A GOVAN CHILDHOOD – The 1930s
ACTIVITY ON THE RIVER
River traffic, the ferries – Passenger boats – Vehicular ferries – Renfrew & Erskine ferries - Docks - The original Clyde tunnels - Starting school - A Journey into town - An interest in other regions - Aberdeen - Coal mines - A railway experience - Italians - Family doctor and pre-antibiotic treatment - The Poultice
RIVER TRAFFIC – THE FERRIES
Crossing the river other than by using the old tunnels between Mavisbank next to Prince's Dock and Finnieston or the bridges upstream was by ferry. Between Linthouse and King George V Bridge at Commerce and Oswald Streets there were nine ferries at six crossings. The early vehicular ferries introduced in 1890 did not carry passengers. The first of the larger capacity vessel to do so was introduced on the Water Row to Yorkhill crossing in 1938, but they were slow and ponderous and except for those with time to spare, passengers preferred the smaller boats which made the crossing in two thirds of the time. The only occasion it was quicker to use the vehicular ferry was if a passenger vessel had just left and the vehicular boat was ready to depart. The three locations where both types of boats, large and small, operated side by side were between Linthouse/Whiteinch, Water Row (Govan)/Pointhouse (Partick), and Finnieston/General Terminus. The other six crossing points had one passengers only boat.
|1930s – Note the original Finnieston Clyde tunnel rotunda in the left background.|
The passengers-only boats were Linthouse to Whiteinch, Govan Wharf to Meadowside, Water Row to Yorkhill, Highland Lane (at the dry docks) to Kelvinhaugh, Finnieston to General Terminus, and Springfield Quay at Kingston Dock to Anderston Quay. The ferries did not operate to a timetable, but just travelled back and forth continuously with only a short pause to allow passengers and vehicles to disembark and get on board. On my travels with granda, who walked a lot and took me along at every opportunity, I most likely passed over all these crossings. The clearest memories are of Linthouse/Whiteinch where the terminal was at the foot of Holmfauld Road, and Water Row/Kelvinhaugh, because experience of using them in later decades is less distant in time. Two boats are seen below which was unusual, I only ever saw one on any crossing.
|York Street passenger ferry stairs 1911|
When seen from the river passenger ferry terminals, the remains of one or two of which were visible until the end of the 20th century, were small and high, wooden sided V shaped docks, the wings of which projected out into the river for 30 feet or so. A flight of fairly shallow steps with metal clad edges began at ground level high up at the narrowest part of the truncated `V', which widened as they descended to below low water level. There was a pair of upward curving metal brackets (seen above and below) stretched from the top of one side wall to the other which crossed over and joined at their highest point. An oil lamp, which could be lowered to be lit by the thin rope for operating in winter, hung from the join. Tides in the upper reaches of the river had an average rise and fall of between ten and twenty feet, which meant that at low tide the descent to the boat was about twenty steps. At high water it could be as little as ten, and during spring and autumn `highs', the times of extra high and low tides, the water level could be such that for a short time services had to be suspended. On one occasion I saw the water level above the top of the steps and flooding the footpath.
These boats had a crew of two, and in the 1930s the steam engine with its coal fired boiler, fresh water supply and bunker of coal, was centrally placed in a steel cabin with rounded corners, a flat roof and a door at one end. The engine room (small hut describes its appearance better) was set in the middle of the vessel's deck, leaving narrow passages either side for passenger movement from one end to the other. It had no windows as such but the roof was raised about a foot on brackets at head height to allow the engineer to keep a lookout all around when negotiating the terminal to watch out for passing river traffic. There were wooden slatted benches which doubled as life rafts along each bulwark away from the narrow central section. Photographs taken in the early years of the 20th century show the engine and boiler with only a rudimentary cabin. In the '30s and '40s the cabin was larger, but as seen in the first photo was still just a kind of roofed steel box on two levels with a step at the entrance at one end.
Where the chimney emerged from the roof above the boiler it had a hinge above roof level, so that at the end of the working day it could be lowered to rest at an angle on a bracket. In later, post-war years a small amount of shelter was provided for passengers by fitting steel awnings on both sides, which projected out from the cabin roof over the side passages, and curved down at a steep angle and were fixed on top of the bulwarks. But they would have accommodated only about ten per cent of a full complement of passengers. Steering was by a small conventional marine type of ship's spoked steering wheel seen in the first photo. mounted on a pillar at both entry openings, one at each end on the port side when viewed from the middle of the boat. Up to the 1940s the helmsman had no weather protection but small cabins were added later.
The terminals had small bollards (or pins) set alternately, one on a step on each side, and the vessel was secured by the helmsman hitching a mooring rope to the nearest one according to the level of the tide. They were just cast steel pins about one-and-a-half inches thick and eight inches high with a ball thickening at the top. After looping the rope over the pin the ferryman held it in tension so that there was little disturbance as possible for passenger movements. To ease the tension on the rope the engine remained running at slow to push the boat gently into the dock. When ready to depart, the engineer gave the engine a burst towards the steps to slacken the rope and allow it to be unhitched, then the helmsman stepped on board and coiled it. As the engineer reversed direction and increased the speed of the engine, the man made his way through the passengers to the opposite end, where he unlocked the wheel there and began to steer as the crossing got under way.
The small engine made a quite distinctive rhythmic chuffing sound quieter than that from a railway engine, but the exhaust steam and smoke puffed out the chimney just the same. As the helmsman took control the engineer increased speed to cruise, and the vessel steamed briskly across at about 7 knots, with the crew keeping a sharp lookout for other vessels passing along the main channel. A delay could be prolonged if a large ship with tugs fore and aft was passing or if the river was otherwise busy.
Other factors to be taken into consideration during a crossing were wind and tide. A combination of the two could in the severest instances result in the service being suspended, and during the worst conditions in which it was possible to operate, a crossing could be lively, alarming even. A strong wind with a rising or falling tide sometimes carried the boat a fair distance away from its normal path, making it slow and laborious work to return to and tricky to steer into the dock. Nearing the end of a crossing steam was shut off at a distance of about 30 feet out from the entrance. When approaching the steps the engine was put in reverse, the `glunk' and slight jerk of this is well remembered, and opened it up to maximum so that it gave off a loud chuntering roar. Turning in reverse, the propeller produced a violent frothing under the forward end of the vessel, causing it to slow down as it approached the steps.
At this point, after ensuring the heading was correct the ferryman locked the wheel and moved to the prow and, holding onto a rail with one hand and braced himself against turbulence and the braking effect, he stood with the mooring rope in the other ready for docking. If the engineer's judgement was correct, the vessel would have just enough way left to mount the steel edge of a step aided by the curve of the steel keel. The ferryman then stepped off onto the one level with the prow and quickly put a couple of turns of rope round the mooring pin a few steps above. Holding and maintaining his grip on the free end to stop it coming off the bollard, he leaned back against the wall of the dock with his foot resting on the tensioned rope to allow passengers to leave and those for the return journey to get on board.
Jumping on and off would best describe the manoeuvre, and it will be clear from the foregoing that this way of crossing the river was for the young and agile, and although I never witnessed any, accidents to people using the ferries were occasionally reported in the press. The main hazards were falling off the open ends of a vessel during a crossing, because there was no barriers in the narrow openings, or someone missing their footing when leaping off or on board while the vessel was moored in the dock. When ready to depart, the rope was freed and the journey commenced. Sometimes a lack of patience caused someone to take a dip. Men who thought they were still young and fit, who arrived as the ferry was leaving, were guilty of trying, in the second or two before the gap between steps and boat became too great, of rushing down and taking a flying leap.
As stated above, the steps were set at a shallow angle, but even so, anyone stumbling and falling was fairly certain to roll down into the water, where frantic efforts would have to be made to get them out with a long shafted boat hook. Hooks for this purpose hung on a pair of brackets with one at each terminal and, although not visible in the above photos, one on each side of the ferry cabin, and life belts too were placed at terminals and ferries. Among other hazards encountered was the wash from passing ships, especially tugs, steaming past light (without a tow). Their tubby lines generated the worst waves which could make passenger ferries lively.
The story of one occurrence is a good example of what could happen. It took place on a crossing of the Govan to Yorkhill ferry during an evening rush hour in winter. The boat was packed to capacity with shipyard workers, when a man who had been among the last to board said to people in front of him that someone who had come aboard behind him had disappeared. This was brought to the notice of the ferrymen who reversed the boat, and although a search was carried out for some time nothing was found. The man who raised the alarm was accused of being mistaken, but he stuck to his story, maintaining that the man was behind him when the ferry left, and could not have passed him unobserved as they were standing in the narrows, at what was the `stern' between the bulwark and steering wheel. It was an evening of fog and hard frost, and in the gloom anyone in the water wouldn't have stood much of a chance of being found or surviving for long.
The event became a mystery which was never solved. Newspapers took it up, and speculated on the possibility of someone being reported missing in the surrounding districts that would fit the description, but with there was no result. At the end of the 20th century, the long disused Forth and Clyde canal had been restored for use by pleasure boats, one of which was a refurbished CNT passenger ferry.
The free to use ferries were replacements from the days before development of the river began, when it was possible to ford the river in these reaches, and when work of deepening the channel began the Trust was obliged by law to provide them at existing fords. Including the boats used at Renfrew and Erskine, to be described below, each of the three types was bi-directional and didn't require to be turned for each crossing. CNT passenger boats were oval shaped at deck level, like a rugby ball cut in half along its length, with a heavy keel having an angled section to match that of the landing stairs. The steel plating bulwarks round the deck edge had a broad flat wooden top with rounded edges.
Apart from being much bigger, vehicular ferries were very different vessels with a layout that was even more interesting than the passenger boats, neither of which could be described as being designed to appeal to the eye. The vehicle ferries were of massive construction with a number of interesting technical features that made them ideal for the job. In my time these boats were of two types and had a crew of three. The older design was steam propelled and the traffic they carried was mainly horses and carts and had no passenger accommodation. The newer boats introduced in 1938 were diesel/electric powered. While basically the same, both consisted of a low flat hull roughly 100 feet long by about 60 feet broad, with the deck about four feet above water level. The big difference was in the number and dimensions of the support beams, with the ones on the older boats' structure appearing to be heavier.
When in dock the hull was normally hidden by the vehicle deck above it, but during a crossing at low tide, with that deck in the highest position, the hull was exposed to view. The four massive flanged girders forming the vertical supports for the vehicle deck gave the boats a very clumsy and ungainly appearance. They rose to a height of around forty feet from around the outer edges of the hull, vertical at the sides, but leaning in slightly at the upper ends of the later boats, sweeping up and curving sharply inboard at their highest point, to meet in a continuous flat up-side-down 'U' over the vehicle deck.
Positioned centrally on top of one of the two inner girders above the vehicle deck and reached by a ladder on the outside of the girder and a cat-walk, there was a cabin with eight faceted sides in which engine and steering controls were housed, from which the 'captain', seen in the 1900 photo, supervised the working of the boat. The overall impression conveyed by the vessels, particularly the newer type with its lighter construction of slightly thinner beams, was of a giant spider with a heavy undercarriage, thick legs and a tiny head.
|1930s – The ferry dock is seen on the right|
To compensate for the tidal changes the vehicle/passenger deck was raised and lowered by huge vertical screwed shafts, two on each side of the older boats while the newer vessels had three, set within the massive vertical 'U' girders required to support it. These screw shafts carried the weight of the deck with its load of vehicles and passengers. The hull was simply a large pontoon with barely a suggestion of a cutwater at each end, and had hatches on top giving access to the propulsion unit, diesel engines in the later vessels driving a generator, and one or two of the usual low ship-type ventilators. The engine's exhaust was carried up in two tall curiously thin flattened funnels which rose to a few feet above the level of the control cabin at the mid point of the sides. Because of the much greater height above water level than the passenger boats, the impression gained on board was of quiet stately movement with much less engine noise, even from the older boats' steam engines, than that generated by the passenger boats.
Suspended between the main girders, the traffic deck was laid out for three lines of vehicles, with the passenger area on the newer boats a narrow strip along the upstream side only of the traffic deck. In the 1930s, vehicles using the ferries were divided roughly 50/50 between horse-drawn and motor lorries and vans and the occasional private car. The edge of the vehicle deck at each end of the boat had a metal lip or flap projecting as a short extension out from it which, when the vessel moved in to the rear of the basin when docking, engaged in a slot just below road level. The outer edge of the road had a matching lip, another metal flap hinged on the landward side, which seemed to have been levelled by two low fixed crane jib heads in casings and with chain lifting tackle, on which the road gates were mounted.
The flaps provided a smooth transition between road and car deck, it but seemed to have been operated automatically by the aforementioned horizontal projection from the boat, as other than the 'cranes', there was no other mechanism visible ashore for doing this. The lights seen in the 1900s photo were mounted on top of the jibs for night-time operation, the corroded remains of one of which remained in situ at the end of Water Row, more than twenty years after the last time it was used in the mid 1960s, when the Kingston Bridge and the present Clyde tunnels were opened. The 1988 photo from the family collection above is of grandson Paul standing beside the remains of one of the cranes. Instead of mooring ropes, the vessel was held in position by two short thick steel cables with heavy `T' pieces on the ends which in repose lay in slots in the deck, one each side at both ends. They were lifted out and dropped over fairleads recessed at ground level ashore by a deck hand, then the slack was taken up and the cable held under tension by a winch or hydraulic means to hold the boat, so that no engine power was required to keep it steady.
At locations where two ferries operated together, they were situated side by side with the passenger ferries upstream from the vehicular boats. Queues of carts and motor vehicles lined up in single file at the gates on both sides of the road, and when the last of the arriving vehicles left the ferry, they plodded and crawled on board for the leisurely trip. That illusion existed until the crossing ended and the two pairs of double gates, the one ashore and the other afloat, were thrown open. Then, accompanied by the thunderous roar of steel shod hooves and steel rimmed cart wheels on cobbles, they all surged off three abreast, so that it sometimes developed into a dangerous race between drivers to be first at the main road junction. Then traffic authorities of the time endeavoured to curb this practice by requiring gatemen to restrict the opening initially to the centre lane only, then the other two in turn.
Noise made by the cart wheels was lessened somewhat by granite tracks laid on the nearside of cobbled roads in areas with a lot of horse-drawn traffic. They are seen below on the right side of the road in the view of Pollokshaws Road at High Shawlands in the 1950s, lengths of granite in three or four foot sections laid in line and parallel at a distance apart which corresponded to wheel tracks, the distance between the wheels. Certain main roads and some of the busier cobbled side streets had such strips, a few of which could be seen for many years in districts untouched by redevelopment. These strips really helped to reduce what today would be described as a most irritating high decibel din that could be painful for the ears.
Passenger accommodation on one side of the ferries, the upstream side, was separated from the vehicle deck by a waist high stout steel stanchion railing of the same type as the one round the rest of the deck perimeter. Access to and from the ferry deck was by a narrow arched footway drawbridge mounted one near each end for the docks on each side of the river. When the boat had docked the landward one was pivoted over by hand using the side rails. In the raised position the ridged foot-walk with its `hump' became part of the guard rail. The ridges were anti-slip transverse wooden strips, which used to cause irritation because of their tendency to trip people up unless concentration was exercised on where they were putting their feet. Because of the many distracting sights around, for me there never was time for that so I had a few stumbles. Two or three slatted life rafts similar to those on passenger boats doubled as seats.
The boats berthed in basins that were a snug fit, set deep enough into the bank to take two-thirds of the hull, so that when docked, to avoid obstructing the channel they projected out only a small amount into was after all at busy at times and fairly narrow river. The basin itself, like those of the passenger boats was of timber or stone construction with vertical walls round the three faces, but the shape was more of a 'U' than the 'V' of the passenger ferry docks. Because of the open-to-the-elements aspect of Holmfauld Road, like most of the other ferry terminals, a 'waiting room', a stoutly built wooden hut, was placed on the level surface of the area between the bays, which was very necessary, there being no other shelter in bad weather for about five hundred yards. The hut was a square shack with a boarded over window, a pitched slated roof, and bench seating extending round the walls.
The photos of the ferries in my collection are seen above, but the book of photographs entitled Glasgow At War by Paul Harris, published in 1986 by Archive Publications Ltd, in association with the Evening Times newspaper, has two illustrations of a vehicular ferry being used to carry fire-fighting equipment to a ship on fire during 1941. On page 46, photos numbers 69 and 70 show one of these ferries fairly clearly although the captions are wrong. The subject of number 70 is described as a `Special Fire fighting Barge', but it is actually vehicular ferry No.4 which had obviously been pressed into service for the emergency. It would have been ideally suited to driving the fire brigade vehicles complete with trailer pumps straight on board, and moving to wherever they were needed anywhere in the upper reaches, then the intake hoses of the pumps could be lowered into the water.
The other caption for photo 69 in that book describing the same event states that it was Rothesay Dock at Clydebank. But the location is more likely to have been Yorkhill Basin adjacent to the Govan ferry crossing point in connection with the wartime incident involving the cruiser HMS Sussex, the story of which is told in my second unpublished book of reminiscences entitled IN PEACE & WAR available at www.govanhistory.org.uk The ferry-master's cabin above the vehicle deck was normally of glass above waist height for all round vision. But it can be clearly seen that these windows are covered over as the boat was stationary, as was required to comply with war night-time blackout regulations. The cab light would be turned off and the blinds put up for any movement.
The Ship Room at the Transport Museum had models of vehicular ferries, one of which is excellent with all the detail described above visible. (It is not known if the new Museum at Yorkhill has any on display). A good source of information on the river in general is Clyde Navigation - A History of the Development of the River Clyde, by John R. Riddell (1979). Another book by the same author is The Clyde, a much shorter edition with less text but more and better photographs, was produced in 1988 for the Glasgow Garden Festival. There are copies of both in my collection. They have excellent views of both types of ferries as they were in the 1930s. Built to the same two designs, these ferry boats were different from the third type that operated downstream at Renfrew and Erskine,
RENFREW & ERSKINE FERRIES
|Renfrew Ferry looking north to Yoker c1950. Note the chains for propulsion either side of the ramp. Also seen here is one of the two pylons, much reduced from their original height that originally carried the cables across the river from Yoker Power Station.|
Funding for these boats was shared by the two county councils in the area where they operated, Renfrewshire in the south and Dunbartonshire on the north. They were worked by heavy twin chains which stretched from one cobbled ferry ramp through the hulls and across the river to the other side. During crossings the chains were hauled in through engine rooms on each side of the boat by pulleys, with the slack passed out aft to lie on the river bottom clear of other traffic. They were driven initially by steam engines then latterly by diesels on either side of the vehicle deck, each with a chimney projecting above the two engine compartment/passenger shelters. The vehicle deck was a well along the centre containing three lanes for vehicles, access to which was by ramps and a kind of double-wing gate protected drawbridge, while passengers occupied enclosed spaces round the engine rooms and on the open decks above. The counties operated ferries charged a fare, while those in the upper reaches provided by the Clyde Navigation Trust were toll free.
They had many interesting sights. When out walking with granda, King George V Dock (opened 1931), known mainly by the abbreviation KG Five, and Shieldhall Quay upstream were the most frequented as it was nearest. Prince's Dock and the quays upriver were visited occasionally, although many of the berths there were inaccessible to the general public. He had a good eye for the unusual and checked newspapers for things of interest. Sometimes we would go a long way to see a particular ship or an unusual happening. On one occasion there was a report in a newspaper that a tug had sunk in the river off Plantation Quay, so at the first opportunity we went off together to see it. Sure enough there it was, although all we could see of it was the upper half of the tall thin funnel and mast rising above the river's surface near the south quay.
It was one of a pair of tugs, the one at its stern, in charge of a cargo ship which had her propeller turning over slowly to assist manoeuvring, and the tug had drifted too close under its stern and had been struck and holed by it. The boat had gone down quickly but the crew had saved themselves by climbing up the mast, to quote the report in the paper related by granda, 'in a leisurely fashion' and hung on calmly until they were rescued. They were experienced watermen and knew the depth of the river at that point. After writing about that incident, 50 years later I came across an interesting book entitled The Clyde Puffer by Dan McDonald (ISBN 0 7153 7443 5), in which there's a photograph (above) of the operation to recover the tug.
Four puffers, the small cargo boats common on the Clyde, were involved in the recovery and are seen preparing for the lift, although the only parts of the sunken tug that's visible are its funnel and mast. They are in the centre of the photo rising up beyond the bow of the puffer on the right. The tug would have had hawsers past under its hull by divers and the ends secured on the massive lifting frames at low tide. Although it can't be seen clearly it looks as if there were two lifting frames, the other is on the two other puffers in the background to share the lift at the sunken boat's stern. The hawsers would have been secured to the frames at low tide so that the rising water would have lifted it off the river bottom, then moved in stages to shallower areas. The final move might have been to one of the dry docks. The caption states that the incident occurred in April 1938.
Docks and quays were hives of activity with ships being unloaded and reloaded, and horse-drawn, motorised, and steam powered vehicles, and hand barrows too, constantly coming and going, and crowds of dockers stacking the loads on vehicles as they came off the boats. Because of a fascination with railways, of greatest interest for me was the railway system. Young people today, other than students of this aspect at that time who study it through reading history, looking at old films, photographs and maps, would find it hard to appreciate just how extensive the network of lines really was around docks.
|1950s. Note the Corporation destructor works at top left.|
Networks around loading and discharging points were constantly busy with wagons being shunted into position to be emptied or loaded, then hauled away in batches to adjacent marshalling yards by dock shunters like the small ex-Caley class 23 0-6-0 tank engines, or the larger classes 29 and 782. Govan Cross Goods Station was also quite extensive, with facilities to serve the surrounding industrial premises, some of which had their own sidings. Harland and Wolf's Clyde Foundry on the west side of Helen Street in Govan was known as `The Glasshouse'. It had a `kick-back' siding from the goods yard just glimpsed at bottom left, which ran across Helen Street near Loanbank Street seen at the nearest corner of the large foundry building in the aerial photo above.
A memory of a visit to KGV dock stands out. Sheds where cargo was stored awaiting transhipment were sometimes full, with the excess stacked outside against them clear of the railway and travelling crane tracks leaving sufficient room for other vehicles to pass. Sometimes there was so much that progress could be difficult even for walking, and on this occasion granda and I were approaching an area stacked up with wooden crates from which a fruity smell emanated, when a policeman came running up from behind. Passing us he went on ahead and turned into a recess in the stacks. After a few seconds he re-appeared holding by the scruffs of their necks two youngsters of about ten years of age, each of them with an armful of oranges and heading, I was certain, for the nearest jail.
Sentinel and Trojan steam powered lorries were seen occasionally in Govan Road proceeding to or from the docks, and sometimes one of them would draw up at a fire hydrant in our area to top up with water for the boiler. The quieter stretch in Renfrew Road between the Southern General Hospital and Hardgate Road was mainly used for this. These fascinating vehicles had the rounded open to the elements cabs, waist-high curved fronts and a roof like the shorter upper deck end of a tramcar. The boiler and firebox, tiny in scale compared with railway engines, was at the front of the cab, and the chimney from the firebox, which passed up through the roof and projected above it for a few inches, was capped with a counterweighted lid.
The photo of the Sentinel above was taken at a display of vintage buses & vehicles at the former of Glasgow Corporation's Knightswood bus garage in 1994. Steam from the boiler was piped to the engine situated below the load bed, and the drive was transmitted to the back axle by an enormous unguarded chain which ran round small-to-large sprockets. Memory of them is fleeting as they were being withdrawn and had disappeared from the roads by the end of WWII. The crews would have been glad to see them go, with their open cabs, especially the Trojans with their solid tyred wheels. They must have been most uncomfortable when running on cobbled roads, although the last of them had inflatable tyres. The disadvantages of the work involved with the boiler fire in the cab, the ash-pan of which can be seen low down at the front in the photo above. A man is dimly seen in the cab, and in front are grandchildren twins David & Vicky.
ORIGINAL CLYDE TUNNELS
Another place of interest I visited with Granda was original tunnels under the Clyde. There were three and access to them was in the still existing rotundas at Mavisbank on the south side, and Finnieston on the north bank seen in the ferry photo at the beginning of this part of the history. They were used by both pedestrians and vehicles. Long since disused and part filled-in, the tunnels provided the then unique thrill of walking under the river. The subway also went under the river but sitting in the train you were much less aware of it. Still used by businesses, the rotundas were built over wide round vertical shafts with 160 stairs for pedestrians. There were lifts for vehicles that were operated by power supplied from the nearby hydraulic power stations in the form of pressurised water which also powered the dockside cranes. Two of the tunnels were for traffic in each direction with a smaller one between them for pedestrians.
While walking down the stairs to the tunnel I saw a carter having to calm his agitated horse disturbed by the motion of the lift, standing up close and stroking its nose while keeping a firm grip on the bridle. Also still in existence, the power station building long since disused and the machinery removed, became the tram depot for storage and maintenance of the four trams which ran during the Garden Festival in 1988.
My attendance began at St Anthony's Infants in Harmony Row in the late summer of 1935. Living in Harmony Row next to the school in the 1900s, Mum and her sister Molly had received all their education there. St. Anthony's was the only catholic school in Govan until St. Constantine's and St. Savour's Primaries were built in the 1920s and St. Gerard's Secondary in 1937. My recollections of St Anthony's are slight due to absences caused by illnesses. But memories are of making things with pieces of cut-out coloured paper, drawing on thick dark paper with coloured crayons, and making shapes with plasticine. Using the sand tray is more clearly recalled. Small shallow trays about eight inches by six with a wooden border and a shiny tin base which contained fine sand were handed out by the teacher. When the tray was shaken gently a thin covering was spread evenly over the bottom. It was in one of these I learned to write figures and letters with a fingertip. After use a shake would provide a fresh surface which saved on the cost pencils and paper.
Another learning aid was the slate and pencil. It was a piece of ordinary roofing slate about ten inches by six, with working surfaces polished smooth. One side was blank while the other was lined off in squares for arithmetic. Each slate had a wooden frame with a hole in the centre of one end, the reason for which seemed to have been that, although collectively they were stored stacked up on a shelf they could also be hung on a hook or nail. The drawing implement was a thin rod somewhat thicker than ordinary pencil lead, made of some kind of brittle material that may have been pencil lead to which a hardener had been added, that had to be used with care. A fairly heavy pressure was required, but not too much or it was liable to make a screeching sound which could set teeth on edge, or it would break.
Why there were two different teaching aids for the same purpose isn't clear, but it may have been a time when a new system was being introduced before the older one was discarded. The older one would be the slate as the pencil wasn't very efficient, the marks it made being rather faint and were difficult to erase. Blackboard chalk would have been far better, but probably more expensive and certainly messier with the chalk dust it produced.
St Anthony's Infants/Primary School was also a junior secondary until St. Gerard's was built. It stood on a restricted site behind next to the church, and the playground area was small. Having been crammed into the space between the church (on the right above) and the adjacent Harmony Row tenement where the Chambers family lived caused the lower classrooms to seem dark and dingy. In those days, like most other regulations lighting standards would be less demanding than now, and this is probably why it gave the impression of a dull and gloomy place. Friendly and cosy are better words, as my single term there from August 1935 to September 1936 was quite happy, until ill health caused me to be confined for five months in hospital. Only one name stays with me from this school was Miss McGinty, a short stout 'ancient' lady probably in her early twenties. Visiting the building in 1990 after a redevelopment scheme had been carried out it was found to be no longer a school. It had been leased to the business community for use by small companies from one of which I required a service.
When walking into the building I became acutely aware of the historical significance of the place. Nearly fifty-four years had passed since I had enrolled, and eighty-three years since my mother began her education there. She and her younger sister Molly would undoubtedly have walked these corridors and sat in the very room I was about to enter. The family had lived in the previously mentioned tenement at number 16 Harmony Row, and the kitchen window of their house overlooked the school. Mum said her mother could watch the class room activity and see it breaking off at mid-day, so that she could have the dinner on the table ready for them.
A JOURNEY INTO TOWN
Travelling to new places was a craving I had on a level similar to and complementing the fascination for railways. From an early age there was a strong compulsion on any journey to look out from tram, bus, train, or river steamer at passing scenery. How people could possibly have the inclination to read or talk or play games during long journeys except during hours of darkness, use to puzzle me greatly. My initial awakening to travel was on the occasional trips by tram with Mum into town from Govan, and eventually every stage of the way became familiar. The journey was always referred to as 'going up the town' i.e. in the upriver direction. Even now, recollections of the thrill of anticipating features that interested me most as the journey progressed remain.
When boarding the tram at Howat Street, and later at Holmfauld Road after we moved to Linthouse, pleas were made to whoever I was with to go upstairs, then with the request granted, hurrying on up so that nothing was missed. When traveling from Linthouse, if I was quick enough and was able to get up before the tram moved beyond the allotments on Steven's shipyard ground, it was possible to see over the fence bordering the plots which gave a good view of any shipping movements on the river. The fence is seen in this 1960s photo above with the Govan Road/Cressy Street tenements behind. The railway line nearest to us in Linthouse was the Riverside Line on the north side of the river. It ran along a high embankment above South Street with Whiteinch Station perched on the bridge above Ferry Road, and although distant it was within sight from here too, and a plume of steam and smoke would indicate the presence of a train.
Beyond Drive Road, Elder Park and its pond were on the right, while on the left there were glimpses to be had over the wall bordering Fairfield's shipyard, with farther along the strange sight of what looked like a range of 'doocots' set in the pavement boundary wall of the yard. They were a number of narrow doorways to time-clock offices through which workers had to pass to clock on or off. Later, an extension was added to the west end of the office building which displaced the wall section with these entrances. Then there were the interesting stone carvings round the main entrance to the office building. In the years after 2000, changes of ownership of the yard had rendered the offices redundant and the building became disused and was boarded up. While efforts were being made to classify it for preservation as a grade one monument, part of it was being used by a conservation group.
During every working day and Saturday mornings until 1936, the Fairfield's steam engine performed shunting manoeuvres at the sidings inside the yard and on to the tram lines outside the main yard entrance. It then puffed along the tram lines on busy Govan Road the third of a mile with empty wagons two or three times between the yard and Govan Cross railway goods station and returned with full ones. It didn't have a bunker; its coal supply was carried in bags in the cab. At that time there was a high wall bordering the yard at the end of Howat Street and along Taransay Street, and living in the former street it was a constant frustration to see clouds of smoke and steam drifting over it. It was either the engine, or the railed steam crane passing out of sight with only its jib visible, working their way round the yard.
In 1936 an English Electric steeple-cab locomotive was acquired for this work. It too travelled from the yard main gate two or three times a day (below), going to the goods station with up to half-a-dozen empty wagons and returning with loads delivered there from the steel works. I never found out if the steam engine was retained to work in the rest of the yard. If not overhead cables would have had to be installed for the electric loco. The EE locomotive's cab height was much lower than the trams, and it had a tall bow current collector similar to those on single deck trams of the time, to pick up power from the overhead supply. When passing by it was hoped that the main door would be open which allowed at least a glimpse of any movements taking place inside with the possibility of briefly seeing one of the engines working. When the trams were withdrawn, to complete the power supply, the single overhead cable had to be changed for twin cables to allow the locomotive to continue working. The bow collector was changed for the twin booms that can be seen on the locomotive in the goods station on a 1960s a photo farther on.
|Govan Road at Howat Street 1950|
We then passed the Lyceum Music Hall before it burned down in 1936, and after it was rebuilt and reopened as a cinema in 1938 as seen in 1950s photo next below. The café with that name seen in the third photo stood opposite. The next landmark to watch for was the `Black Man' statue of Sir William Pearce, one of the pioneers of shipbuilding in Govan, at the Burleigh Street gusset.
|1950s Note the nicely curtained window of the house above.|
The photo above is looking from Burleigh Street to The Cross with the UF church the Rountree ancestors were members of in the background. We were much closer to the river here below, and although the view of it was very restricted, there was the possibility of catching a fleeting glimpse down Water Row of a passing ship.
(Note in the distance to the right of centre the 'crane' seen in the image with the yellow Mini in the vehicular ferries section.)
|Greenhaugh Street with the canopy over the entrance to the subway station c1920.|
Note the two pubs here with a close between them.
|Morrice's newsagent 1930s|
It was a busy newsagent at the Greenhaugh Street corner that also sold Hornby trains and other models, and the group seem to be waiting at an invisible tram stop! The open space on the left of the shop is the third of three entrances to Govan Cross LMS Goods Station, which opened for passengers and goods in 1868. It's also part-seen on the right in the Chris Fletcher sketch below. The line into the goods yard, which came off the tram tracks in the sketch passed away through the west gate to be obscured among the many sidings.
| Of the tram in the sketch above, the number 7 will travel between Bellahouston to Millerston. 1950s|
In this Chris Fletcher sketch the locomotive has the same type of elongated pantograph as Glasgow Corporation's single deck trams.
In the above photo the English Electric steeple-cab locomotive with its train of wagons is about to turn into the goods station where the man on the right is setting the track points for it.
| The number 4 tram is Renfrew bound. 1949|
Of the crowd walking on the pavement in the above image, taken from the rear of another westbound tram, the younger ones will be pupils heading home after 4pm from St Gerard's Secondary School in Southcroft Street about three streets beyond the VP sign. In the 1940s I would have been one of them. Note the Govan Cross Goods Station sign standing up in front of the light patch of wall of The Plaza cinema with the station weigh-bridge office behind it. The tracks going off to the right, seen in the previous photo and here, were used by Fairfield's goods train. Govan Road here was at a slightly lower level and the view of activity within the goods station itself was very restricted, but there was still the possibility of seeing a movement on the second extension, to Harland's, another line of rails coming out of the station.
Fairfield's EE locomotive, seen here stopped in the goods yard in the early 1960s, took its power from the same single wire overhead supply for the trams with the return through the rails. When the tram system was removed twin wires were installed and the locomotive had the two booms fixed to collect the current.
An occasion is recalled when passing the goods station of being excited to see a train of passenger coaches at the platform and a crowd of people looking around, and me trying unsuccessfully to find out what was happening. Perhaps it was a local works outing, or, if such a thing existed then, a visit by a group of railway enthusiasts
There was a second extension of track to Harland's shipyard, another line of rails that came out of the station. The yard's main erection shed was directly opposite here, and their branch emerged from the middle one of three goods yard gates to pass across Govan Road into it, the rails making a 90° crossing with the tram lines. Harland & Wolff's engine (above) was a battery powered English Electric built steeple-cab locomotive. Note that the pole carrying overhead cables seen here were for the Fairfield locomotive which used the adjacent line. The Harland's plater's shed was to the west and this line continued on through the eastern section and crossed Water Row into it. Passenger services from Govan Cross station ceased in 1921, the two platforms of which were visible on the west side of the goods yard until it closed in the 1970s, although they were still in use occasionally up to the '30s for special excursion traffic. Govan Road was at a slightly lower level and the view into the goods station itself was restricted.
|1950s. The Plaza cinema was on the east side of the goods yard. The policeman in the white coat was on traffic control duty. Not much for him to do then!|
A few hundred yards farther on, after scanning Orkney Street for activity at the Fire Station and the Police Station in Neptune Street, the next place of interest was the dry dock or docks as there were three of them, two of which have been filled in in recent times. The largest one lying nearest Govan Road is still exists but is in a derelict condition. When approaching them, of particular interest was to see if there was there ships in for repair and is there a big one? From the top deck of the tram everything could be seen over the high fence, except when there was a big boat in the nearest basin. Graving Dock No. 3 (below) was of sufficient length to take two medium size ships at the same time and occasionally both sections were occupied. It had a dividing door at mid-point, which allowed the outer basin to be flooded and a movement to take place without interrupting work going on in the inner section. But two ships in No. 3 dock (below), interesting though they were and they were always examined closely, created the frustrating effect of obscuring the wider view of other perhaps more exciting sights beyond.
Some time in the future the last dock might be filled in and the ground re-developed. However, efforts are being made to preserve it to hold as an exhibit one or more of the old interesting Clyde-built ships that exist and are still in a condition to be moved. If that aim could be achieved it would make an excellent foundation for a dedicated museum to display a history of shipbuilding on the Clyde, with the transport museum on the north side of the river.
Beyond the dry-docks the road was bordered on the dock side for the rest of the way round them by a high brick wall, and to see anything other than masts, funnels and cranes you had to be on the tram's upper deck. The road made a sharp right turn then passed round the three sides of Prince's Dock, a distance of just under a mile. Many ships sailing out east were crewed by Lascars from the Indian sub-continent. When their ships were in dock, during their free time they tried to acquire cheap domestic or trade items to carry home, heading usually for the 'barras', Paddy's Market, flea markets and junk shops located around the city. It was common to see groups of them returning loaded up with second hand domestic items such as small furniture, bedsteads and bundles of clothing. Workers in the Far East were known by the derogative term 'coolies' and this stretch of road was known to the locals as 'Coolies' Mile'.
|Number 3 drydock|
|Note that where it says Renfrew Road at the bottom of this sketch, that was its name in 1897, and the dark strips are cargo storing sheds. Canting was the term use when turning ships|
For me the problem with docks generally and this area in particular was that there was always too much to see, which lead to much frantic scanning needing a lot of concentration in case anything of particular interest was missed in the movements of ships, cranes, interesting road vehicles or most of all on the dockside railway. The docks held my interest so much that many years passed before I became aware of the magnificent building below at the second, left hand bend, Old Govan Town Hall (below) the location of which is seen in the map next below lying between Govan Road, Summerton Road and Merryland Street.
Histories of the period record that it was a time of depressed trade. But what is remembered of the docks and the river then is that they appeared to be busy and full of bustle and movement. The quays seemed to be constantly lined with ships, with tugs manoeuvring inwards the latest arrival or another which had completed loading being taken downstream. Of particular interest was the ship coaling stage installed in 1903 on the south quay in the canting basin area of Prince's Dock known as the mineral quay.
The stage was a tower standing at the edge of the quay with a lift and a tilting mechanism, the platform of which had a turntable on to which wagons of coal were propelled one at a time. Wagon bodies were built with one end that opened as a flap hinged at the top. At ground level on the quayside a loaded wagon was placed on the turntable and elevated and turned through 90? with the opening end facing the ship. With the wagon securely fixed to the platform, ships moored there had their bunkers filled with coal by having the catches of the wagon released and the platform tilted for the load to be deposited into it down a chute with a thunderous roar and clouds of dust. Elsewhere in this book I've written about being frightened during thunderstorms. Female members of the family used to explain the thunder as 'Ach it's jist the boats gettin' coal'
Before the platform returned to ground level for the next loaded wagon, the empty one was returned by gravity down an inclined way built partly against the retaining wall on Govan Road to the sidings at the back of the quay. Old Govan Town Hall is glimpsed here in the centre background. Note in the bottom right-hand corner of the photo the wagon with CR on the side, indicating that it had belonged to the Caledonian Railway Co. Hamilton section prior to 1923, and the contents came from a pit in that area. The coal hoist was demolished in 1930. Note also the bollards fixed at ground level with many other placed strategically around. The rail tracks in this area were so congested that it made shunting movements difficult, so with a cable attached to an engine at one end and looped round a bollard to otherwise inaccessible wagons at the other, made most movements possible.
On the stretch of Govan Road which passes round Prince's Dock when eastbound, where it turns left at the third of the four corners of the dock at Harvie Street Lorne School, there was a bridge that carried it over the concealed dock access railway. The line built in 1904 was in a cutting that ran from the Ibrox direction, and beyond the bridge and looking back, or forward if you were going west, from the tram, Govan Tram Depot could be glimpsed. Located in Brand Street it was near Harvie Street, and as the one we were travelling on went round the curve, if you were in a convenient seat, by peering past the advertising hoardings which bordered the top of the cutting, a glimpse into the depot yard might be obtained.
My interest in trams almost equalled that of railways, and although most of the 'cars on depot were inside the shed there were always a few to be seen with perhaps one or two of slightly different design or in unfamiliar colours. However, because of the awkward position of the depot shed with its
open end close to the adjacent tenement building, the view was very restricted. There was also the interesting layout of tramlines giving access to the depot, and the branch through Lorne Street to join the line in Paisley Road West.
|Lorne School 1950s|
Sometimes, depending on which service the car we were travelling on, a number 12 at the peak-hour for workers service to Mount Florida for example, ran via Lorne Street and along Paisley Road West, then it turned right into Admiral Street at the Toll. But it was much more interesting to go the other way to pass the south bank tunnel rotunda, and this was one of the most frustrating parts of the journey. Much of the dock railway was out of sight even from the top deck, because they lay at a lower level than the road and were mostly hidden behind tall advertising hoardings, fencing and bushes. Still prevalent today, this habit of long ago of hiding the most interesting views of railways and industrial sites behind hoardings, trees and bushes was a never ending source of irritation. Who on earth, I used to wonder in my juvenile years, would rather look at advertisements than docks and ships and trains?
Views of the dock basins and railways were fleeting glimpses through gaps in the hoardings at both of the corners here. But most frustrating of all was that the dock access line and marshalling yard in the cutting was completely out of sight, and if the amount of smoke and steam rising up from both sides of the bridge in Govan Road at Lorne School was anything to go by, there always seemed to be much activity there. This yard is seen low down in the third image map above.
Beyond the dock, having rounded the fourth bend and heading east again, the tunnel rotunda near the bottom of Marine Street was the next thing of interest. A goods tramway ran along the road parallel with Govan Road next to the quayside sheds at Mavisbank and Springfield Quays to look out for, in the hope of seeing a shunting movement. This line was part of a loop formed by Prince's Dock in the west and the General Terminus lines to the east. An engine coming in from one side, from the section of line at Shields Road that was known to railwaymen as `The Burma Road', could work its way round from, say, Shields Road low level on the dock-side tramway, and go out via the dock to the line in the cutting mentioned in the previous paragraph, to join the Glasgow/Paisley line at Ibrox.
On Govan Road, before reaching Paisley Road Toll Thomson's large musical instruments showroom was on the right. They made and sold pianos and stocked other musical instruments and I had an unfulfilled longing to visit to them. Beyond the Toll, Paisley Road crossed the bridge over the General Terminus line, that name puzzled me until I found that it was built around 1840 by an early railway company, the Pollok & Govan for general cargo. It was another location full of frustration because the interesting sights extended to both sides of the bridge, one of which was the marshalling yard at a lower level lying on the right between Admiral Street and Seaward Street. I tended to be slightly neurotic in case something important was missed on one side, while I was looking out on the other. It was rarely possible to dash from one side of the car to the other, or even to look by standing up to see past other passengers as the trams were invariably busy.
The next place of interest was in Paisley Road, a stonemason's yard at an old villa type house set back on the left side in a gap between tenements almost opposite Weir Street. It was probably a surviving country mansion of a landowner of the eighteenth or early nineteenth century. Tucked away in an outside corner of the porch of the house there was a large object which seemed to be of stone, but really must have been cast in cement, maybe fondue, of a model of rounded shape that looked like a big dolls house. It had the appearance of a kind of stylised Walt Disney's Snow White's castle. Then there was The West Riding Wallpaper Co's shop just opposite which had a big frontage. Both lay approximately where the support pillars of the Kingston Bridge now stand. The masts and funnels of boats rising above the sheds lining Springfield Quay and Kingston Dock became visible. The tram ran into Morrison and Nelson Streets, turned into Commerce Street and crossed the river over King George V Bridge.
Finally, before reaching the town centre there was another frustrating sight. KGV bridge over the river had been built in the late 1920s, and as evidence of this a garage business, which occupied the south west corner site in Commerce Street at the corner of Clyde Place for many years up to the 1970s, had the sign `Newbridge Garage' on it. When crossing from the south side in an age that was decades before the introduction of one-way streets system, to the left here the river was in full view of its upper reaches for shipping access, but still with some movements to observe. Although boats coming this far up were smaller, they included steamers which brought on thoughts and memories of holiday trips downriver. The expression 'doon the watter' was unknown then so it must be an invention of a later age. But the most frustrating sight of the entire journey was produced by what was visible on the right.
I knew that the bridge built by the Caledonian Railway and opened c1901, the massive stone piers and orderly forest of girders of the underside of which was the only parts visible, held one of the most interesting railway vistas in Scotland, where famous express trains hauled by the largest and most powerful engines of the latest design were to be seen. And here I was passing glumly by unable to see anything except clouds of smoke and steam. Catching only fleeting glimpses of gantries with vast arrays of signals, any of which in the `off' position might be signalling the arrival or departure of one of the many important trains I longed to see, perhaps hauled by the new streamlined LMS locomotive CORONATION SCOT seen at Polmadie Depot (below).
I did not know that only local trains to the Cathcart Circle and Paisley and beyond crossed over on this side of the bridge, the really interesting long distance traffic was on the far side on the original (c1880) bridge. The old narrow bridge was dismantled in the late 1960s leaving the piers which can be seen there today. Other than within the station itself, the place to catch a glimpse of the expresses was from the bridge on the east side, but the two-way road traffic system of the time meant that our journeys to and from town took us only over KGV Bridge. Consequently Glasgow Bridge (or Jamaica Bridge as it was sometimes known) was unknown territory.
Our destination was usually the Argyle Street shops so we left the tram in Oswald Street opposite Wilson's Zoo, which was owned by Harry Benson whose son became a renowned photographer who specialised in taking portraits of the rich and famous. The zoo was another place worth a visit, but I only succeeded in doing so once in the late 1940s, not long before it moved out of town to a location beyond Milngavie for a short time then transferred to Calderpark. It survived there for a few decades until the manager died, after which it succumbed to falling numbers of visitors, and legislation covering the welfare of animals meant that it became too expensive to keep it going.
We then walked along Argyle Street under the `Heilanman's Umbrella' bridge to the sound of the trains rumbling overhead. The name derived from the fact that when the station was built, it became a sheltered meeting place for people of highland origin. The question now is 'why did I not ask granda about visiting Central Station or any one of the three other terminal stations on our many outings together?' The others were St Enoch, Queen Street, and Buchanan Street - they would surely have been ideal places for us.
AN INTEREST IN OTHER REGIONS
Travelling by train to the east coast with my Mother on one occasion, it might have been to Aberdeen, but could have been to either Dundee or Arbroath, and going via the Forth and Tay bridges was an unforgettable experience which provided ample material to impress or bore my friends with. Leaving from Queen Street station, the journey involved changing trains at a station somewhere to the south of the Forth Bridge, and searching the map in an attempt to identify it now it was probably Falkirk. Somehow, a picture of that station remains with greater clarity than the actual crossings of the bridges. Situated on a curve it had a high stone embankment wall opposite the eastbound platform, which gave a restricted view of the line and its surroundings, confining it to within the station itself. I certainly wasn't bored waiting for the train that was to take us onwards to pass over the world famous bridges.
What stood out here was seeing trains with engines and carriages of unusual design. It is significant that in my juvenile state of ignorance I was able to recognise but not identify features belonging to the other railway company. On the south side of Glasgow the trains were all of the LMSR, the London Midland & Scottish Railway, while here it was the LNER, the London & North Eastern Railway. Perhaps Mum, knowing my love of anything connected with railways, arranged the journey by that route for my benefit and to see the bridges. Arbroath was a particular favourite because of Kerr's Miniature Railway which ran, and still does, along the sea front south of the town between the beach and the main line north from Dundee, and it now has a web site.
HOLIDAYS IN ABERDEEN
They were the first holidays - others in the late 1930s are described in another section. My parents almost always took their summer holidays away from home. For three years we went to Aberdeen, 1932, 1933 and 1935, and there are enduring and fond memories of the sights, sounds, and smells of that city in 1935, as I was old enough to take in and remember more of the details. The pals I played with seemed less fortunate as none of them got to travel such a great distance to what seemed then to be an exotic place.
A feeling of importance was induced in being able to boast to them about it because they, if their parents desired or were able to afford a holiday at all, only frequented relatively nearby Ayr, Saltcoats, Largs or Helensburgh, places where we might visit on a summer evening bus run. One boy was pleased to be going to Rutherglen by tram for his holidays, while I could say we travelled on a single-deck Alexander's Bluebird bus for all of 150 miles. The bluebird was then the emblem of the Scottish Motor Traction (SMT) Company's long distance coaches, and it was displayed on each side and at the rear of their vehicles. To a small boy who enjoyed every minute of it the journey seemed endless, lasting from early morning to late afternoon, but decades were to pass before I began to realise that few people were interested in the same things as me.
Times spent there were enjoyable and memories of Aberdeen itself are prominent. They include travelling by tramcar from the town centre to the beach, passing on the way within sight of an amusement park which had what we knew as a scenic railway, now called the roller coaster. This 'switchback' was one of only a handful I ever saw, and until old age began to catch up with me, regretted never having had the opportunity to take a ride on one.
As well as being a busy commercial city and fishing port, Aberdeen was then a very popular holiday resort, and during good weather in summer the beach was crowded. There was a long stretch of sand that was ideal for bathing and building sand castles and a promenade decorated with flags and bunting. Booths sold ice cream and buckets and spades etc., and a wide grassy strip behind the prom was ideal for games. The postcard photo below shows the beach scene at that time. The row of huts on wheels at the waters edge could be hired individually by bathers to change in. At lower centre there's an ice cream booth and probably a punch & Judy show.
Farther north there were dunes of large tufted marram grass that were perfect for hiding games with other children. Like other people's childhood memories, mine are of weather which always seemed to be warm and sunny, and this probably contributes to the favourable impression retained of the place. No doubt there were plenty of cold wet and miserable days as well, but they never seem to figure in the recollections of Aberdeen or other favourite places in later years.
At the height of the season during Glasgow Fair, crowds of holiday makers drifted back and forth between town and beach, a distance of perhaps a mile or two, and a frequent service of trams operated to transport them. Towards the beach beyond the scenic railway the tramlines curved to the north at the Beach Pavilion Theatre, where popular Scots comedians Harry Gordon and Will Fyffe (below) were regularly in the programme. The lines ran parallel with the promenade for a short distance. Layout of track at this terminus held endless fascination for me because of its seeming complexity. If it is remembered correctly it fanned out into a number of loops and sidings with crossovers to cope with the busy summer traffic. There was also something I hadn't seen before, crush barriers to control queues.
During times spent on the beach, as well as paddling in the sea and building sand castles, we watched the many fishing boats, of which there seemed to have been an irregular procession constantly entering or leaving the harbour. The boats departing sailed out into the North Sea and, depending on atmospheric visibility, could be observed until they disappeared over the horizon. They returned all directions, and entered the harbour to unload their catches. Because of the method of fishing they were known as drifters, and had a very distinctive appearance which denoted their period, small steam engined boats with a wheelhouse and tall thin black funnel at the stern from which clouds of black smoke constantly poured. Just aft of the funnel there was a mast with a sail which might have started life any colour, but its position meant that it soon became black. Seeing photographs and film of them now carries me back with a powerful surge of nostalgia to these times. Of the photos below, the one on the left was taken by a street photographer; the other one is of Dad and me on the beach with the attaché case that's used now for holding the family keep-sakes.
Another fascinating place we visited was the fish market and harbour. From late morning the area was in constant turmoil, with boxes of fish being craned ashore and barrowed into the quayside shed, where they were laid out to be auctioned, and boats, having been replenished with empty boxes, moved away. But the market opened very early in the morning to dispose of the previous days catch and most of the fish sales were over by the time we were able to go there. The busiest time was during the herring fishing season. The coast south of the harbour, Girdleness lighthouse where the River Dee flowed out into the North Sea, was a favourite place for picnics. The River Don was about a half-mile away to the north, where there were places with interesting names like Hazelhead, Bridge of Don and Torry. There are family group photos taken at Girdleness where there was a lighthouse. Lighthouses were ineffective in foggy weather and in the days before radar they had fog horns, usually mounted on the roof of a separate building that housed the equipment which produced the compressed air for the giant horn. It was heard on one occasion, and the sound it produced would have wakened the dead. Duthie Park was another favourite place we visited often, with its large pond and seasonal resident swans and paddle-boats for youngsters to amuse themselves on.
| Both 1933|
An unforgettable feature of Aberdeen was the smell from the gas-works. In the days before the natural North Sea type became available, gas was produced from coal, and although there was a gasometer storage tank at Ibrox there was no gas works in Govan. The nearest production plant to us, Tradeston Gas Works between Kilbirnie Street and St. Andrew's Road near Eglinton Toll, was quite distant and the strong methane-sulphurous smell produced in the making of the gas had never before been encountered. Aberdeen gas works was situated behind the beach amusement park, so the smell was very noticeable in its vicinity if the breeze was from a southerly direction. As coal gas is no longer produced that smell is never encountered now, but until North Sea gas arrived it was very noticeable in Eglinton Street, when it drifted over from Tradeston when the wind was from the west. Eglinton Toll was passed regularly when travelling into town after we moved to Pollok, and each time the smell was encountered there, or anywhere else in later years, it immediately carried me back to Aberdeen and the happy holidays spent there.
On journeys across Central Scotland and Ayrshire the 1930s, among the interesting sights then visible in the countryside were what were called bings, artificial hills which were the disposable product of the coalmining industry. There being so many of them in some areas, coal mine winding machinery structures tended to merge into the landscape, but what caught my eye because of their height was the bings. They were once a common sight across much of Fife, central and south west Scotland as conical hills with seemingly precise geometric shapes. I used to look at them and wonder how, amid landscapes of such lumpy irregular outline, they came to have this shape, and what the machinery at the top was for. Apart from their shape, what made them look natural was that in most cases the older ones were covered with vegetation so that they looked as if they were part of the original landscape.
The possibility that they were man made did not then occur to me. Most coal deposits in this country are narrow, two to three feet thick is about average, but the mining operation has to cut out working room of six to seven feet, which means that as well as coal, even after back-filling there is still much surplus spoil which to avoid clogging up the workings has to be taken up to the surface and dumped.
A pit is a vertical shaft that has been excavated down to the coal layers where there was sometimes more than one of them, access to which was by a cable operated lift. The pithead tower built over the shaft was a truncated pylon, with what looked like a pair of giant bicycle wheels mounted side-by-side about ten feet apart on an axle-shaft at the top. A steel cable attached to the lift cabin in the shaft ran over one of the 'wheels', then passed down into a shed. It then went round another wheel in the shed, the driving wheel powered by a steam engine, then went back over the other wheel on the pylon and down the shaft where it was attached to a counterweight. This meant that when the lift was in operation the wheels on the pylon counter-rotated, and the lift cabin and the counterweight passed each other at the mid point of the shaft.
A mine is a shaft, the angle of which can vary according to geological requirements, down which a narrow gauge railway was laid, usually cable operated on slopes, while the much less often encountered horizontal shaft into a hillside is called an adit. The narrow gauge railway laid down the sloping shaft was most often too dangerous for carrying underground workers, and was normally only used to carry out coal and spoil, so that mining operations had both types of access. Spoil and coal were brought up separately in tub wagons on the mine railway and the spoil was dumped on nearby ground set aside for it. As the mound grew, a railway laid on the side of the bing was extended ever upwards having a slope at an angle of around 45 degrees, until in some cases it was two or three hundred feet or more in height.
As the mining industry declined, a later age found that these hills of spoil contained material which was useful for the construction industry, in particular for road making and repairing. On journeys around the country in the sixties it was noticed that some roads were being resurfaced with a reddish material, referred to as `red blaze'. Later it became apparent the term was red blaes, which came from a certain area, Midlothian I think, using material recovered from bings in that region. Over a period of twenty years from the 1960s virtually all of those conical `hills' which intrigued me have gone, with much of the material used in particular during construction of the motorways. When the section of the M8 between Hillington and Renfrew was being built a depot was set up near Hillington, and train loads of spoil from Fife were transported here to be used as a base for the carriageways, part of which was laid on what had been the main runway of Renfrew Airport.
A RAILWAY EXPERIENCE
An eventful journey by train occurred on a Sunday excursion trip to the east coast, an 'excursion' being a day return at a special reduced fare to popular destinations that were advertised in the press. Where that destination was is forgotten, but the return journey began late and due to a number of delays along the way the train fell more and more behind time. We had been due back at Buchanan Street Station around 10 pm, and as it was midsummer we should have been arriving back in Govan as darkness was falling. The train journey was punctuated by long periods stationary at signals, and after a particularly long wait, with much grousing among the passengers, the train started up with a jerk and everyone cheered - which ceased abruptly when it was realised we were moving back. After a short distance we halted again and there was another lengthy wait, during which there were other movements on the main line, heard but invisible in the darkness as other trains appeared to be passing to go on ahead of us.
What stays most clearly in my memory about this episode was that the other passengers seemed a decent lot, and full of concern about me being kept out late for it was past midnight, obviously well past my bedtime. If the truth could have been told, bedtime went for nothing as I was in my favourite environment. Eventually we got going again and arrived back at Buchanan Street after 1 am, but having fallen asleep and was being carried there is no further memory of events that night. Taxis were still outside our scope, so I am curious about what transport? Were night services operated then by the trams, or did the railway company provide after hours transport for delayed passengers?
With later experiences of railways, it is interesting to speculate and try to interpret what happened that night. The incident may have happened between Perth and Stirling. The sequence of events seem to indicate that a breakdown had occurred ahead of us, causing traffic to be held at signals along the section, with everything coming to a stand until the controller could sort things out. Our train may have been at Auchterarder where there was a loop and sidings, and it was into one of the latter our train was reversed, as the loop was probably occupied by another delayed train, and the movement on the main linen that passed on ahead may have been a light engine sent to rescue the breakdown. Alternatively, perhaps the reason for the hold-up was at Greenhill or beyond, a points failure perhaps, and the line was cleared by our shunting movement to allow trains turning east at Larbert to go past, the line in the Edinburgh direction being clear.
Of many sights and sounds connected with the working of railways which disappeared over the years, well remembered, curious, and one of the most dangerous jobs was that of wheel-tapper. A worker was positioned at all major terminal passenger stations, who walked along the side of stationary trains carrying a torch, a canvas sack and a long shafted hammer with a small head. The long shaft was necessary for checking the wheels nearest the platform. His task was then regarded as vital, to test each wheel on all medium and long-distance trains to make sure the treads had not worked loose, and the wheels themselves were securely fixed on their axles. He did this by hitting them with the hammer which caused a clean sharp metallic sound, except on the rare occasion when he found a faulty one giving off a dull sound.
My family were familiar with the products of all the cafes and chip shops in our part of Govan. The favourite ice cream was made in a cafe in Golspie Street, which seems to have been operated by two Italian families. Notarianni's was midway up the lower half of the street on the east side opposite the Salvation Army hall. The other family connected with the shop was A. Fella (true!). In the 1930s their ice cream was outstanding, to the extent that from Howat Street we would pass by other cafes nearby in Govan Road in the vicinity of Golspie Street to buy the favourite. Ice cream cones which were called pokey-hats, and wafers were known as sliders, but perhaps that was an east coast term used by my grandparents. Ice cream then was invariably vanilla flavoured.
Like most such establishments Notarianni's was well run, and they operated a couple of ice cream carts. Some carts then were completely open, simply large push-along barrows with a roofing cover supported by four pillars, and in season other vendors on tricycles were still quite common. The big cool-box of the trike was mounted over the axle of the front wheels with the whole assembly pivoting for steering which was controlled by a long bar handle fixed to the box in front of the rider. Other simple horse-drawn carts in which the vendor stood were windowless, but Noterianni's appeared to be of the latest design and was then regarded as ultra-modern. The vehicle was totally enclosed with sliding windows at the sides, much like modern ice cream vans, but this one was horse drawn. They later acquired a motor van with a long engine bonnet from the cab forward resembling a Rolls Royce and may have been one, but I am probably wrong about this; it is likely to have been something much more humble such as a van body mounted on a light Albion chassis. It is only now, after more than 75 years I see in the photo below the name of the café was Lyric.
Notarianni's vehicle had an external decor similar to that of the shop, which was tastefully set out in pale yellow, with narrow vertical black bars from a horizontal line at waist level down. The photo below of the horse drawn cart at the top of Drive Road was acquired many years after this description was written & I'm surprised to note that it is fairly accurate. Mum had a brown pottery jug of about two pints capacity which held up to six scoops which was always used when buying ice cream by the scoop. Although a bit chipped towards the end of its life, the jug survived use in kitchen and kitchenette into the 1980s, and was forever associated in my mind with the delicious product of the Lyric Cafe, because even after it had been washed countless times over the years the smell of the ice cream seemed to linger in it. During these early years the contents of the jug had to be finished before it melted completely as no fridge or freezer was acquire until the 1950s.
FAMILY DOCTOR AND PRE-ANTIBIOTIC TREATMENT
Our family doctor was Dr. Cummings. His consulting and waiting rooms (surgery is a modern term) was an adapted room-and-kitchen dwelling one stair up in the single close in the tenement block in Govan Road between McKechnie Street and Wanlock Street. It's seen at the lamp post on the right in the photo below. He had a good reputation, was well regarded in Govan, and is recalled as resembling my paternal grandfather in appearance in portraits during his later years. Practices in working class areas then were operated often by a single individual, there was no nurse or secretary in attendance, nor was there an appointments system. Waiting rooms were usually busy and anyone coming in for a consultation quickly learned to ask who was last in, then watch for them being called. On finishing a consultation the doctor went to the waiting room door and called out 'next please?' Doctors with practices then had consultations in the mornings and early evenings then made house calls between those times. In recent times the house-calls function has been abandoned so that anyone in need of a medical service has to call an emergency phone number for advice. Only if the adviser considers that it is really necessary will an ambulance be called to take them to the casualty department of the nearest hospital.
A faint recollection remains of the waiting room with Spartan décor, a naked light bulb overhead and rows of plain wooden kitchen-type seats. In those days doctors seemed to have a standard list of questions which were asked sometimes even before you had a chance to say why you were there. They were preoccupied with bowels and temperature. The first question for patients was `Have you had a bowel movement today?' posed as a thermometer was placed in your mouth! These observations are of course personal, in that when I attended Cummings knew well enough my long-term chest problem, and the thermometer would be required anyway. But bowels? It was as if he didn't trust parents to keep track of that function of their offspring.
Before he retired Cummings had a house built in Mosspark Boulevard overlooking the private tramway track near the corner of Bellahouston Drive, but he died within a couple of years of retiring and moving there. In connection with the Garden Festival of 1988, a display to mark the 50th anniversary of the Empire Exhibition was set up. Among the exhibits were fine aerial photographs of the exhibition, one of which taken from the south- west shows two newly completed houses in this location.
The worst illness to affect me at the age of around four was caused by three events which occurred at the same time. Had any one of them been absent I would have avoided most if not all of the subsequent chest ailments. The sequence which led up to it was my mother's parents came originally from Dundee, and members of their families living there would occasionally come to Glasgow to visit them. Easter was late that year of 1935, falling around the middle of April, and Grandma's younger sister and her husband had come for the holiday weekend, bringing with them a model yacht as a present for me. I was recovering from measles, but remember clearly the day they arrived and being taken to see them at Hutton Drive.
Entering the house the first thing that caught my eye was the yacht. Including the jib it was about two feet long and was a wee boy's dream, having a single tall mast with white fore and mainsails. It had been placed in a prominent position in the kitchen sitting upright across the top of an empty white enamelled pail to accommodate the keel. At first the uncle and aunt joked about it, saying things like `Some lucky boy is going to get that boat as a present, I wonder who he can be,' and `Do you know anybody who would like it?' and so on, until exasperation began to show on my face. After a time they relented and said it was for me. Having watched with envy as others sailed their yachts in Elder Park pond I wanted to try out mine, but was in the recovery stage from the illness. The following day was one of bright sunshine but piercing cold east wind. I pestered mum to take me to the pond so much that, against her better judgement she would say in later years, she agreed to do so `just for a wee while'.
Encountered together those three things, the measles, the yacht and the cold weather, were what brought me to within a whisker of losing my life. Had any one of them been missing I might not have had the serious illness. During the days following a cold became bronchitis, then pneumonia. Measles itself isn't a deadly affliction but the recovery stage leaves the body very susceptible to other much more serious diseases, and long-distance hindsight indicated that it would have been prudent for Mother to keep me indoors for at least another week. She said years later what her mother had said about me. 'Tha' buoy'll never live tae scratch a grey heid!' I'm still here long past the age at which she passed away.
Since then chest illnesses have afflicted me during most winters for most of my life. Although it was probably the best available, the primitive treatment by today's standards administered in early years for bronchitis and bronchial pneumonia did not prevent bronchi and lung tissue damage, which left a greater susceptibility to bouts of bronchitis each winter for much of my life. Before antibiotics became available after 1945 the main treatments for chest infections were poulticing, applying a rub of camphorated oil to chest and back, and being dosed with sweet tasting syrup-of-squills soothing cough mixture and ipecacuanha wine. To an adult, poulticing would have been an unpleasant experience, but for a child of my age it was terrifying.
Poultices were made up using a particularly glutinous substance similar in consistency to plaster called kaolin, now identified as china clay. The kaolin came in a tin which was warmed up by standing it in a pan of water on the stove. When it was hot, a piece of lint about 6" X 12" was laid out and held down by the corners, then the kaolin was spread on one half and the other half was folded over to form a sandwich poultice. Two of them were made up a quickly as possible to preserve the heat, then clapped on chest and back as hot as could be borne, and bound up with crepe bandages wound round the upper torso as tight as possible leaving only enough slack for breathing. That treatment seems futile now and gives the impression it was done only to induce in the sufferer the idea that some effective cure was being applied, really as a kind of placebo to create confidence in the young or ignorant. In the past an expression used to describe an unpleasant or ignorant person was that he or she 'was a poultice!'
Preparation of the poultice seemed to be carried out quite deliberately in front of the sufferer the suggestion that they would surely be grateful for the efforts being made to cure them. But the truth was that it was mental torture followed by physical agony, the judging of temperature of the poultice tending to be rather on the hot side. My mother said in later years this went on three times a day for about three weeks. Considered now, it was the most severe illness to afflict me during those early years that might even have been made worse by the poultices. However, it is realised that these thoughts are being set down in ignorance of whatever curative properties the kaolin did have, and if it hadn't been used I might not be around today.
An event remembered quite clearly and among the very earliest of my recollections, is that when recovering from this extended period of being bedridden, truly confined that is, it was found that I could not stand on my legs. Mum proved to be correct when she said, though probably in jest, `You'll need to learn to walk again,' because it took a day of recovery and effort before I was able to get about without support and holding on to the furniture.
Fog used to be a regular feature of our winters, and while weather patterns have been less severe since the 1960s, most of the prime causes of fog, smoke and dust particles present in the atmosphere have been eradicated. We seldom see fog now and never experience smog. It may not be possible today for young people born after the 1960s to visualise what an atmospheric pea-souper was like, but this is what had to be endured occasionally during calm weather each winter. Every house had at least one coal-burning fire, and industry, such as Dixon's Blazes ironworks south of Hutchesontown, Tennant's chemical works at Sighthill where there were the now demolished blocks of multi-storey flats, and the Beardmore works at Shettleston, were only three of many old-style large industrial complexes continually pouring out smoke and ash from their furnace chimneys into the atmosphere.
Other contributors to the pollution no longer around today were foundries, steam railway engines, gas works, electricity generating stations, ships and shipyards, tar boilers (known as torry bilers) used by road-works gangs, steam road rollers for road mending, and traction engines. There was much other heavy industry around the city such as engineering foundries which burned coal in large quantities for heat to produce power, and all the larger ones had their own in coal burning boiler houses. The following may be the correct description to apply to an ordinance that saved the lives of a large number of people including me. Before it became fully recognised as being seriously harmful, smoke pollution in the atmosphere in winter aggravated chest ailments until it was almost completely eliminated during the following decades.
The smog problem wasn't eradicated completely until long after the introduction of the clean air act in 1956. Even then it took twenty-five years or so to become fully effective. I've described in my writing in the unpublished ON THE BUSES, and accessible in the www.govanhistory.org.uk web site, how the worst conditions were still occasionally encountered in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the great improvement meant the loss of virtually all these labour-intensive industries, and developing industrial countries like China and India have inherited many of the health problems as well as the work.
A number of deadly diseases that were still encountered at this time that are now rare or non-existent, such as polio, meningitis, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever and pleurisy. Even smallpox epidemics occurred occasionally, brought in from abroad by seamen. The most feared and one of the most common endemic diseases was tuberculosis, then commonly known as consumption, and during the period of illness described above, towards the end of September 1936 with recovery delayed, by late summer it was feared that I had contracted it. Mearnskirk Hospital had been opened in 1928 for people with serious chest conditions, and specialised in the treatment of TB. Although not diagnosed as suffering from it, I was sent there for an extended stay in the hope that if I did have it I could be kept under observation and receive the best treatment.
An aspect of needing to consult the doctor so often then before the NHS was set up in 1947 were the fees paid for his consultations and call-outs, no recollection of which now touches my memory. How were my parents able to manage on Dad's weekly wage of £2.10 shillings, because I think the cost was something like one-and-threepence (12½p) for a surgery consultation, and two shillings & sixpence (25p) for a home visit? They obviously must have been able to cope with the financial drain on their resources. Was it solely out of whatever small savings they had managed to gather or was my father a member of a trade-union organised health insurance scheme? The after-effect of pneumonia, in the 1930s a disease with a high fatality rate, was a lifetime of susceptibility to winter chest complaints. (My second book IN PEACE AND WAR has an account of five months in Mearnskirk Hospital).