Saturday, 2 January 2016

Bruce and Beeching

"The visitor, rumbling over the Clyde into Central Station, used to see fine buildings lining the river on either side. Not any more. Right next to the railway, on the corner of the Broomielaw and Jamaica Street, is a huge and -- to me -- deeply shocking hole in the urban fabric. What has disappeared in the last few months is a series of buildings of the sort that gives Glasgow its unique character. How can such destruction still go on? This was the site of the old Paisley's department store, long closed and derelict. Now I know that these buildings were not just dilapidated but in a dangerous condition. They were victims of the recession in that a scheme to rehabilitate them had foundered. Nevertheless, they were special, and every effort should have been made to keep them standing. Naively, I had assumed that these forlorn, grey-painted facades would eventually be restored -- until the bulldozers suddenly moved in."
Gavin Stamp, Herald Scotland, 9 July 1994

There’s a certain sadness in taking the bus I took to school each week for six years nowadays. Something about Eglinton Road feels different. 

Something that makes the nausea of non-recognition sweep through me. 

Perhaps its a sign of getting older, as routes you recognize as part of your childhood grow old with you.

Or perhaps...

Who put that there?

Now this is where I out myself as a bit of a stick in the mud, and where I feel great affiliation with the peoples of Anderston and Charing Cross who saw their communities torn apart by the building of the M8 right through them. 

However, by Devon Street at least, all the buildings that once were there still are (even if a looming new darkness decreases any willingness to walk that way at night substantially). There’s just a flipping motorway built on top of it.  Back then, the Bruce Report manifested itself in widespread destruction of entire streets, and buildings ancient.

(A great example of creeping modernity there – the brand new motorway looming next to the age-old print works, thankfully spared, unlike the architectural dig on the opposite side of the road.)

The greater effects of the motorway so far, other than for the motorists (who love it) and the locals (who protested greatly) is on poor old Tradeston. I can barely stomach alighting from the tube at West Street, or even glancing at the area on Google Maps, for the old industrial area was almost entirely leveled to make way for this M74 extension. Ruins and the derelict. The Crossrail Glasgow scheme, should it ever see the light of day, plans to renovate West Street to turn it into a under/overground connection ala Partick. I’m not holding my breath.

This is a great example, incidentally, of what Robert Hughes called The Shock of the New.

We need motorways though, despite my inner conservatism, especially given the demise of the alternative. (On the count of 3...damn you Beeching!) My sadness is not with the shock of the new – as jarring as it as – as with the loss of the old.

For Tradeston takes us into the realm of derelict, demolished and dismayed Glasgow. We can see it further more on that old 44 bus route. I mean, you’d have been only a bus stop away from Bridge Street railway station, when the bus would stop outside the Coliseum, Frank Matcham’s cinema house which had stood since 1905. Not that it was a cinema in our day, as the hoardes of older women arriving on the bus en masse from the Bingo day out would attest. A big red looming red brick picture house.

(© Copyright Thomas Nugent and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)


Done in by a mysterious fire, like so many landmarks in Glasgow. A trend of unfortunate events is still the great bugger coincidence, unless someone has evidence of the Great Building Conspiracy...

In fact, let us refer to the Herald of July 1994:

“It seems, all too often, as if the defeatist attitudes of the past, which led to so much unnecessary destruction in the 1960s and 1970s, still prevail -- despite all the legitimate claims for Glasgow being a ''City of Culture'' and a ''City of Architecture and Design''. As any Glaswegian knows, decent buildings constantly come down -- or just ''go on fire'' -- far more often than in any other city in Britain, it seems to me. And what a curious local use of language that is: buildings do not ''go on fire''; they are set on fire. And I suspect that many fewer would go on fire if the penalties for arson and illegal demolition were much tougher and the planning department had the powers it needs to make Glasgow a magnificent city again.”
 Gavin Stamp

I for one don’t believe in conspiracy. I do believe in neglect, which is worse.

It’s also widespread.

Robert Bruce’s two planning reports in 1945 paved the way for the disregarding of historic buildings. The abandoned part of his plan called for the demolition of Central Station, High Street, the City Chambers, Kelvingrove Museum, and the Rennie Mackintosh Art School to name a few places still standing. To quote the Glasgow Story: “Bruce proposed to demolish almost everything in the city centre and rebuild from new, removing, for example, the School of Art, the City Chambers, Central Station and all the other period buildings which add so much character to the city today. Slum tenements were to be replaced by commercial developments and the inhabitants removed to high-density housing schemes on the outskirts (but within the boundaries) of the city. Bruce's proposals were ultimately rejected and less radical solutions sought.”

("Glasgow City Chambers and War Memorial" by Kim Traynor - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - )

(Glasgow City Chambers - ripe for bulldozers if you asked Bruce!)

(© Copyright Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

(Bruce would have seen the 2014 School of Art fire as a great opportunity, and not one for restoration...)

Sounds like a great idea to me. Who needs history and character? Let’s tear down the Lincoln Memorial, it’s had its run. Why keep the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and the Empire State Buildings in their place, when a nice identikit office block would suffice in the modern climate?  

Let’s build a big motorway connection bridge connecting Waterloo to the city centre! Course it will need the flattening of Covent Garden and St Paul's, and the cutting into of the Strand and Oxford Street, but hey, its all for the best.

If that sounds like madness to you, that’s what Bruce suggested. And with the last one, that’s what we got.

The buildings I mentioned all survived the axe. Others weren’t so lucky.

“''What Hitler failed to achieve in the 1940s, Glasgow Corporation cheerfully carried out in the following decades in the name of progress.'' Frank Worsdall

John McLeod’s Christian Institute building (1880-1980) was either a monstrosity or a beauty, depending on your point of view. As one whose mind is full of horror imagery, the idea of having Dracula’s castle practically on the doorstep leaves the imagination open to all sorts of plots. It appears briefly in Bertrand Taverniers 1980 film Death Watch. It was gone by the time the film opened, to be replaced by an office block.

It may have had “no architectural value” as one book later put it, but value is in the eye of the beholder, is it not? After all, the looming tower at Anniesland was listed as soon as possible, and there was a poll on architectural beauty, a number of years back, won by the Anderston Centre. The Institute, inside, performed its task as a living Hieronymus Bosch painting, with staircases and window levels not entirely level with each other, and rooms appearing, as if conjured by Hogwarts. It was its own uniqueness that damned it when the YMCA ran low on dosh.

(I direct you towards The Glasgow Story here, as there are no available photos under creative commons...)

(If you want to see where I was born, look about 2 storeys up into the sky at this point.)

And then there’s Rottenrow Maternity Hospital, the finest in Europe, where me and my sister were born. It had its meeting with the bulldozers in 2001, with allegations of asbestos and the University of Strathclyde buying the land to put a bit of greenery in its place.  Cue the Scotsman: “Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital, or to many Glaswegians - The Rottenrow - was founded in 1834 and demolished in 2001. The Victorian building had fallen into disrepair by the time of its demolition and was deemed inadequate for modern requirements. A replacement for The Rottenrow was built at Glasgow Royal Infirmary with the building purchased by the University of Strathclyde and subsequently demolished.  The exit of the hospital, where many Glaswegians first entered the world, was retained.

Well, at least it’s not another office block.

(Not that I have prejudice against office blocks. We have enough empty ones as it is. If you are going to have an empty building lying around, it might as well be the older one.)

(Greenfield St school, to be used as some nice offices in the near future...)

Ah, but the Bruce Report got rid of the slums, people say.


(how people picture the Gorbals and Govan slums - Annan photo, 1860)

(What actually went instead! Queen's Park Terrace, 1960s)
(© Copyright exoimperator and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Replaced them with Easterhouse and Castlemilk, or these monsters:

("Red Road flats 1" by Nico Hogg from London, United Kingdom - Red Road, Balornock, Glasgow. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons)

Now I don't want you to think I am in anyway biased against high rises, so here is some soothing music to listen to at this point...

That’s not dealing with deprivation! 

That’s moving it out of the way!

I am going to assume, to prevent the need for a book on the issue, that you have heard of Easterhouse at least.

The problem isn’t that there was no slums. Far from it, there was some horrific poverty laden places, and I’ve no qualms about the bulldozers moving in there. 

However, what the planners did in the Gorbals, and Govan, and many other places, was the equivalent of getting rid of the baby with the bathwater. It wasn’t just the slums that got demolished: it was the churches, the cinemas, the museums, the shops, the places of astounding beauty, the town houses. Anything remotely savable was left to rot so it, too, could go with the rest. One local I know who grew up in the area bemoaned that the council had “done a Hiroshima” on the area they’d grown up in.

(Urban Glasgow poster Strepadeir took some lovely photos of the churches etc which were got rid of, which you can see here.)

Hindsight suggests, looking at the sole standing tenement in the Gorbals, that the place would have been far better off in the long term had those savable tenements been renovated, then the whole place torn down and those ghastly high rises replace them. Especially given you can home more people in a row of tenements than you can in the area denoted to a high rise.

 “The old ideas which led to the creation of the high rise living hell, the soulless peripheral housing schemes and the destruction of the old communities, have changed.” Malcolm Reid, 13 October 1989

This brings us the amusement of the Ibroxholm Oval demolitions, which the Evening Times described as being “after extensive consultation with the local community” yet as part of the “local community” at the time the first we heard of it was from forums like Hidden Glasgow, and the same was true for many in the immediate area. A similar, though anonymous for reasons of personal information, event occurred within the last five years, when those in charge of a controversial building project – which is still causing issues, finished, hence the anonymity –  told locals that all of the Councillors had rubber stamped the proposals, only for the local Councillor to announce that he hadn’t!

(Ibroxholm Oval, mostly deceased and amusing)

“Unfortunately, when I come along its all too often one jump ahead of the demolishers.” Frank Worsdall, Evening Times “Up the Close, OK: Glasgows Tenement Champion” 8 May 1979, David Gibson

 The topic of architectural conservation, and especially the Glaswegian sub-genre of this, cannot be mentioned without reference to the late Frank Worsdall. For over thirty-five years until his death in 1991, Worsdall was the one man Glasgow Tenement Preservation Society, and his books (The City That Disappeared, Victorian City, The Tenement: A Way of Life) are heartily recommended. His campaign saw him at odds with both city fathers who opted for ostracizing, and local vandals who opted for terror campaigns (“My work has gone to pieces since this began” he told the Herald in April 1981). It was he who wrote: “'In the great majority of cases, the demolition was unnecessary and could have been avoided with a little foresight and imagination. These qualities, however, seem to be in remarkably short supply in Glasgow.'' (City That Disappeared) Like many of the buildings he fought to save, Worsdall’s life was to end in flames: a house fire that took his life and destroyed many of the notes and photographs he had so diligently tried to save.

“Frank Worsdall should have been encouraged. Instead, he was marginalised by the various establishments which operate. He was awkward and difficult, self-educated and without a degree, but he was the sort of passionate, necessary eccentric that every great city seems to generate. From what he wrote it is clear that he understood that any modern community which wipes out the past is not civilised and that the best of old and new can and must be integrated. This is not nostalgia but realism. He should have been awarded an honorary degree by the university for all he had done in recording Glasgow's urban history; we might then have had the benefit of his work. Instead, as he watched the buildings he loved come down while those who should have known better stood complacently by, he withdrew into himself and became odder and odder and more and more paranoid, until the conflagration destroyed him and so much of his work.” Gavin Stamp

Gavin Stamp, whose article on Worsdall and Glasgow sabotage I have referred to in three quotes, is himself an architectural historian who publishes books on the things lost on a British wide scale.  The Telegraph highly recommend Britains Lost Cities and Lost Victorian Britain, two of his books on the subject.

“No one seems to realise that when you demolish an area, you also destroy its spirit, its togetherness, its community. All that happens is that occasional buildings are listed for preservation under what I regard as a hopelessly haphazard system. Its an absurd process. The plan should have been to preserve whole areas, and not individual buildings. And in preserving areas, we would also have preserved the spirit of Glasgow.”
Frank Worsdall, Evening Times “Up the Close, OK: Glasgow’s Tenement Champion”, David Gibson, May 8th 1979

I turn inevitably (and deftly avoid the cold grasp of my old History teachers ghost for using that word) to St Enoch. 

No, not the underground station, useful as it is. 

Nor the Shopping Centre, best known for causing agoraphobia in the calmest mind at ten paces, and having all the few interesting shops go out of business before you’ve even noticed them. A time before that section of time was bestridden by a goliath glass carbuncle. Before it was even a waste ground used for cheap car parking. I speak of St Enoch, the railway station (and if you like, the hotel), which stood until demolition in the 1970’s. From the 1880’s until 1966, it was one of the busiest and most popular Glasgow railway stations.

("St Enoch railway station in 1879" by James Valentine -  Saint Enoch's Station Hotel. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons )

However in January 8, 1966, the Glasgow Herald was able to announce in its gloomy headline: “Railway Stations in Glasgow to Close” announcing the end of not only St Enochs but Buchanan Street railway stations. 

[I feel a bit bad for Buchanan Street station. Central and Queen Street are still in use today, and St Enoch is mourned by many. Buchanan Street railway station, where the Glasgow Caledonian University is now, roughly, feels a bit like the Ringo Starr of the big four Glasgow termini...] 

(© Copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

Pictured - Ringo Starr, Glasgow railway version

As early as February 1963, the Herald (“St Enoch Station to Close? Part of Beeching Plan”) had warned of the stations endangered status, Dr Beeching finding it “economic sense to close one of two stations serving a similar area.” The Herald claimed “As services exist, it is almost certain that the Central station could not deal with the extra traffic from St Enoch, especially the suburban services in the morning and evening.” Indeed, even with substantial cuts to the services, they struggled to take the demand well into the last decade.

On July 7th 1958, for example, extra engines had to be drafted in on top of the normal twenty two trains for the several thousand commuters departing from St Enoch. All of those commuters, for summer holidays A.B. (After Beeching), were expected to use Central. There was a reason, unseen in the beans and pooh sticks used to count by these economists, why Glasgow had the four terminus stations. As soon as 1975, complications had led the Herald to note that Scottish Association for the Public Transport had urged Strathclyde Regional Council to reuse St Enoch for the “base for a trans Glasgow and main line services” as “60% of people in the region are entirely dependent on public transport”.

Glasgow responded to this by reopening the Central lower line – minus a few classic stations – in the late 1970’s. Though they wouldn’t have needed to do this if, oh, I don’t know, they hadn’t shut the damned thing in the first place! Still, at least on that topic they came to their senses before they made the changes irreversible.

A proposal to use St Enoch’s as a concert hall has been reported [in the Herald].” Wrote William Forbes to that newspaper on October 24, 1966. “I suggest that it would be infinitely more sensible to use it again as a railway station.

Glasgow will be a poorer place architecturely if the former St Enoch Hotel is demolished” wrote the Herald, July 27th 1977. “At present the official plan is for the hotel to be demolished in the site clearance for the new Ministry of Defence office block. This project is part of the scheme to transfer 6000 civil service jobs to Glasgow and it is certainly vital that this is in no way hampered by the proposal to save the hotel.” 

When I first heard about the official reason for KOing the derelict St Enoch building – this MOD thing – I assumed it was a Glasgow urban legend. 

[The Hotel, despite strenuous local protestations, ‘failed a safety check’, as buildings left to crumble of their own devices are prone to, in the late 70’s and was thus pulled down too.] 

To find it reported in a reliable paper is astonishing. So St Enoch station (and hotel) were removed entirely to make way for this MOD building, which never came. Well, actually, it did. In Anderston, in a block considerably smaller than the area the GDC had destroyed in preparation. And not quite finding 6000 jobs either. So the City Council were left with a wide open space which they were forced to hand over to retail, for a sizeable rent. [Kentigern House, an anaesthetic 1980s tiered sandstone creation, is small enough that you could, by scale, fit nearly five of them into the area taken up by the St Enochs Centre...and indeed, as of November 2012, the government plan to move many of the jobs back down to Bristol.] 

Kentigern House - if you squint, it's sort of near the railway station a mile down the road

This after each reference to saving the Hotel structure mentioned how the efforts “could prejudice the development [of the jobs]” (Herald, July 27 1977) I’ve never been particularly fond of emotional blackmail, and less so when the caveat blackmailed over failed to materialize. It is the type of political approach best left to the current Conservative front bench. Still, by a series of unfortunate incidents from outside sources (Beeching, government ministers, the MOD, ‘safety’ advisors) Glasgow District Council had removed the railway station, and in its place had a large space of land ready for retail to buy.

Lucky I’m not a cynical person, really.

I am, however, pragmatic in my approach. If the Lion Chambers are past their event horizon, then get rid of them as soon as possible, they are a danger to the public. 

But I can’t see the mass tenement building in the Gorbals as anything more than a massive waste of money caused by short termism. Likewise, the money spent on trying to keep Hutchesontown C damp free, on “events” in Castlemilk and Easterhouse, the whole entire accumulative effect...was far more expensive than restoration and renovation work would have been in the first place. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Still, there remains muted optimism. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do city fathers (unless, admittedly, they run North of Anderston along the M8). The new Laurieston master-plan is currently hard at work replacing the Stirlingfauld high rises with new social housing. I admit when I heard it was to be done in the style of Greek Thomson, I nearly fainted with shock. Almost sounds like an admission, forty years later, that the tenements ought to have been renovated and made fit for use, rather than demolished en masse. Seems the plan will bring South Portland Street back to life too. I watch interested.

And in 2015, money was pumped into Govan, to preserve its historic buildings. It was a bittersweet moment, for one of the focal points of campaigning before hand, the Broomloan Road schools, are no more after an arsonist had their way.

Still, there are always achievements. The Fairfield building is being converted into a museum, the Linen Bank is being transformed once more into flats and shops. And there does seem to be the prevelant view that the widespread dispersal of the 1960s and 1970s were, in retrospect, an error.

Still, it would been much worse if the Bruce Report had been carried out in full, and the city centre and High Street had meet its maker. There are limitations for what even modernizers can stomach. 

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