A street in the Gorbals, circa 1950
I was born in Coatbridge, which is one of those towns you will miss on your way from Glasgow to Edinburgh. My father was born and raised in Glasgow, in that part which is probably synonymous with slum Glasgow, the Gorbals. Many of my father's family lived in the Gorbals throughout my childhood and we visited there often, walking from the bus stop in Duke Street, down through Glasgow Green and over the bridge into Florence Street to see my Auntie Minnie who had a shop in that street, and my Uncle William, who lived there.
Much has been written about the close-knit communities that existed in areas like the Gorbals, and that is the memory I retain from my visits. My Uncle William had a daughter, who was close to my age, and two sons. I was always sent out to play with my female cousin and this meant, usually, playing, "roon the middens." Behind the tenement buildings, there were areas, known as, "the middens," where there were brick-built sheds, housing the large bins that domestic refuse from the flats was thrown into. These sheds were dirty, offensively-smelling places, crawling with rats, but used by many kids as hiding places.
My cousin would take me out, round the back of the tenement, where dozens of kids congregated, climbing over the high brick walls into the neighbouring midden area, which served another part of the street. These kids absolutely terrified me. They were foul-mouthed, brash and bossy and often made fun of me for being a wimp who was scared of walking along the tops of some of the high brick walls. To me, my cousin was every bit as street-smart as the rest of the Gorbals kids, and I felt like the small town ignorant relative in comparison.
The above is a photo of a Gorbals street from the 1950s. I don't know what street it was, but Florence Street was very like this at the time.
In the 1960s, the Glasgow Fathers decided, in their wisdom, to start knocking down the tenements, build high-rise flats and send thousands of displaced people out to new housing estates in places like Castlemilk and Easterhouse. The most famous, or rather, notorious, of these high-rise flats were those designed by Sir Basil Spence, 19 storey blocks on stilts, on the banks of the Clyde. Hailed at the time as brilliant architecture, the buildings were demolished in the 1980s; apart from being bleak boxes that no one, especially people with families, wanted to live in, they were sinking into the boggy land by the Clyde!
Gone were the close-knit communities. By the late 1960s, it had begun to dawn on the City Fathers, the Councilmen, that they might have made a few mistakes! There then began an experiment in which instead of knocking down the tenements, which were solid Victorian buildings, they renovated them. They knocked a few interior walls down and put in bathrooms and toilets and created more living space than there had been in the old, "Room and kitchen," and,"Single End," dwellings. A, "Room and kitchen," was a two-roomed flat, the room being the bedroom in which whole families slept; the kitchen being living-room, dining-room and kitchen all-in-one, where the whole family congregated, cooked and gathered to listen to the radio or watch TV. The facades of the tenements were cleaned, and the midden areas were turned into children's play areas and car parks. What were once slum dwellings are often now sold privately for a good market price.
The Glasgow Story web site:
The Glasgow Story
Here you will find fascinating insights into Glasgow's history from the Industrial Revolution right up to the 21st Century, how the city has undergone great upheaval and change, and has entered this new century as a bright, colourful city of culture.
For people who trace their family to Glasgow, there is a very useful link on The Glasgow Story site to, "Valuation Rolls." (Link top left) If you want to know where your relatives lived, you can search by street name or by ward.
"The Valuation Rolls contain information that includes descriptions of Glasgow properties; street number and street; the proprietor's name and address; name and occupation of tenant; occupier and "inhabitant occupier" and information relating to the value of the property for rating purposes. They are an invaluable source for family historians, and we have digitised a complete set of the Rolls for Glasgow for the year 1913-1914."
Not all of the changes to the city have been changes for the good of the communities who once lived in places like Florence Street. Where the old Victorian buildings stood, with the road leading to the river, there are now, blocks of flats and a Neighbourhood Centre. There are huge open spaces, which I am sure were intended to bring new amenities to the residents of the area, amenities which were thought to be lacking in the crowded-together tenement buildings. However, the wind that blows off the river is now tunneled between the high-rise blocks and blows unbuffeted across the huge open spaces.
Still, I love it. It's my kind of town, Glasgow is, my kind of town! I like Buchanan Street even better now that it has been pedestrianised and you can saunter through the small shopping arcades of little niche shops and wander up to the impressive shopping mall at the top.
It's a fine city and well worth a visit. If you do find yourself in the previously known, "NO Mean City," don't forget to include a trip to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to view the city's most praised piece of art, the Salvador Dali, "Christ of St John of The Cross."
Go well, now! Be safe!