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Modern Times: 1950s to The Present Day

Everyday Life

By Ruth Wishart

Last Trams Parade Some said it was upstairs at the very back; others insisted you had to be right at the front.


Trolleybuses Where to get the best "shoogle" travelling on a Glasgow tramcar was the subject of heated debate among post war schoolchildren. At the height of their popularity just before the 1950's some 1,000 of these swaying people carriers in their gaudy livery transported Glaswegians all over the city and into the suburbs. When they were finally decommissioned in 1962 a quarter of a million nostalgic passengers turned up to pay due respect on the final parade. No such sentiment attached to the demise of the successor trolley buses, nicknamed "the silent death" for their unnerving habit of creeping up on unsuspecting pedestrians, and abolished without many tears in 1967.

By Water and Underground

Waverley Unlike most major European cities with a majestic waterway through its centre, Glasgow has never made proper use of the River Clyde as a commuter route. It did for many years provide a transport of delight to families who enjoyed steamer trips from the city centre down to such exotic destinations as Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Going "doon the watter" was the quintessential school holiday treat adorned with a fish and chip tea on board and at least one accordionist working his way through the traditional music song book. By the return trip, a refreshment or three later, most of the complement of passengers provided unsolicited choral accompaniment.

Kelvinbridge station Today with only the paddle steamer Waverley still gamely plying its trade, you can now go under the Clyde in its somewhat gloomy tunnel. You can go over it on a variety of bridges including the massive Kingston Bridge, centrepiece of a motorway driven through the heart of the city in the sixties, hastening the traffic flow and vandalising not a few fine Victorian buildings. You can go under it too hurling round what the planners called the Glasgow Underground subway system, and its clients know as the Clockwork Orange - a semantic tribute to the startling hue of of the carriages unveiled at its refurbishment and re-opening in 1980. In truth the paying customers were not much bothered by the colour scheme, but greatly agitated to know if the distinctive subway "perfume" which wafted up from its entrance points had been faithfully re-created.

"Deserts Wi' Windaes"

Red Road Flats Glasgow has just transferred its entire civic housing stock to a new administrative body outwith the city council, but after 1945 the city, which had built some 50,000 council houses between the wars, realised that demand still far outstripped supply. The "remedies" envisaged then and largely implemented in the 1960s were to have far reaching consequences. One proposed solution was a series of peripheral estates to which people could be decanted from crumbling inner city tenement properties. The resultant townships of places like Drumchapel, Easterhouse, and Castlemilk were constructed with little thought given to any social infrastructure. They were isolated and had very few basic amenities. Scotland's internationally renowned comedian, Billy Connolly, shrewdly characterised them as "deserts wi' windaes." It was also the age of the high rise and 160 multi storey blocks went up in the city, spawning a famous folk song about the impossibility of catching "a jeely piece" thrown by mothers on the thirtieth floor to children playing below.


Clydeholm Shipyard Meanwhile two new towns, East Kilbride and Cumbernauld came on stream syphoning off many of the more skilled workforce. In the 1960s and 1970s this was still very much an industrial city, justly proud of its manufacturing and craft skills. Nowhere more so than in the shipbuilding industry, fast declining but fiercely protective of its traditions. In 1971 there was a historic industrial stand-off at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, a consortium of five previous yards, all bearing the names of famous engineering entrepreneurs. What made the UCS campaign different was that it wasn't a strike, but a "work-in" with the workers insisting on their right to do their jobs after being threatened with closure. The charismatic shop steward Jimmy Reid, with the lower key but equally committed Jimmy Airlie, attracted massive support and high profile political celebrities came to march for the men's jobs. A year later they had won their right to work and another £40 million pounds of investment.


Glasgow Kiss But the city which worked hard was just as dedicated to play. This was a town with an unconscionable number of public houses, transformed over the last half century from basic hostelries for men to slake their considerable evening thirst, to the plethora of wine and cafe bars now dominating the sector. A city in love with football, it is still dealing with the legacy of sectarianism which accompanies the support of the two world famous teams Rangers and Celtic, both of whom won European titles, in 1967 and 1972 respectively. Times have changed and so have the squads with "Protestant" Rangers probably featuring a majority of Catholics on its playing staff and vice versa at Celtic. A far and comforting cry from the scenes of the 1980s when Rangers fans burnt their scarves on learning that their club had signed the Catholic Maurice Johnston. And a long way from 1967 when the team which gave Celtic Britain's first European Cup had eleven players all born within fifteen miles of the ground.

Saturday Nights

Alhambra Theatre Glasgow weekends for many post-war decades also meant a city full of dance halls where Saturday nights were always a triumph of hope over experience. The love affair with the cinema, ardour briefly dampened by the advent of bingo, has recently been re-invigorated by a string of multiplexes. Above all the city has a strong theatre and music hall tradition from the Glasgow Empire - the infamous graveyard for English comedians - to the glamorous Alhambra whose revolving stage and glittering costumes made it the pantomime every child longed to see. These are both long gone but many survive and thrive, not least the Citizens Theatre - the Citz - born at the end of the Second World War in the heart of the Gorbals, and regarded as one of Europe's finest repertory theatres. Then there were happy accidents like The Tramway arts centre, born in an old tram depot and now a favourite receiving house for theatrical luminaries like Peter Brook and Robert Lepage.

City of Culture

Glasgow 1990 Taxi Glasgow has re-invented itself many times since its great merchant trading and manufacturing days. But perhaps the most unexpected re-incarnation has been to position itself a destination built on arts based tourism. Already the home for Scotland's major arts companies, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Opera and Ballet and for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, it decided to bid for the title of what was then called European City of Culture in 1990. Edinburgh bid too, and the Scottish capital was an early favourite. But Glasgow did what it often does best, harnessing fervent civic pride. Every major player in the arts helped in the bid and, when it seemed likely to be unsuccessful, hauled the judging panel back for a second look, fed and watered by equally chauvinistic top chefs and restaurateurs.

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall Glasgow 1990 was a watershed, although some of its citizens fretted that it was mortgaging its socialist soul. Others flocked to see Sinatra at Ibrox Park or Pavarotti at the Exhibition Centre. Just as crucial were the plethora of community events designed to let as many people as possible celebrate the extraordinary bounty of being born in the dear green place rather than some inferior location. Physical legacies of that time include The Royal Glasgow Concert Hall, known universally as Lally's Palais in honour of the then Provost, Pat Lally, who drove through the project on financial planning which seemed to have something of the back-of-an-envelope feel to them.

Helical staircase at the Lighthouse Having got that bit between its teeth, Glasgow has never let go. An unsuccessful bid for the Visual Arts title in 1996 nevertheless provided the impetus for a new Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), and a block-busting exhibition of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work. The genius of the latter, Glasgow's favourite architectural son, can still be seen all over Glasgow, not least at the striking School of Art. Then in 1999 it won the title City of Architecture and Design in the wake of which came new developments like The Lighthouse Centre for Design and the City. More importantly, among the new inward investors, were many smart hotels helping to sate the extraordinary appetite for beds in the city. Targeting the city break market, whilst promoting Glasgow's proximity to Loch Lomond, the Trossachs and Burns Country has paid handsome dividends.

Gallus Glaswegians

Mr Happy It's not just the visitors, but the increasingly multi-culturality of the indigenous population which gives modern Glasgow its cosmopolitan feel. After the Second World War many Poles and Italians came to a city where there was already a substantial Jewish population. The advent of the Chinese, Indians, and most especially Pakistanis has had a huge impact, not least in eating habits. Curry is Glasgow's most popular dish, and an advert for one of its most famous curry houses shows the family proudly clad in turbans and kilts.

The adjective most commonly used about its citizenry in Glasgow is gallus. There's no obvious translation. It means cheeky and jaunty and mouthy and profoundly unimpressed by rank. In Glasgow you can aspire to be absolutely anything. Except a social mountaineer.

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