When we set about promoting our Glasgow West End Web site Gordon Urquhart, Assistant Director of Glasgow Conservation Trust West was one of the first people to show an interest in what we were up to. This was reciprocated and we were particularly intrigued to learn about the book Gordon was writing about the area 'Along Great Western Road - An illustrated history of Glasgow's West End' - little did we realize just what a gem this was going to be....
Recently, I met up with Gordon in 'Otago' for a quick lunch - in a location not far from his workplace at Glasgow Conservation Trust West. He appeared entirely unperturbed by the deluge of press interest in the publication of his book and not at all jaded. He chatted with great ease and patience about his work, his family, his love of the West End and of course his wonderful book. With his quiet confidence and clear enthusiasm for the West End you can only be delighted that Gordon's book 'Along Great Western Road' has received such well deserved critical acclaim.
Whilst, a true West End enthusiast Gordon is the son of a Scot's father, from Stonehaven, and an American mother. Born in New York City he was raised in the Victorian suburb of Irvington-on-Hudson, in Westchester County - "not far from where Bill and Hillary will live when they quit the White House". He crossed the Atlantic in 1979 keen to investigate his Scottish heritage and spent an exchange year at the University of Aberdeen. He returned for a second time in 1982 accompanied by his wife Janet and worked in Edinburgh New Town for two years- when he came to Glasgow's West End in 1988 he was immediately enchanted by the area.
His work with the Trust has provided full scope for investigating the West End - it involves gathering detailed historical documentation about the area and Gordon has made full use of his accumulated knowledge. After 8 years of research he has produced his beautiful and remarkable book. 'Along Great Western Road' which provides a record of the social and economic development of the area from the 12th century until the present day. Published by Stenlake in September, 2000 it is lavishly illustrated with some 300 photographs gathered by Gordon from archives in Glasgow, Edinburgh and beyond. My favourite illustration is of the women tram driver.
The book is of tremendous historical interest and its 200 pages contain fascinating facts and information. This impressive work is set to become a classic and a collector's item.
Gordon's idea was to take a fresh look at what West Ender's might take for granted and the result has been splendid. It comes as no surpise that both the first edition and second editions have sold out and Stenlake, the publishers, have a third print run which is due early January. No less than 4,000 copies of Gordon's book were sold in 12 weeks and Bargain Books in Byres Road alone have gone through about 1000! Lots of people will no doubt have been delighted to find 'Along Great Western Road' under the Christmas tree -a book which will not only grace the coffee tables of stately Kirklee or Kelvinside but will be pored over with pleasure and interest by anyone interested in the area.
Jim and I have been thoroughly enjoying the book and have had lots of positive responses to Jim's recent review. Only yesterday he received an e-mail from New Zealand from a young woman delighted with her on line purchase:
"Dear Jim, Through your review of "Along Great Western Road" by Gordon Urquhart I was made aware of this excellent book just in time to be able to order it on-line for Christmas. My 75 year old mother has spent every day since Christmas poring over it in great delight. She spent most of her childhood in the West End of Glasgow, and we returned there as a family to live in Turnberry Road for the 60s decade. My brother attended Hillhead High and I went to the Glasgow High School for Girls. The book has brought back many happy memories." (28/12/2000 - C.V. Auckland, New Zealand"
Whilst, the production of 'Along Great Western Road' has placed Gordon in the public eye and highlighted his role in promoting Glasgow's West End he has been quietly going about this task for the past ten years. The continuing series of lectures on the past, present and future of "The West End of Glasgow" at Glasgow University were initiated by Gordon: a decade ago he approached Glasgow University with the idea of running a part time evening course on Glasgow's West End and he was told that they would give it a try. The course is still going strong and with Gordon at the helm is one of the Department of Adult and Continuing Education's most popular classes - an average of 85 people turning up each year - it can even boast some stalwarts who repeat the course every year.
Jim signed up for this year's lectures and he was delighted when Gordon gave the introductory lecture 'Henry B. Morton: Hillhead's Local Hero'. Henry Brougham Morton's wonderful book on Hillhead was produced in 1973. Gordon himself is the first person to chronicle the West End as a whole and looks all set to follow in Morton's footsteps as a local hero. Strange to think that this unassuming American man with his gentle manners has had such immense impact in highlighting the attractions of the West End - he may describe himself as an Outsider and that's as may be but he is also the foremost expert on the area - lucky the day he drifted in from the West. (Pat Byrne, 29/12/2000)
Listen in to Radio Clyde tomorrow night at 9.00 p.m.(Monday 1st January, 2001) and you will hear Gordon on 'Meet the Author' with Alex Dickson. There will also be a feature in January's "Scottish Memories" magazine.
Links: Gordon R. Urquhart's own Web site: http://www.urqs.demon.co.uk/GWR.htm Glasgow Conservation Trust West: http://users.colloquium.co.uk/~GLASGOWWEST/history.htm Stenlake Publishing: http://www.stenlake.co.uk/