The Story of a House, part 7

In the period (1960s and 70s) when we were growing up in Kersland Street, Glasgow was changing. Thanks to the new Welfare State, the post war period saw standards of living improve, infant mortality fall and real incomes start to rise. Massive slum clearance programmes were undertaken and new housing schemes created where families could for the first time enjoy the benefits of their own bathroom, separate bedrooms and even a garden. Arts and leisure facilities were opening up and became more accessible than ever before.

Of course there was a downside, there always is. A shift to the outlying new developments in Easterhouse or Drumchapel, or to one of the newly emerging tower blocks in the city – ‘streets in the sky’ – could mean the break-up of close-knit extended families. The friendly image of women blethering and children playing at the close mouth was replaced by that of the family sitting around the television. And in their hurry to clear away the old and bring in the new, it could be argued that the city fathers too quickly swept away some of Glasgow’s historic legacy along with the notorious slums. The photographer Oscar Marzaroli, with his iconic pictures of the soon-to-be-demolished Gorbals, left a loving and memorable record of that long lost Glasgow.

An area like Hillhead was less affected by the slum clearances of course, having been built for a more middle class section of the population in the first place. But there’s no doubt that West Enders benefited from measures such as the opening of municipal parks to Sunday sport and the relaxation of the licensing laws. Not to mention a veritable explosion in University education, with the new Strathclyde University opening in 1964, and the more traditional University of Glasgow also responding – eventually – to the changes in demographics (post war baby boomers) and growing demands for new and different courses of study.

With Glasgow Uni firmly ensconced within its boundaries, the 1970’s saw ever increasing numbers of students taking up residence in student flats throughout Hillhead, though of course not our flat. Mostly – but not always – my sisters and I didn’t have to leave home to go to University or College.

Glasgow’s development continued apace. In the mid 80’s, a new campaign, under Provost Michael Kelly, encouraged us to sign up to the slogan “Glasgow’s miles better”, inspired, it seems, by New York’s efforts to reinvent itself with the “I Love New York” slogan. And given a huge worldwide boost when the rival City of Edinburgh refused to carry the slogan on its buses, a fact that even made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Shot yourself in the foot there Edinburgh!

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Somehow the campaign succeeded in making significant changes to the way Glasgow was perceived externally, as well as the way Glaswegians saw themselves. There was a move away from the image of a hard-drinking, gang-ridden, working class city to one which focused on the cultural richness of Glasgow, its environment (more public parks per head of population than any other city in Europe), its suitability for enterprise and its mild climate (the rain is warm, folks!) AND it attracted further much needed investment.

The City eventually began to re-evaluate its Victorian inheritance, resulting in the systematic cleaning and restoring of the impressive sandstone three- and four-storey tenements and the city centre’s grand Victorian edifices, as well as the rediscovery of Glasgow’s greatest artist/architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Slowly and painfully Glasgow had indeed largely changed its dreary post-industrial identity to take on a more open, forward looking character which reached its high point when it was designated European City of Culture in 1990 and UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999.

The widespread programme of cleaning of the Glasgow tenements made a huge difference in Hillhead. A century of industrial soot and grime began to be sandblasted away, revealing, to our wonderment, the real colour of the buildings; not the black we were used to, but beautiful blond and red sandstone. You can see from this picture just how much of a transformation it was.

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I remember looking down Kersland Street one day, marvelling at how the sun lit up these golden buildings in total contrast to the few solitary blocks that were still black and waiting to be “done”. Number 8 is at the far end of this view, on the left. And this photo also reminds me of the exponential growth in car ownership in this increasingly prosperous era, and the introduction of residents’ parking spaces and parking meters. This must have been in the 1970’s because I remember my Dad complaining at length about having to pay for parking “outside my own house!” But I suppose it’s kind of obvious that these rows of fine sandstone tenements were build at a time when there was no notion of the revolution in personal transportation that would occur a century later. Parking and traffic in the essentially Victorian West End remain a bit of a nightmare to this day.

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Unfortunately though, the tenement cleaning wasn’t the end of it. These buildings were getting old and were showing their age – in many cases needing extensive repairs and refurbishment to deal with their generally dilapidated condition. This included our house. By 1979, negotiations were under way for the various proprietors of numbers 8 and 10 Kersland Street to apply for one of the grants that were then available to have these repairs done and bring our building up to scratch. I think this was when I first became familiar with the term “absentee landlord” because it proved difficult for the Factor to obtain permission from all the proprietors of number 10 for the work to go ahead. In fact it took a ‘Section 24’ (compulsory repairs) order from the Council for the work to finally commence in 1982/83.

In the meantime, our dear Dad had passed away in 1981. Like John Brown before him, he died peacefully in his own home, in the room where he had devoted so much time and care to that beautifully painted ceiling. The house – and us – would have to carry on without him.

It was around this time that the building across the street, number 7, became the subject of an emergency demolition order as it had become structurally unstable and suddenly, one day, just wasn’t there any more! I can’t find any press report about it so I’m not sure of the date, but no doubt it served as a timely warning as to what could happen if attention was not paid to to the structure of a building. So, whether or not it was prompted by this occurrence, an extensive schedule of repairs was finally undertaken on our building, covering the roof, chimneys, windows, gutters, downpipes, stonework… Most of which probably hadn’t seen much, if any, maintenance since the building first saw the light of day in 1872, despite its continuous ownership by the Blackie family (see part 5).

Thus began over a decade of continuous repair and renovation at number 8, for, once started, each wave of repairs only uncovered yet more defects that would need urgent attention. My newly widowed Mum found herself at the hub of all this activity. She’d never been the sort of wife who had passively sat back while her husband dealt with all the business of the household; she was always aware of the family finances and helped out with them by working at various part time jobs, the first of which, I think, was in the Fairy Dell, a bespoke little bakery literally round the corner from us.

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But it had been Dad who had largely been in charge, making sure, in his meticulous way, that the various insurance premiums, mortgage payments, household bills, council tax and so on, were up to date. So Mum had to step up and take it all on; quite a steep learning curve for her. Which became even steeper when the intricacies of the building renovations entered the mix. For example, once that first wave of repairs had been completed, my Mum put in an insurance claim for some items of ‘collateral damage’ which had happened in the course of the work – some broken window panes, ruined carpets, water damage, that sort of thing. The insurance company refused to pay, saying, among other things, that the windows had already been cracked. If they thought that my Mum was some sort of little old lady that would quietly back down, they were soon to be disabused!

I have to smile when I read one letter that has survived, in which the insurers state “…if the glass had been broken by falling debris or during the course of the major works, there would be evidence of shattering.” To which my Mum has added a note: there was! broken glass!

A further paragraph concerns the claim for water penetration and damage in which the hapless insurers maintain that the water damage wasn’t the fault of the contractor but was due to some polythene sheeting which proved difficult to shift. My Mum makes short work of this also: this is nonsense, the bit of sheeting blew away, in fact people in the next street came round to warn us!

I quote this letter because it typifies Mum’s tenaciousness and attention to detail. She never willingly gave way to anyone and would stubbornly uphold her point of view in endless letters and phone calls which meant that she could never just be dismissed, but had to be dealt with on her own terms. The insurance issue went on for months, with the company eventually backing down and making a payment which they called ex gratia, I suspect because they couldn’t bring themselves to admit they had been in the wrong all along.

Mum was to need all her great reserves of resilience in the decade to come. As I say, once the repairs started, there seemed to be no end to them and no sooner had one issue been dealt with than yet another came to the fore. The first of these was the discovery of extensive areas of wet and dry rot throughout the building, including our basement. As you can see, the remedy involved a great deal of disruption, with the rooms having to be stripped back to the bare bones in order to treat the root of the problem.

At this point Mum abandoned the basement while the work was going on and moved the kitchen upstairs, where it remained from then on. This picture shows an early configuration which was later changed. Mum was working in the Western Infirmary by then and is wearing her Nursing Auxiliary uniform.

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The next blow centred upon a certain worrying bulge in the gable end of the building. Surveys were done and terms such as “differential settlement” and “lateral drift” began to be bandied about. A search of historical records showed that the location – in fact the whole of Hillhead – had been built in an area that had been subject to past mining activity. There had been sandstone quarrying nearby, from which no doubt came much of the building material used to create the district in the first place. It was decided that trial pits and boreholes would need to be dug in order to investigate further.

to be continued…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Story of a House, part 4

Let’s continue from where we left off…

The MacCulloch sisters lived at 8 Kersland Street until about 1926 or 27 and then we see the arrival of Mr and Mrs Smith, Ivan and Elizabeth, who only stayed for about three or four years. I think there was also a son, Alexander. I’m afraid I know next to nothing about the Smiths – there aren’t census returns available beyond 1911, so, paradoxically, it can be easier to find out about people from the 1800’s than the 20th century. So we’ll just have to go with these bare facts from the electorial register.

I’m pretty sure that neither the MacCullochs nor the Smiths would have owned a car, but if they had, they could have parked it around the corner in the Botanic Gardens Garage in Vinicombe Street (opposite the Salon Cinema). The Garage celebrated its 25th anniversay in 1929.

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When the Botanic Gardens Parking Garage was built in 1912, parking in the streets was not permitted in the UK, and besides, the paintwork of motor cars of the time was highly sensitive to weather and sun and had to be protected. This garage was one of the first such structures to be built in the UK and to this day remains of great architectural interest as well as being a reminder of the exceptional wealth of Glasgow at a time when cars were generally considered an extravagant luxury.

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The architect, David Valentine Wylie, had spent his prolific career building tenements and factories, and was experienced in the design of warehouses and stables. The Garage was his last project and it feels to me as if he poured his heart and soul into his final structure.  It was a new concept, this ‘warehousing’ of cars. Even the word garage, taken from the French garer, to shelter, hadn’t come into use until 1902. Garages have become a mundane feature of our daily lives, but it’s rather nice to look back on a time when everything was fresh and new and an architect could indulge in a flight of fancy and build one in an ornate Beaux Arts style with a glazed cream and soft green faience facade punctuated by large glazed arches.

The Garage highlights the complete revolution in road transportation that had taken place in the 60 or so years since the tenements of Kersland Street first saw the light of day in the early 1870’s.  When Madame Stewart had lived here, horse transport reigned supreme and at the end of the 19th century Glasgow was ringed with a large number of stables to provide horses for literally hundreds of passenger and goods vehicles. Perhaps a rather smellier world than we are used to now…?

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Horse tram no. 324, Kelvinside to Dennistoun, 1890’s.

Between 1898 and 1901, the Macgregors would have seen the electrification of the tramways, with central poles and tramlines being laid all along Great Western Road. The old trams used to run down the middle of the road, which meant that alighting passengers had to run the gauntlet of any traffic running on the inside lane. There are many newspaper reports of the time detailing accidents and near-misses due to this rather hazardous arrangement.

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Phase 1 Standard Tramcar
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Tramlines & poles at Kelvinbridge, 1904

I always imagined Mrs Isabella Millar, our resident during the Great War, as being someone who would have travelled in a hansom cab or a tram to her daughter’s house in Great Western Road. But actually, I’m now thinking that daughter Ada and her husband Fred the writer, living comfortably in their big house, might have been just the sort of people who would have been early adopters of the motor car, and that Isabella could have enjoyed a rather more modern mode of conveyance.

Of course the year that the Botanic Gardens Garage celebrated its 25th anniversary, 1929, was also the year of the Wall Street Crash.

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Hunger marches were held in the UK throughout the 1920’s and 30’s as the economy slumped and more and more men and women were left without the ability to feed their families.

In the latter half of the 19th century, fuelled by the industrial revolution, Glasgow had been a place of exceptional economic buoyancy and urban growth. Indeed we’ve already seen how the well-appointed district of Hillhead itself was a product of this growth. Hillhead was never as exclusive as the adjoining areas of Kelvinside or Dowanhill, though it attracted a sizeable population of middle class professionals such as ministers, academics, merchants and managers. And of course there was also the rather more artistic and bohemian section of the community, no doubt partly due to the presence of Glasgow University in the neighbourhood. 

When the great slump came, Hillhead was less affected than other areas, such as the Gorbals, which started from a lower rung on the ladder anyway and were more dependent on shipbuilding and heavy engineering. But times were hard in the inter-war years and I have no doubt that 8 Kersland Street, being at the more artisan end of Hillhead, saw its share of hardship as the years rolled on and the Smiths were replaced by the Bremners in around 1930. Again, I have only the bare facts from the Electoral Register – Elizabeth and James Bremner, and two daughters, Mary and Mima.

But then we come to 1937. And at last, we can put a face to our new residents, for Mr John Brown and his wife Euphemia come within the living memory of their grandson, Hugh Ritchie, who vaguely recalls visiting his grandmother as a very young child. I came across Hugh on the Ancestry website and he has not only given me permission to use material from his family tree, but has also kindly shared further family memories with me. John and Euphemia’s sojourn in Kersland Street was quite a short one, but thanks to Hugh, we can tell their story.

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John Brown and Euphemia Logan were married in January 1908 in Edinburgh, where their first child, Ishbel, was born later that year. John and Euphemia were both teachers, but in those days, women would have been expected to give up their profession on marriage, so no doubt Euphemia turned her energies towards bringing up their fast-growing family. By 1910 the family were living at Windsor Cottage, Shotts, where their son Hugh was born, closely followed by a daughter, Anne, who tragically died in 1914 when she was only 2 years old.

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John taught in Shotts until the First World War saw him signing up, in his late thirties, with the Royal Garrison Artillery, where he served in Mesopotamia, India and elsewhere for about three years. For much of this time he was a quartermaster, probably a quartermaster sergeant or similar. With John away at war, Euphemia and the children went to stay with her brother Donald in the Western Isles. When Donald got married, Euphemia took a cottage in Glen Borrodale, where she taught at the school there for a few years until John came home from the war.

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I imagine that Euphemia must have been quite an intrepid, enterprising type of person to have taken a post in what is a rather isolated little village on the west coast of Scotland. And one notices that the normal rules about married women working don’t seem to apply in times of war! This is the old schoolhouse which was eventually put up for sale after it had fallen out of use as a school.

Family life resumed and two more daughters arrived in quick succession, Helen (known as Lala) in 1920 and Joan in 1921. When John got the headship of Braidwood School, the family moved there in 1920, followed by a move to Airdrie seven years later when he became head of the newly built (and much bigger) Clarkston Primary School. His final appointment, in 1933, was to the headship of Dalziel Public School in Motherwell, a large secondary school. At this time the family still lived in Airdrie and John would commute to Motherwell every day by bus.

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Sadly, the First World War had left John Brown greatly diminished in health and in 1936 he fell ill and was off school for an extended period. To reduce his commuting burden, the family moved to Cambuslang. Unfortunately, after only a few days back at work, John took a stroke and had to retire in October 1937. The Browns had lived in Cambuslang for a year. In view of John’s ill health and the position of their house on a steep hill, the family moved to Glasgow, to a ground floor flat, 8 Kersland Street, where John died at home only a few months later on the 15th of July 1938. He was 61 years old. 

hugh brown, sonEuphemia and her daughters stayed on at Kersland Street, and saw the start of World War Two the following year. Son Hugh seems to have spent some time as an evacuee schoolmaster in Northamptonshire, before joining up like his father before him and serving in Italy, where by 1943 he had reached the rank of Lieutenant.  

Back in Hillhead, Euphemia and the girls would also experience WW2 at first hand. In March 1941, the shipbuilding town of Clydebank, a mere five or six miles up the river, was the target of one the most intense Luftwaffe bombing raids of the war. 1,200 people were killed in the Clydebank blitz and the town itself suffered extensive damage with many buildings destroyed. Joan later recalled how, as the bombers flew overhead,  the family would shelter in the basement of their flat along with other residents from the upstairs flats in the next door close. Hillhead escaped relatively unscathed, but the terrifying threat was there.

The Brown family moved out of 8 Kersland Street in 1943 and lived at Park Road, not too far away. One by one the daughters got married and left. Once they had all departed, Euphemia took to staying with them each in turn until in 1951 she eventually got a place of her own, also in the West End of Glasgow. This is probably where the young Hugh Ritchie remembers visiting her. After her health started deteriorating in around 1957, she once again stayed with her daughters while they looked after her. She died on 31st December 1961, in Newport-on-Tay, Ishbel’s home. Here are the sisters, Ishbel, Lala and Joan. 

John and Euphemia are long gone now, as are their children. But the family story carries on in the shape of Hugh and his brother (Ishbel’s sons), and their cousins (Joan’s two sons). Not to mention their children and their children’s children, the 13 surviving descendants of John Brown and Euphemia Logan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Story of a House, part 2

Handy hint – if you haven’t already,  it would probably be better to read the first part of this story before proceeding to part 2!

Madame Stewart lived at 8 Kersland Street for a few years from 1877, and then the tenancy was taken up by a Mrs Addie who lived there until 1891, when a certain James Macgregor moved in. I’ve not been able to discover anything at all about Mrs Addie, other than that her rental was £30 per annum. However, it’s a different story when it comes to James Henderson Macgregor as – finally! – we have some actual facts to go on, thanks to census returns of 1891 and 2001.

When James moved into Kersland Street with his wife Isabella in 1891, they were newlyweds, having been married on the 17th June only the year before, at the Alexandra Hotel in Bath Street, Glasgow. Like my own parents, neither were native Glaswegians: 29 year old Isabella Oliver came from quite a large family in Tullibody, Clackmannanshire. Her father was a master baker and the 1881 census records that she, at age 20, was a pupil teacher. James (27) came from Stirling and his father had been a timber merchant. Stirling and Tullibody belong to the same part of the world, so it seems likely that James and Isabella became sweethearts when they were still living at home with their families.

James seems to have been the first of the pair to move to Glasgow – his address on the marriage certificate is given as Hill Street, Garnethill (yes, more hills!), and he had a job as a commercial traveller. I get the feeling that James hadn’t been there for very long when he arranged the wedding in a hotel quite near to his lodgings in the city centre. It was the sort of place where business meetings were also carried out, so perhaps familiar to him through his work. As you can see it was quite a grand place (no longer there), so seemed to fit the bill quite nicely.

Isabella’s address was Stirling Road, Tullibody, so I imagine she travelled to Glasgow to marry James, and presumably lived with him at Hill Street until they took up their new residence in the West End. It’s possible that Isabella was pregnant when they moved in, for their first child, Lilian, was born in 1892, probably at home. A brother, James, followed in 1895 and a sister, Isabella, in 1898. The 1901 census also notes a servant, Susan Campbell, 30.

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8 Kersland Street was (and is) a traditional tenement building, not distinguished by any great architectural features or notable inhabitants, and certainly not as well appointed as some of the grander terraces and villas in the neighbourhood. But neither was it a cramped little single end or two bedroom flat with a shared outside toilet such as the one where we lived in Govan when I was a child, and which were very prevalent throughout the poorer parts of Glasgow. Even the most ordinary tenements in this corner of Hillhead provided more than adequate accommodation for their residents, with sizeable rooms, bay windows and high ceilings. Not to mention proper plumbing and gas, then electric, lighting.

So all in all, I think that number 8 would have suited the Macgregor family very well. James would only have had to step out to Great Western Road to join the bustling commuters taking trams or trains into town, where his firm, J Hartley & Co, Glassmakers, had an office at 130 Bath Street. Or further afield if he was visiting clients. And he could also have taken the Subway, which opened in 1891, the third oldest metro in the world.

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With Papa safely off to work in the morning, it would be time for the children to go to school. I’ve searched through the admission records of the two nearest primary schools, Dowanhill and Church Street Primaries, but I’m afraid I drew a blank and I don’t think Lilian, James or little Bella would have attended the Catholic St Peter’s Primary, as their parents had married according to Church of Scotland rites. And then I remembered – Isabella had been a teacher, could she possibly have taught the children herself at home? However, I feel this is not the likeliest solution – the 1872 Education (Scotland) Act had made primary education universal and mandatory, and it seems that the School Boards were pretty assiduous at chasing up non-attendees.  Whatever the truth of it, I imagine that they would have been in a class looking something like this, girls in pinafores, boys in collars.

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I’m always quite impressed when I learn that a family had a servant or two – what a luxury! But then, I’m looking at it from the point of view of someone who takes for granted all our modern electrical ‘servants’ – washing machine, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator, central heating…. In 1900, they had none of those advantages, so of course everything would have to be done by hand in a laborious and time consuming way. When you think of all the daily tasks that had to be done in this fashion, one servant doesn’t seem enough, and seems more like a necessary expense than a great extravagance, especially when there are young children to be looked after.

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Take the laundry, for example. There was a communal wash house in the basement, shared by all the households in the building.  Each house would have its own laundry day, when you would light a fire under the big copper boiler, wait for the water to heat and then boil your clothes and linens in it, popping in your Recketts Blue Bag which would make the whites look whiter by disguising any yellowness. Then boil up more water for rinsing and hang it all out to dry in the back green. And then of course there would be all the ironing (and starching) and putting away to do afterwards. If you were little better off you could send your washing to the laundry, so perhaps the Macgregors could do that at least some of the time.

But it would also be nice to think that life wasn’t ALL about the daily slog. I’ve mentioned before that the Botanic Gardens was no more than a hop, skip and a jump away, and I feel sure that the children would have been able to play in the street after school with their friends, or in the back garden if they could dodge the washing flapping on the line. They might have found a little time in the evenings to gather round the piano and sing, or maybe they liked to play card games or enjoyed reading or sewing, though the latter was maybe more of a necessity than a leisure activity. Perhaps James and Isabella would take their family to church on a Sunday morning and then a stroll in the park in the afternoon.

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The nineteenth century became the 20th, and the new Edwardian age began with the passing of the old Queen on the 22nd January 1901. That same year Glasgow played host to a great International Exhibition which ran from May until November at Kelvingrove Park, just beyond the University. The event was hugely popular, and clocked up over 11 million visits by the time it closed its doors to the public on the 9th of November. You can get an idea of the scale of it from this picture showing the halls, pavilions, cafes and other attractions spread out on the 73 acre site on both sides of the River Kelvin with the University looking down from Gilmorehill to the right.

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The large white structure with the golden domes was the main industrial pavilion, a temporary edifice which won awards for its Scottish architect, James Miller. However, it was the building to the right, the new Palace of Arts, designed by London architects Simpson and Allen, which was the centrepiece of the exhibition and which would become a lasting, and much loved, legacy for the city, renamed the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The construction of Kelvingrove was partly funded by a previous, equally successful, Exhibition which took place in 1888.

I do hope that the Macgregors took full advantage of the historic exhibition during the six months when it was happening more or less on their doorstep. Perhaps they even went along to to watch Princess Louise, the King’s daughter, perform the opening ceremony, or were there on the day the King of Siam paid a visit, or the French Empress Eugenie. They could have bought a programme and discussed over dinner which attractions they would explore on their next visit.

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The years rolled by and in 1906 we lose sight of James and Isabella and their little family for it is at that point, after 15 years, that they leave Kersland Street, the home where they started their married life and where their children were born. I can find no clue to tell me where they went after that. I note with a heavy heart that only 8 short years later the world would be in turmoil and that young James at 19 would be of an age to find himself in the awful trenches of the Great War, while his sisters, at 22 and 16 might have known what it was to lose a sweetheart. There is always an element of sadness when you’re delving into the past and know that the lives you become involved with – and come to care about – ended before you were even born. And of course it’s especially poignant when hindsight tells you that those lives are inexorably heading towards a dark cloud which may shatter their hopes and dreams forever.

I can only hope that the Macgregor family of Kersland Street came through the First World War relatively unscathed and that perhaps some stray descendant of theirs might come across this blog and be moved to share with us some of the answers to the question, “what then?”

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The Story of a House

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As I’ve been exploring the history of my kinsfolk in this blog, a prominent feature of each tale has always been the family home –  Spean Cottage, 50 High Street, 56 Logan Street, dwellings in Blackpool, Inverness, Cleckheaton…

whole buildingAnd of course there’s also the house at 8 Kersland Street in Hillhead, Glasgow, the ‘front door’ (i.e. ground floor) tenement flat, which played such an important part in my childhood and was our family’s address for 50 years. So for this, my 50th post, I thought I’d have a go at tracing the history and character of this house of ours, right from the latter part of the 19th century when it first appeared on a map, until the present day.

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At the beginning of the 19th century the area of Hillhead, to the west of Glasgow City, was still an undeveloped rural district nestling in the curve of the River Kelvin. If you look at the above map you can see that the most prominent feature was a house in wooded grounds on the brow of the hill leading down to the river. This was Hillhead House, a long, pavilion style villa which dated back at least to 1680. Here is a picture of the house as it was in 1875.

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Hillhead House came into the possession of one Andrew Gibson in 1707, and a few generations of the Gibson family seem to have lived there in prosperity and tranquility for the next 100 years and more. To the east, throughout the 1700’s, Glasgow itself grew and prospered at an unprecedented rate, largely due to the enormous fortunes being made at the time out of the tobacco trade with the colonies of America. By the beginning of the 1800’s the industrial revolution was taking hold and over the years the city became increasingly overcrowded and subject to poor air quality due to the factories which were springing up within its bounds.

Enter one James Gibson, last of the Gibson dynasty to live at Hillhead House and inheritor of the house and of the “twenty shilling land of old extent of Byres of Partick and Hillhead” which his forebear Andrew had acquired. James must have recognised that the time was ripe for development of the land, for the following notice appeared in the Glasgow Herald on the 31st of August 1827, with, you’ll notice, instructions to apply to Mr Gibson at Hillhead…

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There was a plan! And as part of that plan, James Gibson had instigated works which would result in Hillhead becoming much more accessible from the city; namely a turnpike road (Great Western Road) and a bridge over the river Kelvin at the bottom end of what is now Gibson Street.

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The ‘King’s Bridge’ erected by James Gibson in 1822 was replaced in 1895 by Eldon Street Bridge, still in use today.

Gibson’s plots proved popular and were soon snapped up by eager developers who paid top dollar for some of the best architects of the day, including Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson, to design handsome villas, terraces and tenements, in order to attract those wealthy Glaswegians who were keen to move upwind of the increasingly unwholesome city to more salubrious surroundings. Although Byres Road is today the hub of the West End, tenements and shops didn’t start appearing there until 1870. The original development centred on Hillhead Street, which was built to connect Hillhead House with Great Western Road, and it spread out from there.

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1858 map showing the first completed terraces. Victoria Street would later be renamed Byres Road, and I think the single small building at the bottom of the hill must be the Curler’s Tavern, the oldest building on that road.

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The earliest development of the suburb, when building land was plentiful, was for villas with gardens, rather than terraces and tenements.

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Granby Terrace, one of the earliest terraces, is still standing today.

Development continued apace and the West End grew rapidly; by the late 1860’s Hillhead’s population had increased from a few hundred to over 3,000 and burgh status was awarded in 1869. Having set the whole enterprise in motion, James Gibson JP retired to Dunoon in 1861 and died there the following year. I wish I knew more about the man who was so instrumental in the creation of Hillhead, whether he was a great visionary or just an entrepreneur with family land who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Probably a bit of both. Hillhead House had a few more tenants, including a period of four years when it became Hillhead House School, before it was finally demolished in 1878.

So where, I hear you asking, does Kersland Street come into all this? Follow me to the Mitchell Library, repository of Glasgow’s municipal records, and many hours spent trawling through old maps, Post Office Directories, Valuation and Electoral Rolls. If it sounds long and tedious, let me assure you it is! It’s easy enough to find information about the fine red and blond sandstone villas and terraces of Hillhead; about notable churches and halls; new roads and bridges; famous inhabitants and institutions such as the University of Glasgow or Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

mitchell reading room
Glaswegians have always made good use of ‘the Mitchell’ – this is the reading room, c. 1931

But the more modest Kersland Street does not feature in any of those accounts. The origin of Kersland Street is to be found by a process of elimination! The 1979-80 Post Office Directory gives us the first clue, where we find one ‘Madame Stewart’ living at our address. This is the first mention of 8 Kersland Street in the directory, but it doesn’t mean that no-one lived there before that – you had to pay to be included! But each edition comes with an associated map – great big laminated sheets stored in an old map chest.

So off we go to the map chest and out they come, one by one – 1879, ’78, ’77, and so on. And there it is. 1873 shows Kersland Street; 1872 shows an open space! This was quite exciting, as you can imagine – I kept jabbing my finger at the two maps, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. But we’re in a library; my whoopee moment had to be internalised. All the same, all those years of doing those stupid ‘spot the difference’ puzzles with the children have finally paid off, yippee!

Armed with this information, I think we can pinpoint 1870-72 as the critical period when our tenement building came into being, round about the same time as Byres Road, just around the corner, was undergoing development (mainly shops with flats above) and Glasgow University was moving to nearby Gilmorehill from the site on the High Street which it had occupied since 1451. By the way, if you’re wondering why so many of Glasgow’s streets and districts include the word ‘hill’ it’s because the whole city is built on a series of drumlins (small hills) which were left behind by glacial action after the last ice age. So, yes, Glasgow is a very hilly place!

Here’s another map for you (our location indicated by the blue arrow), an interesting contrast to the one above for it shows the whole area between Hillhead Street down the hill to Byres Road now more or less completely developed into the configuration which it still has to this day.

Inkedmap kersland st_LI

So, Madame Stewart, our tenant – what do we know about her? Her entry in the PO directory is given as ‘Stewart, Madam’. Oh my goodness, I thought, the house is just built and already it’s a house of ill repute! But I will quickly apologise for this speculation as further research indicates that this Madame Stewart was the Lady Superintendent of English and French at an Institution for young ladies, an altogether more gentile and respectable occupation. I’d love to know brought this lady to Kersland Street. I think that there maybe wasn’t a Mr Stewart or surely he’d have been mentioned. Perhaps Madame was a widow, and came to live in Kersland Street along with a ladies’ maid or a cook – there’s plenty of room to accommodate both – and worked in some nearby establishment educating the daughters of the wealthy.

I’m going to take an imaginary walk around the block with this Victorian lady – let’s call her Eliza – and try to imagine what she might have been like. The year is 1886. (You can easily follow this walk on the map above.)

We cross the lane at the side of the house, and I see that number 6 is occupied by an office of some sort. I tell her how, when we first came to live in Kersland Street, this was a small newsagents, Brown’s, where we used to spend our pennies on sweets – penny caramels, blackjacks, rhubarb rock. Eliza smiles rather gravely, I can’t tell whether she disapproves or not.

We round the corner onto Great Western Road, and head towards Kelvinside Parish Church, on the corner with Byres Road. It strikes me that the church would be very convenient if Eliza wished to attend services there; she just nods politely when I make the suggestion, so I refrain from telling her that the building’s 21st century manifestion is as a popular venue and drinking establishment named Oran Mor.

oran mor
Kelvinside Parish Church, built 1862, with funds raised by a group headed by John Blackie, the publisher.

A  tram goes by and Eliza indicates that yes, she sometimes travels by tram. She’s not forthcoming about where she goes and I find I can’t inquire. Instead I tell her than in a few short years, a railway station would be built at Botanic Gardens and would open in 1896, as would the Glasgow Underground. I start sensing that Eliza doesn’t really want to know about things that haven’t happened in her world yet, so we turn to the Gardens themselves and the wonderful Kibble Palace glasshouse, where, she is happy to tell me, she occasionally takes her young charges when they are becoming bored with French and English lessons.

botanic gardens station
A tram on Great Western Road, passing Botanic Gardens Station, build in 1894 during the heyday of Victorian rail travel.

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The Kibble Palace, erected in 1873, is one of the outstanding features of the Botanic Gardens, which were opened on the 1st April 1842.

Queen_Margaret_College,_North_Park_House,_Glasgow,_Scotland
Adjacent to the Botanic Gardens, perhaps Madame Stewart might have pointed out Queen Margaret College to her pupils. North Park House was taken over by the University of Glasgow in 1883 to answer the growing demand for education for women.

As we turn another corner and head down Byres Road, we pass Hillhead Burgh Hall, built in 1872 to provide accommodation for the Burgh Court Hall, Fiscal’s Office and Police Office, with ample cells for local miscreants. The Council Chambers housed various municipal officers. I definitely choose not to tell Eliza that this fine building was rather regrettably demolished in 1970 at a time when it wasn’t considered necessary or important to preserve Glasgow’s Victorian heritage. An also rather regrettable modern library was built on the site.

burgh hall.jpg

We continue strolling and turn into Cresswell Street, where Hillhead Baptist Church is a prominent feature. I look into Eliza’s face to see if there’s any hint to tell me if this might be her place of worship, but, as ever, she’s giving nothing away. So I tell her how I used to take my little ones to playgroup in this very church hall.

1200px-Hillhead_Baptist_Church,_Glasgow,_Scotland
Hillhead Baptist Church, built 1883. Have had to use a modern picture as I can’t find a Victorian one!

Another corner and we find ourselves in Cranworth Street, location of the Western Swimming Baths, a private – and rather exclusive – swimming and leisure club. I think I detect a twinkle in Eliza’s eye as we walk past, but she doesn’t say anything and I start to think I’ve imagined it.

westernbaths_photoc1880
At the back of the Burgh Hall, we find the Western Swimming Baths, built as a private swimming and leisure club in the late 1870’s.

We turn right into Vinicombe Street, up the hill, then left into Kersland Street where we are soon back at number 8. Eliza gives my arm a gentle squeeze before she softly fades back into the past, leaving me with many questions, and the feeling that she has found out far more about me than I did about her. But I still think it’s not impossible that she could have attended the social evening and display of ‘natation’ at the Western Baths, as depicted in this cartoon from October 1886.

westernbaths_cartoon1
The audience at the poolside and in the gallery enjoying the gentlemen members as they carry out their tricks with the apparatus over the pool. From the ‘Bailie’ magazine, October 1896.

Next time, we’ll explore the fate of the house and its inhabitants in the 20th century.