We’re tardy this morning after the great night last night. This morning we’re heading over to Glasgow Cathedral, scene of some momentous historical events over a very long period. The reccie yesterday gives us a bit of a head start on finding our way and in deciding where to park. Even so, it’s 11.30 before we’re really getting into the sightseeing.
We walk past an impressive red sandstone church that's now not a church judging by the signage and then we cross the road. Head past statues of William III on horseback and a couple of men whose accomplishments are not explicit.
I’m a bit confused about the tours from the information on the website. We spend some time just wandering about on our own reading information panels that are placed here and there. We’ve just about done what we can unescorted when I approach the desk to buy a souvenir and a guide book. I ask the elderly man serving us when the tours run. He can take us around now if we like, how much time do we have? We like. We've got about 45 or 50 mins we can spend. Righto. No worries. Our guide is named Alistair and he started doing the tours aged 81 when his wife complained about having him underfoot all the time. He’s now 85. He’s not a church goer either, he just saw request for volunteers and thought he’d give it a whirl. Where would we be without volunteers.
The Cathedral is now managed and maintained by Historic Scotland at an annual cost of £350,000. There’s no mandatory charge to come in for a look and there seems to be some reticence about requesting a donation. The donation box is virtually hidden in a quiet spot out of the way.
Now, I think probably the most interesting aspect of the tour may come as a surprise but it turns out that Alistair knows a thing or two about cleaning the local stone buildings. Much of the city was cleaned as part of a big push to remove the grime but it’s a bit of a lottery. Cleaning doesn’t always give a good result. This is why the cathedral has not been cleaned. It remains an elegant dark slatey grey and black. This is because they just don’t know what’s underneath the grime. He tells us a story about a small church that was in a spot where things around it were being cleaned and coming up looking pretty good. The contrast made the church look pretty grubby and the minister called to see if the authorities of the moment could help them also cleaning the church. He was most insistent. So, the workers turned up and as agreed they cleaned the little church. It wasn’t long before the minister was on the blower outraged at the result. “Have you seen it?” he demanded. The grime had been covering a multitude of sins. Where repairs had been needed over the centuries they didn’t trouble to find a matching piece of stone, no doubt figuring no-one would notice the difference under the grime, so once the grey black stain was gone the unfortunate house of worship was left looking like a patchwork quilt. Lesson learned future structures were tested in an inconspicuous area before cleaning.
The cathedral is built on the side of a hill. There’s a more than usually obvious series of separate spaces and perhaps this is due to the progressive construction. For a long time the Cathedral housed three separate congregations who used the different spaces. Over time as the population grew the groups established separate places of worship. Of interest to me is that conditions in the crypt area of the Cathedral or the “lower church” where the parish of Barony worshipped deteriorated. The crypt still floods from time to time. The Parish of Barony (which serviced the Calton area) initially built a church adjacent to the Cathedral and as the population of the area swelled enormously during the industrial revolution again decided they needed an even bigger church and commissioned the impressive red sandstone church, that we passed on our way from the car. That only lasted as a church for about 100 years before it was repurposed as Barony Hall operated by the University of Strathclyde from the late 1980s.
The stained glass in the Cathedral is all fairly modern and has been progressively installed from the latter part of the 19th century and is still being added to. There’s a lovely modern window installed for the millennium in pretty blues. Although the fabric of the cathedral is well over 800 years old most of the interior furnishings and fittings are modern. There’s a couple of exceptions. The eagle lecturn dates to the 17th century and is French. The pulpit was originally used in the lower church by the Barony congregation from 1595. Over its life it has seen some notable sermons include a brave effort by one fellow in front of Oliver Cromwell and others do to with the covenanters movement.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the upper level of the church is the 15th Century quire screen. It is the only screen of its kind left in any non-monastic church from the pre-reformation period in Scotland. Services in the upper church take place beyond it in the quire.
Most of the memorials around the church are to do with various military units for conflicts from the Crimean war and more recently. Two ladybirds are pointed out to us. One on a memorial chair commemorating a decision not to flick a ladybird off a naval chart because it would be back luck and then the ship had some good luck. Go ladybird! The other a tradesman’s mark in the stained glass which is not actually visible from this distance with the naked eye.
We head back downstairs into the lower church which was constructed in the 13th Century. This is the location of the site of pilgrimage, allegedly the tomb of St Kentigern which was decreed by the Pope in 1451 as equivalent to a pilgrimage to Rome. People are still free to pray or sit by the tomb as they wish. In other areas of the lower church there is a series of small spaces used for services, worship or contemplation and dedicated to particular groups or saints. The church, being the property of Historic Scotland does not impose rules on people’s private use of the spaces. They’re fairly easy going.
We’ve enjoyed hanging out in the Cathedral with Alistair but we really have to get away. Before we abandon our parking space we figure we’d better have a look at Provands Lordship, the oldest building in Glasgow having been built for the Bishop of Glasgow in 1471. This is across just across the road from the Cathedral adjacent to the parking area. Hubby ducks back to the car and I slip into the front door after reading a panel that tells me that Sir William Burrell gave money that funded the purchase of many of the items on display in the early 20th century. As the door hesitantly creaks open, I attract the attention of the attendant, who is on the phone. She gives me a hurried greeting and we each go about our business. The house is wonderfully authentic with furnishings appropriate to the medieval period. I’ve not got far before a large group of school children about 8 or 9 years old arrives. This rather kills the atmosphere as the kids excitedly chatter away and their supervisors direct them this way or that. I figure I’ll quickly go ahead of them for a look and try to get a few photos before they catch up with me but it’s rather like trying to swim ahead of a raging torrent. Pretty soon I decide to just cut my losses and join Hubby who, finding the house brimming with school kids, decided to wait in the peace of the garden. We sit and chat briefly under the awning that has been built to protect some old carvings or “heads”. Then we slowly hobble away to the car intent on getting to the People’s Palace where we plan to get a bite to eat and a quick look at the museum displays before meeting our walking tour guide at 3 pm.
Our entry is delayed as we take a good look at the terra cotta fountain which has a sign proclaiming it as the largest and best example of its kind in the world. It appears to have had quite a lot of restoration done to it and it is quite a sight. We stalk around it deciphering the various displays for the empire colonies depicted. Australia of course has sheep, wheat and mining depicted, the great sources of wealth in colonial times.
Moving along, of particular interest is the role of the steamie where the ladies of the East End would take their washing and then hang it out on the green to dry. Even today, drying your clothes on the green is officially allowed though people don’t do it anymore. The river runs along the edge of the green. Apparently the weavers also used to dry their linen on the green back in the day.
I have a quick look around displays about the Barrowland but most of the content, although interesting, is oral history that’s been assembled from people in fairly recent history. I can see that I could easily spend quite a while in here even though he displays are fairly concise. I check my map and decide to head upstairs. To get to the next level I head out to the lift and along the way look down at Hubby in conservatory below. He messages me that the food has arrived. I need to be quick.
Patricia is waiting near the fountain. We introduce ourselves and she says she always looks for people coming out of the People’s Palace! The weather is looking decidedly iffy. It’s pretty cool and there’s a cold breeze. The clouds are reasonably high but look like they could close in pretty quickly. We fervently hope the rain holds off while we’re walking around.
I supplied Patricia with some information about my dead rellies from the Bridgton/ Calton areas back in the 18th and 19th centuries. She is enthusiastic as she tells me that usually everyone she meets looking at their roots in this area are of an immigrant background. I’m special. I’m really really rare. My forebears are true Glaswegian weavers, here before the influx of others from rural areas, Ireland and other places in Europe. Really, this is particularly amazing. I have to say I’m pretty chuffed about it myself!
As an Australian of 19th century immigrant stock, your first instinct is to assume that the family must have been poor. Especially when they've come from somewhere like the Calton or Bridgeton. The East End of Glasgow became very overcrowded during the 19th century as people flooded in. The income that could be derived from weaving dropped sharply due to advances in technology and a flooded labour market. In that period many people fled to the Americas and Australia looking for opportunity, or often just looking for a way to survive. Thinking about it though my 2nd great grandfather and his brother clearly had choices. They weren’t trapped, they had established careers before coming out to the colonies. As I became more experienced in researching I went back and revisited my Glaswegian family looking at my 3rd great grandfather and his brothers, the last generation to work in the weaving industry. It turns out that they weren’t your average weavers. A couple of them owned property. None of them seem to be crammed into their residence with other families. Back before the Industrial revolution weavers were well paid and well off. I can only assume that my Warks were doing pretty well at one point then as that industry just wasn’t giving the same level of return, the next generation decided to get out of it and get into a line of work that paid better. They adapted to the conditions.
Today there’s another simply incredible coincidence. Some of my lot lived for many years at 26 Savoy Street, Bridgton. Patricia is beside herself because believe it or not, her grandfather and grandmother lived at 26 Savoy Street. What are the odds of that! Her grandmother was caught at that address "in the act" with her 2nd husband whom she had married bigamously. She went to jail. It’s a crazy story and Patricia has written a book. This woman just had two husbands living with both at the same address!!
So, we’re stalking around Bridgton, hearing about the housing and redevelopment of the tenements. We pass the Tullis Street Memorial Gardens noting this was formerly known as the Bridgton Burial Ground. I call a brief halt. I’m sure this is where at least some of my dead rellies must be. Patricia doesn’t seem keen to hang around here though. I take a few quick snaps and we head on.
|A surviving tenement building. It must have had a pub in it.|
Apparently the Order of Orangemen in Bridgeton is known to be struggling. In crisis. They bring people in from Northern Ireland for the annual parade because there’s now not enough locals. They do this march here? Still? Yep. Oh. It’s not on a sustainable trajectory apparently. I ask about conflict between protestant and catholic here. Patricia says it wasn’t violent here like it was in Northern Ireland but it was definitely tribal.
We’ve wandered down along Main Street, noted number 60 which is new. 150 odd years ago my 2nd great grandfather’s sister Isabella and her husband Alexander Ballantyne lived here. Alexander was a joiner who employed a number of workers. We look at other nearby tenements that are still standing and move along.
At Bridgton Cross there are flowers taped to the central pole of the “Umbrella”. Probably someone died there in a fight or something.
At Bridgton Cross there are flowers taped to the central pole of the “Umbrella”. Probably someone died there in a fight or something.
Now Patricia has a surprise for us. We’re further along Abercrombie Street and we’re going to hear about the beginnings of Celtic Football Club. This the Church of St Mary of the Assumption. It’s a Catholic Church and has recently been spruced up. The work was done by volunteers with appropriate trade qualifications. We open the door and go through another door into the church. We gasp. It is stunning. We just stand and enjoy it for a moment.
We head back outside. What a treat that was. We stop by a piece of waste ground inundated with weeds that are restrained by mesh fencing. Patricia has another photo to show us. She’s got quite a collection of historically significant photographs taken by her unmarried uncle who was an amateur photographer at a time when the people of the Calton typically didn’t have the means to record their lives. The photo we’re looking at has people assembled in front of the church and there’s a building visible in the background. It’s the only photo of that building. The meeting to establish Celtic FC was held in it. It’s a highly prized item for supporters of the football team apparently. The two teams in Glasgow are Celtic and the Rangers.
It’s time for a break and we head into the Heilan Jessie Pub, a traditional “Glesga Pub”. No TV, no pool table, no gaming machines, no loud music. Just somewhere to sit and have a quiet drink and a chat. Hubby gets a pint of Tennents and the bar staff get me a lime cordial adjusted for strength to my taste. They seem nice and keen to get me something I like. This is a nice quiet pub and we’re really glad to have had the introduction to it. We sit in the corner and Patricia tells us about the portraits by Oscar Mazaroli that are hanging on the wall. They are all of “Heilan Jessies” a loaded term but it seems to be intended as a compliment to the women so beautifully depicted. We chat about Patricia’s book and pay for our tour, which costs only half what I had assumed. I thought she meant per person! We buy a copy of her book, which tells the story of her family and lots of photos of people living life in the Calton. It’s more recent times but I’m sure will be interesting. Time is slipping away and we have a dinner reservation so we make a move when we finish our drinks and bid farewell to the bar staff.
Our route now takes us down to Bain Street and we note the Barrowland Ballroom just down from where we are on the corner of Gallowgate before moving on. We choose not to walk right down, we can see it OK from here as the road curves around a little and we’ve enough walking yet to do. The Barrowland Ballroom is still a significant live music venue today and some famous bands playing in Glasgow sometimes still do a gig in the smaller iconic space, sometimes as an impromptu thing. We turn down Bain Street and come past The Barras. This is a market which still operates and provides an economical opportunity for people to sell stuff on an ad hoc basis or more regularly. Artists can come here and sell their work. You can sell anything basically. Unfortunately it’s not open today. It would have been an interesting thing to see.
With our leisurely drink and unusual bespoke route, we have over-run our expected time. Patricia walks with us back towards West. She needs to go that way to get home anyway. It’s been an interesting afternoon. Very worthwhile and we’ve seen a different side to Glasgow. It’s been great wandering around and talking to Patricia.
Anyhow, we head on in. I briskly catch up having lingered to take a better photograph than I managed earlier when were walking past. We’re shown to a table over by the window. We’re keen to get our dinner over with and waste no time making our choices.
To Start - Hubby: Soup of the day. Moi: Reibekuchen, Crispy potato pancakes with apple sauce and house salad. £4.95. Hubby’s really on a soup kick and again goes for the soup of the day which this time is leek and potato. I win this one. Can’t go wrong with potato pancakes. The soup has a nice flavour but needs a bit more body to it.
Mains - Hubby: Wiener Schnitzel, breaded pork escalope with house salad and fries £10.95. I love spatzel so I try the Bavarian Cheese Spatzle, home made Bavarian pasta topped with melted Emmental cheese and house salad. £9.95. We tie because we share both between us and it’s nice to have the mix of things.Dessert - No surprises really what we each choose. Hubby wants to try the Hefeweizen Baked Alaska: Light sponge topped with WEST Hefeweizen ice cream, covered in caramelised meringue. I order Viennese Apple strudel, served warm with ice cream. Both £5.95. Easy decision on this one. I win. The Alaska just wasn’t very nice. Victory overall is mine.
Back home we chat with Linda who is familiar with the ground we've covered today as well as the Gorbals which is where her deceased first husband was from. She's thinking she'll get in on the gentrification of the Calton just near the Heilan Jessie and she confirms that it is a quiet pub that doesn't cause any problem. We hope it goes well for her.