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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