, every face that you see has got a story. And it’s such a privilege for us to be allowed, for example, to get into a care home, you’re actually going to someone’s home. So to sit there, you’ve got to treat everything with total respect, and listen and work hard to find the image. And many teams image will not be football, that will be something surrounding, and maybe the weather and make the school, it may be a building, it can be 101 different things.

Niall Murphy  

Right. Okay. Going back to football, how much do you think that as a collective experience? When you’ve got all these people being grouped together shaped people’s lives in Glasgow?

Robert Harvey  

Wow, definitely. The answer to that, a lot of folks; lives are shaped by that. This collective thing really appeals to me. I’ve seen it time and time again, this collective experience. If someone is struggling a little bit, you know, someone struggling at a meeting for whatever reason, someone beside them may know something, and they will join in, and they will become part of it and they will help people along to help them remember. So the collective side of  this is powerful. And every, every football memories meeting is a collective experience. It’s not a host sitting there telling you about football that’s not what it’s about. It’s the collective group, you know, sharing, sharing and helping people and there’s nothing. Everyone needs a badge of honour in their life. Every person you talk to needs to be known for something, he is good that history, he is good. She’s really good at baking a cake, whatever it may be Niall, everyone needs to be known for something and one of the biggest compliments you could probably gets helping collective thinking would be Oh, he’s a football man. He’s a Rangers man,  he’s a Celtic man, he is a Clyde man, certainly in Glasgow it happens. And if you think about it, for example, where Clyde is down at Shawfield there, that whole area was the Gorbals. Yeah, and they were flooded with fans who supported their local teams, and it also happened into other places as well.

Niall Murphy  

Right. That brings me straight on to my next question, which has to do with identity and how much do you think people’s identities in Glasgow were shaped by identifying or belonging to a specific team or club?

Robert Harvey  

I don’t think you can get away from me from that question. You’re, you become, you become part of your surroundings.  And you certainly become part of the social group you’re involved in, your social group in football tends to be with people who, who support the team you support or vice versa. 

So, Glasgow is. I mean, there’s a lot of cities across the world obviously with this huge fierce rivalry, you know, you think you’re either or Milan or Buenos Aires or whoever’s, and  football is a serious business when you think about it. We’ve had examples in the world where a good example would be Pele’ who actually stopped a civil war in Nigeria for three days for he was playing football in Nigeria. 

And yes, see, the yeah, when the team Santos of Brazil went to tour in Nigeria, in the 60s, there was a civil war going on. But the war lords decided to have a ceasefire for a few days to go to the football. 

I mean, I don’t, I don’t remember a ceasefire in Glasgow to be truthful, but I can understand how it’s not just Glasgow, it’s other people have this fierce fierce loyalty to the teams.

Niall Murphy  

Okay. Do you think that kind of that influence and that loyalty is deeper in Glasgow than when compared to other cities? And if yes, why do you think that might be the case?

Robert Harvey  

No, I don’t think so. I mean, that so it’s very polite, we all know the political and religious connotations in Glasgow,  we live here, can’t avoid it. You can’t avoid it, you can’t swing a cat without someone having an opinion on it a strong opinion on it. But I do see that but the same in many other places around the world, Niall, you know as I said earlier on some people just take things to the extreme you know we there’s lots of examples of that you know we know of players in South America you know being killed for example after World Cups because they scored a wee goal, you know yeah, we know that the 1938 World Cup final Italy was playing and they got a wee note from Mussolini, basically saying “You better not loose this World Cup Final” and I think for the players, you know it is a serious business.

Niall Murphy  

You just have to see what happened in the other day with, with the England- Italy match in Euro 2020 Yeah, the reaction on social media to the players score in the penalties or not penalties as the case may be. Yeah…

Robert Harvey  

So social media has changed everything the world has changed because because of that, do you know Yeah, unfortunate.

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yes. Yeah. Okay, turning to the actual, the architecture and the buildings. How much do you think, that the stadiums as buildings contribute to the atmosphere and excitement as this kind of collective experience of a football match?

Robert Harvey  

100%!  They contribute to the game, there’s nothing worse for a football or if you’re played on an area with nobody in the stadium, the terraces are 50 yards away from you, there is a big space round about it, that, that’s that’s, that’s good for no one, the other side to that is you know, you have the closer you get the fines to the, to the to the actual pitch, the better the atmosphere, you hear some professional players will send the big games that the noise, the atmosphere you know the amplification right about the stadium dependent wherever they are, can add a yard of pace to the game, so that can add, that can actually influence the game on the pitch and make and make players quicker and of course you get you get things like you know, you don’t want spaces around the corners of stadiums and noise get out the way you want to all enclosed as best you can. You probably want to good fan zones where you can really get a focus you’re gonna see examples of that in Glasgow obviously we are that’s that’s what all the noise comes from. 

And of course, Glasgow had the famous Hampden Roar in order for you look at the shape of the old Hampden, you know it was said it scared people, are scared players and that’s documented. 

So that, that really that, that shape contributed to that and the shape of the stadium. And even, even, nowadays Niall  what you can do. If you were starting tomorrow, you’re going to build a new stadium along the road from where you live, you can go into UEFA website and there is a 100 page document now on how to build a modern stadium and all the things to consider. So 100% it contributes to the actual game itself.

Niall Murphy  

Right. Okay. Okay, next question is kind of loaded. So, as I am sure you are aware, Irish historian Ged O’Brien, who’s the founder of the Scottish Football Museum is on a mission to prove that Scotland invented football, with a campaign which is #ScotlandFoundedFotball. What is your opinion of it?

Robert Harvey  

I hope he’s successful. I hope he’s very successful. Ged has actually came to, he actually spoke at one of our meetings for us and tremendously, well researched, very passionate about it. I think he’s done so much as other people have as well. To kind of bring that to the fore, get that story out there. Even get folks starting to think about it. And as you start to think about it, who knows what is around the corner for us? But yes, it’s an important question to, to answer, actually, and and there’s nothing worse if you get to, you know, fake news about where the origins of football are, which maybe, maybe some folk think that some of the things I’ve heard recently have been fake. So yeah, I absolutely wish him every success. I’ve done the demo the tours myself to Hampden, I have taken lots of friends, though. So we’ve walked around, everyone has kind of taken aback by the story. And not that mile of Glasgow it is just something special. 

Niall Murphy  

Sure. If Ged could prove it, that Scotland was were football invented? What would that mean to you?

Robert Harvey  

As someone who’s a great lover of football, I think it’d be a great thing for Glasgow, to be, to be recognised globally as a home of football it is such a big thing to have that. I would love that a define something there that really, really makes the argument null and void. It’s just there. Yeah, I think I think most football lovers would like  him to be successful and what he’s going to do here.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, right. Well, the other big thing that’s happening just now is the archaeological dig is happening in the Southside of Glasgow to uncover the site of the first Hampden Park, the original Hampden Park and the world’s first purpose built international football stadium. 

So to give some of our listeners some background to this, the first Hampden Park was opened in 1873, and was the home to Queen’s Park Football Club, and the Scottish National Football team until 1884, when it closed for the construction of the Cathcart Circle Railway line. So and it was this stadium, which witnessed some of Scotland’s greatest victories, such as Scotland’s 5-1 win over England in 1882. And all that is recorded, if you look at the back of Hampden Park bowling club, as the train passes, you can see this fantastic mural, which records all of this. So my question to you on the back of this what, what did you think could be the most amazing object they could find in the dig?

Robert Harvey  

Oh, what the question, you know, I bet imagine he could run riot with that question. Oh, my goodness. 

I think you probably, probably a foundation stone, you know, a foundation stone, it would say something like the home of football, you know, something it’s, you know, been inscribed with some engraved or something like that. 

But I’ve also, I mean, they’re going to hopefully find things like, maybe part of the original plane surface, maybe the lines, maybe the old team bath, maybe maybe there was 12,000 people at some of the games across there. So you might find all sorts of interesting artefacts thrown about that. 

Maybe a bit nice of the found something from the English, that says, acknowledging that Scotland is the home of football, that would really kill it, really kill the argument. I think I’ve been a bit optimistic there. But I’d love something like that. And I also think it would be nice given. 

I know that the time you’re talking about here was was the reign of Queen Victoria, and she she was a great she was a great wordsmith, she used to write daily, lots of, thousands of words. And I would love, I would love if they could find maybe a letter from Queen Victoria. Just the acknowledging Scotland as the home of football.

Niall Murphy  

Well, we’ll have to see for that one. Yeah. Okay, kind of related. Then if you could travel back in time. Which Scottish match would you like to attend? In which stadium and why?

Robert Harvey  

Yeah, I’m going to give you two here. I’m gonna give you quickly. You mentioned that later on. I played my first game as a football player at Hampden Park. I was a schoolboy. So I would love to get back to that because all happened so quick. Was just just a force just for me. I was basically given, it was New Year’s Day, I was given a phone call by the manager to turn up at Hampden with my boots. I turned up at Hampden with my boots, I was playing the game and as you rightly said, I scored very, very early with that without without quite a long shot. So I like to see that again and be there because I don’t remember too much. 

Maybe Secondly, I would like to go back to 1955 I would like to go to the Scottish Cup final Clyde against Celtic, that was the first day Cup final it was televised in Scotland. There was over 100,000 people at it a the referee was amazing Mr. Charlie Faultless, which is a great name for a referee I think Charlie Faultless. And the last, the last minute, in the last couple of minutes of the game, Archie Robertson scored a corner kick to equalise, you know, that’s the only time a corner kicks are in score direct in a Scottish Cup final. And Archie was actually, a big influence in my life when I was younger. 

So I’d like to go back and see see him play,  that game finish one each. We meet many, many men from Glasgow, who we were at that game who also went to the replay on Wednesday at Hampden, a wet Wednesday. But there’s only there was only 68,000 at that game, only 68,000. And they can remember as clear as day so I would like to see.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, two very interesting memories. And the first one being particularly personal as well, I can totally understand why you’d want to relive that must have been such an amazing experience. Okay, so we have a final question for you, which again, is a completely loaded question. And we ask everybody who comes to our podcast, this question. So it is what is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk?

Robert Harvey  

That there’s going to be too quickly here? My first one is a building it’s as half in Glasgow and half in Rutherglen. Okay. And Shawfield Stadium still up to this day, yeah, I love the the old gates the Art Deco steel gets a lot the whole parameter right on the river Clyde, I love the old building beside it, which is Art Deco. And if the walls could talk about it, I’d  love the walls to tell us what Billy McNeill who was one of the most famous footballers of his generation  

across Europe, why he thought the first night he walked on the training pitch the Thursday night, and the dogs were just starting the racing.

Niall Murphy  

So okay..

Robert Harvey  

So that’s, that’s true. That’s what used to happen. So Billy would have, I don’t know what he thought… it’s a long way from Lisbon to Shawfield.  

Niall Murphy  

Okay, thank you. Thank you very much for sharing that, Robert. That’s very, very much appreciated. And thank you as well for being such a great guest and such a good sport on the podcast as well it is ,it’s, it’s really very much appreciated. And for our listeners, if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don’t forget to follow #fGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. So thank you very much again, Robert. It’s been very much appreciated.

Robert Harvey  

Thank you very much.

The following message was submitted by a member of the public, if you want to  leave a message about your opinions, memories and thoughts about Glasgow’s  historic built environment have a look at our website to find out how.

One of my favourite memory of going to a match in Glasgow is walking up to Celtic Park with my oldest son for the first time. My mother and my best pal were also with us to make it even more special.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.

Episode 10: Entertainment makes Glasgow, with Judith Bowers, Britannia Panopticon and Gary Painter, Scottish Cinemas Project.

Hello, and welcome to Glasgow City Heritage Trust podcast, “If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk”, a new series about the relationships, stories and shared memories that exist between Glasgow historic buildings and people.

Niall Murphy

Hello, I’m Niall Murphy and welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. In this episode, we’ll be talking about Glasgow’s entertainment industry of the last few centuries, and in particular, we will be discussing music halls, theatres, and cinemas. 

Given Glasgow’s population size and density, across the 19th and 20th centuries, it has been home to a huge number of music halls, theatres, and cinemas, which served and entertained that population. During that time these spaces occupied, and many still do a significant role in the social and architectural life of the city and in people’s memories. 

The history of these places is intrinsically linked with the changes in the entertainment industry, and new inventions such as the revolutionary introduction of cinema and television that saw theatres struggling to retain audiences, forcing many to close as new sources of entertainment captured the public’s imagination. If we look at the number and variety of historic cinemas, musicals and theatres, Glaswegians were definitely spoilt for choice. Among the most famous and still active of Glasgow surviving historic theatres are the Theatre Royal, which is A listed which is the city’s oldest theatre and the longest running theatre in Scotland. The Citizens Theatre which is B listed, which has the most complete working Victorian theatre machinery in the UK. The King’s Theatre, which is A listed, which is in Bath Street and built in 1904 and famously described by Billy Connolly as like performing inside a wedding cake. 

And finally, the Britannia Panopticon music hall, another A listed building and the focus of the first part of this episode. This amazing building is located at the corner of Trongate and New Wynd Lane. The music hall started in 1857, in the midst of the Victorian era, and the Industrial Revolution, the Britannia Panopticon had a very long and successful life, day after day entertaining audiences over 1500 people with singers, dancers, comedians, acrobats, and also a carnival freak show, and a zoo!

 This amazing space survived the First World War, the 20s and the depression of the 1930s. But by 1938, after 81 years of service, the Panopticon could no longer compete with a new form of entertainment and it had to shut its doors. It was then sold to a firm of tailors called Weaver to Wearer, who refurbished the whole place, hiding the balcony and the auditorium behind the suspended ceiling. The balcony was left untouched and uninhabited until the late 1990s. 

So today, our guest is Judith Bowers, founder and director of the Britannia Panopticon music hall campaign. Originally an archaeologist, Judith switched to social historian in 1991, when she established the Spirit of Glasgow walking tours, during this time she discovered the Britannia Panopticon, and made it her mission to raise awareness of the building’s plight. In 1997. She gained access to the music hall and has been running the building and the campaign ever since. So Judith, welcome to the podcast.

Judith Bowers  

Thanks Niall, thank you for inviting me.

Judith Bowers  

It’s a pleasure to have you here Judith, it is always a pleasure to hear you talk. So Judith.  First question is, when did you find out about the Britannia Panopticon. And how did you get involved?

Judith Bowers  

Well, in 1990, I really first came over to Glasgow. And at that time, I had a workshop in the Virginia Galleries. I don’t know if anybody remembers the beautiful old Tobacco Warehouse.

Niall Murphy  

Oh it was wonderful, yeah, much, much missed.

Judith Bowers  

And I had the privilege of having a workshop up in the Virginia Galleries and I love that building anyway, my lunch breaks were taken up by walking the Trongates, and I found it a fascinating area and the Merchant City, which at that time was not what we see today. You know, it was a lot dirtier, a lot grimier,  Liz Davidson saw a lot done a lot of work to clean up the Merchant City along with, of course in recent years. The Glasgow City Heritage Trust and people involved as well. I mean, it’s a different area. And the Britannia Music Hall as a building always stood out to me with its its blue facade. It’s peeling blue paint.

Niall Murphy  

I remember. Yeah. Yeah.

Judith Bowers  

It’s very ornate and so different from everything surrounding and then I was researching to do a ghost tour in the area, I had a company as you said, Spirit of Glasgow, and it was walking tours. It was one of the first walking tour companies in Glasgow, and my ghost tour involved that building because I found out about the freak show in the attic. That’s what started my interest in the building, which included the freak show in my ghost tour, you know, because you had the headless man and the man who had the world record for fasting and the lion headed girl and it just fitted in with the ghost tour and then one of my ghost tour operators actually he was on the murder tour with me. Steven Duffy, he said to me that he was at the time was at  the Academy, the Royal Scottish Academy, the Conservatoire as it now it is, and his, one of his lectures was on music halls and how they have seen photographs a slideshow of the interior of this musical and how Alasdair Cameron one of the lecturers at Glasgow University had also seen the inside of it and was trying to campaign you know, we put a theatre trail up up raising awareness to it and we, one day I’m walking along I look into up at the building and then I go into the lane to the side of it, the pens the covered bit, not the new lane, and I see Alisdair Cameron’s little plaque which was the theatre trail and had a cross section of the building and said the Stan Laurel debuted there were that was it. 

I needed to know was anything surviving of this old music hall because I’ve been told by Steven they’d seen pictures of it from the council. None knew anything about it. They knew that there was a historic building, they knew is listed inside now A listed inside and outside. 

And I just tried to get in and I couldn’t get in. I used to go upstairs. It was the Leather Club at that point. And it was ladies downstairs, gents upstairs, and I used to go upstairs, false ceiling obscured the music hall itself or the balcony level, but I could see the sloping ceiling of the balcony. 

And after many, many, many attempts at trying to get in, in on February the 23rd 1997. I was walking past the front of the building, I looked up besought facade was still peeling all that beautiful detail was crumbling,  my heart was breaking for the building, and then suddenly someone is knocking on the window furiously, furiously knocking on the window. And it was the window dresser for what was now which was amusements, and it was somebody hadn’t seen to the days of the Virginia Galleries, right? So she’s like, come in for a coffee. And we’re sitting having a coffee. 

And down comes the owner of the building then with the lovely Mr Alam. And I just fluttered my eyelashes. I said, Can I see your darkened areas please? I kid you not that is exactly what I said. He said yes, of course. I’d love to show. It’d be lovely to show the old music hall upstairs. 

So I went upstairs, up this old staircase,  this  twisting spiral stone stair up onto this fake platform, which it turns out was the roof of a toilet that had been built above the stage, pushed aside all these cardboard boxes full of coat hangers and I painted it out with torches it was pitch black and painted out and torch light and saw that the entire balcony, the projection room. A gents toilet, it was all still there. In fact, there was even bottles, beer bottles, but half a dozen of them sitting in about up to their necks in in pigeon poo and chicken poop. They’d obviously been left there in 1938. Right, amazing. 

Well, all I wanted to do was see the interior. But basically, I ended up going back the next day because Mr Alam wanted me to take his kids on a ghost tour. And then he took me upstairs again with councillor, .John Molyneux. And then he contacted me again because Historic Scotland wanted in and then I thought I need.. I can’t do this. I have no idea how to do this kind of thing, he is getting me involved in something. So I went to Liz Davidson at Glasgow Building Preservation Trust. And she said, What do you mean you’ve got inside the building? I said, Well, they’ve offered me an office and everything from the Ghost Tour. She says if you can get in that building, you damn well stay there. Do it.

Niall Murphy  

Do it. Yep, absolutely. And I’m  there.

Judith Bowers  

And I am still there, there you go. That’s the short version.

Judith Bowers  

Fantastic stuff. We’re particularly interested in that kind of collections of objects that you found in the music hall. So which ones do you think are the most interesting? And what is that? What is the story behind them? What does it tell you?

Judith Bowers  

Well, you know, famously, Niall, the what the objects that people get most fascinated by are the fly buttons. Archaeology is a wonderful thing. You take the objects left behind by the past and you put them together and you basically create a context for those objects one way or another. And it seems and it isn’t just us putting all these fly buttons found in this one area together and saying it’s prostitute corner. The evidence goes with it because of how that corner of the balcony is actually referred to in journals like The Quiz. You know, there’s a wonderful Quiz cartoon about you know, what a shame it is for the masses to take their duties up into the balcony, which is why we don’t abbreviate my name to Judy. Because they refer to prostitutes as Judies.

Niall Murphy  

I did not know that. Right, there you go, you learn something new every day.

Judith Bowers  

So, you know, we know that, that darkened corner of the balcony was notorious even by the 1880s. 

You know, but my favourite objects, my favourite objects, are a little bit more poignant. We actually have a wedding band, and it’s made from a copper penny. Now, of course, in those days, people didn’t have the money to buy a gold wedding band. These were the poorest working class people of Glasgow, that works the industrial revolution for the city, you know, made the city the great place that it became. And they didn’t have any money. And so they would take a penny minted that year, the year of their marriage, they would take it to the shipyard and they would have it pressed into a wedding band. And this one even has the date inside of it of 1897. Right. So that to me, is very poignant. That is somebody’s wedding band. How did it end up under our balcony floor? How did it end up there?

Niall Murphy  

I really don’t want to think.

Judith Bowers  

But I have another favourite, I have another just to go with some poignant and more about music hall and more about comedy. And I think that First Bus should bring this back. 

We have a collection of tram tickets. You’ve probably seen them. Niall, when you’ve been in. We have put them in a perspex frame, some of them. We’ve got hundreds of them. And on the back of some of them are jokes. And one joke that we’ve got, which I think is absolutely marvellous is from 1923. And on the back of this tram ticket, he says, “Why is a compliment from a chicken regarded as an insult? Because it uses fowl language.”

Judith Bowers  

Oh, dear, that’s really dark,  these, were these, were they printed on tram tickets with the tram tickets? Yeah, so there was like it was like a Christmas cracker.

Judith Bowers  

Yeah, I remember being the old lollipops, the wooden stick used to get a joke on it. Same thing with the tram ticket, but in the 1920s. That’s amazing.

Judith Bowers  

So Glasgow Corporation had a sense of humour basically.

Judith Bowers  

Basically then, yeah.

Judith Bowers  

That is so weird. Because otherwise I always thought they were quite paternalistic, but they wanted to entertain the people while he took the trams. That’s lovely.

Judith Bowers  

At least during the 1920s. 

Judith Bowers  

Possibly. Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so touching on that then, who were the people that went to the Britannia Panopticon, in its heydays?

 And who are the people who go to the Britannia Panopticon now? And do you see any similarity between the two?

Judith Bowers  

Well, the smell is a lot better of the audience today than it was back then. On occasion anyway. 

The audience is well, let’s think about the audience, see Britannia Panopticon was a music hall, not a theatre. And that was a very different species, because music halls were not just, there was no theatre productions, you didn’t see plays, you saw variety. And you also got your news, your current affairs of the day, you know, this is where people petition for striking or not to strike, or the temperance movement or suffrage movement, you know, everything basically was in the music hall, it was TV for the day for the masses. And as a result, it was the working class masses that went, it was cheap. It was cheap entertainment. 

Now, if you think of the living conditions and working conditions of these people, these ordinary working classes in the factories, the mills, the coal mines, the shipyards, they lived in hell, particularly in the 1850s, up to the 1880s, before the Housing Improvement Trust, it was awful. You didn’t want to go home to those conditions, you went to the music hall, if you had the money, and that became your living room, you laughed, you blew off steam, you got rid of the frustrations of the day. And you were in company with people suffering the same things as you. And of course, if an act did not satisfy them as a result the act on stage certainly got to find out about it. 

And is the audience the same today? Yes, it is still people that are still working class, but they are not in the factories and mills necessarily they’re working in Tescos or Marks &Spencers or they’re working on phone lines, you know the telephone lines and things like that. But we also have the widest variety of audience. We have children coming in with their grandparents to see musical shows, you know, and we have all sorts of people coming in for all kinds of different things because we do a lot of cinema, silent movies with live band music hall shows, drag shows, variety shows. And as a result, it does bring in quite a cross section of audience but a lot of them come by bus, or local, you know, or tourists.

Niall Murphy

Yes, yeah,  It is fascinating thinking about the difference between kind of at 1857 and nowadays, particularly when you look at things like the Ordnance Survey maps and you appreciate just how dense that part of Glasgow was. And kinda little lanes and everything and all the people that were crushed into them. And again, the contrast between 1500 people in that space, and what must be a fraction of that nowadays, you know, it’s still a significant number of folks coming in and seeing it, but how dense it must have been and how kind of hot and damp and moist and the atmosphere in that place must have been so intense. Absolutely smoky, very much smoky.

Judith Bowers  

Very smoky. I mean, one of the great, one of my favourite reports from the Glasgow Herald in about 1898 was there was a riot in the Britannia Music Hall last night, because the smoke was so thick that the audience couldn’t see the act on stage. I mean, imagine sitting in that kind of environment, and then you’ve got the absolute animal poo that they used to throw, and the whelks that they used to eat and the smell of sweat, because people didn’t have indoor showers and bathrooms, or toilets per household, you know?

Niall Murphy  

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Judith Bowers  

Of course, they used to urinate where they stood because they couldn’t get to the one urinal or that was installed in 1893. By the way, girls, we got a toilet in 1922.

Judith Bowers  

Progress, is that outrageous. I mean, it’s still, it’s really fascinating. When you consider the number of theatres, musicals that burnt down in Glasgow, all of that smoke and people smoking and plus what they were lit by, that it survived full stop. So given all of that, and then is is this incredible survivor, it’s really hung on what what do you see as the future being for the Britannia Panopticon?

Judith Bowers  

More toilets. First of all, now, I think really not too many toilets. Now, what we were well, I mean, this is something that will come out in the feasibility study again, which the Panopticon Trust and Friends Trust and myself will be working on hopefully in the next year or so. 

Sure, but it’s always been my dream to bring Britannia Panopticon back to life as this incredible music hall,  she is the last original surviving musical hall intact. It would be criminal to turn her into a variety theatre, it really would, what we’re going to do is celebrate this early history of variety, which only this building can actually encapsulate. So turning her back into a musical and doing the things that we already do the music hall shows, cinema, the variety of entertainments they used to have in this the modern version of it, too. You know, so we’ve got modern variety entertainment, the modern version of music or sitting against the old experience of a Music Hall. Yeah, yeah. 

And have the pub back on the ground floor. Not some little thing with little displays on the wall, but a proper experience of a real, what a Victorian pub would have been like, you know, with the staff all dressed up and Can Can girls or singers or comics spontaneously appearing like the old free and easy. Yes, and having things like the exhibition back in the attic, you know, so you can see what a waxworks and a freak show and a carnival was like, you can play the electric rifle range or see the automatons again, give people a real experience of what life must have been like at that time in Glasgow, as well as given the benefit of having one shows, and for the local population to and it’ll be great visitor attraction for the city.

Judith Bowers  

Very much. So the Britannia Panopticon, it’s an A listed building. So can you take us through the changes that it’s been through since it was first built in 1857? And, you know, after it closed its doors in in 1938. Can you tell us something about that? 

Judith Bowers  

When it was converted in 1857, because the building was already expanded, but when it was converted into music hall in 1857, initially thought a department store, but they converted it into music hall because that’s what the area needed at that time. And they obviously put in their first music hall at that point, which we think although we don’t know for sure, because it takes a bit of theatre archaeology. And we haven’t got to that point yet. But we think that the original balcony probably came right up to the back wall of the auditorium, right, and there was a small clamshell stage underneath it, a very small stage. And that got adapted around about 1868. When the Rossborough took over, that might be when that changed and they put bench seating in. So that was the first adaptation was putting in bench seating, and also a proscenium arch. So it shortened the length of the balcony and it gave a more theatrical look to the building by giving a frame for the act on stage of proscenium being the arch in front of the stage. 

And and over the years little adaptations have been made, for example, because of the gasoline,  is being put in incidentally to burn off excess cigarette smoke, they had to actually put in ventilation in the ceiling. So we have this latticework ventilated ceiling in the middle. Because if they didn’t vent the gas fumes, people were suffocating, you know, basically suffocating in these places. Then, you know, and then in 1904 they bought in health and safety for the first time in these buildings, and they had to put in a fire exit as a result. 

Then, of course in 1896 actually, they had to put in the electric lights, and that enabled us to show cinema for the first time on August the 25th 1896. In fact, Picard when he took over in 1906, added a staircase to take you up to the attic and turn the attic into the rooftop carnival wax works and freak show. And he also converted the basement at extraordinary expense underneath the pub into a zoo and Hall of Mirrors. 

So these are the kind of adaptations that we’ve had over the years. And of course above the stage. The racking system was replaced by a pulley system we think in 1923 after a fire on the stage. Right, so those are their main changes. Other than that is pretty much the same old Victorian music hall that was installed by a bunch of shipbuilders back in the late 1850s.

Niall Murphy  

Okay.

Judith Bowers  

Yeah, oh yeah. And don’t forget the toilets, the toilets! The toilets were put in 1893 for the gents, one urinal, one cubicle. And ladies we got one cubicle in 1922. Obviously our clothing would not have accommodated the cubicle before then the big skirts and the big bustles it wasn’t going to happen.

Judith Bowers  

Yeah. Okay, so if you could travel back in time, what show would you like to watch at the Britannia Panopticon and why?

Judith Bowers  

Well, because it was music hall shows. It was variety and the bill changed every week. There wasn’t actually a show like you know, saying that you could go see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Mary Poppins. But there are certain artists I would have liked to have seen and obviously, the one I would love to travel back in time to see is Stan Laurel doing his debut at 16 years old. You know if I could travel back to that moment in time. Another moment in time I would like to travel back to though, is the very first time they showed cinema in the building people’s reactions to it. Having never seen anything like that before.

Judith Bowers  

Oh my god, that train is gonna come through the screen!

Judith Bowers  

Well except they had a slightly different thing, they didn’t have the train thing. In films. No, no the first films there was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, comics scene in a restaurant, a blacksmith forge, soldiers marching or parading, a lynching scene and a cockfight.

Niall Murphy  

Charming.

Judith Bowers  

I forgotten the Mexican jewel.

Niall Murphy

Of course. Just just for good measure. Bizarre, when you think these things up it’s it’s really, cinema in its infancy is really quite fascinating. So which handling up brings me on to our next guest.

So Gary Painter, is one of the creators of the Scottish Cinemas Project website. So the Scottish Cinemas Project is a volunteer led nonprofit site dedicated to recording and archiving Scotland’s historic cinema architectural heritage. At present, there are around 1140 cinemas included in its digital database, with 800 photographs covering more than 250 different places around Scotland. 

So Gary got interested in old cinema buildings in the mid 1990s. While working at the Odeon Cinema and the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. Gary is also a full time though now furloughed, stage doorkeeper at the Theatre Royal and occasionally at the King’s Theatre. 

Cinemas in this country have had and continue to have a tumultuous and ever changing history. 

By 1914 around 20 years after the first films were shown in the country, there were 4000 venues in existence. A very high number of the new cinemas were built between the 1920s and the 1940s, particularly as the talkies, that’s films with sound, took hold. 

Cinemas were seen and experienced as social and meeting places and were part of the everyday life of  thousands of people in Glasgow. From a postwar total of 4700, the number of cinemas fell to 3050 by 1960, and to 1971 by 1965 as televisions popularity grew. They suffered again in the early 1980s, with the invasion of home videos. Today, in 2021, there are 843 cinemas in the whole of the UK. Unfortunately, the high number of cinemas built in the space of a few years in the early and mid 20th century is linked to the high number of historic cinema buildings that are being demolished nowadays. Among the most remarkable historic cinemas in Glasgow we have the Glasgow Film Theatre, which is B listed and which was Scotland’s first art cinema, and that opened in 1939 and is still active today. 

We also have the B listed Govanhill Picture House, built in 1926, and famous for its unique Egyptian style facade with columns and a moulded Scarab above the entranceway. It’s one that’s really much loved in the South side of Glasgow. 

So at Glasgow City Heritage Trust, we certainly love all things cinema. And so we’re very excited to have Gary here with us today to discuss various aspects of old cinemas in Glasgow. Welcome to the podcast Gary!

Gary Painter  

Thank you for having me. Very glad to be here.

Niall Murphy

It’s a pleasure, Gary. So first up question for you, why are you so fascinated by cinemas and why do you think they are so interesting and important?

Gary Painter  

It started when I was working at the Odeon. So I had a student job. And like Judith, I studied archaeology. I was studying archaeology and Scottish History at Glasgow University. So I needed a student job and I got one a friend who works in the Odeon  and Renfield Street. 

So I got a job there in December 1995. And I was a popcorn wrangler, so I worked mostly in the shop. But usually that meant you had to work the bar. So upstairs, there was a, a bar which on a good night, you know, you were lucky if you made your wages back. It wasn’t terribly atmospheric or popular, so you just be sitting there reading a book sometimes and one day an old  projectionist, a man called Frank, he’d worked in the building on and off since the late 1940s, and he wandered by and he showed me a magazine which had  photographs of the building as it was when it first opened, and I was fascinated by this, because it looked nothing like that at the time. 

It had been comprehensively subdivided in the 1970s, and then again in the 80s. So that at the time I started work there, it had six screens, which were  really just one. 

So the archaeologist in me  started twitching and looking suspiciously at ceiling voids and hatches and wondering what was behind them all.  So you know, I I would come back to my break covered in dust, where’ve you been? I was, I was just looking up this hatch and crawling around into this void to see what I could see. But it was very fragmentary, there wasn’t much left. So that was kind of how it started. That was how I got interested in this aspect of cinema, it was by working there and talking to staff who remember that as it was.

Niall Murphy  

Sure, fascinating. So did that basically, was that were the kind of,  the point of origin for the Scottish Cinemas website. Is that where it came from?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, kind of a, you know, I was just sitting idling at University on day, googling Glasgow cinemas to see what’s coming up. And the website popped up. And it was very rudimentary, it had six cinemas or something on it. And it turned out it was another Glasgow University student who made it he was just practising his web skills to see if he could build a web page. And he lived near what was the Ascot cinema in Anniesland, okay, at the time, and it was it was, the auditorium was being demolished to build flats behind the retain facade. So he took a few photos of that, and he put this on the website. 

And it kind, his two interests for him at that time was website design, and it was old cinemas, which he realised at the point, that at time that he quite liked, so I contacted them and we met up and you know what, that was about 2001- 2002. And ever since then, we’ve just been building this website. And so you know, we’ve become more formally involved in these kinds of things. 

There’s an organisation called the Cinema Theatre Association, which is a kind of British body who, they’re all volunteers, mostly, and they promote the history of cinemas and cinema buildings and all aspects of cinemas. And that can, is what does it. We’ve become the Scottish caseworkers for them. But also, also we sit on the committee. So we started informally, you know, objecting to planning applications that were going to ruin cinemas, and then we started doing it formally under the auspices of the CTA.

Niall Murphy

Right. Okay. So how do you go about populating the website? Is it by submission? Or is this just all your own research?

Gary Painter  

It’s a mixture of both really or, I mean, I should say at the moment, we haven’t had time, when we started this, you know, we were young pups in our mid 20s. Young, footloose and fancy free and we were able to devote lots of time and energy to it, now you know, now we are in our mid 40s, people look when people meet as they used to say, you’re much younger than we were expecting, but they don’t say that anymore. 

Niall Murphy 

Alas, this is you and Gordon Barr. 

Gary Painter  

Yeah, so  now we are in our 40s, we’re not really, nobody expects us to be the same. But um, yeah, so a lot of the time it was just asking building owners can we come in and take some photos or, you know, when we put it up, people will submit photos  or leave us to do it. 

So we haven’t ,we haven’t updated now  for a long time because life basically has gotten in the way. And it was always an entirely free time thing done completely for the love and then you know, nothing we were getting paid for. So it is a little bit out of date now, but, but it’s a complete mixture of things that people have sent us and things we’ve done. And, you know, things that we’ve bought on eBay over the years, a vast archive, you know, I’ve got a cupboard full of things that I’ve bought over the years from cinemas and theatres all around Scotland.

Niall Murphy 

It is a fantastic website. I love going on it, because there are particular things I’ve got, I’ve gone and checked on at various times. And it’s just it’s an amazing resource. I mean, things like the, you know, the John, John James Burnett for Athenian Theatre. 

Yeah, and you know, what happened with that? I mean, I know it’s Hard Rock Cafe nowadays, but for years, it was closed. And all the information was there on your website, I was really lucky to, to attend one of the last performances in there. But you know, what a fantastic space, which is kind of at least it kind of survives, but you know, it’s not, not what it once was. But to have those resources is is fantastic.

Gary Painter  

Yeah, I mean, that was one of the early things we would end in. So it was the Athenian Theatre, it was still very much readable as a theatre, which is not so much now. It’s kind of hard when you’re standing there to think this was a theatre. But yeah, I mean, I was only ever in at once when I was, I think I saw a pre fame Harry Hill in there, many, many, many years ago. And it was the only time I was in as a theatre. 

But yeah, I mean, it’s just, as a topic I think it just, there’s so many aspects of cinemas in theatre history, you know, cinemas that you’ve got the technology, you know, it all came about because of technology, you know, people messing around with this thing that they didn’t even know what the use for it was. Was it a science thing? Was it recording things? Was it entertainment? 

So you know, people messing around with that, and the camera technology, suddenly, we have this ability to commonly project for film. 

So you’ve got that and then you know how that technology changes over the years changes the buildings as well. You’ve got invention of talkies, and then colour and then widescreen formats, 3D. And nowadays, you get 4DX, where you set and get water sprayed in your face and stuff like that, as you’re watching film. And then you know, of course, digital now as well as changed the way cinemas are built and operated. So you know that there’s a technology aspect. 

There’s also the business aspect and also a lot of people who are quite interested in it the people behind the cinemas and the companies behind the cinemas, the chains like like Odeon, and ABC. 

ABC actually kind of got Scottish roots, Glaswegian roots. And that was a gentleman called John Maxwell who started ABC. He just kind of gathered up little chains of sort of variety theatres, round about the  West of Scotland and eventually merged them and eventually  became ABC cinemas, who ended up  running a film studio as well. So ABC has Glaswegian roots.

 

Niall Murphy

I didn’t I didn’t know that because of course, there’s the Green, the Green family as well. Yeah. Incredibly powerful.

Gary Painter  

They were Yeah, they were. So they were show people originally and they were really important in the early cinema. So because it was the sort of travelling showman who did take equipment around little halls, or around Scotland, or they would take it around fairgrounds. And they went on to develop quite a lot of the first permanent cinemas. So you know, the West of Scotland, and the Greens and the Singleton’s as well, as Singleton’s who helped because more than GFT they started off taking a screening equipment around little hall,  they got the first one out and Hamilton.

 I think it’s just, it’s just as a topic, I think it covers all these kind of things for me, you know, you get a cultural history, you know, both high and low are coming to the most unlikely places. You get the social history as well, you know, I mean, these buildings were mostly commercial ventures and people, you know, you get very nice commercial buildings, like banks and things like that, but people don’t think of them as fondly as they do with cinemas. Because it’s, you know, they’ve got memories of going there as a kid or, you know, they went there with people who eventually became their partners or you know you know, sort of first dating. So people really think of them fondly much more so than a lot of other commercial buildings.

Niall Murphy 

Very much. Yeah, I mean, just thinking of things like, Earthquake in sensurround how are these, how they were all kind of pushed, and it was all the innovations and all kinds of experiencing that must have been fantastic at the time.

Gary Painter  

It was an it’s extraordinarily fiddly things, cinemas were always reinventing itself and it’s always revisiting old ideas to try and bring them up to date with modern technology and also you juggled around in a 4DX and you think, Rollercoaster and Earthquake. We’re doing this in the 70s You know, they were putting speakers under your seat to make 3D of course, try to make a comeback about 10-15 years ago, now that you didn’t need the sort of coloured glasses. 

And you know, the buildings themselves have changed to these values, or the early cinemas were just thrown up whatever they could be. Even shops, converted factories, churches, halls, the Victorians and Edwardians. Are fine for building halls. They didn’t they did like the gatherings. So they just used those spaces and existing theatres and musicals, of course, as well. 

And then in 1910 a piece of legislation comes in the Cinematograph Act, in response to safety concerns about film, the film at the time was nitrate, and it was really highly flammable. So that brought in legislation when local authorities could licence cinemas and so a lot of the older conversions kind of drop off, because it’s too expensive or too tight because you have to be they have to be purpose built after that. Right. So after that, they have to be  purpose built So then you have architects sitting down thinking, what on earth is a cinema so you know, they’re starting from scratch having to design the cinema with fireproof projection rooms and stuff like that. So that’s when we see the sort of first custom built cinemas.

Niall Murphy 

Yeah. We’re looking at people like Thomas Baird at the moment. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Who is a fantastic cinema architect from Glasgow who did really interesting work.

Gary Painter  

Yeah, and yeah, you know, things like the Salon in the West End, you know, being built entirely over Hennepin federal concrete. Yeah, as a response to it directly to that legislation. Yes, yeah, very much. And then, of course, you get the World Wars coming out, and the kind of, you know, between the World Wars and the first cinema buildings, and sort of the second kind of gap after the First World War, because materials are scarce, and then they start looking to America and building bigger and better ones. And then and then after the Second World War, they’re all knackered, so yeah, this is sort of nobody really built cinemas again for years after that. But then, but then the older buildings start changing, they start adapting, you know, by being subdivided. And then you start getting multiplexes. And a lot of the older ones, of course being changed, they became bingo hall. So a lot of the other ones have been, have been banged up still around. They’ve been bingo halls for far longer than they’ve been cinemas. So it’s really really faddy the entertainment in general.

Niall Murphy 

Very much. So do you think that’s perhaps why so many old cinema buildings have been demolished in the UK? And do you think that’s something that will will either improve or get worse? Because of COVID?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, it’s a tricky thing, because they always were really difficult buildings to adapt, this large single volume space. So when they stopped becoming a cinema, what do you do with them that sort of doesn’t compromise the architectural integrity of them too much. But they’re also incredibly fragile. Because you know, the minute you lock the door, water starts getting in, round it back, essentially, these were brick sheds with asbestos roofs. Yes. So you know that you close the door for 10 minutes, and suddenly there’s a a root in, the ceiling is down. Yeah, yeah. quite fragile, really, really quite fragile. And also they are built of staff that kills us, like asbestos. Yeah, things like that. 

So that, you know, people don’t want to touch them. So we do end up losing quite a lot of them. Because of that, but and also the, you know, traditionally the site for them was on the high street so that really valuable real estate as well. So becomes much more lucrative just to sell them off for redevelopment. Whether that involves keeping any aspect of them more commonly not just getting rid of them. Sure, but with COVID as well, we’re seeing you know, things like a lot of the bingo companies have closed a lot of bingo halls during COVID and have said they’re not gonna bring them back. 

So things like the Mecca, in Rutherglen at Main Street, right, which is one of the Singleton’s Vogue cinemas and then became.. they’ve announced that’s not reopening. So that’s one we’re gonna have to accept.

Niall Murphy 

That’s a great shame. Right. So what are your top three favourite cinema buildings in Glasgow?

Gary Painter  

I think one’s probably in the Gallowgate. In East End, it was called The Orient. And it was a few doors along from what’s still a sort of prominent 1930s building nearly Bellgrove Hotel, right, in a working man’s hostel. A few doors along from that was this Orient cinema and it was really, you know, externally had this kind of Ziggurat thing on the outside. But when you went inside, it was built in what they called an atmospheric style. When it had all these wee miniatures of buildings along the walls to make it seem like you’re sitting in some exotic courtyard. You know, the escapism wasn’t just about the film, you’re watching on screen, it was a bit where you were watching it. It was as if you’re watching this in a location, almost as exotic as what you were watching on the screen. So I had all these we minarets and sort of Disney Castle spires and things at the side. 

And a wonderful cinema was built by a man called Albert Gardner, who was a slightly eccentric architect who specialised in cinemas. And he specialised in atmospheric cinemas, another sort of architect who did that was William Beresford Inglis who designed the Beresford Hotel, yeah, the two of them between them designed most of the atmospheric cinemas in Scotland.  And I think The Orient in the Gallowgate would have been an absolute knockout to see on this day but sadly it was demolished about 15 years ago. Right. 

Another one is probably the Hillhead Salon which I mentioned. It’s just, it was a little knockout in its day because, you know, it was using technology to respond to this issue of fire safety. So it was built entirely of concrete but not without beauty as well. You know, you go inside and it’s got these little ribbed concrete arches on the vaulted ceiling which have got plaster work directly applied to them. So even though it’s now a pub, you know, there’s still vestiges of it there that you can go in and see. 

And the last one, it’s a bit of a tough one. The last one, it was a toss up between the Salon in Sauchiehall Street, which was this fantastic Moorish tiled cinema, which sadly, the building itself was adapted that it was very short  lived cinema was only there between 1913 and 1923. But it was very short lived. And it became a kind of retail sports shop. And then it became all sorts of businesses. So one of the last things in there was a rooftops disco. And that was lost in the first of the Sauchiehall street fires a few years ago. Right. Right. So it was a toss up between now the absolutely wonderful Lyceum in Govan which I love, the Lyceum, the Lyceum opened just before the World War Two, and it you know, it was influenced by the Empire Exhibition, just along the road. So it was an ultra modern streamline architecture. And it was vast as well. It’s at something like 2300 people, it’s.

Niall Murphy  

It’s wonderful, and it is enormous.

Gary Painter  

It’s enormous. And it’s absolutely just sitting there dying for some viable use. And so. So yeah, those are probably my favourites.

Niall Murphy 

Right. And if you could go back in time to see a demolished theatre or cinema in Glasgow, would you like to go? Seeing what show? And why?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, I think I’d love to go see something at Odeon where I have worked, which is now just the foyer block that survived, which has a tower block behind it. I think I’d love to go see that in its heyday, when there was a big show, something like Bill Haley or the Beatles who played there. Yeah, absolutely. It had full stage facility so it would be fascinating to go in and see how it all worked there. Because you know, there were remnants of these dressing rooms, music rooms and stuff there when I worked there. But I’d love to have seen it all in its heyday, when it was all working and, you know, had the  departments and staff of hundreds. And it would just be nice to see the people inhabiting the space where I inhabited, doing their jobs, and what it was, like years ago, so I walked by the Odeon in Renfield Street the other day and I looked up and there’s somebody sitting at a desk typing away because it’s just offices now. Well, I’m one of those ghosts now as well myself because it was yes, you have been 20 years ago, I was sitting at that very window, you know, fiddling the disparities in stock. When I was doing my stock count on a Thursday night and I was sitting making up wastage figures. And I thought, I wonder if that person ever thinks about me. Someone else who was sitting there in the past?

Niall Murphy 

About the former uses of the space? Yeah, I wonder I wonder. So you told us that you work as a as a stage doorkeeper at Theatre Royal and occasionally at the King’s Theatre? Do you think your position is one of those traditional roles that stayed the same during the last century?

Gary Painter  

I think it is because I found a few articles online about stage doorkeepers in the Edwardian and Victorian period. And it does seem to be remarkably similar. You know, but back then the described as a position that was usually reserved for gruff men. Well, I’m pleased to say we now employ women so we have our own gruff women there as well. But as quite an unusual job I tell people that  I work as a stage door keeper, 95% of them just kind of screw up their eyes and look at me, what the hell is a stage  door keeper. 

But yeah, you know, you’re essentially just the guardian of the stage, you know, that you sit in there like a little troll in your broom cupboard, stopping people from coming in, who aren’t allowed, then answering mail and stuff. So you know, the only real differences are things like fire panels, which are much more modern these days. Sure, but yeah, we’re still little trolls who sits in cupboards.

Niall Murphy 

Okay, I want to bring Judith back in at this point, because I have a couple of final questions for both of you. First off, do you think that Glasgow was or is a special city for entertainment? And if so, do you think it is the people? Or is it a form of escapism? Was it to do with the city’s industrial past? What do you think?

Judith Bowers  

Do you want to go for as Gary or shall I go? 

Gary Painter  

You go Judith, I’m sick listening to myself now.

Judith Bowers  

Well, sweetie, I love listening to you, I can listen to you for hours. The thing is with Glasgow is that entertainment was really illegal. It was illegal for a long time from the Reformation in the 16th century, up until what the 1790s. And ironically, if you were caught in any way, drawing public attention to yourself by singing or dancing or anything like that, you’d be publicly punished for it. 

And that was the only legitimate entertainment in Glasgow was public executions and punishments. I always think that explains the Glasgow audience, to be honest, their attitude. But I think that Glaswegians have had a really rough deal, particularly during the Industrial Revolution, right the way through the Victorian era. Really, right up until the 1950s Glasgow had a rough deal, the working population, the ordinary working classes, it was tough. That’s why they need entertainment, you say escapism. So, basically all of the above, I think really Niall.

Niall Murphy  

Okay, Gary?

Gary Painter  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, all the things we’ve touched on, you know, had to do with population density and the difficulty of work and you know, Glasgow in the 20s, 30s had a population of a million in a much smaller area than it it is now, you know, people needed space and you think about the theatre or the cinemas you know, it was relatively cheap back then there was none of this 8 quid a seat nonsense. You know, a few pennies, you could go ahead and sit in a cinema. Someone else was paying for the heating, it was probably probably slightly more lavishly furnished than your own house, you know, some, you know, I like to think of cinemas as the dogs of the architecture world you know, they come in so many shapes and sizes and degrees of lavishness and scruffiness.

Niall Murphy  

You know, you can cosy and comfy somewhere yeah.

Gary Painter  

You could go and sit there. Yeah, you could you could sit there for you could sit there all day be heated watch the film, you know, you didn’t just watch a separate film back then you sat there trough a whole programme and you could just stay there pretty much as long as no one didn’t kick you out you could stay there as long as you could. 

But also there’s privacy as well you know everyone living on top of each other in their houses you know the cinema or theatre with someone you can go sit and have  about privacy you know, sit at the back Yeah. And at big spaces, Yeah, absolutely what with or without your significant other you know, it’s up to you if you wanted just peace and quiet to do whatever you did in the peace and quiet.

Niall Murphy 

Sure, sure enough. Okay, next question. And final question, and this is a loaded question for both of you. So what is your favourite building in Glasgow? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk? Who wants to go first?

Judith Bowers  

I think we know what my favourite building in Glasgow, it is the entire reason I live in Glasgow? Well, my favourite building in Glasgow is the Britannia Panopticon, where there any doubts about what was my favourite building in Glasgow? 

Niall Murphy  

We could never have guessed that one.

Gary Painter  

I was gonna go for the just along the road from where I’m sitting just know the factory in Polmadie but Right. But I realised you know it’s a factory so it’s well it’s probably didn’t hear very much so you know, what kind of building hears and sees something much more interesting is a hotel so I’m thinking the Beresford Hotel you know, back in its heyday when it first operated as hotel and it must have seen the height of glamour you know, what went on in its rooms? I think it can tell us quite a few good stories.

Niall Murphy 

Definitely. Well, that’s where that’s where John F Kennedy made his first public speech. So so there you go. Wonder how many folks in Glasgow know that? Interesting stuff. Okey dokey. 

Well, thank you very much. That was extremely enjoyable to have both of you on as ever. Always a pleasure with both of you. So to our listeners. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share and don’t forget to follow the hashtag  #IFGlasgowsWallsCouldTalk. Thank you very much.

The following message was submitted by a member of the public, if you want to  leave a message about your opinions, memories and thoughts about Glasgow’s  historic built environment have a look at our website to find out how.

When I was four and a half, in 1941, my mother had another child, now she was taken into hospital prior to this, as she was ill, and she was ill even after she came home. So because of this, my maternal grandmother moved in to look after us, and my maternal grandmother had a cinema habit, she liked to go to the pictures, twice every week. 

But unfortunately as she wasn’t the most pleasant of people and didn’t have any friends, and the family were reluctant to accompany her, from the age of about five, twice every week, I was volunteered to go with my grandmother to the cinema. It was a cinema in Parliamentary Road, so from an early age I was watching all kinds of, really inappropriate unsuitable stuff for a small child…censorship was different in those days, I realise now. And I just have this memory of being quite frightened of some of the films I’d seen.

But I didn’t care because I loved going to the cinema and even though my grandmother was really unpleasant and not really nice to be with, I didn’t care because by the time I was about 7 I was a complete cinema addict.

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Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk  and follow us on social media @GlasgowHeritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. This podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnock’s.