Glasgow Gallivanting: March 2019

One of the best things that happened in March was that Janet, an old friend from university days, visited for the weekend. We hadn’t met for over 30 years, but it could have been yesterday. Janet was one of my flat-mates the year that I met John – he lived in the flat above us as I’ve recounted before. Apart from lots of chatting and catching up, we braved the terrible weather to visit two museums.

Scotland Street School Museum

Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh between 1903 and 1906 for the School Board of Glasgow. Now a museum, it tells the story of 100 years of education in Scotland, from the late 19th century to the late 20th century. Amongst other features, it has three reconstructed classrooms: Victorian, World War II, and 1950s/60s. The last one reminded me very much of my own school days. Spot the class dunce!

I loved the reasons some parents gave for their children to be excused gym when the idea of removing garments became common in the 1930s:

  • My Bertie has never worn underpants, so he is not to take off his trousers
  • Nobody is going to force Marjorie to take off her clothes in public
  • I object to Harry exposing himself

What would they think of the minuscule lycra outfits worn by athletes today?

New Lanark

The cotton mill village of New Lanark was founded in the 18th century and quickly became known for the enlightened management of social pioneer, Robert Owen. He provided decent homes, fair wages, free health care, a new education system for villagers and the first workplace nursery school in the world. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, New Lanark is both a living community and an award-winning museum. Although we go there quite often, it’s usually for a specific exhibition or to take a walk to the Falls of Clyde – our visit with Janet was the first time we’ve been in the museum part for some time, and we’ve certainly never accessed the lovely roof garden before (see above, and below for specific features).

One of the mills has a working loom and its products are sold in the Visitor Centre shop. The mill worker looks tired!

We toured Robert Owen’s own house which, although much larger than a mill-workers house, wasn’t spectacularly grand. It can be seen on the left, below, from the Roof Garden.

I bet the bathroom facilities were better than those for the workers though! Stairheid cludgies (shared indoor toilets) were only installed in the 1930s.

It was interesting to see the schoolroom after our visit to Scotland Street the day before. It’s much bigger than the classrooms there, but children of all ages would have been educated in the same space.

Finally, we popped into the current exhibition, the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry in which communities across the world document their Scottish connections. We saw this in Paisley a few years ago, but enjoyed a second look. A small flavour:

The Tenement House

We also meant to visit The Tenement House with Janet, but ran out of time, so John and I went ourselves the following weekend. 145 Buccleuch Street in Garnethill appears to be an ordinary red sandstone tenement building from the late 19th century, but inside lies a time capsule.

Shorthand typist Agnes Toward (1886-1975) moved in to one of the first floor flats with her mother, a dressmaker, in 1911 and lived here until her last ten years which she spent in hospital. After her death, it was found that she had made so few changes over the years that the early 20th century interior was intact. When the National Trust for Scotland acquired the property and opened it as a museum in the 1980s, the only major change they made was to replace the electric lighting Miss Toward had installed in the 1960s with more authentic gas. Just looking round these four rooms took me back to my childhood because it reminded me so much of my paternal grandparents’ home, particularly the black range and the bed recess in the kitchen.

Garnethill (the clue is in the name) is quite hilly, so as we left we stopped to admire the view towards Glasgow’s West End.

Thomas Coats Memorial Church

My sister was up visiting from London over the Mothers’ Day weekend. We had family meals on the Friday and Sunday, but on Saturday she and I were free to wander around Paisley where Mum lives. The highlight was a tour of Coats Memorial Church, formerly known as the “Baptist Cathedral” of Europe. It was commissioned by the family of Thomas Coats (1809-1883), one of the founders of Coats the thread-makers, and held its first service in 1894 and its last in August 2018 when the dwindling congregation could no longer sustain a building designed for 1000 worshippers. It’s now owned by a Trust which is raising money to turn it into a venue for concerts, weddings, conferences and so on. As part of the campaign, there are open days every Saturday from 12-4pm.

The interior was every bit as grand as the exterior, though it was the behind-the-scenes parts that I enjoyed most. The splendid Doulton toilet in the vestry was something to see!

The last bit

First a post-script to my Dundee posts, in one of which I expressed the hope that the new V&A wasn’t sucking in visitors from other museums in the city. Quite the reverse! I recently read a report that showed numbers at the Discovery were up 40.5% in 2018, at the McManus 31.2% and at Verdant Works 23.8%. The V&A itself recently hit 500,000 visitors six months earlier than targeted. We visited all of those, so I’m glad to have played my small part in putting Dundee more firmly on the tourist map.

I gave my talk on suffragette Jessie Stephen again, this time at a suffrage event in Govanhill. As part of the associated exhibition artist Ann Vance has created a portrait of Jessie, and two beautiful banners were also on display.

I read a lovely article about new Scottish words which have been included in the latest Oxford English Dictionary update: Fantoosh sitooteries and more. However, I’m saving that as a rich seam for future posts and sticking to the word I had originally chosen for this month. You might have noticed that our Brexit deadline sailed past last week and yet we’re still in the EU. “Stramash” is a noisy commotion or uproar, and seems to me to describe recent proceedings in parliament perfectly. Who knows what will have happened by April’s gallivanting post?

Have a great month!

Liz Lochhead at Scotland Street: Competent at peever

What a great wee museum Scotland Street is! A former primary school designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who fell out spectacularly with the School Board of Glasgow and was more or less taken off the case, it’s now a School Museum with, amongst other things, classrooms of different eras. You can see something of that in my last post about it – this time I went for Liz Lochhead’s exhibition, Competent at peever.

Liz is currently Scotland’s Makar, or poet laureate. She studied at Glasgow School of Art and was a teacher for a while, but is now a playwright and poet. For a flavour of her work, read her moving contribution to Book Week Scotland’s My favourite place project. The exhibition results from a year-long residency at Scotland Street and comprises poems, drawings and collages on the themes of childhood and primary school. The highlight for me was her art school project from 1968 in which she went back to her old school – it brought back so many memories since that was the year I finished primary. Not all pleasant unfortunately – I enjoyed learning “sums” with the cuisenaire rods she illustrated, and there’s a real set to look at elsewhere in the museum, but my headmaster was not as benevolent as Mr Ritchie and I still smart with humiliation from an undeserved punishment. I came away with the exhibition literature and a collection of poems from the bookshop – but where has the cafe gone? I was also planning to have lunch there, so that was my only disappointment about my visit. Finally, for non-Scots, what on earth is peever? Well, the clue is in Poem for my sister: “I like to watch my little sister playing hopscotch………She is competent at peever.” If you’re in Glasgow, hop, skip and jump over to this exhibition as soon as you can! It’s on till 7th April.

A Mackintosh school and an old tramshed: two Glasgow galleries

Glasgow has purpose built museums and galleries such as Kelvingrove and the new Riverside (still to be visited when the schools go back and it quietens down) but today we visited two more unusual venues. Both are on the Southside – Glasgow is divided by the Clyde and I’m ashamed to say I really haven’t got a clue where I’m going when I cross the river, especially since the M74 extension has just cut across even the bits I thought I knew. After some fraught attempts we eventually got near enough to our first venue to abandon the car and walk.

Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but is now a museum of education.

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We visited to see the temporary exhibition, The Glesga that I used to know, a series of black and white pictures of Glasgow around 1976. It was fascinating, not least because it scared me to think that I was already grown up and at university by then, yet it looked like ancient history. While there, we had a quick walk round the permanent exhibits and I got all nostalgic again about the 1950s/60s classroom which reminded me so much of my own primary school days.

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The place certainly looked as though it could do with some refurbishment, the outside in particular had peeling paint and lots of weeds, but it’s a lovely little museum, well worth a visit. To round ours off, we had tea in the small cafe which had quite an ambitious menu for its size and was bright and attractive.

Off we set for the Tramway, which was our main destination. I blogged last week about the British Art Show and how we had visited two of the three venues in Glasgow. The Tramway is the third. You can still see the tracks in the floor from its days as a tramshed, after which it was a Transport Museum and now a venue for contemporary visual art and performance. It also has a good cafe (very important I find) and a “Hidden Garden” – though you just walk out the back door, and there it is.

I can’t say I enjoyed the exhibition as much as the ones last week. There were several sculptures by Sarah Lucas which were accomplished, but not really my thing, but most of the rest consisted of installations which are absolutely, definitely not my thing. We watched some of a film by Duncan Campbell which pieced together media interviews with Bernadette Devlin. This was interesting because, whatever you think of her politics, she came across as so confident and decisive for a young woman of 21. But is that art? I’m not sure. One exhibit was entitled Bench, fire and youth. At first I just thought the bench was for sitting on, but apparently “at unspecified intervals, a flame will flare at one end of the bench, occasionally tended by a naked young man”. That would probably have been the most interesting part of the afternoon, but it didn’t happen while we were there. Nae luck.

The Tramway exhibition is on until 21st August and the Scotland Street one until 8th January.