Monday, 3 July 2017

Cumbernauld Trip. The UK's First Shopping Mall. The World's First Modern Mall?

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
A good few months ago now I was thinking of an interesting place to visit and Cumbernauld came to mind after looking at a few maps. Apart from having a non professional but long standing interest in architecture I also have a connection to this Scottish new town as my sister got married and moved out here with her husband and young family in the late 1960s/ very early 1970s before emigrating to Australia. This is one of several car parks clustered around Cumbernauld's original shopping centre. There seems to be a 2 hour parking restriction on all the vehicles parked here, despite it being half empty with plenty of free spaces. I did notice on my return a couple of cars getting tickets (and maybe clamped/ or fixed penalty notice on windscreen) so they do enforce it. Luckily, I returned within the 2 hour limit  as I managed to fit everything in within that time period and it was mainly the shopping centre I was curious about.
Cumbernauld Shopping Centre was dreamed up in the 1950s when the brutalist style of architecture was all the rage, completed in the mid to late 1960s and went on to win several awards for the ugliest and most hated town centre in Britain decades later. As a young teenager though it was an impressive stack of concrete boxes piled on top of each other and from a distance still resembles a ship at sea cresting a it sits up proud on a ridgeline. Staying overnight in Cumbernauld on a few occasions and visiting regularly for several years while my sister lived  here I got to know it reasonably well. Eight levels high with underground car and bus roads running directly below the entire complex it is reputedly the first purpose built shopping mall in the UK and the world's first multi level covered over town centre. Reason enough to visit and explore.
Being a real original pioneer in architecture many of the buildings have been highly influential. Cumbernauld College. The true inspiration for Liza and Maggie Simpson's jagged hairstyle perhaps?
St Mungo's church beside the shopping centre. As you can see it was a glorious sunny day so I headed off elsewhere once my two hour parking time limit was up.
A local pub.
Another local pub I used to pass on my youthful travels exploring the neighbourhood.
With many of the streets and buildings in Cumbernauld having almost identical back fences it was sometimes a challenge at my young age to find my way back to the right house if I'd walked a fair distance on my travels around the area for the first few visits. Then it was all new and sparkling to my eyes, most of the surroundings having recently been constructed. On this visit it was the usual mixture after 50 years with some streets remaining well kept and looking much the same, other buildings torn down altogether and replaced with new properties and some areas looking rather dilapidated and in need of care and attention in this Glasgow over-spill estate.
The highest social housing blocks in Cumbernauld, apart from several hi-rise flats, are seen here, sitting on the true roof of Scotland. A Mediterranean tenement style that always struck me as being very different, even back then. Flat roofs are not usually a good idea however in the rain soaked Scottish climate
I also remembered the numerous underpasses and pedestrian bridges linking every district and they are still fun to walk across... or under.
The worldwide hit film Gregory's Girl was set in Cumbernauld and is still enjoyable today with its optimistic innocent approach and new town feel. East Kilbride, Erskine, Livingstone and Glenrothes in Fife are similar over-spill new town constructions with varying degrees of success in attracting jobs, investment and families to live in them while also maintaining an enjoyable lifestyle.  Cumbernauld is also home to a film and TV studio in an old factory with the romantic ' noble Highlander' production Outlander filmed here, using outdoor locations locally and across the Central Belt of Scotland.
Of course it's widely known now that Cumbernauld was one of the first places to produce four armed children as many early adding and computer companies were attracted to this area and the workers had to adapt quickly and evolve new skills and hand speeds to cope with modern production methods. Going by the old black and white photographs in the local museum of long rows of workers sitting at giant communal tables working with adding machines four arms would be a distinct evolutionary advantage in that environment. That probably explains this sculpture.
The museum lies at the top of the town centre complex, almost on the roof, and is situated in the well stocked library. Worth a visit if here as it details Cumbernauld's history. The library also has a great selection of books, records and films probably due to Cumbernauld's isolated position on a high moorland plateau situated in the wild empty lands between Glasgow and Edinburgh, both cities just under an hour's bus ride away.
A view from the library looking south towards the transmitter towers, two of Scotland's highest free standing structures and the reason you get clear TV, digital, mobile signals etc. This bleak, mostly treeless plateau is unique in Scotland as a high elevated plain but it's a great area for cycling across in fine weather. Not so good in strong wind or rain unless you like a challenge.
I was happy this time to just explore the area around the shopping centre, reawakening old memories, and building new ones.
I still enjoyed the pedestrian footpaths and really liked my visit here. Not so sure about living in Cumbernauld full time though and I have no idea what that would be like as you really have to live it first before making that kind of judgement call. Surprisingly, when my sister went to Australia they settled on a similar type of low level open plan town, isolated in a flat semi desert environment with few trees but this time six hours away from the nearest city. So maybe Cumbernauld rubbed off a little as she is still in the same place today :o).
This painting kind of sums up how I've always viewed the world- despite any past hardships or upsets I still retain a child's optimism that exciting new adventures and surprises are waiting to be discovered just around the corner and that magic and wonder can happen anywhere. This attitude helps to balance out my realistic and slightly pessimistic side that believes the human population is completely out of control and numbers need to be reduced dramatically if anything else worthwhile is to survive... be it rural landscapes, nature, wildlife or anything else we think of as precious.
The world was still a large place in the 1960s and Australia, Africa or the Middle East really was a distant, unbelievably far away land. What happened there or events in any other country overseas took ages to be reported or understood fully and any repercussions for the UK  usually came slowly at trickle speed. That is certainly not the case now with rapid change, cause and effect almost rolling into one another daily without a break or breathing space to adjust to any new situation. Interesting times we live in.
The path to the stars... or Cumbernauld library... in this instance.
More stairs and ramps. Being the first of its kind all sorts of dead end walkways, cul de sacs and corridors exist in this fascinating shopping centre of the unproductive senseless type you will not see in the money conscious, neatly planned, profit maximized to the limit modern versions... but that is part of its appeal for me. A long convoluted corridor and several bends later to reach one shop in an otherwise empty wing of this mega-structure sums it up and delights me at least that surprises like this still exist.
And the rising path to the rooftop library is followed with dazzling sunlight pouring down from shafts which could easily be an ascension rite of passage through an ancient labyrinth or inside a  primitive temple or Egyptian pyramid........ and it's all right here to discover for free. Yippeee!
All together now. What's it called?!!!... Cumbernauld!

Cumbernauld this short clip. Also first generation children featured here obviously. Only two hands each :o)

A different kind of park in OZ. What impressed me most in Australia was not the natural landscape but the beautiful cities and the surrounding park lands filled with all manner of exotic creatures coming in from the surrounding countryside/desert outside.



Linda said...

Beautiful photos, and I love the painting! I also have a child's optimism and view of the world, even though I am 60 now and have been through much in life. I feel blessed and happy, and this helps carry me through any difficult times. I really enjoy your posts, thank you so much for sharing.

Anabel Marsh said...

I was appalled the first time I saw Cumbernauld town centre. It looks even weirder inside - I just like streets!

Kay G. said...

Lucky you, to have been able to visit Australia! That is one of the places I would love to see, my sister once lived there and she loved it. (She was at Thredbow, I think it was called. When you tell people of a ski resort in Australia, no one believes you!)
Also, that area, Cumbernauld, I would miss TREES...might make it nice for cycling, but I need my trees!

blueskyscotland said...

Thanks Linda,
I'm optimistic enough to think I may one day return to a consistent and reliable broadband provider as I've been offline yet again for the last week. If you haven't seen Gregory's Girl (the 1981 film mentioned) I think you would enjoy it.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel,
It was the dark bus stops at night on the roads under the complex that got me. Really creepy in the winter months yet still there I noticed. I didn't mind the shopping centre itself and enjoyed driving under it to park one level up on my recent visit. I must have liked it as I went back a week later with my bike.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Yes, a nice holiday but Australia is so vast you could pack all of Europe into it. If you hire a land cruiser, apart from the expense and supplies, it's like driving through the UK end to end ,then France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Portugal plus Italy just to see the place properly. A huge undertaking I wasn't keen on which is why I was happy to confine myself to South Australia and Adelaide rather than spend most of my holiday time driving across vast deserts and open spaces between the various cities.
Cumbernauld itself has plenty of trees, woods etc, although mainly pine or spindly plantation types rather than the tall mature deciduous giants you tend to get in well established city parks as they are a hundred years older in many cases. The plateau area just to the south is mainly flat and bare but I enjoy that as well as it's very different to anything else here. Love my city trees though.

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

So let me get this straight: it wasn't Cumbernauld that drove your sister to emigrate; she just couldn't hack the rain any longer? :-) More seriously, I know enough history to be optimistic. Just look at how far we've come in our regard for life and the individual; OK, it's not perfect, and some people need to catch up a bit, but we're getting there. Leave the over-population problem with me for a few years - I might get back to you... You've reminded how much I enjoyed Gregory's Girl; great film!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Mike,
I'm still not sure why she went to OZ except it was really fashionable then to do so. The Clyde shipyards were heading into recession with folk being laid off and Australia was headhunting skilled workers and offering good wages under the £10 pound pom deal. A lot of folk were going over then.
I'm usually optimistic about the human race evolving under I read Yahoo News Comments after any article where most of the replies make Alf Garnet and Hitler seem like laid back, easy going, individuals with liberal views. On there everyone is an armchair expert on everything with a swift solution to complex problems and any scientist, doctor, or professor is an over-educated tosser trying it on by spreading fake news on behalf of 'the establishment' :o)
Still got my free copy DVD of Gregory's Girl which came with the weekend paper years ago and watch it every once in a while if nothing else is on TV. The Maggie, Local Hero, Dear Frankie, all fall into the 'Scottish Classic' category. Also watched Outlander last night and to my surprise quite enjoyed it.

Kay G. said...

Forgot to tell you, I liked that clip from the movie.
If someone tried that bit in lie down on the ground and start dancing...they might be mistaken for an animal and get shot! Best not to try it here! :-)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
If you haven't seen the film you would like it. Charming, sweet and funny but not saccharin sickly in any way.

Anonymous said...

Cumbernauld was always a highlight on our long drives north to the Highlands! We once drove in to see what it was like and found a pretty decent pub for pint. I quite like new towns in a strange sort of way, Redditch was my local one. Had no idea Gregory's Girl was filmed there. Great film.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Andy,
I always had a notion to visit Milton Keynes just to see it. Cumbernauld is strange as that high exposed moorland setting does not seem the logical place to build a town. Bet the wind howls through it during big winter storms.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Tom,
read your comment with interest. The baffling thing is I can see it in my e-mail inbox as its not in the spam folder or trash folder- yet so far its not up on the blog. I have no idea why that is or how to fix it.. just letting you know I can see and read it ok. Very puzzling and first time its ever happened. A mystery.

blueskyscotland said...

I've put it into spam folder deliberately then took it out again by marking it 'not spam' back into regular inbox email folder but still no joy...

Tom said...

Thanks bob glad you found it of interest at least, most people seem to immediately regret getting me started on new towns!

From memory i think i had some difficulty beating the anti robot test when i posted so it may be something to do with that.