Saturday, 29 February 2020

An Older Harder Glasgow. Part One. Royal Infirmary. Cathedral of St Mungo. Glasgow Necropolis.

                                              ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
As it was a rare sunny day, after a period of storms and rain, I decided to visit the oldest parts of Glasgow again, as I'd not been over there for a couple of years. The area around Glasgow Green, (The first city park) the 12th century Glasgow Cathedral... seen above, along with explorer David Livingstone's statue in front... and Glasgow's Necropolis- the city of the dead.
This cathedral, built before the reformation, which swept across Europe and the UK in the mid 1500s on-wards is now Church of Scotland. Before that it was a Roman Catholic Cathedral in a largely Catholic country, surrounded by many of it's subjects, still loyal to the faith- which is the main reason it survives today as reformation supporters (Calvin influenced Protest-ants with John Knox as their figurehead ) rejected the papal authority of Rome, much like the EU today, and burned/ looted or destroyed many others. This one was protected however by a large ring of locals and supporters, determined to save it, and well enough armed to beat back opposing forces. Which is just as well for tourists today as this district is one of Glasgow's main visitor hubs.  This cathedral, the adjacent Bishop's Palace, (an excellent modern replica of the original ruined castle that once stood here and is now a museum celebrating all world religions,) Provand's Lordship, (the oldest surviving house in Glasgow dating from the 15th century, (1470s) and the Necropolis, ( built 1830s, holding tens of thousands of uncomplaining residents looking down from their hilltop abode- the size of a big town population wise, like Kilmarnock)- yet all within easy walking distance of each other, often a stone's throw away. The tourists attractions that is- not the dead.  As far as I know the dead don't walk much- except in horror films as extras... and then very slowly... and easy to kill...again.
Glasgow's Necropolis, The 'city of the dead', based on the world famous version in Paris. Although a major landmark and tourist draw I only grasped the full implications recently that, despite the numbers involved, this dead city and many other cemeteries mark out spaces for the elite to be remembered. You need serious money or influence to be buried here with a big stone on top of you. Also occurring from the 1840s on-wards was the Irish potato famine that killed around a million souls with a million more emigrating from Ireland to avoid the same fate, many of them ending up in Glasgow's East End to work in the shipyards lining the River Clyde, the steel works, railway engineering works in Springburn, factories, and heavy industry- like most northern cities of that era, located downwind of the prosperous residents moving into Glasgow's West End districts around the same time, as far away from smoking chimneys, polluted air, and toxic smog as they could get while still within the fast growing city. Even in the 1960s, with the clean air act introduced (1956 UK for coal fires- 1968 for higher industrial chimneys) and with heavy industry slowly shutting down or relocating elsewhere I remember occasional pea soupers going to school on the southern outskirts of the metropolitan area, the smog so thick on that occasion the driver had the conductor walking in front of the bus with a torch to guide him towards the right junction, turning off the main road network, up a hill. And that was on the outskirts- nowhere near the East End
I'm still impressed by the Necropolis ( newly painted gates here) and the views you get from the summit, but it's tempered slightly by the new knowledge of a far greater number of missing unknown dead, gone and long forgotten, buried in mass graves somewhere, on the outskirts of the city, as it was the outskirts back then, but now probably under our feet. Tens of thousands of unhappy skeletons probably lie under Glasgow somewhere, rendering the Necropolis into insignificance- too poor to have any marker at all- victims of TB, poor air, cholera, typhus, and many other periodic outbreaks of illness and disease that swept the overcrowded slums of that era. Add in the Highland Clearances from the mid 1750s to the mid 1850s, bringing more desperately dispossessed people into the city and turning it into the 4th largest metropolis in Europe by the 1930s after Paris, London and Berlin, with over one million hungry residents to feed and water, and you can understand why they would have a problem getting rid of the dead during any epidemics and a need to bury them fast before rot sets in.
Glasgow at that time being one of the most overcrowded and service lacking cities, overwhelmed by migrant numbers coming in and a desperate need to house them all, preferably in the East End.  Before the 1840s city residents often took their water supplies direct from the River Clyde near Dalmarnock, a source of several bad outbreaks, killing thousands at a time, until new reservoirs in the surrounding uplands and Loch Katrine in the mountainous Trossachs became available. The good old days?
Bible thumper and ace God botherer John Knox leads the pack up here on the Necropolis summit.( the guy on the highest pillar of all in the centre) Also prominent near him is a full size sculpture of a sitting Charles Tennant on his plinth, The founder and owner of what would become the largest chemical factory in the world, situated (you guessed it) in the beating heart of the East End, between Garngad and Springburn. A long established open trench of heavy industry, numerous smoking chimneys, gas works, metal works, and burning and smelting materials of every kind, straight into the atmosphere, handily surrounded by the worker ants in the council schemes, often a short walk away from their place of occupation so no travel expenses involved. ( I have a well thumbed 1960s street map of Glasgow during this period and this shallow valley running north east of the cathedral is a wonder to look at on it, capturing on paper the full extent of industrial might in this area. The huge Power Station chimneys at Pinkston Road, one of many dominant features sticking up then, along with the Industrial Revolution hub of Port Dundas with its canal lined warehouses and barges, the nearby St Rollox Works, Chemical Works, Germiston Works (locomotives), Eclipse Works (Iron manufacturer), Gas Works, several Industrial Estates ( unlike the rest- still there and active today) Fruit and Vegetable Market, (still there) and a large quarry- along with several early housing schemes like Blackhill, Germiston, and Roystonhill (Garngad) built from the 1920s- 30s. That plus the water highway of the Monklands Canal, a 19km extra extension linking the distant coal fields around Airdrie with their biggest customer.   From the mid 1800s to the 1960s it must have been some sight- the second city of the British Empire's flaming furnace, an active volcano of industrial might powered by tiny ants, earning a living feeding a hungry colossus down in this trench, illuminated by day or night. The ant hills, (a line of drumlins running parallel to the trench) where the people lived, close by- cut off from the rest of the city by numerous railway lines, large sprawling works, and canals.
Part of the graft that made the city very prosperous - yet also grindingly poor. A worldwide conundrum that still exists today. Average life expectancy in the east of the city for the poor in the 1800s was mid 40s and even today, with better housing conditions, clean water and clean skies its mid 50 to mid 60s in some areas- still 20 years behind the West End but very handy for state pensions remaining uncollected at 66 years of age. Saves a fortune every year.  'The luck of the Irish' is a peculiar saying I've never understood ...unless it's ironic.
Glasgow's proud coat of arms above. The fish that made a sea- The bell that never flew- the bird that never grew- the tree that never be   ....something along those lines anyway. Look it up.
Some nice spring flowers in the Necropolis.
Another view. One thing I did note was the scarcity of tourists in the winter months here compared to Edinburgh. Only a few in early February compared to year round masses every week in the Scottish capital. After London, Edinburgh is now the most visited UK city- Glasgow is probably in the top ten as well but you do notice the difference. On the plus side you get to visit these special places without the hordes that Edinburgh attracts, most attractions here are free, (suggested donations boxes only) and Glasgow still feels distinctly Scottish. (Edinburgh sometimes in the city centre does not, as I mentioned in an earlier post as it's hard to feel completely at home when no-one around you understands English, let alone a Scottish Edinburgh accent- which I did miss. I like that regional accent difference between Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness. )
A view of the Drylaw district from the Necropolis. I did see a large tour group of Spanish speaking visitors when I was in the Necropolis but that was the only one and an interesting pleasure rather than being overwhelmed by numbers- frequently the only English speakers in several large crowds on my last few Edinburgh trips, judging by ear and reaction to our conversations. (with Anne)
Here, in Glasgow, tourists are still seen as exotic creatures, especially in the winter months, bringing much needed cash to the city if the state of the People's Palace winter gardens and Queens Park glasshouse is anything to go by.  A view of Old Glasgow here.
The 'bridge of sighs' connecting the Cathedral with the Necropolis. Originally this shallow valley was the route of the Molendinar Burn, an almost legendary but real water course that ran above ground from around the Hogganfield Loch area to the River Clyde- at one time a 'dear green place' of early promise for the first religious foundation of the city in the 6th century but 100 years ago it disappeared underground, like those missing skeletons, both swallowed up by a fast growing city. It's still there, just diverted and buried into pipes and tunnels- the home of rats and goblins- only seen by the bravest of urban explorers. It's still visible above ground in Blackhill, a rushing torrent of water, in a wishing well sized hole- one of its few above ground appearances these days.
Inside Glasgow Cathedral.
Stained Glass Windows. Adam and Eve I presume.
A large range of different types and styles over several centuries. Military ones here. Different regiments.
An eagle. Gold eagles as a symbol of power date back to Roman times- probably even earlier than that.
The true cost of war summed up.
Oval design.
Glasgow's Royal Infirmary. A listed 1914 edifice set in stone and still in use today when much newer  hospitals across the city have been demolished. East End citizens can look out the ward windows and see the Necropolis looming above them. Not exactly heaven but pretty close to it.
and on that note I'll end... part one.


Anabel Marsh said...

I find this area very interesting. Lots of unacknowledged dead in the Necropolis too - 50,000 bodies but only 3,500 visible tombs.

blueskyscotland said...

Yeah, it's not something I've ever thought about before and there's very little info on it but there must have been tens of thousands of folk that died too poor or during an epidemic in the past that could not afford a funeral, let alone a stone marker.
If the average age of death back then was mid 40s for the poor districts it didn't give you much time to save up either. The thought occurred that there may be burial pits outside the cemeteries as if hundreds were dying at one time, WWI flu pandemic for instance, they would struggle to cope with single one by one burials in a graveyard. I was thinking about this as major digging works are taking place at the moment east of Port Dundas and below Springburn on what was previously un-built ground. Made me wonder if there's old maps somewhere showing any burial sites in case they dig them up accidentally. If there was a mass grave, like Culloden in peacetime, you would think it would be mentioned. Either that or the official graveyards have massive deep pits... not mentioned.

Rosemary said...

I envy you having visited the Necropolis, it is somewhere that I often wished that I had visited whilst I lived in Scotland. Graveyards are somewhere that I personally love visiting, and the one that I was particularly taken with was Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. You can purchased a small handbook that points you in the right direction to see all significant tombs, and also tells you the architect or sculptor who designed them.

Carol said...

The dead DO walk - I've seen plenty of 'em! As for the 'clean air' act, it's just being re-introduced - since all these people (like myself) have coal or wood burners to try to keep warm in our inclement country, the air has gone bad again!

Talking of Glasgow Green - Guns 'n' Roses are playing there this June. I was going to book a ticket but they were around £180 and it looks to be a daytime, outdoor concert which I no longer do (the inclement weather again).

Richard says 'God-botherer' too - I always think it's funny!

My view of the 'expensive' graves with the huge stones atop them, or obelisks or whatever, is that the relatives are so desperate they shouldn't re-surface, they've plonked heavy stuff atop them! ;-)

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
It was very run down and neglected back then with tramps often sleeping in the crypts. Now its a lot smarter, a tourist attraction, and any potential sleeping areas have grills, as in the photo.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Wow, that's a lot of money. I would only pay £30 max for an artist. Seen Cloudbusting, a great tribute act for £17 quid last time and it was a great night out. Tribute bands, the good ones, play all the hits, often capture the artists at their prime so that's the way forward for me for major acts who sometimes play new stuff you haven't heard for ten times the money and mess up their best songs by changing the melody cos their bored with them the old way . I did like the softer acoustic version of Sweet Child of Mine Featured in the Captain Fantastic movie recently- available to view on You Tube.

Carol said...

Well we differ completely there! I can't generally stand tribute bands and don't see them at all unless they're in a pub I'm in or something... Can't stand 'unplugged' acoustic versions of anything either - as soon as a band do an 'unplugged' or cut their hair, I consider them finished!

Also, I've been going to a lot of concerts in the last few years (it will be 5 or 6 this year) and I've found them all pretty true to form and good and enjoyable. I'd say the standard price nowadays to see the main groups is around £40 - 70 which I think is reasonable, especially if they've come over from The States...