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The Glasgow History That Surrounds Us

Updated: Jul 13, 2020

Can we look to the future while surrounded by forgotten Glasgow history?

Having a love for something is a strange thing. It isn’t necessarily a passion as it isn’t always something you know inside out or something that you spend all of your time on.

And yet, it’s more than an interest.

I’m interested in interiors and gardening. I’m also interested in Instagram accounts dedicated to hyper-realistic dollhouses – and that’s the only time I’ll ever admit it.

The two things I love aren’t even things that relate to any other part of my life.

Glasgow history, specifically the tenement flats and Glasgow Central Station has fascinated me for years. I’m not sure when I realised it had captivated me, and it’s an odd thing for me to have such focus on as I never studied history at school nor had much interest in it.

Brown sandstone tenements with steps leading up to the door and railings outside

It isn’t so much the romanticism of the era that captivates me, it’s more style and attitude of the time. To paraphrase Kanye, they really don’t make them like that anymore.

Yes, conditions were shit and there was disease – there was also a real functionality and attitude towards preservation. Look how many tenement flats still surround us, entire areas of our cities – often the oldest buildings still stand; steeped in their history.

And look at how they’ve developed – with many being partitioned off to create more, smaller properties and others opening spaces up to create a luxurious way of living.

Most people dream of living in a sprawling mansion, I have always dreamed of a tenement.

And the secrets they hold! It’s incredible to imagine the conversations the walls have heard, the people that have walked the four walls. With many pre-dating 1900, how could they imagine what their homes would one day become.

Sash windows at the rear of a tenement some with window boxes growing

It isn’t just tenements – it’s grand terraces that historically housed Glasgow’s elite, with their sweeping staircases and high, corniced ceilings. Many still stand as single-dwellings, many have had the same fate as the more budget-friendly tenements; gone are basement kitchens and attic servant’s quarters and instead are replaced with apartments.

Of course this is how the times change, grand homes aren’t sustainable or in many cases desirable – but in changing a buildings function, you too change the potential for new memories to be made.

This is true also for buildings with other uses.

As someone with a great disinterest in dancing or the club scene, it surprised my now-husband when I took actually enjoyed a Friday night out in Sauchiehall Street’s ABC.

It wasn’t the queues in the bar, the unreliable cloakroom or giant disco ball – okay the disco ball had a slight hand in it. It was the history that saturated the entire building.

Beginning its life in 1875 as the Diorama, it featured canvases of historical scenes that could be wound on rollers to transfix our Victorian counterparts, however by 1885 it has transformed into the Panorama which housed a skating rink, café and restaurant.

Drawing showing the hippodrome pool under a domed ceiling with seats surrounding in a ring formation

The importance of the building to our Glasgow history is evident as it was one of the first in the city to be fitted with electricity in 1888 – which seems incomprehensible now, under the name of Hubner’s Ice-Skating Palace it hosted Glasgow’s first public film showing. Its next incarnation is it’s most unique and unbelievable.

The Hippodrome was a theater which featured a large circus ring with a water tank beneath – this meant that areas of the venue could be deliberately flooded in order to recreate various sea battles.

Black and white image of the ABC with people crowded outside in queues

By 1904 it had become Hengler’s Circus and underwent a huge remodel in 1927 to the Waldorf Palais Dancehall. Rebuilt with a car park at ground-floor level, two large staircases led up to the dancehall above with the iconic arched windows.

Over the next 72 years, the building played host to numerous dancehalls and cinemas at the heart of Glasgow's social scene – and under it’s ABC identity an extension was built in the late sixties forming the ABC2, the first cinema to open in Scotland since the end of WW2.

Interior of building showing pink and green patterns and ornate ceiling rose

In 1979 the larger ABC1 underwent renovations to divide it into four separate screens, this meant than now more than 2,500 Glaswegians could attend and so it stood strong and welcoming at the heart of the city centre until late 1999 when they closed their doors on that chapter of time.

For many of us now, our experiences in the ABC are more along the lines of seeing favourite bands, spilling vodka lemonades on the dancefloor and shouting to be heard at the bar – can you imagine what those frequenting the Hippodrome would think of us now?

And since the fire that ripped through Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh Building brought down the last remaining original elements of the building, no longer will anyone climb that ground floor staircase, excited for what’s ahead, or sit aside the arches in the bar, looking over Sauchiehall St with a beer in hand.

None of us will ever fall in love on the dancefloor and vow to return – even when you’re too old for Propaganda.

Now, with a demolition order in place, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the future holds for such a grand building. One thing’s for sure, we need to protect what we have, Glasgow's decadent and iconic past.

Before we’re entirely surrounded by glass and steel, let us appreciate the beautiful and aged. Let us acknowledge the ghosts that surround us and the beauty of the past.

Is there a specific building that has captured your heart? Let me know below, if you're interested in Glasgow's history, be sure to check out Lost Glasgow.


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