The Gorbals, Glasgow
The growth, demolition and rebuilding of the Gorbals in Glasgow is a troubled part of the city's history. During the 20th century the Gorbals was the beating heart of Glasgow. An area on the south bank of the River Clyde, near Glasgow city centre, the Gorbals became synonymous with poverty, overcrowding and the random violence of razor gangs made famous in the 1935 novel No Mean City.
The Gorbals started as a single street village to the south of a new bridge built in 1345 crossing the River Clyde. Five years later it housed a leper colony, dedicated to St. Ninian, for Glasgow's citizens. Merchant George Elphinstone feud the land from the church in 1579 and in 1650 the village was taken over by the City of Glasgow. At this time it consisted of thatched houses and its main industry was weaving. By 1771 the population had reached 3,500 and at this time Hutcheson's Hospital took ownership of the land to the east of the old village and developed it. The land to the west was sold by the Hutcheson trustees to James Laurie, who developed Laurieston to the west.
To the south three seams of coal were being exploited by the Govan Colliery, employing over 200 men and later the Govan Ironworks (Dixon's Blazes) was established alongside this. This then brought more industrialisation, railway lines and more people.
|Carlton Place from the north bank of the River Clyde|
By 1930 the population of the Gorbals had risen to 90,000 people, served by 100 shops and 130 pubs. Little was done to maintain the decaying housing or to improve the overcrowding and poor sanitation. With one toilet to every three homes and a population density of 459 people per acre (modern suburbs have 30 people per acre) it was clear that something had to be done. It is generally accepted however that the plan chosen by Glasgow's city fathers was an abject failure. Their Comprehensive Development Area Plan in the early 1960s was brutal in its destruction of the old Gorbals tenements and the brutalist architecture chosen to replace it has since been largely demolished. Sir Basil Spence's Queen Elizabeth Square (or Hutchesontown C) became a byword for deprivation and neglect. Large swathes of slum clearances were left as empty gapsites for decades for a never built Glasgow ringroad, cutting communities off from each other. Those locals not rehoused locally in the 1960s and 1970s were dispersed to the new towns of East Kilbride and Cumbernauld or the Glasgow schemes such as Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Easterhouse.
For the last 15 years many of these 1960s and 1970s developments have been swept away. New Gorbals housing built with more imagination and on a human scale seems to be resuscitating this historic area.
My gran and grandad were born in the Gorbals. My mum, her brothers and sisters grew up on Crown Street before they were shipped out to the new scheme in Drumchapel. So I went out to have a wander about the Gorbals yesterday to see where they used to live.
The Gorbals has always been home to many of Glasgow's new arrivals, both from Scotland and from abroad. My granny was born in 1915 in a flat on Gorbals Main Street. Her grandparents had come to Glasgow to look for work in the previous century from Ireland and from the Scottish Highlands, via Townhead and Partick on the way.
|My grandad and his Hutchesontown classmates, some of them without shoes, about 1915|
Her husband, my grandad, was born a few streets away at Sandyfaulds Street in Hutchestown. His grandparents had come to Glasgow to find work from Bo'ness (where they had worked in fishing) and from Kilbarchan (where they had been weavers). Glasgow was expanding rapidly in the 19th century with many impoverished people arriving from Ireland finding cheap accommodation and work in the Gorbals. Poverty and in some cases famine drove Italian immigration to Scotland in the latter half of the 19th century, particularly when a change in American policy reduced access to that destination.
The next wave of immigrants to arrive in the Gorbals were from Eastern Europe, mostly Jews escaping pogroms in Czarist Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Later Jews fleeing Nazi Germany arrived. In 1881 there were 225 Russians living in Scotland in total, by 1901 there were 5,000 mostly Russian Jews living in the Gorbals, and by 1939 10,000 Jews were living here. Difficulties accessing employment for these immigrants often led to them establishing their own businesses such as in catering trades, in clothing businesses or sales. From 1928 Glasgow had its own Jewish newspaper produced on Cavendish Street in the Gorbals and until they stopped printing it in 1992 my granny carried on getting the Jewish Echo regularly (latterly mainly to check the death notices for news of old friends).
|My grandad in themiddle of the back row of the top photo with his friends|
and at work in the middle of the front row
These photos above with my grandad include his friends Tony Verrechia, Alec Abraham, Ellis Bergson, Davie Sluglett, Nathan Zemell, Tony Caplan, Louie Freedman, Mo Sacklosky and he married a Donnelly of Irish descent. I think this shows how cosmopolitan a place the Gorbals was at the time.
Later many of the first Asians to arrive in Scotland settled in the Gorbals, some of them following the immigrant who had come before them in setting up businesses. Before the demolition of the old tenements throughout the 1970s there were 10,000 people of Asian origin living in the Gorbals and they too had started up their own newspaper, The Young Muslim. Like the Jewish community before them, this community moved outwards to other neighbouring areas with time.
Today even with the new housing stock being built, the Gorbals is still an area where many families live on low incomes and social housing has an important part to play in the regeneration of the area. Hopefully this will avoid the exploitation by slum landlords that some other nearby areas suffer from. New immigrants to Scotland are now settling here. Maybe that was why when I saw some bollards had been painted the "wet paint" sign was written in four languages, including Polish and French.
I started my walk by crossing over the Carlton Suspension bridge, built in 1871, towards the graceful terraces of Carlton Court on the right which are now a hospice and Laurieston House on the left. James Laurie lived in the central house on the left hand terrace here. His plan to extend a gracious suburb southwards was never fully realised as the area became increasingly industrialised in that direction.
|Carlton Suspension Bridge and Carlton Place at the far end|
Behind Carlton Place lies another of the rare older buildings in the Gorbals to survive. The building below was the former stables and warehouse of the Clyde Shipping Company from 1880, which had a smithy at the front. The central block would have had a goods hoist at the top of it to raise loads in through the doors on the floors below (now windows).
|Carlton Court warehouse and stables|
In contrast to that building and going onto Bridge Street is Cumbrae House. It was built in 1937 as a showroom for Cowen's Ideal Trading Stamp Company with its art deco design.
Bridge Street Station
Before Central Station became Glasgow's main station, trains from the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway terminated at Bridge Street Station in the Gorbals. The original station was replaced in 1890 by the Caledonian Railways building below. The four arches in the middle led into the booking hall. When you come into Glasgow from the south by train you can still see where the old platform stood at the back of the building. To the right of this building was the Station Hotel, now flats, then across the road northwards again stands the former Commercial Bank of Scotland. The gap site to the north of that building once housed the original Bridge Street Station built in 1841, which had grand Doric columns fronting it. The modern, rather functional, Bridge Street Subway station lies diagonally south-east of this building and was originally opened in 1896.
|Building of the old Bridge Street train station|
|Former Savings Bank, Bridge Street|
Heading further south on Bridge Street (which becomes Eglinton Street) you would previously pass two old places of entertainment. First on your left you would pass the Coliseum, a music hall opened in 1905. It was converted to a cinema in 1925 and played the first "talkie" in Glasgow four years later, Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer. It closed in 1980 and the council bought it as part of their plans to cut a new ring road through the area. When this never came to anything the increasingly dilapidated hall re-opened as a bingo hall. The bingo closed in 2003 and six years later the Coliseum became another victim to one of those mysterious fires which destroy troublesome old Glasgow buildings and it was demolished.
Further on the lies The New Bedford cinema, now the O2 Academy, a 1932 art deco building which is in regular use again as a music venue.
Towards Eglington Toll
Continuing south past Cumberland Street and under a railway bridge you pass some four-storey flats with white harling. A plaque here marks the spot where Sir Hugh Robertson was born in 1874, composer, conductor, pacifist and founder of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir.
|Eglinton Toll, Glasgow in 1917 and 2015|
|St Andrew's Works, Glasgow|
Gorbals Main Street and Gorbals Cross
From here I turned down Pollokshaws Road, passing the red sandstone building of the former Chalmers Free Church in the direction of the Brazen Head pub. Turning left into Cumberland Street you can find the entrance of another of the Gorbals train stations here. The elevated railway here was built between 1864-1867. This four platform station, originally called Eglinton Street Station, then later Cumberland Street Station was closed in the 1960s.
|Cumberland Street Station|
|New housing replacing Stirlingfauld Place|
Just east of the Stirlingfauld Place flats lies what remains of Gorbals Main Street. Only one lonely old tenement building still stands here at 162 Gorbals Street. This formerly housed a branch of the British Linen Bank Company and their logo can still be seen above the door. When my great grandad retired and left his flat at Gorbals Cross a hundred yards further north, he and my great-granny moved into this block. Every time that I pass it and see that it is still standing I feel my personal link to the Gorbals. Unfortunately I fear that it will eventually succumb to one of those mysterious Glasgow fires which happen in uncared for buildings. However I am hopeful that with new flats approaching it from the rear that it can be refurbished and saved for the future.
|162-166 Gorbals Street before redevelopment began|
|162-166 Gorbals Street, Glasgow in 1970s|
|162-166 Gorbals Street, Glasgow in 2015|
|British Linen Bank Company, Gorbals Street|
|Gorbals Street, looking north 1965 and 2015|
Beyond that, Gorbals Cross was drawn up in 1872 following the contemporary Paris fashion with the buildings set at angles to create a diamond shaped plaza which had a drinking fountain and clock at the centre. The tenements at the north-west corner of Gorbals Cross were designed by Alexander 'Greek' Thomson.
In about 1910 my great-grandfather gave up the idea of joining the priesthood, married Isa MacPhee. He moved from Saltmarket to a flat at 89 Mains Street on Gorbals Cross. It was here that my granny was born 5 years later and it was from this flat that my great-grandad worked as a dentist, despite not having any formal dental qualifications. The 1921 Dental Act tried to regulate the profession. From that time he was allowed to formally be registered as a dentist having worked "for at least 5 of the last 7 years as a dental mechanic as the principal means of livelihood". My granny tells me that here he made gum shields for local boy Benny Lynch and that the Socialist John MacLean had held meetings in their front room at Gorbals Cross.
|Gorbals Cross, later image|
Just east of Gorbals Main Street my grandad was working as a joiner and cabinetmaker when he married my granny in 1938 and they moved around the corner into Crown Street. This long street ran parallel to Govan Main Street but was swept away by the 1970s re-developments.
|My grandad's Gorbals joinery business|
|Massey's shop on Crown Street, Gorbals, Glasgow|
|Crown Street, 2015, with Gorbals Library on the right|
|New Gorbals Park and the view north from here down Crown Street. 2015|
|"The Gatekeeper" sculpture|
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson's Caledonia Road Church
Across from these buildings at the foot of Cathcart Road stands the sad remains of the Alexander 'Greek' Thomson designed Caledonia Road Church. Built in 1856, along with a row of tenements running behind it, it is a building of international significance, now just an empty shell. It's Ionic columns stand like the Parthenon on top of a solid base, with a sturdy tower standing beside it. Sadly the Greek Thomson designed tenements behind it were demolished and still languish as a gap site. The church closed its doors in 1963 and was bought by Glasgow District Council. Two years later one of those mysterious Glasgow fires gutted the building, destroying Thomson's colourful interior and the building had to be partially demolished. That is how it still stands, high on the "buildings at risk" register.
|Before and after. Thomson's Caledonia Road Church|
|Old weighbridge at Cathcart Road/ Laurieston Road junction and Firstbus depot|
Heading south from here and turning left along Caledonia Road you will soon come to the Southern Necropolis. The large empty wasteland to the west of the graveyard here was the site of Dixon's Blazes iron works and Govan Colliery. The coal fields here were "putting out 20,000 loads of coal per year" from 1713-1734. When William Dixon became the colliery manager he soon rose to become its owner and in 1801 took over control of Calder Iron and Coal Works. He created Glasgow's first ever railway here in 1811, a horse drawn cart initially taking coal to the short lived Glasgow Paisley Ardrossan canal at Port Eglinton. A railway pioneer, the extensive network of lines he developed to transport his coal and iron curtailed Laurie's plans to expand his Laurieston development. In the 19th century the furnaces here glowed day and night and the company continued to produce iron here until 1958.
The entrance to the Southern Necropolis caused me an existential crisis with signs saying "Welcome to the Southern Necropolis" alongside signs saying "Danger Keep Out". Presuming they actually meant "keep off" the crumbling gatehouse, built in 1848, I decided to enter. The Southern Necropolis has over 250,000 burials within it and replaced the older, overcrowded Gorbals burial ground which lies north of here. In 1841 children under 12 accounted for 57% of the burials and adults aged over 60 years only 2%. It contains the graves of many of the great and good of Victorian Glasgow. The city council has a heritage trail available with more information. There are here found the graves of Allan Glen who founded the school which bears his name lies here, Robert Paterson who manufactured Camp Coffee in Glasgow, Charles Wilson, the architect of Park Circus and "Wee Willie Whyte" a well known street musician who died in 1848. There is also the grave of Sir Thomas Lipton, who was born in 1848 on Crown Street. His parents were Irish immigrants who started running a shop selling ham, butter and eggs at 11 Crown Street. After spending several years at sea he returned to Glasgow and helped his parents run their shop before eventually setting up his own shops, which became a chain of stores throughout Britain. He became involved in importing tea from Sri Lanka/ Ceylon and the Lipton's brand of tea is known throughout the world. He became a multi-millionaire and bequeathed many of his yachting trophies and other items to the City of Glasgow, some of which are on display in Kelvingrove Museum.
|Tomb of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson|
Alongside Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow's most renowned architect is undoubtedly Alexander Thomson (1817-1875). He is buried in the Southern Necropolis and as his gravestone had been lost to vandalism, it was replaced in 2006 with a tombstone of black, Irish granite which sits incongruously amongst all the old, weather-beaten headstones here.
|Southern Necropolis, Glasgow|
|The White Lady|
One other gravestone worth passing is known as "The White Lady". Here lies John S Smith, carpet manufacturer, his wife Magdalene and their housekeeper Mary McNaughton. His wife and housekeeper were sheltering from the rain under an umbrella when they were returning from church in October 1933. They walked in front of a tram on Queens Drive and were both killed. It is alleged that the head of the veiled lady on the stone turns to follow you as you walk past, and glows gently at night.
Heading north towards the Clyde from the Southern Necropolis takes you through the area known as Oatlands, where housing redevelopment is well advanced, although not without some argument. The last of the old red sandstone tenements of this area have now been demolished in a controversial land deal.
Before you get to Oatlands you come to the former Fransciscan Friary and St Francis' Church in Hutchesontown. It has now been converted for use as a community, learning and arts centre. The Fransciscan Friars bought land in Hutchesontown here in 1868 and construction of the current church building was started in 1870. Although they probably want to keep quiet about it now, the building was officially opened in its new role in August 1998 by Bailie James Mutter and a certain Sir Jimmy Saville.
|St Francis' Centre|
|Gorbals Boys by Liz Peden (and a modern day Gorbals boy)|
|Untitled (Girl with Rucksack) by Kenny Hunter|
|St Andrew's Suspension Bridge|
Whisky, St Valentine's Bones and Benny Lynch
Heading back towards Ballater Street from here you will pass the Strathclyde Distillery which has been producing spirits here since 1928. Its smoking chimney just south of the river will be familiar to anyone who has passed through Glasgow Green. Glasgow's first (legal) distillery stood a couple of hundred yards from here in the Gorbals, underneath where the Sheriff Court now stands. William Menzies built it there after being granted Scotland's fourth licence to distill spirits in 1786.
|Strathclyde Distillery, Gorbals|
|Bones of St Valentine in Glasgow church of Blessed St John Duns Scotus|
South of the church the jagged roof of a former cotton mill, built in 1816-1821, towers over this area. In 1824 an industrial dispute here led to the shooting of two people on Ballater Street. Now called The Twomax Building it houses social work and healthboard services. A little sculpture of a cloud of smoke, by Rita McGurn and Russell Lamb, stands atop the chimney as a reminder of the previous industry here.
|Twomax Building, Gorbals|
I have previously tried to retrace the footsteps of one of the Gorbals most famous residents, world flyweight boxing champion Benny Lynch. The son of Irish immigrants he was born in Ballater Street and lived and trained around this area for much of his career. He is remembered in the name of a short street here, Benny Lynch Court, but I think his achievements merit something a bit more than that, no?
|Benny Lynch Court|
Just south of Benny Lynch Court lies Gorbals Rose Garden, the former Gorbals Burial Ground. Some of the old headstones remain around the walls of this green space. Several have no words, just the tools of the trade of those buried below, such as a baker's crossed "peels", long shovels for lifting bread in the ovens, or a collier's picks.
|Old gravestones, Gorbals Burial Ground|
|Old gravestones, Gorbals Burial Ground|
Glasgow Central Mosque and the Sheriff Courthouse
Coming north-west towards the river from here you will pass the campus of Glasgow College of Nautical Studies, now a faculty of the City of Glasgow College. Carrying on in this direction brings you to two modern Gorbals buildings. The Sheriff Courthouse on Gorbals Street at the riverside was built between 1980-1986 and contains 21 courtrooms. It is apparently the second largest courthouse in Europe and deals with more minor offences, serious offences being dealt with just across the Clyde at the High Court.
|Glasgow Sheriff Courthouse|
Leaving the Gorbals I walked back across the Clyde via Jamaica Bridge (or Glasgow Bridge to give it its proper name). Passing here you can see the granite piers on which once stood the old railway bridge into the original Gordon Street Station (now Central Station).
Only time will tell if the destructive storm of 20th century developers managed to flatten the Gorbals. From walking about the area today it certainly looks like things are finally moving in the right direction. However the infrastructure is only ever part of the answer. The availability of jobs and opportunities for the people living there is going to be just as important for the new Gorbals to become a thriving community again. This was overlooked when Glasgow's peripheral schemes were laid out in the 1960s and hopefully lessons have been learned from that.