Helen Rose Outdoor Diary: University of Glasgow. April 2022

university of glasgow helen rose

Helen Rose Outdoors

This is dedicated to the late Mary O’Donnell, a great friend and a very kind person, sadly missed.

University of Glasgow

In Glasgow there are three universities, University of Glasgow, University of Strathclyde and Westend of Glasgow where I live. It is also my alma mater having graduated there twice. Obviously I have a soft spot for it and have chosen it to write about. Alma Mater is variously translated as “nourishing mother”, “nursing mother”, or “fostering mother”, suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to her students.


The University of Glasgow is located on University Avenue in the Westend and near to Byres Road. We Westenders like to think of the area as the Left Bank as in Paris. A Bohemian area with little craft shops, Waitrose the upmarket supermarket, Waterstones the booksellers and many excellent charity shops. There are lots of trendy cafes and restaurants and the Botanic Gardens are at the top of Byres Road. I know people who come to Byres Road just to browse the charity shops and the vintage clothes shops.


Founded in 1451, the University is the fourth oldest in the UK and the second oldest in Scotland and has more listed buildings than any other university in the UK. Walking tours are available for visitors but I will give you a brief virtual tour of the Memorial Gates, the Gilbert Scott Building, the Hunterian Museum, the Hunterian Art Gallery and the Mackintosh House along with the Lion and the Unicorn staircase which was created in 1690 as part of the original University campus in the City’s High Street and was brought over stone by stone by horse and cart and rebuilt by hand. The University moved from its historic site off High Street in 1870 and relocated to Gilmorehill in what was then the Burgh of Hillhead.

The new buildings were designed by George Gilbert Scott and erected around two quadrangles on top of the hill which had been previously occupied by Gilmorehill House. The new University buildings were inaugurated on 7 November 1870.

The tower, cloisters, great hall and west quadrangle remained unfinished. New funds became available in 1877 but the architect George Gilbert Scott died a year later, in 1878. It was left to his son, John Oldrid Scott, to finish the work. The Cloisters are usually where the receptions are held after graduations. The Bute and Randolph Halls were added 1878-1884 (designed by George Gilbert Scott, and completed after his death by J Oldrid Scott and Edwin Morgan).

The distinctive tower and spire was designed by J Oldrid Scott and erected 1887-1891, with four turrets and an open lattice stone spire. This was John Oldrid’s own design, his father having originally designed a striking but rather heavier-looking clock tower.

Most of the windows on the south side of the Gilbert Scott Building were damaged during the Clydebank bombing raids of 13 March 1941. These were repaired at the end of 1946. In more recent years the University developed a plan to extend the estate with modern buildings and I visited the Learning Hub in the James McCune Smith building. Many buildings are named after famous Alumni.

Professors Square was originally built as accommodation for the professors in 1870 and also has the quaintly named Principal’s Lodging. 


The university has many renowned alumni, probably too many to mention but with seven Nobel Laureates connected to the university and is in the top 100 universities in the world.

Some of the famous alumni are Adam Smith who wrote the Wealth of Nations in 1776 and is considered the father of modern economics.  He entered the university at the age of 14. James Watt was a Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer and chemist who improved on Thomas Newcomen‘s 1712 Newcomen steam engine with his Watt steam engine in 1776. It was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world. David Livingstone In 1855 discovered a spectacular waterfall which he named Victoria Falls. He reached the mouth of the Zambezi on the Indian Ocean in May 1856 becoming the first European to cross the width of southern Africa.

elizabeth dorothea chalmers smith

Elizabeth Dorothea Chalmers Smith


Dr Elizabeth “Dorothea” Chalmers Smith née Lyness (1874 – 1944) was a pioneer doctor and a militant Scottish suffragette.

John Logie Baird

John Logie Baird

John Logie Baird was an inventor, electrical engineer, and innovator who demonstrated the world’s first live working television system on 26 January 1926. He went on to invent the first publicly demonstrated colour television system and the first viable purely electronic colour television picture tube. The names of these alumni are on the Memorial Gates. In more modern times, Gerard Butler, the Hollywood actor, graduated from the university.

In recent years, post retirement,  I spent ten wonderful years studying my hobbies of History of Art, Theatre and Film part time for a Master of Arts degree.

Events for the Community

The University is an important part of the community and provides short learning courses, music concerts and exercise facilities and much more. The music concerts are open to everybody to attend. The Ferguson Bequest funds free music events. Professor Thomas Ferguson bequeathed his estate to the university and the concerts run between September and March to showcase world class musical talent from Scotland and beyond. There is a wide variety of music and this year I saw Mainly Two. They were two violinists playing music by Grażyna Bacewicz, James Brady and Béla Bartók at the concert.

There are also good aerobics classes called Active Ageing aimed at the over 50s with regular classes on the main campus and at Garscube where the veterinary school is based. Although I walk a lot, aerobic exercise is needed to supplement it. We are a very bonded class and even have Christmas lunch in the Students Queen Margaret Union. There are many other events such as creative writing classes available for the community. It is lovely to participate in University life and mix with the students. In fact one of the short courses on History of Art inspired me to enrol for the degree course mentioned earlier.


As regular readers will know, Charles Rennie Mackintosh is an important person in the Architectural history of Glasgow. The Mackintosh House is located within the Hunterian Art Gallery on the main campus and is a meticulous reconstruction of the interiors of the Glasgow home of Mackintosh who was a designer, artist and architect. (More information at Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society)

Hunterian Art Gallery and Hunterian Museum

The Hunterian Art Gallery boasts one of the most distinguished public art collections in Scotland. It has regular exhibitions and contains works by Rembrandt, Whistler, the Scottish Colourists and much more.

The Hunterian Museum is Scotland’s oldest public museum and home to one of the largest collections in the country. It was founded in 1807 by William Hunter who was a famous alumnus.  He was a leading teacher of anatomy and the outstanding obstetrician of his day. My favourite exhibit in the museum is the Tasmanian Tiger on display. https://news.mongabay.com/2021/02/study-suggests-tasmanian-tiger-survived-into-the-21st-century/

There is so much to see at the University but I have only given a flavour of it so do visit it sometime.

Thanks to Sam for the atmospheric snowy university photograph.

Coming attractions; Corran and Strontian and Stirling.




Sarah Smith and Louise Welsh at Aye Write 2022
Lizzie Reid at The Glad Cafe

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