BY JULIE PATERSON
With Christmas fast approaching and the season of merriment in full swing, many of us Glaswegians will be heading out to meet friends and family around the city for evenings filled with fun, laughter, tradition and nostalgia. As we head home weary but happy, we’ll probably walk down familiar streets with familiar names, or we’ll perhaps hop in a taxi, throwing out an address at our ever patient and knowledgeable cabbies, never giving a second thought to the origins of those street names. This December the Ghost Signs of Glasgow team are taking a moment to consider some of the smallest and possibly most overlooked of ghost signs – the old street signs of Glasgow.
Over the years a number of street names in Glasgow and its surrounding areas have been changed. If you’ve been lucky to spot them, some remnants of the old names can still be seen, often fading into obscurity alongside their newer replacement. So why are the old streets of our amazing city stripped of their names and rebirthed as something new? This is something we’ve been looking into with interest!
Historically, there are a number of reasons such changes have taken place. The first and simplest is the development of the city – changes to the architecture of our buildings and the spaces around them have often seen our streets merge together, or twist and separate to suit the diversifying layout of a progressive city. Streets names such as Parliamentary Road are now firmly consigned to the past. Likewise beautiful building names like Ashcroft Terrace and Crown Mansions, are now replaced simply with a number and the name of the encompassing street, in this case Gardner Street, to avoid confusion. My own flat, a fairly new build, is in a close which actually has two street numbers for the same front door to accommodate the numbering of the previous tenements which stood on the Dumbarton Road site, As a result, my neighbour, directly across the close, has a different street address to me!
The second reason is that names have simply fallen out of fashion, favour or taste, losing relevance over time or perhaps becoming contentious, as we see currently with the ongoing debate around the old Glasgow Merchants names used in identifying our City Centre streets. A good example of this is recorded as happening in Dennistoun where a street, previously called Kaiser Street was renamed as Marne Street following the outbreak of WWI. Likewise, possibly, Edelweiss Terrace in Partick.
The third, and perhaps the most interesting, relates to the rapid growth of Glasgow across the years. Medieval Glasgow was centred around the areas we know as Cathedral, River Clyde, Saltmarket and High Street. Throughout the 18th & 19th centuries growth in industry, changes to the working capability of the River Clyde, and an influx of workers saw the parameters of the city changed forever. Nearby villages and small towns such as Gorbals, Govan, Anderston, Partick and Finnieston were soon incorporated within the Glasgow boundaries. Where these areas had a name that duplicated one already existing within the City, a name change was required for the newer area. In the West End, Minard Street in Hyndland became Turnberry Road, and Alexandra Street in Dowanhill became Elie Street. South of the river, Main Street in Pollokshaws was renamed Shawbridge Street and Morrison Street in Govan was changed to Burleigh Street. We can only imagine the headache this must have caused for residents, visitors, postmen and cabbies alike!
However you find yourself getting home this festive season, spare a thought for those who may have found themselves with a less straightforward set of directions at one time or another, and keep your eyes peeled for these glorious little glimpses into the past.
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas, Happy Hogmanay and of course safe travels, from all at Ghost Signs of Glasgow.