A couple of weeks ago, in early October, I was driving back from Kings Park near Rutherglen and as it was the rush hour, with traffic filled streets, loads of road works, a jammed M8 motorway where cars inched forwards a yard at a time, and dozens of traffic lights everywhere going any other route, I took my tried and tested default setting of driving back through Pollok. Traffic is always less busy here, few traffic lights, no road works, wide and usually quiet dual carriage ways... and trees... always loads of trees. In the rush hour, or at any time, it's a very pleasant way to go so it was Kings Park Avenue, Menock Road, Merrylee Road, Nether Auldhouse Road, Barrhead Road, Braidcraft Road, Corkerhill Road, Mosspark Drive, then under the Clyde Tunnel to Anniesland. A route I've traveled hundreds of times over the years- my default setting so I do not even have to think about it and it's nearly always stress free. More than stress free- it's a beautiful journey, of the kind that's getting less common in the city these days with a sizable number of formally spacious roads that have suddenly narrowed recently, converted to cycle track use with far less room for cars on them. As a keen cyclist myself I should be pleased by this but as a driver it has turned many wide pleasant roads with broad pavements (where you could cycle along on anyway, although by law illegal, without any hassle) into much narrower unpleasant and more congested corridors where you have to concentrate over every inch of tarmac ahead of you. The potential, with a busy line of parked cars on one side, including children popping out between them suddenly and raised bumps and bollards on the other cycle lane side increasing any accident risk greatly( in my considered opinion, having travelled most of them.) makes it more and not less dangerous for all concerned. Couple that with newly extended foot high raised bus stops sticking six feet out into the road so buses can deposit prams and elderly passengers level with pavements and you have a large increase of obstacles for the motorists to discover, especially in an unfamiliar area.
I use other roads instead to move through this area, ones as yet unaffected... where you can still cycle or drive down in style and abundant wide-ness with time to look around you and enjoy your surroundings more. The feel good factor that's been totally robbed from that other street, photo above. Can you kill a road!? Yup! You can! The good unaffected road below.
Anyway, back in Pollok it was late afternoon and I'd already had an enjoyable day out walking and photographing autumn colours but when I reached Pollok, ( the photo below, a bus stop in Braidcraft Road in Pollok this is,) the light was so special and the scenery so magical I had to stop and get out.
Nearby was a small grassy hill in North Pollok I'd driven past many times but never stood on and filled with walking endorphins, giving a calm happy mood, I decided this was the time to see the view from it.
Five minutes later I was standing on its broad grassy summit with panoramic views over this side of the city. North Pollok and the white Moss Heights flats here in this one.
Kennishead Flats (used to be five blocks of them) and the great wood of Pollok in this one, made up of Pollok Park and several adjoining wooded golf courses. At one time the vast Pollok Estate had stretched from Govan, beside the River Clyde to the Renfrewshire uplands, covering almost half of modern South Glasgow and there was still a sizable chunk left of it today.
In every direction you looked from this small hill the view was one of woodlands stretching to the horizon. Around 50,000 people lived and live in the greater Pollok area yet they appeared mostly invisible from here, only the modern frontage of the Silverburn Shopping Centre in the heart of Pollok standing out tall, like an Aztec temple emerging from the surrounding jungle. From this distance and angle it was a magnificent sight and brought a feeling of great pleasure and tingling excitement- like an old time explorer viewing brave new lands. I've never had that feeling inside it wandering around so I must be a scenery voyeur. The further away from it the better it looks.
As I was standing on this low hill, admiring the view in all directions, a young teenage/ twenty something local wandered up with his dog, checking me out. In an upmarket area people usually ignore you- pretend you're not there..in case you speak to them presumably, but in the schemes there's always a chance they'll come up to talk to you... just the way it is... and he was friendly... just curious about what I was up to and we had a short conversation, six feet apart of course, mainly about how brilliant it was to grow up in Pollok with views like this on your doorstep. The vast Pollok Park was just a short ten minute walk or cycle away. Rosshall Park was within easy walking distance as well...Bellahouston Park also viable on foot or by bike, reached through several miles of unbroken woodland and meadow if required. Pollok itself was one giant wooded park... albeit one with houses in it...and a population a third the size of the city of Dundee or holding equal numbers to a town like Kilmarnock- yet it was mostly invisible from this hill top, standing within the centre of the beast and it brought home to me yet again how lucky I was to have spent the first 27 years of my life here. It was a childhood Heaven on earth- with just enough Hell in it to stop you being bored.
In some of the other large schemes/ council estates built in the 1950s and 1960s and especially in Easterhouse, Drumchapel and Castlemilk, 'The big four' with 30,000 plus lucky residents each you had woods and scenic parts as well but also long ranks of three and four storey tenements clustered together, which if you lived in the middle of them could feel claustrophobic, the view front and back one of other tall tenements straight across the street from you and rows of identical verandas and windows staring back. That extra height level from three floors tall to four made a huge difference psychologically, even as a visitor, walking down and between them. Streets of four storey tenements on both sides of a road immediately felt more threatening with that extra level added, darker, more claustrophobic, less light, less colour and space in the sky above. And that's from someone that likes caves and tunnels.
Pollok, started before the Second World War as a well laid out garden suburb, was more diverse in it's construction, and more low level, being older, than the other three giant estates. Large numbers of cottage type houses with back and front gardens which are still immaculate and well kept to this day interspersed with only a few isolated three and four storey tenement blocks, like this one here at Pollok's main roundabout made up the central core. Most of these still stand today and it's only in the Pollok G53 districts with clustered tenements, Calfhill Road, Dormanside, Craigbank, Priesthill, Nitshill, South Nitshill and Darnley that most of the changes have occurred and the tenements/ deck access estates there have been knocked down and replaced with low level cottage types. These original tenement estates only had a lifespan of 30 to 40 years-( mine was riddled with damp, despite heat and proper ventilation, if the other houses were the same that may have been part of the problem. Built of Wilson Brick I think.) the cottage types going on 80 to 90 years and still looking good.
Mosspark on its hill here above- along with Knightswood and Carntyne, introduced some of the first wave of large scale council housing estates in Glasgow built in the 1930s on-wards but all low level cottage type housing, still desirable areas and standing to this day, many of them ex council home owners now. .
Looking southwards across Pollok the view was equally good. Great colour in the trees and pupils heading home from school around 4:00pm. It felt like a magical landscape and I've always felt completely at ease here as an adult.
Speaking of which this is St Paul's High School in Pollok. When I went to this exact same site it was a taller building, a 'non denominational' secondary school called Craigbank. As a pupil there however I always thought of it as a protestant school even though I was never religious or sectarian in any way, reinforced by the fact that Bellarmine, (then the main large catholic school in the district) was five minutes walk away, and as children everywhere, started to think from primary school age they were different from us in some manner- otherwise why have separate schools?. It was a puzzle to me. What was the difference? Before school age we all played together in the tenements and didn't care- after leaving school we all worked and played together.. and didn't care then either, certainly in my case, but that period of going to school made us separate units.You always have to have a yin and yang though.... for good balance. Coming out of school at 4:00pm we had to catch a bus on Barrhead Road where the Pollok Shopping Centre/ Silverburn now stands. Except back then in the early 1970s it was not there- that site was occupied by the Bundy scheme- a small council estate built in the early days of Pollok's development in the 1940s and already 30 years old by it's last decade on the planet. By the late 1970s it had gone altogether and a question that still puzzles me today is why was the Bundy so notorious that it had to be flattened and obliterated completely by a shopping centre? It was only a small scheme/estate of five or six streets, only a couple of them tenements, the rest cottage type houses, so it should have lasted longer, yet it loomed very large in our teenage imaginations and reality. At that time, in the early 1970s, four or five much larger districts of massed tenements existed in Pollok with gangs in each of them but the one that was at the very top of the 'to be feared' list was the Pollok Bundy. Even though we went to school right beside it and could see the first row of dark tenements a stone's throw away from our bus stop I was never tempted to wander through it- and I never knew anybody else who dared either. I wish now I had explored it as it's remained a mystery to me why it was like that. I have a dim memory of a three storey tenement street, not far from the bus stop, half the stair windows either broken or bricked up and usually a gang of surly teenagers hanging around in the close-mouths watching us until we jumped on a bus. That's one of the reasons I never went exploring. This group never seemed to go to school as they were always there before us when the schools came out, just hanging around. Online I can only find a few photos of the old Bundy when it was newly built and it looked fine.
The other areas around our school are neat and tidy to this day. This is right beside the Bundy and it always has been an almost middle class district of prosperous looking streets and well looked after cottage type houses and gardens, even back in the 1970s when it was council. Maybe that's why the Bundy gang liked travelling to other, more rougher parts of Pollok to fight. I had an aunt that lived in Arden, miles away from the Bundy scheme across open countryside but another tenement estate. On one visit I noticed the back courts there had new high gates across them to seal off these openings into the rear of the tenements. Apparently, according to her, the Bundy had been coming over and fighting with the local gang and just running wild about the place. I could believe that as they occasionally ran through our area as well. It all added to the myth- like the wall built to keep out King Kong. Sometimes the wall failed to keep them out though, as on one occasion that I know of, they stormed our school for some reason, throwing stones through the windows in a mass attack, even though it was broad daylight and teachers and pupils were sitting in each class. Yet The Bundy was also where most of our parents went shopping, before the shopping centre was built- to the single row of shops near the front of that scheme, at the main roundabout- and always came back unscathed. It was all very strange- yet very normal for that time.
And it wasn't just myth that their reputation stood on. A view of Nitshill tower block in the distance from North Pollok, a view close to where the Bundy once stood beside the sloping turf roofed building known as The Wedge. Our scheme in Nitshill was a few miles away as well so they took a bus to get to it. Aged 14 the first I knew of this was standing in a friend's close talking to him when a younger upstairs neighbour shouted the dreaded words. 'The Bundy are coming!' He shot off up to an upper flat and dived inside, slamming the door. Thinking I had plenty of time I went out the front onto the main street to see if he was exaggerating and noticed several teenagers with knives in hand prowling towards me but still 50 yards away. Before they noticed me I walked fast through the close again telling my friend it was true and that they were approaching, saying 'see you tomorrow, shut the door!'
I then ran into the back thinking I'd have plenty of time to reach my own close but was horrified to find out four of them with knives and other weapons in hand were more advanced this end and I had reached the right age to be a target. They would not have harmed anyone younger but I was now a teenager and 'the enemy.' As soon as they saw me they charged so I zoomed straight for my own close. I lived on the ground floor of a three storey tenement, one of dozens in a large rectangle surrounding an open back court but it was completely empty that day, everyone else safe inside, and I knew if I thumped my own door and waited to get in they'd get me so I ran straight up the close stairs to the top level banging all the doors on the way and shouting for help. Even though I was not in a gang I'd already seen several teenagers stabbed or badly beaten just as an onlooker in the wrong place at the wrong time so standing my ground was not an option. The last person I knew that had done that lost his good looks to a razor slash for having the cheek not to run away. Outcome depended entirely on the mood of the pack. Luckily the guy in the top flat had a large Alsatian dog which he immediately let out, barking loudly, so I didn't get stabbed as they didn't come all the way up to the top landing, and other doors started opening. Growing up in Pollok I had a few other run ins with gangs carrying weapons but that was the worst. I definitely thought I'd had it then and probably would have been stabbed if I'd stayed at my own door as they were not far behind me. That was my 'welcome pack' introduction to the Bundy... and I didn't like it much... but that was just one part of the Pollok I grew up in... it had many other sides to it.
A beautiful leafy place... and occasionally deadly... certainly in the past...
to be continued.....