Ian R Mitchell commemorates the centenary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Scotland Street School in Glasgow, by taking a look at the communities it once served.
It was once the local jewel in the crown, now it is more an oasis in a desert.
This year witnesses the centenary of the construction of one of the masterpieces by Scotland's greatest architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Scotland Street School was completed by Glasgow School Board 1906 as the main primary for the areas of Kingston and Tradeston, which lie between the Gorbals to the east and Govan to the west, on the south bank of the Clyde. Various exhibitions are scheduled in the school for its centenary, including one "Glasgow Schools Then and Now" running until the end of October, as are other events at the time of the city-wide Mackintosh Festival which takes place in September.
Glasgow schools of this time were built to a high standard, but also to a fairly standard design. Mackintosh varied the format in Scotland Street by adding Scots baronial tower staircases, thus flooding the building with light. To the then normal provision of separate Boys and Girls entrance doors, (and of course, separate playgrounds), Mackintosh added a diminutive one for Infants. And the decorative features, such as ironwork and tiling, received the distinctive Mackintosh touch. This involved the architect inconstant battles with the School Board, whose misgivings were confirmed when Mackintosh went £1,500 over budget. The total cost for the building was £34,291.
Scotland Street was designed for a school roll of 1250 pupils, but the school now stands marooned in a dead area so typical of those produced by the redevelopment of our cities in the last 40 years. It is surrounded by trading estates and brownsites, and separated from the remaining pockets of population hereabouts by the barrier of the M8 motorway. Such redevelopment and road building shattered and swept away many communities lying between Govan and the Gorbals. It is hard to credit that Kingston and Tradeston, with neighbouring Kinning Park, were populous enough in 1906 to form the parliamentary constituency of Tradeston, which lasted till the 1950s. However by about 1980 the population of both Kingston and Tradeston must have been nearing absolute zero - though things are now changing.
Mackintosh's school was closed in 1979, at a time when inner cities were seen as potential motorways and trading estates, with no future as centres of population. By that time its roll had fallen to less than 100, though when it opened the A-listed masterpiece served a thriving community. Mackintosh's school is now Glasgow's Museum of Education, where modern kids can role play the history of education in various classrooms, set out as they were in the Victorian era, and through the inter war period, to the 1950s and 60s. Those grown-ups who pay the school the worthwhile visit should add to their enjoyment by taking a look at what is left of the community it served for three quarters of a century, and at those adjacent. After more than four decades of decline and decay, there are encouraging signs of improvement.
It is easy to get to Scotland Street School; the subway at Shields Road is just across the road. This had only been open for less than 10 years when the school was built, and it gave locals quick access to the city centre and to the bustling shipyards of Govan to the west, where many of them worked. Doubtless they were as proud of their new Subway as they were of their fine new school building. And this is something we can easily forget about in areas such as Kingston; a century ago they were spanking new areas, growing at a great rate, over land that within recent memory had been green countryside, or the site of fine mansions such as Plantation House and Cessnock House.
Would that the City Faithers, who had constructed Britain's second underground for the Second City, had been far sighted enough to make this system much more extensive. Then we might have been spared some of what we see around Shields Road. The coherent grid street plan existing in 1906, which connected the school and its environs to the rest of Kingston and to neighbouring Kinning Park has been obliterated by flyovers and slipways of the M8, leaving pockets, including the school, trapped between the motorway and the railway lines to the south, which formerly separated Kingston and Kinning Park from Pollokshields. One consolation was that from the M8 one used to have a splendid view of Mackintosh's school, especially when lit up by night. Now a multi-story park and ride facility for the Subway is being built, blocking out any view of the school. Planning is getting better, but dreadful, and avoidable, mistakes such as this are still made. Ironically, it is the firm "Toshie" worked for, Keppie Architects, which is building the car park to hide Scotland Street School.
Kingston was still expanding in 1906, with streets of grid plan tenements going up. The area was one of the better ones in terms of housing hereabouts, certainly superior to their neighbouring Gorbals. The workers in Kingston and Tradeston (and neighbouring Kinning Park) were mainly skilled, with engineering predominating. Just next door to Scotland Street school can still be seen the fine fa?ade of Howden's engineering works, awaiting future use- or demolition. At its height Howdens employed more than 2,000 men making heavy engineering equipment. The works surrounded Scotland Street School on three sides, and apparently the weans would often jump the school wall to play in the works! Many of them would eventually "cross the wall" more permanently to take employment in Howdens.
Another neighbouring works was the Clutha factory of Maclellan's, cranemakers and structural engineers, in adjacent Kinning Park. They built the gorgeous semi -circular glass and steel canopy at Glasgow's Queen Street Station, which still stands, though the fine frontage to George Square was removed some time ago. Both works were still in operation till the 1980s, when they closed, though Howdens operates in a smaller plant a couple of miles west of here at Craigton. One of the last things Howdens built at Scotland Street were the boring machines for the Channel Tunnel.
After the Howden's works, it is interesting to take a walk northwards down Carnoustie Street, under the motorway, and through the deadlands around it, to the former Co-operative building-or complex of buildings- in Morrison Street. Although 1906 saw the official birth of the Labour Party, and in areas like Kingston and Kinning Park many of the skilled workers were organised in trades unions, it was the Co-operative that at this time was by far the most important organisation in working class life. And in its headquarters and associated warehouses the Scottish Co-operative Society was determined to show this fact. While many of its members might have questioned the vast expense the buildings here entailed, they certainly showed that the Co-op was a rising power in the land. The buildings are municipal in size, indeed the architects were accused of using their failed entry from Glasgow municipal Chambers from ten years earlier, for the Co-op building, completed in 1897.
The twentieth century saw the virtual collapse of the original ideals and aims of the co-operative movement, and the present buildings have been converted to luxury flats and offices. However there is still a link here with the past in that a block away lies the Co-op Funeral Directors' premises. I was once examining the sculpted reliefs on this building, when the unavoidable Glasgow punter appeared, to watch what I was doing. "Aye, son," he said, "the Co-op isnae whit it wis. But it will still bury ye." Going east along Paisley Road, the gradual repopulation of Kingston illustrated by the Co-op flats is emphasised by a more modest set of houses, the Riverview development, built on the infilled Kingston Dock in the 1980s, to the north of the Co-op.
Paisley Road becomes Kingston Street, and you are now actually in Tradeston, where most of the housing was either demolished, or decapitated, leaving only the ground floor shops and pubs remaining. Almost alone of traditional housing remaining here is the fine former Fire Station on Wallace Street, with its fire workers' houses, which is reached down Centre Street from Kingston Street. This was converted to offices, before the idea of repopulating the inner cities became fashionable. But in Kingston (correct in proof;Tradeston ) too, there is growing repopulation; now-disused warehouses, of which there are many striking examples in Tradeston, as well as factories, are being restored as apartments. However welcome these developments are, we still seem to be, literally, building ourselves problems for the future. Conspicuously absent in all these developments are any family housing units, and even more so, any social, rented housing. The poor are being built out of inner city redevelopment, and one wonders if a population of sinkies, dinkies and skiers is a viable social basis for any community. (see footnote.)
Passing back along Wallace Street and then under the Kingston Bridge, one re-enters Kingston proper. Here was formerly the main mineral terminal for Glasgow and the west of Scotland, where iron ore and coal as well as other materials were unloaded by huge cranes, and then taken by rail to their destinations. Disused by the early 1980s, these cranes were blown up and the area redeveloped. Unfortunately this redevelopment took place at a time when Glasgow was desperate for anything that would be income-bearing, and the area here is an eyesore of the kind one sees in cities in the USA. Cinemas, bingo halls and similar constructions of no architectural merit blot the Springfield Quay area of the riverside. Uglification in its classic form.
On the positive side, a little further downriver at Mavisbank Gardens lies a mixed, exciting development of housing in a variety of shapes and colours, which gives a vibrancy to the riverside contrasting with the tack of Springfield Quay.
But again, this is a middle-class ghetto, separated from the community around Paisley Road to the south. And here on Paisley Road, for the first time in our walk, we come into real urban bustle, since demolition in this area was not as enthusiastic as elsewhere around.
Many of the finest buildings in areas like this were built by the progressive Glasgow City Council of the time. The schools, the fire stations and others, still stand where their neighbours have fallen. A good example is given here on Paisley Road, with the Kingston Halls and Library, built in 1904, again, a brand new building when Scotland Street school enrolled its first pupils. The halls and library have long since closed and the building today is used as a lodging house, whose inhabitants add a touch of local colour to the proceedings of the street.
As we head towards Paisley Road Toll, the street fills up with buildings, and with their associated inhabitants. Until 1905, here on Paisley Road, within a couple of hundred yards you could enter three independent burghs. Just west of Kingston Docks you left Glasgow Corporation behind, and a stones throw past the Paisley Toll, you entered the independent burgh of Govan. Between lay the smallest, most densest populated - and one of the shortest lived - burghs in Scottish history, Kinning Park. At its narrowest, northern apex, Kinnning Park was less than 200 yards across.Originally part of Govan, the locals had seceded in 1871 and established their Lilliputian burgh of 100 acres and 6,000 people. By 1882 it had its own Town Hall, police force, fire service, public baths, and schools. By the time of its annexation by Glasgow in 1905, Kinning Park had a population of 14,000. And since half the burgh was industry and public buildings, the population density was truly staggering. Even today it is the most populated area between Gorbals and Govan.
Kinning Park "Cross" would have been where the Angel Building now stands, called after its crowning sculpture, the gilded angel atop its roof pavilion. Often called the "Govan Angel", the building was actually in Kinning Park burgh when erected in 1890. A high quality construction, it, and the associated tenement around, have survived redevelopment to provide a coherence to this pocket of Glasgow that is pleasing. The ground floor was once a gents outfitters, Ogg Bros still fondly remembered locally, and is now an Italian restaurant, La Fiorentina. Surprisingly, in a spot like this, it is a really excellent and award winning one, and a useful place for refreshment on your perambulations. As an alternative, across the road is the Old Toll Bar, reasonable enough on the exterior, but inside possibly Glasgow's finest nineteenth century pub, with fine cut glass and mahogany interiors. One reason the exterior of the Old Toll Bar is less impressive is that its Victorian windows were smashed in a riot during the Glasgow rent Strike of 1915.
On the north side of the road lies the Grand Old Oprey. Many will know that the original of this venue lies in Nashville, Tennessee, but for three nights every week, Nashville comes to the Paisley Road, as busloads of cowboys and cowgals from Glasgow, and from Wild West towns like Larkhall and Blantryre, arrive at the Oprey to listen to Country Music, line dance, eat beans at the chuck wagon, and engage in simulated shoot-outs at the P.R. corral. Not a place for the faint hearted around 11p.m, but a wonderful example of the inordinate capacity that the Glasgow working class have of enjoying themselves. Once I was with some pals in the Old Toll Bar waiting to go to the Oprey. The bartender, seeing we were not regulars, gave us some sage advice,
"Oh, aye, yiz'll be welcome there. But jist a wee wurd o advice. Dinnae laugh at the shoot-oots, or yooze could be back in here quicker than ye think."
The Kinning Park/Govan boundary generally followed Paisley Road West from here; Govan to the north, Kinning Park to the south. But a wee loop included a couple of tenement blocks on the north side, behind the Angel, in the pocket burgh. Here lay Rutland Crescent, which formerly had a primary school where the great Clydeside socialist agitator John Maclean taught, before being dismissed from his post, at another school, in 1914 for his opposition to the war. Both he and his sidekick James MacDougall were very active in the labour movement in this part of Glasgow, standing for both municipal and parliamentary elections. Though never elected, they polled respectable numbers of votes, running into thousands. "Doon the P.R." there are new houses, lining the street as houses should, and several of these are low cost private housing or rented social housing developments, which is welcome to see. However, most date from the 1980s, and as land values along the river rocket, it will be interesting to see whether redevelopment in the future will simply mean more luxury flats.
Going down Admiral Street to Kinning Park south of the P.R., gives us a bit of an idea what the district must have been like before redevelopment and road building- but it requires a bit of imagination! Under the motorway lie many streets which connected this area to the industrial districts in the south of the burgh, around Maclellan Street. This latter, now a road on a trading estate, was one reputed to be the longest street of tenements in Glasgow; not one remains. Under the motorway itself lies the original ground of Rangers F.C. before they moved to Ibrox, as well as the site of the former Burgh Hall, which was at the bottom of Stanley Street, now truncated. Rangers won nothing while they were here from 1876-87, though Queen's Park did. At a Scottish Cup Final at Kinning park in 1881, they beat Dumbarton 2-1. You would take your life in your hands trying to "kick a baa" on the former ground now! Plantation Park, at Cornwall Street is small, since over half of it went to the motorway, and Cornwall Street continues on the far side of the motorway. Atlantis sank beneath the waves; much of Kinning Park, and Kingston, sank beneath the M8.
Surprisingly, much remains of fascination to the curious, in the residues of Scotland's mini-burgh, walking along Milnpark Street and its side roads. Apart from engineering, the main industry here was food production, and the main such factory, operating from 1860 to 1990, was Grey Dunn's biscuit works in Stanley Street, now part empty and part used for storage. One of the Grey family was the last Provost of Kinning Park. In the same street is a huge complex of a derelict school and ancillary buildings, the former Catholic church of Our Lady and St Margaret's with the associated seminary. This reminds us that the weans here would have seen from the school windows, the place where many of them would spend their working lives, in the biscuit factory just across the road, just as the Scotland Street kids would have, with Howdens. The school is being restored as Glasgow Social Work Department offices.
Not all industry in Kinning Park has closed down. Indeed, on part of the site of the former Maclellan's Clutha works, across the M8, is one of Glasgow's industrial success stories of recent years, the Asian-owned Trespass clothing company's factory. But with 200 workers, it employs a fraction of what Maclellan's did. Also in the handsome former Kingston Engine Works on the corner of Milnpark Street and Portman Street, the multi-national media empire of News International opened its Scottish works in the later 1980s. In the former Kinning Park Bakery on the corner of Stanley Street and Milnpark Street, Rupert Murdoch's News International has a neighbour of a very different political complexion. Here is situated the headquarters of the Scottish Socialist Party, with its walls festooned by examples of agitprop folk art. Appropriately, since he was very active in this part of Glasgow, there is a mural commemorating John Maclean. I suggested to one of their activists, smoking outside the building, that the murals must have been done a while back, since they showed Tommy Sheridan with a full head of hair.
Portland Street joins Scotland Street West; once this was a continuous road of fine sandstone tenements, on both sides, which would have taken you straight to Mackintosh's school. The remaining houses on the north side of the street give an example of what was lost. Kinning Park Subway is the end of our journey. It stands, like a concrete WW2 pillbox, on a grassed over area, where till the 1970s there were tenements. The Clockwork Orange will take you form here back to central Glasgow.
Redevelopment in the Kingston, Tradeston, Kinning Park area, of what was seen for many years seen as a no-man's land for human habitation, will bring both its opportunities, and its problems. Plans have to be realistic, but at the same time, to aim high. Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh's greatest masterpiece, is still in used as a working Art School. Is it totally impossible to think that one day, with the repopulation of this area, his Scotland Street school could again function not as a museum- welcome though that option was as an alternative to neglect and demolition- but as an actual school? Once more, be the jewel in the crown?
Footnote; sinkies, single income, no kids; dinkies, double income, no kids; skiers, spending the kids inheritance, ie affluent retirees.
Copyright I.R. Mitchell