Clementine Sandison: Take a tour of Glasgow’s industrial past with the Our Land festival


Clementine Sandison from Open Jar Collective explores the history of land use in the east end of Glasgow and the group's forthcoming event for the Our Land festival

IN its hey day, Glasgow’s east end was arguably the industrial heartland of Scotland. In 'This City Now: Glasgow and its working class past' (2005), Ian Mitchell suggests that Bridgeton during the 1930s was "possibly the most industrialised few square miles on the planet".

A trip to the Mitchell Library to look at its collection of old maps (1895-1933), reveals the sheer scale of industrial activity from Calton to Parkhead. Dense areas of housing and transport infrastructure rubbed shoulders with dye works, paper mills, bleach works, soap works, weaving factories, timber yards, oil and gas works, iron foundries, potteries, wire works, and skin yards.

Some of the most prominent sites that dominated the east end were Arrol’s Iron Works in Dalmarnock which covered an area of 20 acres, the Parkhead Forge which employed 27,000 people during the First World War (now the site of the Forge Shopping Centre), and the Cattle Market in Calton which was the centre for commercial livestock trading, the city’s main abattoir and meat market (lying vacant for the last 20 years).

The Cattle Market in Calton today

Heavy industry was built in close proximity to cramped tenements resulting in poor living conditions which led to numerous rounds of 'slum clearance' schemes and rebuilding projects in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. 
Then, after years of unprecedented growth and having claimed the title of 'second city of empire', Glasgow suddenly experienced the rapid industrial decline of post-war Britain. This hit communities in the east end particularly hard and impacted on health to a greater extent than other comparable de-industrialised cities like Liverpool and Manchester, a phenomenon that has been labelled the 'Glasgow Effect'.

In its new report, 'History, politics and vulnerability: explaining excess mortality and Scotland and Glasgow', published in May this year, the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) drew upon recently released government archive material to explain how social housing policy between the 1960s and 1980s is likely to be a contributing factor in Glasgow’s poor health record, which it says cannot be attributed to poverty and deprivation alone.

Its research reveals that in the late 1950s, the Scotland Office tried to tackle deep-rooted health, housing and economic problems through a programme of: "… economic 'modernisation' to achieve growth (based on the development of newer, lighter industries) primarily away from Glasgow. 

"The plan required the selective removal of the city’s population on a mass scale. Thus, sections of the population – generally younger, skilled workers, in employment, and often with families – were relocated to new towns and other overspill settlements. 

"Glasgow itself was at this stage officially designated as 'declining' and these other areas were henceforth to be the priority, not just for economic investment, but also for wider investment in infrastructure and amenities." p. 41

This policy of 'skimming the cream' as it was referred to at the time, resulted in massive re-housing programmes in new peripheral estates such as Drumchapel, Easterhouse, Pollok, and Castlemilk, in addition to new town developments as far afield as Irvine, Livingston and Glenrothes. 

GCPH makes the case that against a backdrop of increasing unemployment and inequality, urban planning policies that prioritised new towns and high-rise developments over maintenance and improvement of existing housing stock left communities in Glasgow particularly vulnerable to 'excess mortality' (premature death before the age of 65).

Camlachie waste ground

In Old Bridgeton and Calton (1997), Eric Eunson notes that "between 1951 and 1981 over 100,000 people left the east end, among them over half the population of Bridgeton and 70 per cent of those in Calton". 

According the GCPH’s report, other factors such as the 'democratic deficit' – where people had very little control over decisions affecting their lives – combined with the breakdown of community bonds and social connections that came from enforced depopulation, are still affecting people’s health today, with higher rates of death from alcohol, drugs and suicide than in other cities.

Coach park in Dalmarnock

It raises the question – who is urban regeneration for? Cycling around the east end at the moment you’ll see a collection of neighbourhoods in flux – fencing, diggers, construction workers and new houses with tidy lawns, right next to vast derelict sites and empty car parks. 

There has been significant financial investment as a result of the 2014 Commonwealth Games including world class sports facilities (which locals can’t always afford), new roads, bridges and cycle lanes (that end abruptly), and the Commonwealth Village optimistically branded 'City Legacy Homes'. 

If you ask local residents how they feel about these developments, it’s possible to see the 'democratic deficit' still in action.

Commonwealth Village

Dalmarnock resident Robert Kennedy is quick to talk about his frustration with the lack of meaningful community consultation in the lead up to the Games. This resulted in the demolition of local shops, a community centre, day care centre and playground to make way for a giant coach park that has hardly been used since. 

Clyde Gateway is responsible for much of the urban regeneration in the east end, and Kennedy jokes that he once asked why they built a "£5m bridge from naewhere to naewhere" referring to a pedestrian bridge across the Clyde connecting an industrial estate in Dalmarnock with an empty plot in Shawfield.

Bridge from Clyde Walkway to Shawfield

Baltic Street Adventure Playground where Kennedy works (a project that also benefited from some Clyde Gateway funding) supports children and young people to make their own decisions, take risks and try things out in a playground that is constantly evolving as they collectively design and build new features using reclaimed materials. 

Access to the formerly disused plot of land where the playground now stands, involves lease agreements with three different landlords – Glasgow City Council, Molendinar Park Housing Association and a local church. Community ownership of the land is something they would like to consider longer term.

Baltic Street Adventure Playground

The hope and promise of Commonwealth legacy investment does not easily resolve the issue of vast swathes of derelict land that still punctuate the east end waiting for the right moment for 'redevelopment'. 

In theory, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 should make it much easier for people to have a voice in how land and buildings are used, but there are serious questions about the process, which few communities fully understand, and about accountability, if local authorities or private landlords are slow in responding to community requests. 

There is also the fundamental issue of how communities begin the process of reimagining 'the commons' in parts of the city that have been neglected or fenced off for so long. The GCPH report identifies that everyone in Dalmarnock and Parkhead lives within 500 metres of a derelict or vacant site, which is another factor leading to higher levels of excess mortality.

Sunnybank Street

In April 2016 Open Jar Collective launched Soil City – a long term project to re-imagine the city as if soil matters. We’re interested in the connections between healthy soil and healthy people, how urban planning might change if soil was viewed as a collective resource, and how contaminated land could be remediated rather than written off until the next building project comes along.

We’d like to host a series of conversations (in the form of walking tours, bike rides and events) that capture local knowledge, invite outside perspectives and stimulate a debate about how we use land in a post-industrial city like Glasgow. 

We think this requires a process of 'field research' – observing, recording, talking and listening. In this way, we might see the land with fresh eyes which in turn will foster a better understanding of the complex ecosystems and social systems that define a place, from the wild flora and fauna, to the 'desire lines' created by people taking short cuts through a waste ground to get to the shops.

Desire lines between Camlachie and the Forge Retail Park

Join us on Saturday 3 September, 11am-3pm, for a cycle tour of the east end that explores Glasgow’s industrial past, wasteland ecologies and community empowerment. The trip will include a visit to Baltic Street Adventure Playground. 

Book a free ticket here.

Pictures courtesy of Clementine Sandison